Birthday Adventure 2012 - Chapter 6

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 15, 2012

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Linyanti Camp, Chobe National Park, Botswana (May 11-13)

All through the night there was a cacophony of interesting and exciting animal noises that kept us from sleeping soundly.   I think Juliette and Steve also had a difficult time sleeping soundly since their camping mattresses were left behind in Roxsand and they were sleeping on the hard ground in their tent.  Shortly after we arrived at camp and headed to bed there was an elephant ruffling through the trees about five meters behind Truck A where Tracy, Jerry, Katherine and Vee were huddled in their tents.  It might not have been so scary if it hadn't been pitch black dark outside and if we hadn’t been sleeping on the ground.  But then again an elephant is pretty tall; I am sure he could have reached the tents on top of the truck quite easily as well.  Maybe it’s just easier to notice a big truck with tents on top and not trip over it, versus small tents on the ground, below eye level?  Either way, we didn’t get trampled, and the elephant went on his merry way munching trees in the night.  Then there were the hippos, all of whom did a great job snorting and honking all night, and munching huge wads of grass in the water right by our campsite.  It sounded like they were having a huge pool party, there was so much splashing and whooping and carrying on.  And then there were hyenas calling in the distance, or maybe the not-so-distance.  It was a very animal sound-effect filled night, except the sounds were created by real animals. 

In the morning Tracy, Jerry, Katherine, and Vee packed up and left for Maun as fast as they could before the sand got hot, leaving myself, Tanya, Juliette and Steve standing in our campsite all alone.  We didn’t even know if we would see them again, as they had flights to catch in Maun a few days later and a rental truck to return by a certain deadline and at this point it was unknown how many days/weeks/months we would spend in Linyanti before we sorted out the Roxsand situation.  It was a sad parting of the ways, but in the end both groups had a great time despite the unexpected change in plans.  Tracy and Jerry got to see and enjoy some of the Okavango Delta and Moremi, where we were supposed to go next (but didn’t make it), and the four of us at Linyanti had the best stranding experience ever.

As Truck A drove off to Maun, Steve and I drove with Jinxy to the "office" to start making a series of very expensive (US$ 5 per minute) satellite phone calls to the truck rental company in South Africa to explain our predicament and try to find an acceptable solution that didn’t involve living at Linyanti for a month.  Jinxy came to pick us up at quite an early hour, and given the past night’s mayhem I will admit I was still in my pajamas when he showed up at camp.  So, off we went to Roxsand to fetch the rest of our gear (there’s no one at Linyanti I was trying to impress, so who cares if I am still in my pajamas!).  We looked for my missing phone as well, but there’s a lot of sand in Botswana; we didn’t find it.  On the way from camp to Roxsand (a distance of about 10 kilometers, or 200 meters, depending on whom you ask), Jinxy took us on a detour game drive along the Linyanti River.  We saw a boatload of hippos (but they weren’t in a boat, they were in the water), a big herd of kudu with a beautiful male, a bunch of elephant, several dozen impala, a gaggle of giraffe, and various other wonderful animals.  Jinxy told us about how he had seen a pack of African wild dog make a kill at the very spot where we were driving just a few days earlier; we didn’t get so lucky that morning.  Meanwhile Tanya and Juliette waited back at camp and had a pedicure; being that they were only wife #2 and wife #3, they were entitled to fewer benefits than I was.  The status of each wife was determined by who had known Steve the longest; it seemed only fair to do it that way. 

After a few phone calls, the rental company eventually told us to hold tight, they would “make a plan.”  This is a favorite South African expression (the company was based in Johannesburg) that I often heard when I was living in South Africa.  It could mean anything from “the situation will be fixed in a matter of minutes” to “you might still be waiting for a solution this time next year.”  We were hoping it would be somewhere in between.   We were instructed to call back the next day, when they would tell us their solution.  So, we now had a whole day to do nothing.  I don’t think I have had that luxury since I was six years old.  I started by taking a shower, and about 8 liters of sand washed off my body and down the drain.  The water ran brown until almost the end of my shower, I was so dirty.  The four of us made a nice lunch at camp of quesadillas and Jinxy joined us.  Then we sat around reading and relaxing (and maybe napping) and enjoying just being in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  We certainly could not have picked a better spot to be stranded if we had tried.  As Jinxy said, don’t worry, “Hakuna Matata.  We’ll get you out of this mess, easy peasy, lemon squeezy!”  This was especially funny as a few days previously when we were still at iHaha, we had asked another traveler at our campsite if the road between iHaHa and Linyanti was difficult.  “No problem at all,” she said, “it’s easy peasy.”  Well, I suppose if you don’t have a broken clutch and you aren’t stuck in the sand that might be a true statement.  At one point Steve commented that whenever he zoomed the lens of his camera in or out, it made a funny grinding noise.  Sand. 

