The back door slammed shut as we finished the seventh school on the itinerary of vision testing around the Okavango Delta. Anton explained the next part of our journey would be taking us into a remote part of Botswana that rarely saw tire tracks most of the year. This year saw particularly heavy rains, and even fewer tire tracks for that reason. Our four vehicle caravan rolled up to a distinct sign on the increasingly rugged road. In so many words it read “cross this line... and you’re on your own”. Anton radioed to the group, “Well my friends, there’s no turning back now. Once we’re in.. We’re in.”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little skeptical of the true intensity that lay ahead. In just a matter of minutes my skepticism would be put to rest. Floating through the soft and sandy two track with the roar of the engine reaching a new level, the steering wheel resisted any sort of instruction as we weaved our way into the bush. No sooner had the words “Be on the watch for elephants” left Anton's mouth when my knees hit the dash of the Defender.
“Elle! Elle straight ahead!”
My eyes strained to focus as I looked through the windshield, only to see an adult female elephant charging directly at us. As if from a scene in Jurassic Park, Anton calmly said “Do not move. At all.”
The soft click of my camera lense was all that I responded with. I watched in awe as she came to an abrupt hault, digging in her front heels and shaking the dust off her now fully deployed ears. A few seconds later and the whole encounter was over, leaving the convoy at a loss for words. As Anton put the car into gear again and slowly rolled past the elephant tracks, I had gained a whole new perspective on what the word “wild” meant in Southern Africa.
Pushing through kilometers of increasingly difficult terrain revealed just how important each member of this team would be in the hours and days to come. Karl, the resident optometrist for 4x4Outfar, along with his wife Adi, often held the group together with a mixture of caffeine and light-hearted banter. Keeping spirits up across the radio as the height of water crossings went from lug nut, to over-tire, and at times over the hood, or as they say in South Africa, “over the bonnet.” Cam, our fearless videographer was often running barefoot at full speed back and forth between rigs to capture the true nature of what we were getting ourselves into.
The farther we crept into the wilderness, the more the road began to turn to mud. Bogging down our extremely well equipped vehicles and creating hour long rescue missions. Iver, a skillful man of few words, and his daughter Megan, took up role of leading our pack through unknown water. Our routine of “walking it” became an all too familiar occurrence when staring down the 50 meter watering holes on our route. At times we even made the decision to cut a new road alongside the standing water, only to find stubborn mud, stumps and the occasional downed trees. Hour after hour we made our way through the bush until a moment came that felt uncomfortably quiet. 90 kilometers into our push, with another 60 kilometers still ahead of us, the engine in Anton’s Defender came to a sputtering hault. We were officially stuck.