I don’t know why everyone thinks elephants are cute, especially African ones, because when they are right up next to you I can tell you that is most definitely the last word you would use to describe them. These beasts can charge, trample you or throw your vehicle over with hardly any effort and you will most definitely be left for dead. It was on our last night in Moremi that my newly developed fear of elephants really peaked. It must have been around 3am when I heard a thumping sound in the distance. The telltale beating of the ground was far enough away, for now, but my ears were pricked in preparation. Dum, dum, dum…it was getting closer.
“Andy” I whispered, whilst elbowing him in the ribs. I was met with a grunt but another elbowing worked a treat. “Listen!” We lay there still as statues but for the sparrow-like breaths I allowed to escape from my lungs. It was clearly coming straight for us. Now I know an elephant has no interest in human beings, but the thing is; it was dark and this beast was looking for something to munch on and if we got in his way, well he just may boot us out of it.
Swish…he was so close now that if we touched the canvas I swear we could have felt him. Clearly we were not going to be doing this as any movement or noise from us right now would cause it to freak: “Why is that rock moving/speaking?” he would think and then possibly throw us somewhere, kick us over or worse just stand on us. Ok my imagination was working overtime and I am pretty sure none of this would happen but you try lying there with a 13 foot, over 3 ton African Bull Elephant brushing up against your tent.
We heard the bin being thrashed around a bit and some munching sounds and then after about ten minutes he moved on. Phew! I pretty much withered away into sleep, my heart grateful for the break. We woke in the morning to see the contents of the bin all over the pitch and a half munched pineapple next to the car. I was in a bad way – sleep deprived and dreading the day of driving ahead. Yesterday had been a lovely relaxing day spent pootling down the Okavango Delta on a boat; hippo spotting and drinking red wine in the sunset, today had an 8 hour drive in store for us and some water fall from last night filling up the dirt tracks…joy!
It was about 6am when we left the gates of the campsite and within half an hour we almost got stuck in the mud. Luckily Andy powered on through and the wheels came free. There was a lot of getting out of the car and assessing the depth of puddles filling the tracks after that, before ploughing through bonnet deep water. 5 minutes on and we were stopped by some safari jeeps assessing a situation ahead. On closer inspection we could see a dead lion in the track with what turned out to be a huge chunk of its rear bitten off by another lion that was sat in the shadows licking its whiskers.
After not much longer we approached the North Gate, exiting the park. We were stopped at the gate by a ranger who made us aware that two of our wheel arch flaps had come off. Oops! We explained that we were off to Savuti and the Chobe National Park and enquired as to the driving conditions. Despite the rainfall, we were told that it shouldn’t be too bad as the first 40km were, and I quote: “Gravel road; no problem nothing.”
Following the directions given by the ranger we headed off along this ‘gravel road’ which wasn’t really gravel. Ten minutes later and we were driving through another bonnet deep river, only to then be faced with a tree blocking the road. We drove around this and then saw a lake up ahead. On the approach, a huge hippo lifted its head and body out of the water looking disapprovingly at the new addition to its environment. Clearly we were not welcome here (hippos are actually the most dangerous animal in Africa and kill the most people so we were not keen to hang around). We must have gone the wrong way.
We went back and just after the tree we turned; yes it looked like we were all good, until we hit the other side of the lake and there he was: old mate hippo welcoming us into his territory again!! Apart from reversing, the only way out was to drive through the lake, straight into the hippo. If he was submerged then it was clearly too deep for us to get through without a snorkel. We retreated. He was really pissed off now!
We drove back towards the gate, through the river again and stopped at a small shack by the track where a local woman was selling sweets, tobacco and drinks. I asked her for directions. She said yes we had gone the right way but we needed to turn before we got to where the hippo was. She provided us with a map she had drawn on a packet of cigarettes and off we went. There was another slight path we could have taken before the tree so we made for that. Eventually it brought us to the lake, again, but far enough away from the hippo and shallow enough to pass through. There were some tracks from other vehicles so this was a good sign.
With all of this toing and froing we were now an hour and a half behind schedule and only about 50km from where we had begun this morning. Still, we were now on the right tracks and so we chilled out a bit and headed on. Little did we know that we still had more adventuring in store…
A while ahead we came across a bridge that was pretty much submerged in water. Slowly we made it through and then came to a diversion, as we neared we saw why this was in place: the flooding was so severe that in the middle of the road was another lake, about 60m wide and in the middle, floating around, was a lorry…a full blown lorry just bobbing about! The detour took us through a couple of tribal villages and it really did not look like we were headed the right way. The map had indicated that there should be a left turn soon, but we couldn’t see it. Eventually we turned off and at last we were on this ‘gravel road…no problem nothing’! About 40 minutes in I noticed a guest house on the roadside. This just didn’t seem right; we were supposed to heading further into the wilderness not towards civilization. I checked for it on the map and sure enough, we were only on the road back to Maun…about 40 minutes away from the city in fact! Andy wasn’t too impressed with my map reading skills now that we had to retrace our steps – 3 hours travelling added onto our original journey!
On the way back past the lake and over the bridge we hesitated before heading through the water. A few locals were helping someone who had got themselves stuck and ushered us past. The only way we could guarantee not getting stuck was to go full throttle. Needless to say, they were not too impressed after we covered them in muddy water and continued on our way…we really didn’t mean to.
Finally, we saw the turn we should have made (the sign only visible from this direction) and just before sunset we arrived at Savuti campsite, having been graced with the presence of giraffes, zebras, deer and, of course, elephants along the route.