Maun is in the north of Botswana and is the capital of Ngamiland. The last 500 kilometers of tarred road arrived in the early 1990s. It has a reputation of a frontier town and a growing list of colorful characters. Some of the old hunters are legends in their own time, although they are a dying breed of rugged individuals. They could take care of themselves and others in any situation. They were often isolated and operated in harsh environments that were hard on people and equipment. In the Maun safari industry some of the famous hunters I have met are Lionel Palmer, Dougie Wright, John Dugmore, Willy Phillips, and Harry Selby. These men are great story tellers and, in their day, were sought after by clients. For an in-depth sense of their life and times I recommend a book about Harry Selby called Horn of the Hunter by Robert Ruark. It is a classic, true African hunting story.
Charlie is a friend of mine. Several years ago, we shared a house. He is a hard-drinking, ebullient, funny man. An opportunity for a two-day trip into the bush with Charlie is not something to pass up. He wants to go toward Moremi Game Reserve for a couple of nights and invites me along. I accept. A trip with Charlie is well known in town as a guaranteed adventure. Maybe even better than Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.
We shop for supplies in the morning, fill up with diesel, have a quick lunch, and head toward Moremi. The trip in is surprisingly smooth. We have seen some game -- giraffes, kudu, and impala. Before we find our camp, I spot a brown hyena. It is lying up to the neck in water and mud. The hyena is waiting for some game to come down for a drink. It is disturbed enough by us that it gets up and slinks away. Supper is eaten and there is a full moon shining. After sharing some stories, Charlie goes to sleep on top of the Land Rover. I sit in front of the tent and have a nightcap.
We break camp at 8:30 and start following the watery perimeter of the delta south of Moremi. Charlie has this customized '68 Land Rover that he calls Sally. When the going gets rough or the sand gets soft, he gives her all the encouragement he can. We are moving through and over bush, like the elephants we encounter. Before lunch and some rough going, where we have to go back, around, and through some rough terrain, it happens.
Sally has almost gotten us out of the heavy going, when a slight miscalculation puts her down. We are out of the vehicle looking at the two wheels on the passenger side. They are in a water hole made by elephants, with the weight of Sally resting on her undercarriage. Charlie starts to swear, gets out the 30kg jack, and goes to work on the front wheel. I am watching out for lions and elephants, gathering branches to put under the tires.
Charlie becomes demon-like, and the air becomes purple. The jack is not in top mechanical shape. Twenty minutes of jacking the front end results in us getting the jack stuck in the mud. The two of us pulling, slipping, staggering, and cursing finally break the suction and get it free. Charlie turns to me and says, "Well, Dave, at least when we are doing this, we are not doing anything else."
We move to the rear wheels, which appear to have a more severe tilt than the front -- the other back tire isn't even touching the ground. I continue to collect wood, and Charlie continues to swear at the jack because it won't go up or down. Looking at the angle of Sally's resting spot and the amount of water and the sizes of the holes, I'm not too optimistic. I'm thinking we may be spending the night here, or longer.
Charlie's expansive Yorkshire vocabulary is down to three words. I've collected wood and am taking a smoke break. Charlie quiets when the jack starts working again. I jam some of the wood under the back wheel and it all but disappears into the mud. Then the jack starts to slip sideways. The next thing I see is Sally sliding uphill! Sally is tilting on a 30-degree angle, sliding uphill. Darnedest thing I'd seen in a long time. We get inside and drive away, amazed at our good fortune.