Dawn – Part 2

by | Saturday, 20 May, 2017 | 4x4, Adventure, Africa, Africa Sky High | 3 comments

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

Note: This is Part 2 in a two-part blog series titled “Dawn,” it continues from Part 1 which can be found here www.teamtane.com/dawn-part-1/. We suggest you read Part 1 first but it is completely up to you 🙂. Enjoy the read.

We had seen a few ridiculously dirty 4x4 vehicles passing us the other way as we drove toward Kubu Island from the Khama sanctuary. We also knew Botswana had experienced a particularly wet season, so knew we were in for water on our way from Kubu Island to Maun. Little did we know the extent…

Deciding it was necessary to find out a bit more before we braved the pans, we located and chatted to the caretaker from the Makgadikgadi Adventure Camp. He had seen two cars pass through two days previous so assumed the road was passable but mentioned he could guide us around the pan for R100 (about $10).

The African sky rages with beautiful colours during sunrise the morning we left Kubu.

We decided to drive down the dirt road to check it out. We got to the pan to find what looked like a kilometer wide lake containing a host of wildlife. It looked more like a wetland nature sanctuary than a salt pan.  We chatted for a couple of minutes about the prospect of attempting to cross it before unanimously deciding that it wasn’t worth it if we had a backup option. We returned to find our friend.

He guided us along another road and down some minor cattle tracks. We wound between thick thorn bush and bounced off rocks all the while thanking the Wizerd smash plates and Tough Dog suspension for protecting our tough but little Suzuki, Badger. After about twenty minutes our guide pulled off. We thanked him, paid him and said our goodbyes.

Connections are made and deals are struck, language is the key to interaction. Shane tries to learn Setswana off King George; Kubu Island’s caretaker. (Photo: Tarryn Quinnell)

He guided us along another road and down some minor cattle tracks. We wound between thick thorn bush and bounced off rocks all the while thanking the Wizerd smash plates and Tough Dog suspension for protecting our tough but little Suzuki, Badger. After about twenty minutes our guide pulled off. We thanked him, paid him and said our goodbyes.

 

We got to the pan to find what looked like a kilometer wide lake containing a host of wildlife….There was another flooded pan directly in front of him. This one far larger than the last. Bugger.

Shane Quinnell

Team Tane

A short while later we drove back onto a dry cracked pan and rolled on. Suddenly, Grant started breaking in front of us. Tarryn hit the brakes but despite her slow speed just kept going, straight toward the hulk. At the last minute, her wheels caught and she slid off the minor track to a stop, just missing the back of the Hulk. Lesson learned; in muddy conditions maintain a BIG distance and use gears to stop. Her fright at almost hitting the Hulk was enough for her to hand the keys over to me.

We hopped out Badger wondering why Grant stopped. Then we saw why. It was déjà vu. There was another flooded pan directly in front of him. This one far larger than the last. Bugger

Tarryn starting the great trek across the mighty swap pan. The far side of the pan is just visible on the horizon.

We checked the map and found our friendly guide had only directed us around the first pan (see our route on our Tracks4Africa Live Map on our home page). The first of many. The largest one was right in front of us. We scratched our heads and wondered what to do. ‘Do we go back and make a giant detour or take the risk?’

We decided to check it out. With that Tarryn and her mother, Debbie, were out of the cars, shoes off and walking through the mud. I joined for a short while to get a feel. The mud was sludgy and slippery. This was going to be interesting. Whatever the case if we attempted it, we would need to maintain momentum or we were in big trouble.

Tarryn and Debbie proceeded towards the far side of the lake. Grant and I watched them through our binoculars waiting for the agreed signal, stomachs in knots. Then they turned and both arms went up. That was it, the signal. It was game time.

A regular and very necessary occurrence on the pans; cleaning grass from underneath the car to make sure it does not catch fire. (Photo: Debbie Stevenson)

With that Grant who had been letting down his tyres gave me a nervous smile, hopped into the Hulk and was off.

He hit the water with speed, spraying mud and salt water everywhere. He kept going, and going and going. I watched through my binoculars as he finally reached the other side. I thought, ‘thank goodness,’ then I realised it was my turn. My stomach lurched.

I took a deep breath, got into Badger, engaged low range and released the hand brake. I knew I had to make it to the far side, failing was not an option. Failing meant we would likely be there hours or even days before getting out. It meant we would have to use our shiny new VRS winch to try get out. If that failed Grant and Debbie would have to drive on to find someone, somewhere with a tractor to help pull us. Both which were ridiculously unlikely finds. Failing meant Tarryn and I would more than likely have to leave Badger in the wetland and spend a cold uncomfortable night sleeping on the bank with who knew what kind of animals nearby.

With that I pushed the accelerator and started moving. I changed to third and found a comfortable speed. I hit the mud. I felt Badger sink as he hit the extra resistance before finding traction and moving on. Whpew!

Badger tears his way through the epic swampy pans like the little beastly Suzuki he is!! (Photo: Debbie Stevenson)

I was just getting comfortable with the mud when I hit the water. The spray was massive; at times completely covering the windscreen and rendering me blind. I hit the wipers full blast and got my vision back. I tried to slow slightly to reduce the spray but felt Badger starting to struggle so hit the pedal again. Once or twice I hit deep sections and felt the mud hit the bottom of the car but Badger just kept going.

One-quarter through… half way… Three-quarters. The bank was getting nearer, my confidence growing. Then finally, as if a gift from nowhere I hit hard ground; the far side of the pan. WHOOOOHOOOOO!We were through in one piece. Damn, it felt good, despite having mild shakes from the adrenaline.

Tarryn ran over. We all patted each other on the back and shared war stories. We had made it across the pan, which turned out to be nearly one kilometer wide, and in turn avoided what would likely have been a cold night on a muddy, wet pan.

Our small yet ferocious Suzuki Jimny Badger after the epic achievement of crossing the wetland pans… Our confidence and respect for him grows daily.

Celebrations came to an end as we realised how much farther we had to drive. We moved on. We hit a few more sections of mud and water but having succeeded the worst of it, we hardly blinked.

The remainder of the journey to Maun was relatively uneventful though we did help pull start a local, see some ancient and incredible Baobabs and encounter the largest herd of Zebra one can imagine in the middle of nowhere. Like something out of Tarzan, they galloped next to us along the pans.

Our friends. The huge, mysterious herd of Zebras we met on the Makgadikgadi Pans.

We reached Maun, dirty and tired but happy. As dusk fell, the second dawn crept up on us. The dawn of consciousness. Our experiences that day taught us two fundamental things. One, ‘Africa truly is phenomenal,’ and two, ‘attempting Africa alone is a significant undertaking’

In my experience, ignorance and optimism are often more powerful than confidence when it comes to taking the plunge, to making progress. Up till now, we relied on these traits. For the first time, we were slightly daunted by our plans. We gained a deep respect for Africa and our undertaking. We decided from now on, this would be our guiding force.

The video below shows the action detailed in the blog as it happened. Check it out! You can find more on our You tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWnRYq5ax-1L4KxTQImrFqA), please subscribe.