By Jemima Middleton. Photos by Cayley Christos
“Do we know where we’re going?”
This sounded fairly confident, so we leapt into the Concession 4×4 in our clean white shirts and smart black skirts, and headed out into the bush. We were running late, and had about a half-hour drive ahead of us, to a beautiful spot where the bar was set up as a surprise for the guests who would reach the place by mokoro (dugout canoe).
As we approached the area, we radio-called the barman to find his exact location. The response was a collection of mutterings about airstrips and water crossings. Cayley’s confidence did not wane, and we bravely headed out into the nearest body of water, convinced that we were on the right track. About halfway through said water, the engine stalled. A nervous giggle, and we re-started, Cayley trying to find low range and reverse the vehicle out of the spot. We sank further. A spray of mud flew from the front wheel, and the engine seemed to scream at us to stop.
A few choice expletives followed.
There then followed an argument about the best plan of recovery. Cay wanted one of us to stay in the vehicle while the other was rescued and continued on to host the guests. I refused to comply with this suggestion, feeling it was best to stay on our little car-island together. Eventually, we removed our white shirts and climbed out of the car windows so that we could wade through the muddy water in our highly appropriate cocktail dresses…
Having found the high-lift jack, we discovered that it had rusted onto the side of the vehicle, and would NOT come off. We pulled, we tugged, we wacked it with a large spanner. Nothing … We were now officially living out a cliché.
Then began the radio-calling, so that the entire concession could now witness our humiliation. We giggled as one of the male managers advised us to “use the little stick thing near the handbrake and PUSH TO THE RIGHT to get into low range,” (we can’t even be offended by this) and were soon assured that help was on the way.
Pelo, one of the camp-hands, arrived to find us standing on the roof of our now stubbornly stuck car. It was only as he reached us through the water that he informed us that, in fact, his 4×4 was “having problem” and was “not strong enough to pull us out.” He did, however, manage to get the jack down. We thought it would then be a bright idea to find some sticks to place under the wheel if he could raise the vehicle.
Going for the most logical option at this point, we waded across undoubtedly crocodile-infested waters, to then throw ourselves at these small trees in disastrous attempts to break off the not-so-spindly branches. Don’t ever try to do this in a mini-skirt. It does not end well…
A suspicious splashing sound a few metres from our vehicle prompted screams of terror and a lightning-fast leap back onto the roof of the car. Pelo decided he had had enough and tried to depart from our swampy location, only to discover that he too had now become stuck in the mud.
We were informed, to our amusement and embarrassment, that “the tractor was on its way.” However, a guide from the neighbouring lodge, ignoring all warnings to the contrary and insisting that after 30 years of driving in the Delta “he would never get stuck in the mud,” decided to join us, fetching the barman and bravely motoring towards us to pull us out. About one metre into the quagmire and he was also stuck. I updated the Concession via the radio that the total number of sinking vehicles had now risen to three.
It was now pitch black, and the suspicious splashing noises had increased. There were now about 10 of us, (one man had arrived prepared and was wearing a speedo) wading around in the dark trying to find sticks and shouting unhelpful encouragement to those who were diving into underwater holes to try to dig the cars out. Some of us were frantically harvesting vegetation and emerging from the darkness like great grassy yetis, carrying whatever we could to stick under the deeply-embedded tyres. Finally, headlights behind us announced the arrival of the tractor. Maybe, just maybe, we’d be pulled out…
It was not to be. Five minutes into the tractor’s efforts, there was an ominous engine-dying murmur: the battery was flat. By this point, we really could only laugh. Jump leads were fetched, there was more wading about, more profuse, shivering apologies from us and a lot of testosterone-induced camaraderie as Mr Speedo and the gang finally managed to pull us out, 4 hours after we had first headed out for our peaceful sun-downer.
We are still struggling to live this down, and it is the general consensus that neither Cayley nor I should ever be allowed out alone while there is water/mud to be stuck in, as we will find it, and we will disrupt everyone’s evening as a result!