Thursday, June 28, 2012

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray"

Trip notes 5 June
Aka: "Why Jen will never be on 'Amazing Race'."

Picked up at ass-crack of dawn for trip to see meerkats and the Makgadgadi (?) salt pans.  Saw wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, elephants & hippos. Got done around 2, then...

I'm having to do some creative editing with my notes so as not to interrupt the narrative too much.  Our day started around 6am for a planned drive at the Makgadikgadi Pans.  Note the word, "planned".  We anticipated seeing the world's largest salt pans and we were hoping to spot some  meerkats as well.  Due to a communication error between our tour company and the hired driver, we were taken to the Makgadikgadi National Reserve for a game drive instead.  The reserve was a 2.5 hour drive from Maun, so we were going to be gone all day.

Did you know that zebras have red hair?  Or at least that's how it looked in the sun.  We saw a lot of different animals on the game drive: wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, elephants and hippos.  You'll excuse me if I don't post a lot of pictures here.  I assume most of you have been to a zoo or at the very least have seen pictures of these animals before.  This entry really isn't about the animals.

...then SAM talked Guide into taking us to the Nxai pans.  (pronounced: "nigh") Guide says they were "just down the road". Got to Nxai Pans Nat'l Park checkpoint at pans around 2.45. Drove about 15 minutes toward the pans, then the car started to overheat. SAM helped Guide put water in but it didn't stay in. Turned around and got about 1k back before engine started smoking. Guide was more concerned about his truck than our safety.  Have no idea how far from the checkpoint we actually are.  Estimated 10ks, based on the driving time & conditions. C and I start praying.

So those of you who know me best know that I'm not overly religious.  Still, that didn't stop me from sending a psychic SOS to the Man Upstairs!  I wouldn't have been so worried if it weren't for the fact that the sun sets around 5.30pm.  It is winter, after all.  If we needed to hike it back to the checkpoint, we needed to leave ourselves plenty of time to do it.  Our guide's cell phone was dead.  He also had a satellite phone but the battery was corroded and it obviously was inoperative.  You know what he did not have?  Coolant, a spare tire, a survival kit, or even extra water!  Call me crazy but if your job is driving out in the bush, hours away from civilization, wouldn't you make sure you at least had some extra water and basic car supplies on hand?  But I digress...

Thank goodness C had a Blackberry!  The service was spotty but she managed to get an e-mail off to the B&B owners stating our plight.  If we weren't back by nightfall, they were to send help.

Engine cooled enough for us to get another k closer to checkpoint.  Checking boot laces, getting ready to walk.  

So why is this subtitled, "Why Jen will never be in 'Amazing Race'."?  I'm a very analytical person and like to plan things.  If things don't go to plan, I tend to wig-out internally while trying very hard to keep a cool outer appearance.  I had been wigging out internally since we realized the guide's sat phone was melted and we had no effective means of communication.  Worse yet, we deviated from the plan, no one knows we're here and in the Australian bush we're told over and over again: STAY WITH YOUR CAR and yet we're about to walk 6 miles in the next 90 minutes before the sun sets.  

Yup.  We're boned.

Then we hear an engine.  Plane?  No, car!!  Enter Mike the Good Samaritan. Caught a ride with Mike to the checkpoint. SAM & C talk to guard and ask him to fetch Guide. I stay in car and thank Mike.  He says, "no worries"... hey, that phrase sounds familiar...

Of all the game reserves in all of Botswana, Mike was in ours.  Call it a sign, call it a miracle, call it a flugelhorn if you want but all I know is that this story could have had a very different ending very quickly.  The situation now is that we're at the National Park Checkpoint where there's an actual building, electricity and telephone.  The plan is to wait for the support vehicle to arrive from Maun, then hopefully make it to the B&B by 10pm.   (Remember, we are about 2 hours outside of town at this point!) I ask if he's Aussie.  He is, from Perth!!  I tell Mike that we live in the NT and ask I'd by chance, if he is he going to Maun. He said yes. I offer to pay for his petrol if he will give us a lift. He says we can ride with him but he will not take any money. Mike says we were still 30-40 minutes away from the pans where the car broke down.

We all agree this is the best course of action.  It doesn't dawn on anyone that we are about to get into a car with a complete stranger.  (In retrospect...duh!...that's how a lot of ABC After-School Specials started.)  Just knowing he's an Aussie put my mind at ease immediately.  Don't ask me why.  Mike turned out to be a real stand-up bloke was entertained by our story of how our day unfolded.  He is in the mining industry and in Botswana to set up a new base of operations for his company.  It was his day off and he just happened to be in the Nxai Pans. 

I guess it's safe now to tell everyone's moms that his car didn't have seat belts in the back. 

I confess to C that in a situation like what we were just in, I have the tendency to freeze.  C has traveled enough that she knows exactly what to do to survive.  I feel good about the remainder of the trip, seeing as how this is just Day Two.

Get to Maun around 5.15. Mike refuses dinner & bar shout and drops us off at Nando's. Good on ya, Mike!  I give him my mobile # and e-mail and say if he's ever in the NT  he should call and we'll cook him dinner. We were lucky today.  Very, VERY lucky.

Stopped for booze, got to B&B by 6.30 after cabbie stopped for gas.  Found out later Guide was rescued a few hours later and got home okay.  Long day!! Burning trash or bush fire in area. Don't feel good. Hope to get more than 4 hrs sleep tonight.  Early flight to Gunn's in the AM. I predict a nap.

Yes, even after the day we had, we stopped for a bottle of Jack.  They're called 'priorities', people!

Tomorrow's installment:  It can only get better from here and boy does it ever!


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