SCOTT RAM­SAY

Ad­ven­turer and pho­tog­ra­pher

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

When the smoke clears…

So there we were, watch­ing park of­fi­cial Aubrey throw his toys all over our camp­site, in the most colour­ful and ex­pres­sive Afrikaans.

We had just ar­rived back at Po­lentswa camp af­ter an ex­cur­sion to Union’s End, in the Kgalagadi Trans­fron­tier Park (KTP). We were late clock­ing back into camp, and with a strict ‘no driv­ing af­ter dark’ pol­icy in place to aid the fight against rhino poach­ers, we had at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Aubrey.

If Aubrey from Nos­sob were a pres­sure cooker, he’d have ex­ploded al­ready.

“I want you out of this park! Out!” he shouted.

But be­fore Mr Aubrey has his fi­nal say, let’s back­track a few days, to the start of what promised to be an epic jour­ney in a Suzuki Jimny, a Mit­subishi Pa­jero, a Jeep Wran­gler and a Kia Sorento. And two Bruces from Aus­tralia, too.

DAY 1: The easy stuff

We left a chilly Joburg in our rear-view mir­ror, armed with plenty of bil­tong – clearly the beefy stuff was well known to our Aussie travel com­pan­ions be­cause they in­sisted on stop­ping for some in San­nieshof.

Our band of trav­ellers in­cluded John Rooth, bet­ter known as ‘Roothy’, one of Aus­tralia’s best-known ad­ven­tur­ers. Also part of the gang was Gor­don Shaw, a Scots­man turned Aussie.

And so, with Roothy fish­ing one piece of bil­tong out of his beard for ev­ery five that landed up in his mouth, we headed in the di­rec­tion of the Red Sands Lodge and camp, sit­u­ated just out­side of Ku­ru­man, for our overnight stop. As far as trav­el­ling days go, this was a just-around-the-cor­ner 600km kind of day.

DAY 2: On the road again

Early the next morn­ing, the camp­site was a dis­creet buzz of ac­tiv­ity. Fa­tigue was vis­i­ble on some faces thanks to a sus­pected case of wine flu. But we had a long day ahead of us, and ex­cite­ment was in the air.

Fi­nally, ev­ery­thing was neatly stowed away and our con­voy made haste in the di­rec­tion of Van Zyl­srus.

With the Jimny lead­ing the way, we chased the hori­zon along the scenic, but pot­holed, R380 to­wards the R31.

About 30km from the small Kala­hari town, we en­coun­tered our first stretch of gravel road. Thank­fully it was well main­tained and fea­tured a com­bi­na­tion of gravel and deep sand. While it was tough go­ing at times, in the Kia it was all calm and plush thanks to its more com­fort­able in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion set-up.

Ar­riv­ing at our Van Zyl­srus pit stop, we brimmed the fuel tanks, re­plen­ished our dwin­dling snack sup­plies and pointed the con­voy in the di­rec­tion of Twee Rivieren.

Like a pos­sum up a tree

This leg of the jour­ney has more than 100km of badly cor­ru­gated gravel road, mak­ing progress quite slow. The Jimny, though, pi­loted by a heavy-footed Roothy, quickly left the rest of us cough­ing in his dust – clearly he fan­cies him­self a bit of a Dakar rally type.

Since the Jimny was the only ve­hi­cle with a GPS loaded with Track­s4Africa, the rest of the con­voy had to fol­low it. But when the lit­tle lorry’s dust trail dis­ap­peared in the dis­tance, we were left with­out, well, di­rec­tion.

The two-way ra­dios also proved in­ef­fec­tive thanks to the hilly land­scape. Fi­nally we did man­age to catch up to Roothy and the Jimny, wait­ing for us in the shade of a tree.

“Crikey Roothy, fancy a bit of off-road racing in a Jimny then?” some­one cov­ered in a layer of dust asked.

“Well mate, that’s how we drive back home,” he replied, as if us Saf­fers were sup­posed to know that Aussie over­lan­ders reckon they are all in a race of sorts.

Af­ter per­form­ing a quick

check on all the ve­hi­cles, we were on the road again. But de­spite fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions on the road sig­nage to a tee, we man­aged to get lost. Again.

