Botswana fail

In the five-plus years that Al and I have known each other and traveled together, we’ve seen a lot of stuff but run into very few snags.  I was wracking my brain the other day trying to think of one trip that we had taken where something had gone wrong and all I could think of was that one time our rental car broke down in historic downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia and we had to wait, like, an hour for Triple A to come.  Horrors! Seriously, that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us and we’ve been to over 20 countries and many states (plus two Canadian provinces!).  So I guess we were bound to encounter a true failure of a trip eventually, and that’s what we got on our trip to Botswana.

The plan was to drive to Botswana (about five hours to the border with South Africa), go to this cool bush camp, do a walking safari and a driving safari, and then go to this rhino sanctuary where we’d gawp at baby rhinos.  Sounds fun, right?

The day after we got back from Italy, we packed up our 2008 Toyota Yaris with food for braai-ing (since the bush camp was self-catering), our fun new safari hats that we got for Christmas from Al’s dad and step-mom, and many electronic devices, which we assumed we would be able to use in our $90/night cottage.  We set off on our adventure with the radio blasting and joyful excitement in our hearts. Fools!

Things started going wrong a couple of hours into the trip.  The first three hours of driving were on highways – easy peasy! – but then, without warning, the roads abruptly became unpaved and littered with potholes and giant, lake-sized puddles that were deep and stretched across the entire length of the road.  No one had told us that it really isn’t advisable to drive to Botswana on a two-wheel drive and our poor little Yaris was taking a beating.  This is what it looked like from the passenger seat after driving through one of the giant lake puddles:


The last two hours of the drive were grueling and our car shook and moaned as we forced it over rock-strewn unpaved roads.  This was probably the best paved road we traveled on:


When we finally reached Molema bush camp, over seven hours after leaving Joburg, we staggered into the pitch-dark reception area, where a woman with a flashlight searched for our names on the list.  “Is the electricity out?” asked Al.  “No,” she said with what looked like a smirk, although it was hard to tell since it was so dark.  “There is no electricity here. This is the real bush.”


We filled out some forms and then the woman told us she’d accompany us in our car to our “chalet,” which was up another bumpy, rocky road.  We piled into the car and Al turned the key and — nothing. Yes, that’s right, our battery had chosen that moment to die.  Hooray!

The next hour was spent with some kindly Afrikaner people who jumped the battery and, when that didn’t work, poured distilled water into the battery.  They jumped it again and the car struggled to life.  We were told to let the engine run for another 10-15 minutes or it might die again.  We drove it up to our chalet and let it run for a full 20 minutes before turning it off, just to be safe.  Then we started braai-ing.

Now, normally, I love a good braai.  I love being outside in the warm night air and breathing in the smell of the fire and eating corn on the cob and everything else braai-ing entails. This braai, however, I did not enjoy.  Al was standing by the fire, turning steaks over on the grill, and I was lighting my way back and forth from the outdoor kitchen with a paraffin lamp, when I felt something bumping into my legs and hands.  The paraffin lamp flickered and I realized, to my horror, that I was surrounded by GIANT MOTHS and they were dive-bombing into my lamp.

First, let me be clear: these moths were not your run-of-the-mill giant moths.  These were mutant, hairy, African-cousins-of-Mothra moths, with big, fuzzy bodies and black wings and poor senses of direction.  They flew in crazy circles, yet always somehow managed to bump into me and flutter their creepy, dusty wings on or near my face.  I must also tell you that I have one truly irrational phobia, and that is moths.  I have always, ALWAYS hated moths, since time immemorial, and I totally lose my cool around them, to put it mildly.  Al looked up from his steaks with dismay when I started flapping my arms and squawking like a scared goose.  He took swift action and led me into our chalet with a plate of food, which would have been fine, except the chalet was FULL OF MOTHS.

What seemed like an eternity later, Al managed to burn up most of the moths with the paraffin lamp.  We then sealed the doors and windows of the chalet, which made the interior approach oven-like temperatures, but honestly, I would rather die of heat exhaustion than have to share a room with a moth.  I didn’t eat much that night, partly because a moth walked on my steak.  Al and I joked that if I ever need to lose weight fast, he’ll just buy a giant crate of moths and set them loose at the dinner table.

We went to bed that night in our sweaty chalet and told each other that tomorrow would be better, because we’d go on our game drive and see cool animals and all would be well.  The next day we woke up with renewed optimism and checked in with reception to see what time the game drive would start and were informed that we’d need to drive back about 20 km. to a fancier safari lodge to start the drive.  We told the woman that there was no way our battered car was going to make it back over those roads again, and she shrugged.  Seeing no alternative, we got into our car to drive it back to the safari lodge, but — you guessed it! — it wouldn’t start.

Not to sound melodramatic, but the implications of our car’s dead battery were ghastly.  We were stuck on a moth farm with literally nothing to do except sit and stare at each other.  There were no animals to see (except a few dung beetles and the aforementioned moths), no activities to do, no hiking trails, and worse, no electricity.  Also, did I mention that Al was sick with a sore throat this entire time? Well, he was.

My safari hat was for naught.
My safari hat was for naught.

At one point we walked down to the shitty little river behind the chalet and looked at it for a few minutes.  The riverside was strewn with dung and we tried to guess which animal had left it.  “Giraffe,” said Al, pointing to a large pile of dung.  What a tease, these giraffes, I thought. They come and poop all over the riverside and yet don’t show themselves to humans? That’s bull-s**t. Or, giraffe-s**t, I guess.

The day passed slowly and at night, we repeated the same braai-moth dance as the night before.  I locked myself in the chalet for dinner and picked at the food Al brought me, scared that it had been trodden on by moth feet.   I spent a long, sleepless night in our hot chalet, keeping one eye open for moth interlopers and being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Meanwhile, that day we had been negotiating with the woman at reception to try to get a mechanic at the camp so we could get the hell out of Botswana, but the mechanic was otherwise indisposed and could not come.  Finally, we were told that he’d arrive at 7 am the next day – hallelujah!  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he showed up at 8:30 the next day and forgot to bring a wrench.



Eventually, a wrench was procured and the mechanic replaced our battery and we tore out of there.  Well, we metaphorically tore out of there.  We actually left at about 1 mph, because the roads were so bad.

We got back to Joburg that afternoon and collapsed gratefully onto our couch, in our apartment with lights and a fan and no moths.  Now we’re enjoying a bit of a staycation, catching up on blogging (me) and taking antibiotics (Al).  If nothing else, our Botswana adventure gave me a new appreciation for Joburg and its many creature comforts (and lack of creatures).  It’s good to be back!

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