26-Sep-2008 -- The information provided in the two previous (1 incomplete and 1 successful visit) reports give a good overview of the pans and their special character. I shall focus on our journey of the group to 21S 26E rather than to re-hash information being already in the two previous reports.
Our journey started with an idea to try and cross the Sua Pan from West to East in 4-wheel drive vehicles. Sua Pan is one of the two pans that make up the Makgadikgadi Pans and is also sometimes referred to as Sowa Pan. The pan crossing was meticulously planned by using satellite photographs and a dry channel was identified for the crossing. Our base camp would be at Kubu Island, which is in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Pans. The Makgadikgadi Pans are considered as the largest salt pans in the world.
Our journey started in all earnest at Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana. Khama Rhino Sanctuary has ± 30 rhinos and the community run facility breeds the animals before they are placed back into the Wild. We left Khama on the morning of 25 September 2008 and headed for our base camp at Kubu Island on the shoreline of Sua Pan (translated as 'salt pan' from Setswana). We arrived in the vicinity of Kubu at about 12:00 on 25 September 2008 and made a decision to use the afternoon to drive around before settling in at Kubu Island.
We found that the surface was quite hard around the edges of the pan and an idea started taking shape that a visit to 21S 26E might be possible. This was completely unplanned and the last time that anybody in the group looked at the status of this point, it was still "incomplete". A sense of adventure filled the air and we started driving towards the point. The pan's surface started getting progressively softer as we travelled into the middle of the pan towards 21S 26E. Before 14:00 all three vehicles were severely stuck in the Cotton Clay that lurks under the hard salty crust of Sua Pan.
Plans were made, plans were changed, recoveries done, rest breaks taken and further plans made, but to no avail. The cars remained stuck. The group decided to call it a day and pitched camp at about 19:00 on the pan. A fire was lit and ideas exchanged about the menu for the night. At about 20:00 radio contact was made with another group that was in the vicinity.
The group that was in the vicinity volunteered their help to recover us. We broke up camp and waited. At about 21:00 the first car arrived, but unfortunately got stuck as well. After about 2 hours we halted the recovery attempts of the fourth car and set up camp again. Some of the people slept in cars, other in tents, and the rest under the magnificent star-filled sky of a near-new moon on Sua Pan. Sleep did not come easy as everyone was anxious to get the cars un-stuck. The chilly wind over the barren pans did not help to make restless sleepers less restless.
Sunrise saw people with renewed energy and new plans. Within an hour all four cars were recovered and heading for Kubu Island. The glorious sight of Kubu Island and its idyllic camp sites under large Baobab trees greeted the tired and dirty travellers. A well-deserved rest was taken by the group after seeing off our rescuers that joined us the night before.
The energy seeped back into the group during the day and the 21S 26E confluence lay shallow in our thoughts. It was decided that another attempt to reach the point is a must. At least we knew where not to drive this time. Alarms were set for 04:00 the next morning and the plan would be to drive as far as possible and then to walk the rest of the way to 21S 26E.
We left the camp at Kubu Island at about 05:00 on the morning of 26 September 2008 and headed out on the tracks that run into the pans. The tracks stopped at a point and we had to revert to walking the rest of the way to the Confluence. Three litres of water per person was mandatory and the walk started. Thirteen (proofed to be good luck this time) kilometres of walking rewarded us with beautiful sights in all directions. The thick salt crust cracked under our feet as the group moved along and mandatory rest and water breaks were announced after every 15 minutes of walking.
Remnants of the flamingos that congregate in this areas were seen on a few occasions in the form of old eggs and flamingo tracks. It is good to know that all signs of any man-made tracks and footsteps will be eradicated from the pan after the rainy season starts in October. The pans start to fill up with water in October to form the largest breeding ground for Lesser and Greater Flamingos in Southern Africa with over 100,000 birds being counted during some years.
The glorious event of standing on the 21S 26E confluence created an air of excitement amongst the group members. Photos were taken and a feeling of achievement was evident in the middle of Sua Pan.
Back at Kubu there were ten tired legs and five happy faces. We achieved what we set out to do, although 21S 26E was not our original plan. The general feeling was that not even a pan crossing over Sua Pan would have been so rewarding as what we just did.
That evening we slept like babies...
Moral of the story: Sometimes plans change for the better.
On the way back to South Africa, we were informed that the point had been already discovered by a previous group. Despite the fact that we were not the first visitors, the group agreed unanimously that it was an experience of a lifetime and would not have had it any other way. Our consolation prize is the knowledge that we were the first group to use cars and be able to visit 21S 26E. We salute the previous group that visited the point with motorbikes and quads – well done!!!
Isuzu 280 Turbo Diesel pick-up (Eduard and Leon)
Nissan Hardbody Double Cab 3.0 Turbo Diesel (Willie)
Mitsubishi Pajero 3.5 V6 Petrol (Anton and Arno)
To the brave souls that came to recover us on our first day on the pans