Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Safari: Flooded Park of Moremi, deep water for the Landy. (Feb 14-17)

Current Location: Maun, Botswana
Highlights: Flooded Park of Moremi, deep water for the Landy, and rain, rain, rain.
Upcoming: Visit to Clifton School in Francistown, then on to Zimbabwe and the Zambezi.
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 19.971160 LONG: E 23.441182

We arrived in Maun yesterday and stayed the night at Audi Camp. That evening I tried to send a diary entry with the satphone. Of the two attempts, I was cut off in the middle of the transmission after 6 mins. OUCH, that just wasted almost $30 and nothing was sent. We dried out our stuff form our WET time in the Kalahari and the next day went into town. As I pulled into the petrol garage, I heard a loud bang on the car. Already depressed because of the constant rain and gray sky, great I thought, I must have hit something. But no, it was Gerhard banging on the side, we had bumped into the German couple again in there deluxe Land Cruiser. My spirits were lifted! We chatted and decide we would travel together into Moremi Park, and that night we would camp at the Okavango River Lodge. It
rained pretty much all that night, but thankfully stopped the next day so I could do some maintenance work on the Landy. We had already stopped by the parks office in Maun to ask about the park and they said that only two roads in the park were open and the rest were flooded and impassable, so I wanted the Landy to be ready for nasty wet and muddy conditions especially after our experience in the Kalahari a few days earlier. I used silicon gasket sealant to
seal the distributor cap to the distributor body (while in the Kalahari), and now I used rubber grease to seal all the
HT leads. After checking all fluid levels and changing the fan belt, we left for town to get the permit to enter the park and some food. Oh, I almost forgot, we also decorated the Landy with stickers we had made in Windhoek, take a look at the pics below.

It's quite a drive to the South Gate entrance gate from Maun so we decided to camp outside the park gate that night and enter the park first thing in the morning. Botswana is really nice as you can camp just about anywhere legally. Let me digress somewhat and talk about the Botswana officials we had encountered so far; they have been so
incredibly friendly, courteous, and helpful. Let me illustrate with this example. As I said we were going to camp outside the park gates that night. In fact we camped down a road just by a vet disease control fence before the entrance. We drove a short way down and after about 20 mins a government Landy pulled up. Great we thought, we are getting told off and asked to leave. But no! The official inside had seen us drive down the road and he had driven down to make sure we were OK and didn't get stuck as it was a very bad road.
After he was satisfied we were OK and not stuck he drove back. Incredible!

That evening we had a nice "braai" (= barbecue) with the German couple and even opened a bottle of pink champagne to celebrate our reunion. Up we got the next day and off to the park gate we went. The road deteriorated quickly and we were driving through pool after pool, but did see many fresh elephant prints in the wet sand. We
finally arrived at the park gates, paid the fees (150 Pula = US34) and went in. Only two park roads were open, the one north to North Gate and the track to Xakanaxa. We headed towards Xakanaxa where we were going to stay the night. The drive to Xakanaxa was along a flooded sandy track which was about 30% water and 70% wet sand. I very gingerly drove through each pool, worried about flooding the electric's but soon became used to fording these bodies of water. Fortunately it did not rain all day and we joked how bad it could
have been if it had been raining. Maybe we should not have joked about the rain... The drive into one of Botswana's premier parks was almost devoid of wildlife, although we did see one or two elephants. This was real shame, as so many people had e-mailed us and
told us that Moremi Park was their favorite park and how nice it was.

We arrived at the camp area, again, no facilities, just an area to stay. It started to rain again. In fact Botswana is in the midst of the heaviest rains in 80 years! It didn't stop until about 10 am the next day. The park was now even more flooded. The Landy had done great yesterday going through the pools, although they were not as deep as they were now! We set off along the track which was now about 45% water and 65% Land. We drove first as the German Couple had a problem with the compressor that operated their iff-locks so they had 4 wheel drive, but no diff lock whereas are ARB rear diff lock was still in great shape. The pools which looked deep the day before now looked like small lakes. The drive out was about getting out rather than watching for game. There were some very deep
pools where the water level was about 80 cm deep or more. The first deep pools were very nerve wracking for me as I had no idea how the Landy would cope. You could hear the fan blade shred the water and see the bow wave almost come over the top of the wings and bonnet, but the landy didn't falter or miss a beat. Our 30 year old Landy
performed admirably! In one deep pool, we were thrown about as the surface under water was deeply rutted. The corner of the bumper must have hit the side of the bank hidden under water as we emerged with a huge clod of mud on the corner and the bumper ever so slightly bent. But we did emerge intact! In fact in parts, it almost felt like we were floating on the water. It's amazing form which places water found its way into the front cab of the Landy form the engine bay. When I finally took a look under the bonnet, every single surface except for the air cleaner was wet and covered in a fine gray silt form the water. This was quite an amazing drive out and although exciting in its own way, I was very sorely disappointed that the park was so wet and that we had seen so little wildlife. The wildlife count was: 4 zebra, about half a dozen elephants, and several dozen impala.

In fact at this point I was actually quite depressed. All I could think was how hard I had worked, how much money I had spent to pull this trip together, how much stress I had caused Gena, and how many hurdles I have overcome only to miss out on the beauty of some of the places I had looked forward to seeing and experiencing the most of the whole trip. I could take only very few so-so pictures as the light was so bad or it was raining and we shot hardly any video, except of driving through the pools! Of any low points, this was my
lowest of the trip so far as there was nothing I could do to change the weather, we could not wait to see if the weather would change as we were already too far behind schedule, and it was too expensive to return anyway. Yes, I was depressed. We decided to leave Botswana as soon as possible and not even to bother to go to Chobe which was
also wet. Usually, when things go wrong, I don't bleat about the situation too much, but look for solutions.

The only solution I could think was to come back here when it was not raining, so I am now plotting, in the back of my mind, how I can return to the Kalahari, Moremi and Chobe with Gena!

We left the park, and again camped by the side of the road with the German couple. The next day we returned to Maun where we would prepare to leave for Francistown where we had a school visit planned and the German couple would return to Windhoek in Namibia as their holiday was at an end. But our departure form Maun was not a quiet
one and involved a visit to the Police Station!

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