At Third Bridge camp in Moremi Wildlife Reserve the bridge to Xakanaxa was broken. Several poles had snapped in half when a far-too-heavy vehicle crossed it. ‘Not safe anymore,’ said camp staff and closed it until further notice – then went back to sitting in the shade.
This was a problem. We were leaving Third Bridge camp the next morning for Xakanaxa on the north west fringe of Moremi. Via Third Bridge, the journey is less than 20 kms and, by all accounts, an easy drive. But now we faced a long journey to South Gate through the swamps and mud we’d negotiated a few days earlier on our way in, then almost doubling back, up the middle road to Xakanaxa. It would take most of the day. We hadn’t planned on doing so much driving while in Moremi. We wanted to simply unwind in that unparalleled wilderness, which had been on my bucket list for ever.
In the shade of the sausage tree
Our camping partners had departed that morning – they had a different itinerary to ours – which meant we weren’t at risk of making unpopular decisions. And so we opted to follow the example of the camp staff – to spend the day sitting in the shade. Tomorrow, we’d decide what to do.
It turned out to be a good idea on many levels. For one thing, once the other nine sites had emptied out and the baboons had made off with our butter and coffee, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. The profoundest peace settled, broken only by the occasional thud of a ‘sausage’ dropping from the massive Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana) that sheltered our site while putting us in mortal danger too; those seed pods weigh up to seven kilograms.
A big job to fix it
At about midday, a man in uniform parked on the other side of the river, stripped off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, and waded across the water-covered, shifting, and now broken mopani poles that constitute Third Bridge. He was the head honcho of Moremi Game Reserve, come to inspect the damage.
‘It’s bad,’ he said, when we greeted him. ‘No traffic until we’ve repaired it.’
When would that be? Later that day? Tomorrow?
Our naivety earned us a withering look. ‘Maybe two weeks,’ said the head honcho. ‘We have to send the repair team and equipment from Maun. It’s a big job.’ So was managing Moremi, he added.
We believed him: Moremi is a big place. At that point though, we decided not to complain about the broken toilet seats and the leaking cisterns that drained the water tanks every day so that by nightfall, the taps were dry. Best to simply make do.
And that’s what the husband, restless from inactivity, did. While I kept watch for opportunistic crocs, John carried out his own inspection of the bridge. ‘I can fix it,’ was his verdict. He should know; he’s an engineer. He sought permission from the staff and returned with a crowd. Everyone, including a couple of other newly arrived campers, was going to help.
There was a festive air as we all congregated on the bridge. The throng gasped in wonder while they watched John reposition poles until he’d plugged the vehicle-swallowing gaps and made the structure more secure.
Then came the strength test: a heavy 4×4 appeared from the other direction. The crowd beckoned. ‘The bridge is OK!’ called someone. The driver took a chance. The poles held. Cheers and back-slapping broke out among the spectators.
Plotting the best line
Nevertheless, John and I were a bit anxious. Sections of the bridge were fully submerged. Our small car might still not be able to get across. And so I was tasked with an inspection prior to our departure the next morning.
You can move very fast when you know that crocs lurk nearby, that a lion strolled across that same bridge late yesterday afternoon, that a hippo and her calf emerged there each night. In moments, I’d fathomed the depths, found a couple of very deep, small car-defeating places, and plotted the best line to take.
The car crossed with barely a splash.
As I climbed into the passenger seat, John noticed a big pile of mopani logs next to the road. They must have been there for quite some time, yet no one had mentioned them. He was miffed: he could have used them to do an even better repair job.
We fixed the bridge!
Four days later, after an idyllic time at Xakanaxa, we exited at South Gate, where we had first entered the reserve. The staff, reposing in the shade, looked at us with curiosity, as if surprised that we had made it back in our small car. ‘Did you get to Xakanaxa?’ asked a familiar, friendly voice. It was the head honcho.
‘No trouble,’ we said.
‘You took the long road?’
‘No. We fixed the bridge.’
Edited by Iza Grek
(A version of this story was first published a few years ago in the now folded Country Life magazine.)
Click here to read more of Andrea’s MediaHub articles