Blurry image, yes! But flames had already swept across the road behind us and were only a
On my first trip to Africa, my only navigation aids were an old Garmin 12 GPS and a set of maps. But with today's technology and advanced software, I had sourced a Garmin NUVI and uploaded the Tracks-4-Africa (T4A) software. T4A is by far the coolest thing since the invention of four-wheel drive. It details almost every highway, dirt road, and two-track on the African continent. It was literally a lifesaver at this point. Our planned escape route was north, around Deception and to the Mangana park gate. But we had to go east to get there, and that would put us on a collision course with the rapidly moving fire. If we couldn't get in front of the fire, we'd have to retreat to the west.
By the time we reached Deception Pan, the fire had encircled the south end and was running north up both sides. Smoke and ash swirled through the cab and across our headlights as the road zigzagged east towards the fire, then north, then east again. We were certain that the fire had already crossed the road behind us, so turning back was not an option. Option number two was to park in the middle of the pan, let the fire burn around us, and wait it out. We didn't like that one, either. With maps and a compass we would have been toast, well, maybe barbequed. But the T4A map detailed the track precisely, and the decision was made: drive fast.
The flames ran like the wind, and were within a few hundred meters of us by the time we got in front of it. By the time we got to the park gate, though it was 4:00 in the morning, our adrenalin was pumping and we were ready for a beer. A ranger and a few Brits greeted us as we pulled in, and said, "We didn't know if you mates were going to make it. All we could see were the flames and two headlights coming out of it."
The trip meter clicked 3,339 kilometers as we rolled through the Mangana gate and headed to Rakops for fuel. We'd covered 1,097 kilometers through the Kalahari's deepest sand tracks, been visited by lions and hyenas, walked in the footsteps of a childhood hero, and survived the biggest fire in recent history. We hadn't seen the elephant, rhino, or hippo yet, but in the following weeks they'd become as common as traffic in L.A.
Next month, we head for Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan, the Boteti River and Okavango Delta, and ultimately roll the H3's tires onto the decrepit old bones of the Kazengula ferry and the Zambezi River, the gateway to Zambia.