In the later afternoon Jinxy picked us up at camp and took Steve and the three wives on a sunset game drive in the land cruiser safari vehicle.  It was so incredible!  We saw so many animals; elephants, kudu, hippo (!!), impala, giraffe, African fish eagle.  And the light was beautiful, the orange glow of late afternoon and the sun reflecting on the waters of the Linyanti River.  It was like we were driving through paradise.  We invited Jinxy to join us for dinner by the fire, and we cooked up a nice meal of sausage pasta.  Jinxy said he hadn’t eaten so well since arriving at Linyanti six weeks earlier!  Then we heard lions roaring in the distance, and Jinxy suggested we drive out and try to find them.  We picked up the German couple camping at the site next to ours and took them along, and after a short drive we found the lions, about 5 kilometers (or maybe 200 meters?) from camp.  There was a male and a female, and the male had a beautiful dark mane and was roaring loudly, announcing that this woman was HIS.  Jinxy turned out the lights of the vehicle and we sat there in the darkness, the lion’s roar reverberating through us.  It was an incredible experience.  We were just meters from the lions (less than 200 for sure) and Tanya commented that one (or both) of them could jump into our open safari vehicle at any point.  Fortunately they were much more interested in each other than they were in us.

We drove back to camp after an unbelievable lion encounter (be careful, there are lions out there!), and on the way came across a hippo out of the water, grazing on the riverbank in the moonlight.  We got back to camp, stoked the fire, and drank Mexican hot chocolate with Amarula and whiskey and listened to the lions roaring in the distance (some might say they were about 200 meters away).  Then there was a big male hippo that came to join us, right by the edge of our camp.  As we drank our warm beverages he munched the grass in giant bites, chomping away happily and not caring that we were sitting a mere 15 meters away from him.  I cannot think of anything more amazing than enjoying a beverage by the campfire on the Linyanti River with a hippo munching away right next to us.  Heaven!  We eventually turned in for the night and Tanya and I were reading in our tent when Jinxy drove into camp about an hour later.  “Are you guys in your tents” said his authoritative voice in the darkness.  “Yes.  Are the lions nearby?” was my reply.  “They are in your camp; please turn out your lights.”  OK, those headlamps went off in an instant, and we tried to go to sleep.  All night long the lions were calling, sometimes so close I was sure if I reached outside the tent I could pet one; sometimes further away in the distance (maybe 200 meters or so).  Good thing none of us had to pee during the night! 

The next morning we found fresh lion spoor just outside our tent, and we could still hear the lions calling in the far distance.  One would think they would eventually become hoarse after all that roaring, but I guess not, since they are lions and not horses.  After making some coffee and tea, Steve and I headed off with Jinxy again to try and phone the rental company again.  We took another detour/game drive, saw the two lions again (about 5km from camp in the other direction) and headed back to Roxsand to get the camping mattresses to Steve and Juliette would no longer have to sleep on the hard ground.  We looked for my cell phone again; still no luck.  We then stopped in at the “office” again, and this time we had several conversations with a mechanic shop in Kasane as well, which was the closest town to where we were stranded.  Kasane was actually where we had come from three days previously, in the northeast corner of Botswana.  It seemed the plan was to send a mechanic from Kasane to fix Roxsand, and they would be arriving around lunchtime.  Well, this seemed to be some positive progress for sure.  Immediately after Jinxy hung up the phone from his conversation with Kasane mechanic, explaining how to best get to Linyanti (take the route with only two shit-tons of sand instead of the one with 15 shit-tons),  we realized that they could bring us more supplies as well!  So we straightaway called back and placed an order for two six-packs of beer, two-six packs of Hunters Dry cider, a bottle of gin, and six cans of tonic.  The mechanic in Kasane was laughing at us (I believe his comment was “are you guys getting thirsty out there?”), but he agreed to make a liquor-store run before leaving to come to rescue us.  They said they would be leaving Kasane at 10am; it’s about a three-hour drive.

They didn’t actually arrive until 5pm, but at least they had brought along our alcohol order so we weren’t too disappointed with their late arrival.  The rescue crew included Lucas, a representative from the truck rental company; Sanjay, the owner of the mechanic shop; Pinky, his girlfriend who was at least 20 years younger than him and was dressed for an appearance in a Bollywood movie and not an adventure in the bush; and Patrick, the bush mechanic, who looked like he had been through at least one world war.  We stocked up some of the drinks they had brought into a cooler and took off to rescue Roxsand.  The vehicle the rescue crew had brought was a brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser with a 50 million horsepower engine; it was a beast.  Patrick and Lucas went to go fetch Roxsand and tow her back to camp (she was still stuck about 10 km/200 meters away, where we abandoned her when the tractor couldn’t pull her any further the first night).  The rest of us took a sundowner game drive with Jinxy, once again seeing the two lions, a herd of elephant, some hippo (!!), various antelope, giraffe, warthog, etc.  At some point that day Steve and I also explained to Jinxy that we were not really on our honeymoon, and we were not really his three wives at all; we were just good friends.  Jinxy said he and Gabriel totally believe our story, and that Gabriel was really worried that this poor man was stuck in the sand on his honeymoon with these three wives!  Jinxy apparently started to doubt the validity of the story when he realized that Steve was American, and that most American men (that aren’t from Utah) are generally not polygamists.  It made for a great story though, and we continued to get mileage out of it for the rest of the trip.  We wanted to tell Gabriel as well that we had been joking about the three wives thing, but he was apparently busy somewhere arresting some rangers for hoarding confiscated elephant ivory, so unfortunately we ended up not seeing him again. 

