The recipe was simple: bring together a bunch of SA’s topperforming bakkies and put them head to head in an epic adventure. From the urban sprawl of Johannesburg to deep within the Okavango Delta, these five vehicles would be tested to their limits and beyond. We had a real mix-and-match of vehicles, too, ranging from the ubiquitous Hilux 2.8 to the allpowerful V6 Amarok, and including the handsome 3.2 Ranger, surprising Triton and, of course, the Mazda – which showed up on the back foot, as rear-drive only. Th is would be an interesting trip with more than a few spills.
The tour got cracking as us members of the support team dragged ourselves from a warm bed in Joburg at 2am, to hit the highway towards Maun in one long slog, via Ellisras, then on to the B140 to Palapye, and the A14 via Serowe, Orapa and Rakops before finally getting our small convoy to Maun as the sun was setting. We Capetonians soon discovered that we aren’t used to the warm bush environment, being more adapted to cold Karoo plains than areas which have the sound of snorting, cavorting hippos at night.
Ours was a diverse group, led by tour operator and team leader Will Jansen. His team included Mike van Dyk, also a tour operator, survival expert, former Toyota customer relations manager and occasional marriage counsellor – a true man for all seasons. Th en there was Lorraine Doyle, a ranger and guide trainer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of fauna, flora and the stars, who was able to interpret what we were seeing at many key moments on our Botswana adventure. Jacques Coetzee, a recovery expert and manufacturer of recovery equipment, also brought his quiet strength and sense of humour to the party, and was always there when we needed help with recoveries and punctures: just the sorts of skills you need on an overlanding tour. From SA4x4, we had sales manager Martin Coetzee, Gauteng rep and Botswana enthusiast Anton Willemse in his bright red Hilux (the Fire Truck), and myself.
The first laugh was on my shoulders, as always, as we crossed the border at Martin’s Drift /Groblersbrug. What is it that everyone craves on a long journey? Music? Sure. Aircon? Absolutely; but biltong is a precious gem on a road trip, nearing oxygen on the importance scale. So, with that in mind, after we had cleared all five vehicles through the usual procedures, I got tucked in at the first shop at the nearest petrol station. I was throwing down my Pula like a lottery winner for my prize – but after a few hundred clicks north and a 10:1 donkey-to-human ratio on the roads, not to mention the slightly off taste to the biltong, the origins of my choice of snack became sorely apparent.