The Tale of Steve and Kat

June 2005 is the year and a long story begins. A tale of fellow adventurers, lives travelling in parallel, with similar goals and aspirations, culminating in the most longstanding of feuds. The battle of landrover versus landcruiser.
After a long day in the heat of Namibia, on a long and dusty road at dusk, a green noisy flash passes by. A flash of blonde hair, a dark and bearded pony tail and an enormous lens protruding from a rather handsome (dare I say it) racing green series one landrover noisily overtakes in a race to get to camp. One week later, far away on the banks of the Kavango River, the same noise was to return to break the evening silence. The green bomber had broken into our lives.
In August 2009 I was witness to the nuptials of Steven Bickell and Kat Lowenburg in a church in the middle of Gotland, off the Swedish coastline. The month together, those years ago, was filled with the intensity and competitiveness of The Ashes but also the companionship that is shared when common minds meet  and where visions are shared around the glow of a flickering flame….
An excerpt of the journal, and photos, of some of our time together appears below:
‘The mighty Kavango River has been our road map for the last two weeks. We moved eastwards along its banks on the  Caprivi Strip, exploring its waters. On the way we collected some fellow travellers on a similar routing. Since then our lives have run in parallel for most of our trip and they finally crossed paths when they were recorded overtaking us, breaking the speedlimit, at the entrance to Etosha. I think the fact of breaking the speedlimit was a major challenge overcome as their top speed hovers around a paltry 80 kilometers an hour. Nonetheless the beard was noted as was the long blond hair, camera lenses and a sneaking admiration for the cheeky short-wheel base Landrover that passed us.

We were introduced formally to Steve and Kat on the banks of the Kavango at sunset and shared a beer which led to the teaming up of an unlikely couple, the fact that they drove a Land Rover and we have a Land Cruiser – with a combined age of half a century – is unusual in itself. There is a deep-rooted rivalry between the two makes of vehicle in this part of the world. The common denominator being the pride in which the travellers share for their respective modes of transport. I will not dwell on the rivalry as it evokes passions that run deep. Since we met we have spent three weeks exploring the Okavango Delta, Moremi and Chobe Game Reserves together and culminating in a birthday gorging session at the magnificent Victoria Falls. Today we parted company as we head east to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe and they turn south on their return leg.

The Okavango is a revelation and we spent time in the delta feeling the pulse of the mighty swampland that ebbs and flows to create a haven for wildlife. We spent a few days in Maun, a service point to the operators in the delta, to charge our pantry before the long drive through the bush which was to take us seven days.

Helen described our experience in the delta eloquently enough in the last missive so I will move on to the recent past when we left the company of some (very) old friends in Maun. We were looked after as only local knowledge can do and came away with a menu including the finest fillet steak, tiger prawns and smoked salmon. Steve, Kat and the two of us shared the load and we had teamed up for the formidable 600 kilometres ahead of us northwards through Moremi and Chobe. Louis in Maun had booked seven nights in various open campsites through the reserves. ‘Open’ meaning that the campsites were not enclosed and the wildlife roamed through as they wished. When we arrived in Savuti a male elephant was busy ripping the branches off the tree above our site. We moved in as he moved on and we settled into camp in the sandpit. It took us eight hours of driving to cover 140 kilometres over a sand ridge that was more in place in the namib desert, and we were all a little jaded. They have built the shower facility behind an elephant-proof wall as the elephants had destroyed all the buildings in attempts to get at the water. They had even learned how to turn the shower taps on, through the window and occasionally the women would get a nasty shock, as a trunk would appear through the window.

Elephants rule Savuti. We had arranged our camp with this in mind and it was pitch black when the first screams were heard at the next door campsite 50 metres away. An elephant was defecating noisily on the edge of the tent the campers were due to sleep in. Not a pleasant experience. Of course we were amused by all the commotion and was busy stoking the fire when I fell backwards off my chair. Out of the blackness an elephant had appeared and was standing ten metres away, its pink, gaping mouth open as it reached upwards for a pod. To say there were a few holys’ uttered was an understatement and the four of us scattered to the perceived safety of the dogcatcher, exposing our flanks to the blackness of the night. It was a hair raising event brought on by the complete surprise of the arrival and the fact we had no warning of the elephant approaching, even though our nerves were highly strung.

We made excuses for an early night with the senses on high alert. By this time the resident lion and hyena population were in full voice. Steve and Kat decided to sleep in the Landrover and we were tucked up safely in the rooftop tent.

The warning signs were early as the campsite next door woke us with some urgency. The same pattern emerged as in the light of the half moon we looked through the mosquito mesh on the side of the tent to see the urgent gait of an approaching elephant on a mission. The shape became larger and larger and we made out the movement with the ears that were flapping as it walked. Then there was a long silence where we could imagine hearing the heartbeats of Steve and Kat in the landrover. Nothing moved and there was no sound. We saw the elephant move and position its two tusks either side of the tree within 15 metres away and leant its weight against it. Seed pods dropped everywhere and clattered onto the roof of the landrover. Kat told us the next day that she had palpitations and we, in turn, sat rigid as the elephant gently moved around the embers of the fire delicately plucking the pods from the sand. Inevitably it moved closer and was standing, rumbling, within metres. Helen started shaking and the trunk moved closer to our wheels and its legs followed. The tusks were now either side of the corner of the tent and were at eye-level to a three metre giant inches from us. My first thought was of a Wilbur Smith novel and our arms and legs being ripped from our body. Thankfully the beast was very thoughtful and backed gently away, turning gracefully and disappeared into the dark within seconds, leaving a campsite  that lacked sleep for the rest of the night.

So this is what it is all about. Nothing prepares you for a moment of sheer terror but once it was over the relief was overwhelming and exhilarating. This was but one example but we had other visitors to camp including hyenas, honey badgers and the skilful raiders of the baboons and vervet monkeys, when your back is turned.

Moremi and Chobe were outstanding. The driving was tough, for us novices, but well worth everything, and the solitude was good for the soul.

The last bit of driving out of the park to Kasane was gruelling but the sight of the Chobe river floodplains covered with a herds of elephants made the drive worth every pothole, corrugation and quagmire and sand trap worthwhile.

We have been in Vic Falls for four nights now and tomorrow we move east to the shores of the lower Zambezi to the magnificent Mana Pools and some walking and canoeing to do.’

Share your thoughts