Once you leave the roads…

If you are heading for really untouched areas you must accept that eventually roads will turn into tracks which will in turn gradually fade into non-existence. Getting there then means moving through the bush with your vehicle. Sometimes you get lucky, and you’re able to meander along in roughly the right direction without too much sweat. But mostly it means hard and slow work, searching for ways through difficult spots, chopping away branches – sometimes trees, filling gullies, chopping away steep slopes, sometimes getting stuck…

This is a typical dry ravine of which you could easily encounter  three or more per day. It requires the right mix of attitude and foolishness to take on, and don’t expect to get across quickly. This one took the best part of the morning and required us to offload half the load and and carry it across.

The bottom line is, through the bush, don’t expect to cover much more then about 30 to 50 kilometres in a day. If you don’t absolutely need the vehicle with you, it’s mostly just better to leave it parked under a tree and to recruit a few bearers, if you are lucky to find, and revert to walking.

I thought the best way to illustrate this is with an extract from my book, Paths of the Tracker:
The track had now all but ceased to exist. A few times Henry stopped at deep gullies and had them work on the approach or exit with the bush pick and shovel, or pile some logs or rocks into the bottom to improvise a crossing. On more than one occasion, he turned off the track and broke through the bush to get around trees that lay across it – pushed over by elephant, he said. A few times they had to make quite long detours to get across ravines where the bottom had been washed away so deep that it would have taken a major effort to fix it. Then they had to use the axe and pangas to chop a path through the forest.

Craig was unhandy with the tools. It took him several blows to sever a branch that Henry would in a single effortless slash. He threw himself into the work with the pick and shovel, convinced that his running- and gym-honed body would be far superior to his uncle, but his hands blistered quickly and his muscles tired; he was just much less efficient than Henry, who seemed to be able to maintain a steady hard pace. He was relieved every time the older man offered to take over, but it made him feel more inept and vaguely rebellious.

Despite their efforts the vehicle generally still had to take a lot of strain, flattening shrubs and young trees and lurching its heavy load through deep ruts and up and down impossibly steep and rough slopes. Craig was quietly relieved that he had handed over the wheel.
They began spotting more and more game. Small herds of buffalo, hartebeest, zebra, eland and even sable sifted away into the trees as they approached.

By mid-afternoon, when they had battered their way through another detour, Craig switched on his GPS. “Gee Uncle Henry, we’re not making much progress. The GPS says we’ve only covered a straight line distance of about thirty kilometres in the last five hours.”
“Yeah, well, that’s travelling in the African bush. It’s hard on people and hard on vehicles. It’s unfortunately a bit different from the videos posted on the Net and on staged TV programmes,” Henry said with a hint of vindictive sarcasm and then, mercifully: “But hey, there’s no reason to try and set new land speed records here. Let’s take a break and have a decent cup of tea. What do you say?”

Craig had been desperate to give his aching muscles and blistered hands a rest. He sank into the chair Henry had pulled off the back and sat watching his uncle brew the tea on the dropped tailgate. It accusingly revealed the set of bush breaking equipment, battered and burnished with wear from many hard journeys.

If they had come in his little Land Rover its shiny black enamel would by now at the very least have been badly scratched – probably dented too. The assortment of accessories that he had had fitted to it for…, he wasn’t sure for what, vaguely for exactly this type of work, now seemed feeble.
It was a good thing Henry had steadfastly insisted that they come in his rugged old Land Cruiser. “I know I can fix most of what could go wrong with it Craig, right there, in the bush. Your little Land Rover is nice for the kind of safaris to the Okavango or to diving spots along the Mozambican coast you were telling me about, with some other vehicles in company. But I doubt it’s rugged enough for what we are likely to expect of it, and, it’s full of electronics. If something goes wrong, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

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