Soon we found our­selves on pri­vate prop­erty that strictly for­bade the use of any mo­torised ve­hi­cle, and were faced with a wor­thy ad­ver­sary for the Kia – a very deep sand track.

This posed a prob­lem. The Kia was the only so-called soft-roader on the trip (with no trans­fer case and not a lot of clear­ance to work with). It also had its stock 19-inch wheels with high­way ter­rain tyres. It was surely go­ing to get stuck.

We had to forge ahead re­gard­less, and the Kia tack­led the sand with gusto. It was a ner­vous af­fair, but it made it through with­out much drama.

Af­ter some ex­ten­sive sand driv­ing, we soon found our way back to the Twee Rivieren gate, where we were faced with a brand new chal­lenge. Petrol? What petrol? Find­ing out that it was not nec­es­sary to present a pass­port at the bor­der con­trol if you in­tend to exit the park at the gate of en­try, we com­pleted the nec­es­sary pa­per­work and en­quired about re­fu­elling.

The friendly lady at the desk said that while they did have diesel, petrol might be a prob­lem since the clos­est camp with any stock was Nos­sob, an­other 140km to the north.

This was not good news. Roothy’s en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing had left the Jimny’s rel­a­tively small 40-litre fuel tank nearly dry. The only op­tion was to tap into the Wran­gler’s aux­il­iary tank to do­nate fuel to the Suzuki.

Af­ter the re­fuel, we headed in the di­rec­tion of our overnight stop at Rooiputs. This short 25km stretch was burst­ing at the seams with wildlife.

Ar­riv­ing at the camp we heard via the camp grapevine that a leop­ard had been spot­ted in the area. Not ev­ery­one shared the en­thu­si­asm about see­ing one, though, ar­gu­ing that a can­vas tent of­fers limited pro­tec­tion. DAY 3: Jump-start­ing, tow­ing and POTJIE Ris­ing early the next morn­ing to tackle the more than 200km of cor­ru­gated gravel road ahead to Po­lentswa, the Pa­jero played dead. A door had been left ajar, leav­ing the in­te­rior lights ac­ti­vated, re­sult­ing in a drained bat­tery.

Five min­utes and a jumps­tart later, the diesel en­gine came back to life.

With ev­ery­one ready, we jumped into the Jimny, and cal­cu­lated that if we keep the vari­able valve tim­ing (VVT) en­gine in its op­ti­mum range, we might just make it to the petrol sta­tion in Nos­sob, 110km to the north.

The added weight the Jimny was car­ry­ing didn’t help our petrol-sav­ing ef­fort and we were soon forced to try dif­fer­ent fuel con­ser­va­tion strate­gies. Noth­ing seemed to make any dif­fer­ence, how­ever.

Along the way, we spot­ted a leop­ard next to the road. It may have been the same leop­ard ru­moured to be hang­ing around look­ing to eat tourists in can­vas tents. But then again, it could just as well have been a ca­sual day vis­i­tor. We con­tin­ued on­wards re­gard­less.

Even­tu­ally the fuel light started blink­ing ur­gently – and we were still 60km from Nos­sob. Okay, so we knew we had lost that fight. The ques­tion was just how far we would make it be­fore run­ning out of petrol.

Sur­pris­ingly, we mus­tered an­other 40km be­fore it fi­nally splut­tered to a halt. Stand­ing next to the gravel road, Gor­don, the Scot­tish Aussie, came to the res­cue with the Pa­jero. He at­tached a snatch-strap to the front of the Jimny and pro­vided

a quick tow brief­ing.

“Al­right mate, when I show you this hand, you should stand on the brake. Oh, and don’t for­get to keep to my right.”

And off we went, the Jimny be­ing tugged along like a lit­tle Ven­ter trailer be­hind the big­ger Mit­subishi. We soon got used to it, though. But a few clicks later, drama: Gor­don stuck his hand out of the win­dow, in­di­cat­ing, in no un­cer­tain terms, for us to brake, brake, brake.

Stomp­ing on the brake pedal, we watched as the Pa­jero be­came air­borne in front of us, cour­tesy of a ditch… thank­fully though, we had scrubbed off just enough mo­men­tum for the Jimny to stay in con­tact with terra firma.

