Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Jannie Herbst
Lesotho. January 2011. Unusually heavy rainfall. Lots of mud. Six chicks. Two Nissan Pathfinders. One Jurgens Explorer caravan. Jo-jo-jo-jo-jo!
In the February issue of Leisure Wheels, we told the story of the Bush Babes’ first camping venture at Hennop’s Pride. It was a practice run for a four-day, three-night escapade to Khubelu Valley, Maloraneng (near Letseng Diamond Mine). But nothing could have thoroughly prepared the group for what was to come.
On the planned Friday morning, the ladies arrived all hoity toity at the Randburg office in good time to depart at 07:00 sharp. One Bush Babe was missing, though. Katy Sokolewicz, aka Wild Bush, went a bit too wild on her Mozambique holiday the week before and tore ligaments in an ankle. It was agreed that with one foot in a moonboot, Katy was just not going to make it. A good thing in retrospect, since fitting another comrade’s “weekend camping kit” into either of the luggage compartments would not have been possible.
We split into two groups. With designated drivers, myself (Honey Bush) and Jannie Herbst (editor), behind the steering wheels of the Pathfinders, we hit the highway to Fouriesburg, for a quick lunch before leaving civilisation as we know it – for a very long time (as we saw it).
First task at hand was to perform a comparison test on the Pathfinders’ fuel consumption with and without a 1.5 ton load in tow.
Bernie Williams, marketing manager from 4×4 Megaworld, his master cook, Godfrey Senosi, and Ian Palmer, 4×4 Megaworld Club’s chairman, led the trip and convoy.
It was already raining on the other side when we crossed the border. The road through Butha-Buthe to Letseng Mine was still a breeze, but then we started the steep decline to reach the designated camp site – the very secluded Mapoka camp site. It is a place completely enveloped by mountains and isolated from outside contact when the Khubelu river is in flood. And when it’s in flood, not even the most capable 4×4 and its owner should take on the slippery, muddy and downright dangerous road into the marsh pit of the rain-sodden gorge.
While Bernie and Godfrey happily went ahead in their suspension-enhanced Hilux double cab, with relative ease, Jannie – accompanied by Michelle du Plessis (Tough Bush) and Jackie Hefez (Ginger Bush) – had the task of a lifetime to keep the R250 000 caravan and the R550 000 Pathfinder from toppling over and rolling down the mountainside. The caravan was bouncing left, right and centre as the Pathfinder dug its way through the mud-filled dongas and slippery rocks. The dark, heavy clouds overhead just added to the overwhelming feeling of approaching doom. The road was indeed rockier than any relationship any of us had experienced.
More than once, it seemed as if the caravan was about to jack-knife and push the Pathfinder over the edge. It looked like suicide – even for an experienced off-roader like Jannie.
At one stage Tuff Bush decided to take heed of the advice she was given before the trip and stop acting tough. “Michelle, if at any stage you feel uncomfortable, get out.”
So she jumped out of the vehicle when it came to a rather diagonal halt on another slippery slope and squashed into the Pathfinder (minus caravan) that I was driving, with Karin Stewart (Sporty Bush), Maryka Bezuidenhout (Crazy Bush) and Janize Deerans (Queen Bush), all holding on for dear life.
“O my tottie!!” (a senseless Afrikaans saying) was all Crazy Bush could muster most of the time, with her eyes wide shut and grabbing hold of the front seat like a crow with a broken wing – some of her screeches sounded quite similar, too. I was trying my level best to stay in control of the vehicle and not freak out.
“Traction and momentum, traction and momentum”, I kept murmuring to myself (special thanks to off-road driving instructor André de Villiers) while clenching the steering as if it were the last Nine West handbag at a Stuttafords sale.
In the meantime, the other Bushes opted for liquid courage in the form of Red Bull (if only we could fly out of there) to help them deal with the reality of death staring them in the face.
After accepting a sip – as by now there was no more saliva left to swallow – I placed the bottle of bravery between my legs (as women do) when I realised both hands were needed for the next manoeuvre if we didn’t want to get stuck.
With a jolt the Pathfinder shot out of the ditch, needing full-on brakes to bring it to a halt. In the rather bouncy process, most of the Red Bull was no longer there, but there! Luckily it didn’t quite make it through to the luxury leather seats of the Pathfinder.
I knew that trying to convince the men that it was indeed a case of liquid courage and not liquid fear was going to be a bit tricky. I also didn’t want to risk the possibility of waiting to see if RedBull had any external energising effects. There was no other option than to dash out in the now pouring rain and turn over the entire luggage area in search of my bag and pluck out a clean and dry pair of pants (so much for the time spent on packing with a plan).
With Ian expected to creep around the corner any second, and my pants halfway down my knees with mud everywhere and wet Solomons and socks poised on a rock next to the car, I managed a balancing act that would impress even the chief kahuna at Boswell Wilkie Circus.
Ginger Bush decided to stay with Jannie – to the bitter end – without any Calmettes or Bulls of any sort. (How’s that for real Bush Babe devotion?)
Covering a mere eight and a half kilometres (and consuming quite a few more litres of fuel) in three and a half hours, we reached the camp site. A pretty, but soggy place. Hugs were exchanged as a sign of relief that everyone (and everything) had made it down in one piece.
The men assessed the damage to the Pathfinders and the “carrie” which, considering the conditions, were really only minor injuries (that comes with any sport, I suppose).
Since the girls’ nerves were shot and Jannie had seen his life flash by before his eyes, Godfrey and the camp guard assisted with erecting the tents in the rain. And seeing that we were all still alive, it was time to celebrate this blessing. Nothing like the present, as they say.
The rain cleared up somewhat and Bernie plucked out his guitar and created some wonderful memories around the campfire. “Starry, starry night?”
As always, Godfrey’s dinner lived up to even the highest expectations and only the fast and furious managed to grab hold of second helpings. With frizzy hair, damp socks and a fuzzy feeling, six very bushed Bushes retired one after the other? Too tired to shower. Make-up remover and night cream was all we could muster.