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Published: March 9th 2020
We kicked things off early as usual to try and get to the border with Botswana early. The border itself was the usual combination of mayhem and we got our passport stamped and car paperwork sorted but then for reasons beyond understanding had to pay a £2 council tax. Finally we had to get a ferry across no-man’s land to Botswana. The ferry was old and tired but rather impressively carried us, another car and a massive road train of a lorry. In Botswana the process was very slick and well managed and also very happily we didn’t have to pay for another visa.
In Botswana the road was a glorious tarmac wonder and we made good progress south. We even stopped at a shopping mall in what seemed like nowhere and got something for breakfast. The baker recommended a roll that looked deep-fired. It was. It was like a doughnut without a middle, it was also one of the densest pieces of pastry I’ve ever seen and am ashamed to say I only managed about half.
We headed south toward a town called Nata on glorious tarmac going through numerous game reserves along the way and seeing gazelle,
warthog and a number of Elephant. At Nata we stocked up on fuel and water for our trip onto the salt flats to a place called Kubu Island.
Unfortunately we would never make it, Nelly and other kit would break and by the end of the day we would be so tired that Warwick kept forgetting what he was doing, Alain spoke in one-word answers and I just generally ached everywhere…
We saw a sign to Kubu Island and started to head off the main road on our 100km trip to the middle of nowhere. The signs started to evaporate and there were little tracks everywhere. We were using our GPS based mapping as well to try and work out where to go and made about 50km of progress in the right direction, but as it turns out on the wrong track.
In the wet season the route to Kubu is usually not reachable as the crusty salt layer softens and the sandy salt underneath becomes very lose. Think of driving on the skin of custard. We had checked with the park the day before going in and they simply said “it is passable”. Soon enough we
were on the salt pan and making progress but then it looked really soft and I tried to make a turn to avoid it but that put all the weight of the truck on one side and we broke through the “custard skin” and all 4 tyres were in up to the Chassis.
We were prepared and so got to work digging out the tyres and getting the sand ladders in to create a solid surface to drive on. However as I tried to engage the differential lock to get out it wouldn’t engage (the differential lock makes all the wheels move in union and stops wheels spinning and is exactly what you need to get out of these situations). Since it didn’t engage some wheels span and some sat still. We would not be able to get out unless both front or both back wheels were on solid footing (a 4wd is actually 2 sets of 2 wheel drive with 2 separate differentials, but Iet’s not make this complicated – we were proper stuck).
So the next thing to do was to winch the car out of its whole, but that isn’t easy when you are on
a salt flat with nothing to winch against. So we used some mountaineering know-how and made what is called a Deadman anchor. A Deadman is a big lump buried in the snow (or in this case sand) to pull against. We started with a water canister but after we nearly bent it in half we upgraded to a spare tyre. It took three attempts to get an anchor deep enough and strong enough to pull a 3.5ton truck out of the sand. On our 3rd
attempt the tyre was buried a metre deep. The next challenge was the pull was so strong that we actually broke a tow rope (I think it might not have been up to specification!).
Eventually after 3 hours baking in the Sun we got clear, but to achieve this - we had Alain standing on the deadman to add extra weight, Warwick chocking the tyres after every cm we inched out, me pulling the winch, the tyre pressures reduced to increase surface area and all the weight removed from the truck. We eventually got the car back on the crust. But we weren’t out yet…
I drove the car forward and our new
motto was don’t stop and don’t turn. I drove forward toward a small patch of grassy scrub which we thought would be more solid. Unfortunately as I drove forward I got the tow rope caught around one wheel and we had to stop 10m short of the grass and bedded in. However quick on the case we got the sand ladders under both rear tyres and I quickly backed up on to them and then managed to unwind the tow rope from the axle. I then rolled forward onto the grassy patch and then said a little prayer as I drove forward fast and in a slow arc to turn us around thankfully not bedding in and coming to a stop on a good solid grassy bit.
We then spent about half an hour re-packing the truck and extracting a well and truly buried tyre. I think it fair to say we all then said a little prayer as I drove forward and tried to gain as much speed as possible to get us the hell off the salt flat. We didn’t stop until we were off and on something we were confident was solid. We then inflated the tyres and started the process of using wet wipes to remove sandy/salty/mud from pretty much everywhere on our bodies. I think we drank close to 20L of water between 3 of us by the end of the day (to give you a sense of how hot it was).
The time was getting late and the sun was setting so we drove on to find a wild camp (on solid ground). We pulled up with a view of the salt flats and some wildebeest, Ostrich and also cows in the vicinity. We figured if a farmer let his cows roam then there probably were not going to be lions.
By the time we had the tent up and had all had a glass of wine to calm the nerves we just about managed dinner before collapsing to sleep aching and exhausted. No more sand flats please.
Tot: 0.085s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 6; qc: 44; dbt: 0.0124s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
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