Stuck in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans

Some off-road drivers love mud. In fact, they will take a detour just to power their 4×4 through its gooey, sticky, slipperiness. After spending an entire day stuck in the stuff on the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana, we don’t quite agree with those off-roaders. In fact, we’ll take a detour just to avoid mud. This is why.

It was a wonderful start to a new day. The sun rose in spectacular fashion over Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, basking the popular Kubu Island in a yellow glow of beautiful. ’Twas a wonderful start to the day indeed.

We had to leave this desolate but amazing place. Duty was calling back in the concrete jungle. After a lazy breakfast, we decided to take one last drive onto the pan for a photo of the Nissan X-Trail we were driving, with the island in the background. Driving on a two-spoor ‘track’ on the pan, we noticed a stick in the pan, stuck into the pan surface for no apparent reason.

Then it happened. It was as if the Nissan had been attached to a giant elastic band. The compact SUV stopped faster than any ABS system would ever allow, the wheels deep into the mud that lives just under the thin crust of the pan, turning aimlessly. On closer inspection it was obvious the Nissan was firmly in the gooey stuff, its belly also embedded in the mud.

Sjoe! This was turning into quite an adventure! We were not worried at all at that stage… our back-up team was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser with a winch and straps and all kinds of recovery gear. We called the lads in the Cruiser over the two-way radio, and the cavalry arrived. At least this added another dimension to our article: a real recovery.

What happened next is a bit of a blur. The first hour or so was quite exciting. Devising the recovery plan, hooking up the recovery straps, devising a new recovery plan because the Nissan was too firmly embedded in the mud, and so on. Very exciting. By the second hour, our enthusiasm was slightly diminished.
By the third hour, the Cruiser was stuck, too – the much lighter X-Trail was so stuck, that the Cruiser had winched itself into the slippery mud, too, breaking through the thin, hard crust of the pan. Another hour later, the Cruiser was still right where it had been earlier: stuck.

Around lunchtime the ‘adventure’ had long been forgotten. By that stage, a few swear words were being thrown about. At 3pm the Cruiser was finally unstuck. But the Nissan remained embedded. At just past 4pm, the Cruiser was stuck again. Ahhhh, s#!$%! This time it was properly stuck.

A plan was devised: we would dig a hole in the pan, attach the winch cable to a spare wheel, bury said wheel and cable in the hole, and then the Cruiser can winch itself out of its stuckness. This method is called a dead man’s anchor. For good reason: it’s the last roll of the dice.

The first hole was not deep enough, and the winching managed to extract only the buried spare wheel from the bowels of the earth. We started again, and dug much deeper. By this stage, the sun was heading to the horizon. This attempt worked much better and a small battle was won: the Cruiser was free! But the X-Trail was nowhere close.

Then, like a vision, two vehicles appeared on the horizon. They had driven onto the pan for the sunset, and happened upon a group of muddy and grumpy people who had long since lost their sense of humour about this little ‘adventure’.

So yet another plan was devised: the two Jeeps and the Cruiser would be joined together with towing straps. The snatch strap was attached to the Nissan, and the Cruiser. A countdown came over the radio: Three! Two! One! Goooo!

What happened next is quite hard to explain. Essentially though, with the three other 4×4s accelerating as best they could, the slack in the snatch strap was taken up in the blink of an eye… and the X-Trail was plucked from the mud at about 60km/h, going backwards.

The recovery convoy continued full steam ahead, determined to drag the Nissan clear of the worst mud, at 60km/h. Have you ever encountered oversteer, going in reverse? At 60km/h? That day, we did.  We had finally been recovered, just as the last rays of the sun bounced of Kubu Island. What’s the moral of the story? Always be well prepared for a recovery, with straps, shackles, winches, extra water, and other whatnots. Never say never.  Most importantly, is this, though: if you see a stick protruding verticaly from the surface of the Makgadikgadi Pans, stay the hell away from it.

Courtesy:  Leisure Wheels

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