High water levels...
After a few lazy at foggy days in Swakopmunt on the coast and after buying some nice mask for our future house in Chile (both like the masks), we started up the Sandy Skeleton Coast when we got in contact with Matt, the guy travelled with through Cameroon to DRC with on the bikes. He was in Maun (Botswana) with his girlfriend Claire and were about to head into Moremi Wildlife Reserve. He told us it was difficult to get into and next month was fully booked! With that we sprint across from the Atlantic coast on Namibia into Botswana and to Maun telling Matt to arrange a booking for us along with him. We picked up our relevant passes from the backpackers in Maun having taken two days to get over from the coast, an oil change for the Landy and the next day drove into the Okavango Delta.
Grass around Maun was eaten clean like tennis court or cricket wicket, almost as if someone was busy with a lawnmower but it was the intensive cattle stocks in the area. Many small herds owned by locals roaming feeding everywhere including the roads, you could see the pens where they stayed the night made form vertical logs planted in the ground and with thorny Akashi branches on the ground around them making the defence from outside even more difficult to pass. Along the road people would erect at sorts of markers to identify their entrance off the road to their home, using tyres, old tin baths, various parts of cars (doors, bonnet), plastic containers, wooden crosses, anything that was worthless but made a good marker.
On the approach to the park entrance I deflated the tyres because of the sandy corrugations.
Inside the park the water levels were higher than normal. A ranger told us as we signed in, indicating water crossings and bridges that were down and the best route to take around them in the water. Didn’t see many animals on the way up to third bridge but did a couple of water crossings that almost covered the wheels for an instant but not high enough to come inside the doors. The tracks were very sandy, this was more of a 4x4 adventure park, two wheel drives wouldn’t have the ground clearance or enough traction for the sand.
Found our camp site to meet Matt and Claire later and we left a small structure made from bricks stacked and a beer can full of sand on top with a small Chilean flag (from football world cup flags) waving in the air in the middle of the BBQ pit as a hello and went out looking for more game to see.
Got to fourth bridge to see lots of water and we studied the first section from the bonnet of the Landy seeing a bridge made completely from thick tree branches just beyond, about 50m long. Another Land Rover came from the other side and a couple also got out to the study the route. While standing outside we heard a roar and it was close (third bridge camp is famous for lions and there are no fences protecting your camp sites like South Africa!). We both ran for the open passenger door and I was not wasting time to get around into the drivers side as I pushed Paulina inside, both of us bolting in the open door. Sat in the safety of our Landy we then watched the other couple making a dash back to their Landrover, something had also scared them!
The other Landy could drive straight onto the bridge but there were a couple of water crossings for us to do before getting to the bridge.
So we watched as the other couple drove along the bridge as there suspension bounced over the logs. Near the end of the bridge there two front wheels dropped between the logs that parted and as he tried to get it out the logs moved again and the back wheels were stuck. I could see he didn’t have the diff-lock engaged as one wheel would spin water high up in the air, I shouted over to push the small gear stick across to the left and locking at four wheels to drive together but he was too far in by that stage.
Being the person I am I thought “I could pull him out” and without thinking and without listening to my onboard warning system and without realizing how afraid Paulina was, I drove through the first water crossing.
OH SHIIIIIIT…..! There was a deep hole and the front of the Landy noise dived into it and I had no snorkel either to draw air from high up. It was already in low range with all 4 wheels locked together, diff-lock on, with engine revs high, all I could do was push hard on the accelerator. The water was defiantly deeper than I’d expected and also Paulina who got a real shock. We plunged noise first and the water came over the top of the bonnet but the Landy powered and swam through, we climbed up and out the other side. On the other side we decided that I should go for help from the rangers, there was no way to pull him out as his underside was resting on the logs. With that and not much more thinking again I turned the Landy and aimed the way we had come.
Paulina closed her eyes and I floored it. The noise sank again but with more force than the last time as wanted more momentum now knowing it was very deep. There was a thud and a bang as the water hit the underside of the bonnet, a wave of water came up and over the bonnet and splashed up over the windscreen and unable to see. Quickly we came out the other side with steam raising from the engine and steam from the air jets inside the Landy steaming the inside of the windscreen.
We drove back to the camp, warned some other groups about the water level, told them we were going for help and said to the rangers that someone was stuck on the bridge. On our way back to the camp site we saw Matt and Claire parked enjoying a beer at our camp site sat around the Chile flag.
