Diving into the Delta
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Where I stayed
We were about 3 hours away from our destination when I noticed that Anna and Jereon’s car developed a drunken swagger. Knowing that Jereon hadn’t touched a drop since that morning (joke!), I asked Bryan if it really was swaying or if it was just my unreliable eyes
Luckily for us, if you’re around civilisation in Africa, there is usually someone close by that can help, sure enough a local Afrikaaner and his son pulled over within minutes and got straight to work. First, sealing the leaking brake line and then replacing the wheel. Upon closer inspection the wheel hub was fine and it turned out that the problem lay with the wheel nuts, which had come loose. Anna and Jereon had two theories as to how it could have happened. Theory one: their Mechanic in Johannesburg didn’t tighten them properly months before and they’d slowly loosened; and Theory two: someone had deliberately loosened the bolts when they were away from their car. Apparently this is a common practise for car highjackers, who will then follow you until you have to pull over, then they rob you. We were all hoping it was nothing quite that dramatic, but you just never know
Our roadside pit team had the car sorted in no time and we were back on the road, not a minute too soon as we still had a long haul to make it to Maun before dark. Night driving in Africa is a nightmare with the animals, potholes and locals driving with no lights whatsoever, so we try to avoid this at all costs, sometimes stopping to camp if we’re not going to make our destination before nightfall. Luckily we pulled through after a long day and made it into Maun (the gateway to the Delta) just as darkness was falling. Chris was there to meet us and took us down the road to his Bush Pilot 'compound’ that we would call home for the next few days. A pool, a TV, a washing machine, a shower and a real kitchen. We were finally back in civilisation!
Chris and his Bush Pilot roomies welcomed us with open arms and let us take over their pad for a few days so we could stock up and recharge. They took us to the obligatory Friday night Pilot hangout, Sports Bar, where we feasted on pizza, our first time in a long time and also indulged in a couple of bottles of red. It didn’t take long to realise our camping lifestyle of early starts didn’t equip us with the stamina for a big night out and we were in bed by 1am (clean and well fed)
The next day Anna and Jereon, while their Landy was at the mechanics, visited the information centre to enquire about a music festival in Malawi and came out US$2000 lighter, having decided to splash out and take a holiday away from their holiday by chartering their own private plane deep into the Okavango Delta to a beautiful 5 star resort for 3 nights. Needless to say we were slightly jealous (and yes maybe a little bit more when they showed us their photos upon their return) but to soften the blow Chris whisked us away on our own private boat trip up into the Delta. He borrowed the boat he once owned from an Aussie Pilot mate of his, Tony, and took us further up river than he’d been by boat before. We stopped just after passing the Buffalo fence for a spot of fishing but when it came time to start up the engine again, the silence was deafening...it was completely dead. This was a little stressful at first since the only boats we’d seen that far up the river were Mokoros (dugout wooden canoes) which were not going to be able to tow us home. Chris immediately stripped off and was in the croc and hippo infested water trying to fix the problem. While he and Bry knew nothing about outboard engines, after a few reception-inhibited phone calls to Chris’ buddy, they were able to rewire the engine past the ignition, MacGuver-style, and we were back in business.
Next on our itinerary was an overnight Mokoro trip, so bright and early the next morning we were back out on the water again. We jumped in the water taxi which took us to the Mokoro community where we would meet our poler. Unfortunately as we docked into the tiny village it was apparent that we had timed our arrival perfectly with that of a full overland bus. The idyllic isolation we had pictured in our minds evaporated, and the traditional hollowed-out timber mokoro’s were replaced by a row of fibreglass replicas, where was the justice? Then we met Justice, he was to be our poler!
This time there was no motor to rely on, only Justice pushing us up the delta with a 4 metre long stick. Bry took his seat at the bow, ready to intercept any massive orchid spiders that were coming my way (that’s why I love him!). It was a peaceful experience, with no sound apart from the pole rippling the water and the birds and frogs singing. We saw plenty of elephants but the hippos and crocs were proving to be elusive
The day before the mokoro I had cut a bad gash in my toe so it ruled out any of the bushwalk activities of the trip, which we had warned Justice about as soon as we’d set off. He still insisted on taking us to a small island and setting up camp by midday and then instead of hoping back into the Mokoro for a paddle, Justice informed us we would be going nowhere until the temperature cooled down. We sat and read and dozed for 5 hours! Hmm, we were not sure what we were paying for. That night, just after we had gone to bed, it became clear exactly what we were paying him for when we heard an elephant wading through the reeds on a collision course with our camp. It got to within 5m of our tent before Justice bravely left his tent to build up the campfire, stopping the elephant dead in his tracks.
All in all, we couldn’t wait to get back to dry land and away from our not-so-social guide but in hindsight, it was a great way to see the delta (even if we did bring half of the spiders home with us!!). So our tip for anyone heading on a mokoro trip to the Delta – don’t go seeking Justice!
Anna and Jereon arrived back raving about their Delta experience, we just wish we had a spare Visa card lying around (don’t worry Peter, Bry wasn’t even tempted....well not too tempted), otherwise we would have been there with bells on
Our sunset drive that evening is when things got really interesting! We drove across the rickety 3rd bridge and headed through the wetlands towards Xakanaxa. Almost immediately we were faced with our first deep water crossing of the trip, with no alternate way around. Jereon took the bull by the horns and expertly guided their Landy through. Bry went next and needless to say our hearts were in our mouths as the bow wave started to rise up Kwetu’s bumper and over the bonnet. But he showed that anything a Landy could do, he could do too and we made it safely to the opposite bank. The extent of the damage only became apparent 30 mins later when we tried to start up again after stopping at a waterhole. The engine barely turned over, but we eventually managed to get him started and made it all the way back through the water crossing into camp at 3rd Bridge
The following day we managed to jump start from Anna and Jereon to get going, but our rev counter, indicators and then eventually the engine died. We were hoping to get another jump off their Landy but then all of a sudden they came to a grinding halt in front of us. Their fan belt had been shredded and their alternator was ruined, the curse of Moremi had struck again. Needless to say they weren’t best pleased at the job their mechanic in Maun had done, but at least they were able to drive, albeit slowly.
We reasoned that our problems with the battery failing to charge lay with the alternator or battery, or both, being damaged by the water crossing
The following morning Anna and Jereon made their way slowly back to Maun to track down their rogue mechanic and with one final jump start from a Swiss couple at the camp, our problems seemed to be behind us, Kwetu was alive again! However, just as our car problems seemed to be resolved our laptop bit the dust. This felt like an even bigger problem than the car, with laptop recovery not being in the average bush mechanic’s skill set. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Devon, Chris’ housemate, for giving up his Saturday morning resuscitating our little Acer and even recovering all our photos that hadn’t yet been backed up. We had one final night back in Maun with the Bush Pilots and were ‘fortunate’ enough to witness the initiation ceremony of 3 new pilots, affectionately known as ‘The Omelette’. It involves chewing up a raw egg, shell and all, then chasing it down with liberal amounts of straight alcohol. We kept our distance, except Anna, who was brave enough to venture into the ‘blast zone’ to get up close to capture the event on camera.
From Maun our plan was to cross the endless pans of the Makgadikgadi , the world’s largest expanse of salt pans. Which were only successfully navigated end-to-end 5 years ago by the Top Gear team....would Kwetu emulate their heroics? There was only one way to find out!