After our game drive we headed to Roxsand, and found that Lucas and Patrick had made some impressive progress towing her toward camp with the Land Cruiser.  However, when they reached the same especially sandy spot where Jinxy’s safari vehicle had gotten stuck two nights before, they also got stuck.  Then the fun began.  We tried various arrangements of vehicles pulling each other and pushing each other, three in tandem, in order to get Roxsand out of there.  At one point all three vehicles were stuck (Roxsand, the safari vehicle, and the Land Cruiser).  The Land Cruiser could always get unstuck, though, if it detached itself from the convoy, but that didn’t help us with the problem of dragging a heavy vehicle with a broken clutch.  In a process that took several hours and involved three broken tow-ropes, a broken set of sand-ladders, loads of digging and pushing and flying sand, we did not manage to extract Roxsand.  Finally Jinxy took the three wives plus Pinky in the safari vehicle back to camp at speed to get help from “The Gods Must be Crazy,” the green monster truck with the broken starter that had eventually rescued us two nights previously.   The wives were dropped off at camp to cook dinner (myself, Tanya, Juliette, and Pinky), and the men raced off to be manly and continue the vehicle rescue efforts.  Eventually the Land Cruiser managed to pull Roxsand out and drag her to camp; we all cheered when they pulled in about an hour later!  Now it was time for a party around the campfire, as it was definitely too late to start truck-repair activities, especially since there were lions nearby.  Then the nine of us (me, Juliette, Steve, Tanya, Jinxy, Lucas, Sanjay, Pinky, and Patrick) had a braai, enjoyed some drinks (somehow we managed to finish off everything they had brought!) including a new beverage introduced by Jinxy called Two Paddling Ducks (half whiskey, half Amarula), and generally enjoyed ourselves.   

The next morning Patrick promised to start repair efforts at 5am, but since it wasn’t even light then and the lions were roaring within 200 meters of camp, he decided to start a bit later.  By 7am he had dropped the transmission right there in the campsite and was busy scraping our clutch off the engine with a metal pole.  He said he had never seen anything like it; the clutch looked like it has been hit by a grenade.  “The next time this thing breaks, light a match under it and burn it” was Patrick’s advice.  We weren’t entirely sure that setting fire to the vehicle would have been covered by our insurance policy.  Meanwhile, we all had our eye on the Toyota Land Cruiser (aka “the Beast”) that the rescue crew had driven from Kasane.  This vehicle looked like it meant business, and like it could handle anything, including the sands of Botswana.  Steve and I then headed back to the “office” with Jinxy yet again to call the rental company, yet again.   We wanted to convince them to give us the Land Cruiser, as we urgently needed to get to Maun and we could not wait for Roxsand to be repaired.  The mechanic was on our side; he told us to tell the rental company that it would take him at least 3-5 hours to repair the truck, and we needed to get on the road within an hour or two.  After some back and forth and waiting for phone calls, we finally succeeded in securing the Land Cruiser for the remainder of our journey, at no extra charge!  So we headed back to camp, and meanwhile Patrick had already fixed Roxsand.  We were all suitably impressed; how on earth had one guy, in the middle of nowhere Botswana, without a proper repair facility, dropped the transmission of a vehicle at a sandy campsite and repaired a broken clutch in under two hours with only one small blue box of tools?  Wow. 

Now the mass exodus efforts began.  I headed for a quick shower and discovered an elephant at the bathroom building.  He apparently also needed to freshen up, as he hung out there for a while before moving on.  We frantically tried to pack all our stuff and organize what belonged in what vehicle as far as camping gear and supplies.  The only disadvantage to the Land Cruiser was that it has much less luggage space than Roxsand, and so our multitude of crap (most of it Tanya’s) had to be crammed into an even smaller space than on the prior part of our journey.  I will never cease to be amazed at how much stuff we managed to squeeze into an incredibly small space.  We said our goodbye’s to the rescue crew, who turned out to be a really cool bunch of people (young Bollywood girlfriend included), and to Jinxy, who had made our three days of being stranded at Linyanti the best time of our lives!  Eventually at around noon we were ready to go, prepared to face the sandy roads of Chobe in an attempt to reach Maun by sunset, 250 kilometers to the south.  Let the next chapter of the adventure begin!
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strickler on

Hi Gaby, wie immer, super Bericht, Grosse Abenteuer für Euch, hoffe ihr seid wieder aus dem Sand rausgekommen? Oder Steckt Ihr noch drin?
Grüsse aus der Schweiz Dagmar und Hans

Lord Jinxy on

Great one. I will never forget you guys

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