[HD Video to NOWHERE at the bottom - You were warned!]
We dropped into AfrikaBurn, the South African version of Burning Man, (only better), but that's not the whole story. After a two hour ride out from the city, we'd left tar sometime in the early afternoon, proceeding North, deep into the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Our plan was to sleep at the Gannaga Lodge on Friday night and descend for the Burn on Saturday night, after a shower and a good breakfast, something we knew wouldn't be waiting for us at the Burn.
Some hours later, we made a quick stop at a crossroad to a different nowhere.
"Let's turn left here", said my cousin, "I haven't driven that before and it looks fifty clicks shorter on the map".
I posed no argument, looked at no GPS or map, having earlier decided to leave all the navigation to he who had made several trips to Tankwa and was in my eyes, 'the expert'.
However, I couldn't've got it more wrong as it was exactly that shortcut that sunk our battle plan and left us in the dark with a flat. Morale of that story? Do your own navigating. Getting there!
Since we'd turned left instead of going straight we'd driven for hours on dirt roads and sometimes no roads. We'd even lost the road and gone up a river bed, then opened farm gates every few clicks for hours and by that time the sun was sinking behind the mountains in front of us. Later I figured out that the fifty click shortcut had taken us nearly three hours, but at that time we were enjoying ourselves too much driving through nowhere to care. By the time we rejoined the 'road' the sun was taking its last bow. We stopped to take a picture that I've included below.
"How far to the Lodge?", I asked the cousin.
"Another hundred kilos, or so", he said, with a grin.
"It's in the middle of nowhere, what do you expect?"
"That's like two hours!"
"We'll make better time now, the road is much better, and no more farm gates"
I grinned back, tired but not deterred, though I really should've been. There were ominous clouds above and the road had puddles of water that spoke of a recent deluge that we were slipstreaming. We drove on into the dark towards our destination, Gannaga Lodge, at the top of the Gannaga pass. It got wetter and muddier. I hoped that the pass was passable but the Jeep didn't skip a beat even though it took several dives into muddy potholes. I clung on wishing I'd splashed for spotlights. It wasn't too much later that my cousin, in the Toyota Prado in front of me, suggested that we engage 4X4 low to make sure we'd make it up Gannaga Pass, not something that's advised in rain, mud and mist where the nearest help is hours away. The last stretch of road leading up to the pass looked like it had just been washed away in a downpour but the rain was only moderate. 4X4 low range worked like a charm making the climb seem easier than it probably was, while the darkness protected me from the vertigo I knew I'd be feeling if I'd seen the drop, a few meters away. The mist was so heavy I had to dim my lights. I thought the demister had failed but opening the window made no difference -- except I got wet. We slogged up the pass into the mist for what seemed like forever when my I saw my cousin coming to a halt in front of me. Then he was running down the mountain with wild eyes in the headlights yelling; "There's a boulder blocking the road. We have to turn back!"
"There's a huge boulder blocking the road. We have to turn back. Do you want to check it out?"
It was immediately of concern to me that my ever-optimistic cousin looked concerned. Worse---he was asking me for advice.
"No it's fine. I'm outta here before more boulders roll down the mountain"
It wasn't really fine, but retreating down the pass in mist and darkness seemed to be the only Plan B available, and I assure you I executed it as quickly as I could, all the while imagining more boulders rolling down upon us. Turning the big Jeep around in the mist and dark was in itself a near-miracle on a country pass only wide enough for one vehicle with a sheer drop on the one side and a rock face with a river coming down it on the other, but we managed to beat a hasty retreat within a click of our final destination.
After another hour of driving in muddy and rainy conditions we arrived at the Tankwa Park 'office'. It was all dark but I still felt reasonably good. Pulling on a jacket, it was cold, I located a torch to check my tires, after all we'd just done 300 clicks on bad roads. To my horror I saw that my left rear was flat.
Sitrep: We're in the middle of nowhere in the dark with a flat and I'd been in bed with flu for a week before we'd left.
I did not possess the required energy to change a 60 KG rim, even on a good night when I could figure it out. No worries. We were set to sleep in our vehicles the following night at the Burn and my rear seats were already down with a double mattress in the back. Tomorrow had arrived early, that's all. We were supposed to sleep at the Burn after a comfortable night at the Gannaga Lodge, instead we ate cold food in the dark behind the San offices. During the night the mattress went flat and I had to pump it up twice because the first time I couldn't find the plug, but at 7.30AM my cousin was banging on the window telling me to get up so the park rangers could fix my tire. So I'm eating a boiled egg and drinking Woolworths orange juice for breakfast and the two San Park rangers only take 15 minutes to drop the wheel, take it away, fix the puncture and return to refit. It's all in a day's work for them. Big Respect to rangers everywhere! Flipping people from desperation to destination. And thanks to my cousin for providing the necessary optimism and chaos to make it a memorable trip to nowhere....Jeep Rules!
"But what about AfrikaBurn?", you may ask.
Well, we got there before most of them had woken up, but that's another story