We caught up and told them about what had happened, Paulina was still shocked and really upset with me by it all and I wasn’t her favourite person right then. I should have walked the crossing first and not drove into the unknown and I should have known this, but for some reason I didn’t (lack of experience in these things and the terrain!), I wouldn’t make that mistake again!! I’d almost drowned the Landy and could have killed the engine. Paulina´s comment: “But the most important that Robert forgot he wasn’t alone and he was putting in danger also me!!!!!!”. We had water inside the floor of the Landy that would dry out, I checked the air filter and it also had a bit of water in it but none of it passed through the filter to the engine.
Walking the cross, just to the right is where I almost drowned the Landy
What helped was the bow wave created by pushing hard and fast through the water because the intake was well below the water level.
That night we had a BBQ in our open camp site and you could see the animal spoors (foot prints) from when they passed through. The site was known for lions visiting in the night and it made ALL of us glad we had roof tents but none of us planned late night trips to the toilets! We had a walk around the camp site and bumped into the Dutch couple how were stuck on the log bridge, they managed to get out with help and using lift jacks to get back on the logs. That night in the tents we could hear lots of noises and strange roars and in the morning there were fresh spoors around the vehicles.
After a bit of a morning game drive in our 4x4’s we returned to camp to move on together but then I lost my gearbox.
The 4x4 adventure
None of the gears would work and the high-low range was soft as a soft thing on a soft day. Crawling under (I was getting used to that by now) and with a little playing around I found the drop linkage. Drop linkage for the High/Low range was not connected and I could see where it should be bolted to the gear selector on the gearbox, a nut was missing, it must have worked its way loose. Checking my bag of assorted nuts and bolts there was not the correct size to be found. If you haven’t got a spare then obtain one from somewhere else on the vehicle. Checking out the roof rack I found a nut that wasn’t load bearing and used that. We were on the move again.
Back to water crossing from the day before, we walked it.
The rangers were fixing the bridge after the Dutch couple dropped their Land Rover though it but there was a water crossing that ran along side it. It was touch and go as we thought about it and walked it in our boxer shorts, the water level was still rising. Matt passed the first part taking a different route than I had the day before. On the other section water level was high and almost drowned his air intake, stood watching we could see it was deep. We decided to take another longer route, didn’t want to drown the Landy and face the problems getting it repaired out here, especially when it was to be sold soon.
We saw over a hundred elephants in one heard on the route around, the nicer landscape since we started with the national park, so we were smiling all the time after that.
The Okavango Delta is best seen from the air as in the TV wildlife programs. Continuing we meet two new Land Rover Discovery’s stuck in the sandy track ahead, one towing a heavy offroad camping trailer. Towny’s out of their depth in the National Park with low profile tyres, too much pressure in the tyre (drop the pressure to lengthen the tyre footprint for more traction) plus more momentum ya ejjits!! They had a special device to take the pressure down to exactly 1bar that screwed on the valve (solutions to problems you never thought you had! What’s wrong with a quality simple old style pressure gauge??). The woman said they even switched ‘On’ the ‘sand mode’ button on the dash, I ask if there was ‘stuck in sand’ mode button and got a blank look for my humour but it made me laugh.
I pulled out the first guy who was stuck trying to get his friend with the trailer out. Then positioned him half on the track to make used of the hard middle ground and me hooked up in front him. He wasn’t keen on this idea to start with (the meat in the sandwich!) thinking I could pull his friend with the trailer out alone but eight wheels pulling are better than four with their heavy trailer, and faster. We got his friend with his trailer out no worries. They looked real worried when we told them there were worse sand sections ahead and water crossings…”fill your boots boys!”
Meet Matt and Claire up the north side, saw more elephants and went to our 50USD per person camping spot. With the BBQ lighting the area between our 4x4’s we started cooking up.
It wasn’t long until we had some four legged visitors, shining the head torch into the darkness we saw the menacing glow from pairs of eye’s looking our way, a few hyenas. Matt and I grabbed our shovels and chased them away, they ran off into the bush and lost sight of them. As we walked back to the camp I waited a few seconds then turned and scanned my touch light back around, you could see the eyes watching us again. They could smell our food and thought it would be an easy meal, but not with us on duty!