Londolozi is world renowned for its wildlife viewing. I am not just saying that to tempt you to book your holiday, but I have experienced wildlife in several different areas and the best I have ever experienced is right here in the heart of the Sabi Sands. However, I can guarantee that you will forget some of the sightings you have while you are here. Not because I don’t trust your ability to remember but because some moments will outweigh others. One of the memories that will stick with you forever is the experience of driving off-road over rough terrain – particularly that time your ranger and tracker took it one step too far and get stuck!
We have the privilege of being able to take the legendary Land Rover Defenders off the designated roads when necessary, to provide you with the best possible view of the incredible wildlife here. This may include driving over fallen trees, through soft river sand, flowing rivers, muddy pools and even over rocky hillsides. For most people, venturing off a tar road has never been an option. Out here, this is the norm. But don’t be fooled, sometimes our adventurous spirits take the trusty Land Rover’s one step too far. We get stuck. Horribly stuck.
Now getting stuck is one challenge (it’s pretty difficult to get these Land Rover’s stuck!), but getting them out again is another… Every ranger and tracker team will do their utmost best to get out of the sticky situation themselves. If they call another vehicle for help – or worse, the tractor – the ranger faces the humiliating tradition of wearing The Pink Pouch!
One such ranger while following lions in the north over rocky terrain managed to get a boulder lodged under the vehicle, and was unable to go forward or backward. Once the lions had moved far enough away (yet another obstacle to be aware of), he and his tracker spent two hours jacking up the vehicle and manoeuvring back and forth, over and over, to get out of the precarious situation. The damage was severe enough that they were only able to return to camp in low range (the very slow and powerful suite of gears used for off-roading) and had lost the ability to use their differential lock (the mechanism that stops the wheels spinning on slopes or over loose ground). However, they did it themselves and no Pink Pouch was awarded…
My one time with the Pink Pouch began after getting stuck in Finfoot crossing, only to have another ranger step into the vehicle, in front of my guests and his, and drive the vehicle out for me. I will never let that happen again. This was a point in case last week when both Alex Jordan and I became bogged down while following the Ndzanzeni young male off-road near a dry river bed. I managed to get stuck early on before Alex arrived at the sighting but with some quick piling of sticks and branches under the tyres, extracted ourselves hastily enough to continue to follow the leopard. However, the young male decided to take us in a circle and we were faced with crossing the same deceptively wet and soft patch of sand a second time, only about 20 yards from the first spot. I turned to face my guests and said confidently, “Don’t worry! There’s no chance we will get stuck a second time…”. Famous last words!
The back wheels immediately bogged down into the sand, and far worse than the first time. I then realised that Alex was also stuck a stone’s throw to our right, in the same small drainage line. This made me rather pleased.
The leopard had now moved well away and out of sight, so everyone was out the vehicle and observing as tracker Bennet Mathonsi and I set to work. To cut a long story short, we managed to get out ourselves and received no Pink Pouch. We even had the decency to walk across to Alex and tracker Lucky, with tow rope in hand and offer them assistance. We were quite briskly asked to leave (Alex was now knee-deep in mud trying to find the bottom of his wheel). Half-an hour later we heard Alex on the radio again, freed from the mud and potential humiliation.
Some key points here:
- Getting stuck is an honour. It means your ranger and tracker are willing to take that extra mile to give you the best view. (As long as they’re not driving over sensitive soils and trees…)
- Getting out is good fun. This is your opportunity to get out the vehicle and enjoy a coffee or drink while you watch you ranger and tracker slaving away in the mud to get the vehicle out. Alternately, it is an opportunity to get your hands dirty too and help gather branches or dig with a spade, feeling proud that you aided in avoiding the receiving of the Pink Pouch.
- Getting stuck is an opportunity to learn about vehicle recovery techniques. Although we get stuck sometimes, we have had training on how to deal with these exact situations. Use of high-lift jacks, tow and snatch ropes, brush packing under the tyres etc. are all something that you are unlikely to experience at home. There are some interesting lessons to be learnt in these situations, and it’s really quite impressive to witness what they vehicles are capable of.
- You will have a story to tell. Your friends and family at home won’t believe that while following a pride of wild lions you were forced to get out of the vehicle and assist in getting a vehicle out the soft sand, in the middle of the African bush.
A few months after I had the Pink Pouch, I received an email from an elderly couple that had been with me. We had seen magnificent animals. In their own words, “The highlight of our trip was having to get out in the middle of the Sand River as we got bogged down in the soft sand, while our ranger and tracker got the vehicle out.”