We fi­nally reached Nos­sob, and more im­por­tantly the fuel sta­tion. Gor­don, putting on some of his best Aussie swag­ger, duly pro­claimed: “Gee mates! Have I got a story to tell! I res­cued a Jimny!”

Reach­ing our fi­nal stop on the trip, Roothy vol­un­teered to try his hand at ox­tail potjie. Since the potjie had trav­elled all the way with us on the Kia’s Front Run­ner roof rack, it would have been a shame to not ac­tu­ally use it.

But while Roothy is con­sid­ered to be a for­mi­da­ble bush cook on the other side of the world, mak­ing a potjie for a group of South Africans... well, that’s a whole dif­fer­ent ball game.

“It’s re­ally sim­ple, isn’t it? It’s just mix­ing a bunch of veg­gies, some meat and you hope for the best,” the man with the big beard rea­soned.

Suf­fice to say that Aussies should stick to rugby, cricket and didgeri­doos. Although Roothy’s at­tempt was okay, he clearly needs to prac­tise a bit harder at the potjie busi­ness.

DAY 4: The rough road

On the fi­nal day of our short ad­ven­ture, we were greeted by a spec­tac­u­lar sun­rise. The sun’s rays soon filled ev­ery nook and cranny of this bar­ren land­scape and what­ever cold re­mained from the night be­fore made way for tem­per­a­tures soar­ing in the high 30s.

Our mis­sion was sim­ple: reach Union’s End on the Namib­ian bor­der and hope­fully see some mem­bers of the Big Five on the way. On pa­per, the 73km jour­ney shouldn’t have taken more than two hours.

Pi­lot­ing the Jeep Wran­gler for this stretch, we soon en­coun­tered a very un­pleas­ant cor­ru­gated dirt road. The Jeep, even with its tyres de­flated to 1.4-bar, was shak­ing and rat­tling like you wouldn’t be­lieve.

As a re­sult, we had to slow to a crawl as each ve­hi­cle in the con­voy was cursed with a cho­rus of a thou­sand rat­tling noises. It was so bad in fact, that talk­ing on the ra­dios be­came nearly im­pos­si­ble.

So we had to make a de­ci­sion: Turn back and have a spot of lunch or en­dure the African mas­sage. We opted for lunch.

The king of the Kgalagadi

Af­ter lunch, we de­flated the tyres even more and stocked up on water be­fore giv­ing it an­other shot. A short while later, near the Kan­naguass wa­ter­ing hole, we heard the bone-chill­ing roar of the in­fa­mous black­maned Kala­hari lion.

The roar re­ver­ber­ated through the plains. Birds, like in the movies, re­ally fled in noisy panic from the nearby trees. Nat­u­rally, we went in search of the ori­gin of the sound. A long search later, we ad­mit­ted de­feat – the lion was not in the mood for so­cial­is­ing.

And then the penny dropped: we had to be back at camp be­fore sun­set. Climb­ing be­hind the wheel of the Pa­jero, we stud­ied the map and re­alised we had, in fact, landed up quite a dis­tance from our camp, near Union’s End.

The clock was tick­ing and the sun was clos­ing in on the hori­zon with more than 50km back to our Po­lentswa camp.

The strict cur­few and hefty fines im­posed by the park on vis­i­tors is not with­out good rea­son. The in­crease in rhino poach­ing has forced the park to limit traf­fic at night in or­der to eas­ily spot a pos­si­ble sus­pect ve­hi­cle af­ter dark.

Clock­wise from left: The skeletons of the Kala­hari trees cast­ing long shad­ows as the sun moves in on the hori­zon. Mas­sive bird colonies are a com­mon sight through­out the Kala­hari. Nos­sob is one of the Kgalagadi’s main camps. The start of an­other scorch­ing day in the Kgalagadi Trans­fron­tier Park. Later that day, a 'ranger' ac­cused us of be­ing rhino poach­ers. But Aubrey, the 'ranger' missed one vi­tal de­tail: there ap­par­ently aren't any rhino in the Kgalagadi.

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