Have you ever wondered just what is packed into a big SUV towing an equally big caravan or off-road trailer when you pass them on a long weekend or going on holiday, never mind the cost of all the equipment, aftermarket accessories and fuel?
I know I’m guilty, especially if I’m towing my bush wagon. Extra fuel, water, a fridge and freezer, solar panel, deep cycle batteries, food and drink to feed an army, gazebo and the list goes on. When you eventually come home, you realise that perhaps it was all a little too much.
The challenge is to be minimalist which ,with intelligent planning and with some thought, isn’t that difficult.
That much was clear when we recently got to spend three nights and four days in Botswana (and a few hours in Zambia) with the small but highly capable Suzuki Jimny.
Touching down at a warm Maun airport, six sparkling clean little beasts were waiting for us. After a short briefing by tour leader JJ du Toit from African Expeditions (www.africanexpeditions.co.za), my partner and I climbed into our Rhino Edition Jimny, set apart from the rest with red mud flaps, wind deflectors on the doors and some funky decals.
It was also automatic, so I wanted to drive it, partly because during a previous adventure with Suzuki into the Sperrgebiet on the West Coast, we had driven the five-speed manual and also because there was going to be a lot of slow, stop-start driving which suits the auto box perfectly.
Our destination was Tshaa community campsite, 145km away, on the banks of the Khwai River (no, not that one but there was a bridge), close to the village of Mababe.
The tyres were set at one bar and we needed every bit of suspension and tyre flex help as the Jimny gobbled up the miles and bounced easily over the badly rutted and sandy roads.
Arriving at the campsite, we found that JJ and his team had pitched our tents, with two stretchers, a table and solar light. Each tent had its own wild camping ablutions neatly wrapped in canvas. There was also a flush toilet and a shower fired by a donkey. It didn’t take long before we settled down around the campfire with a drink and the aroma of steak braaied perfectly.
With a full moon, hippos grunting less than 20m away, good company and a bushveld TV crackling away, I realised, again, why this beats a glamorous hotel getaway every time.
A pleasant warm shower and a hearty breakfast the next morning before we set off on a game drive, seeing more hippos, various bucks, birds, elephants and an enormous 5m crocodile lazing in the sun.
While the temperature increased, the Jimny’s aircon kept things pleasantly cool as we slowly idled along with our eyes peeled. I was in my element; shorts, T-shirt, vellies and in a proper 4x4.
Returning from sundowners after watching another beautiful African sunset, three lionesses, looking for a bite to eat not 500m from our camp, slowed down the convoy before moving off into the darkness. This was proper wild camping with no electric fences, in fact, no fences at all in Botswana, allowing animals to roam freely.
Someone once said you can judge a country by how it treats its animals. Botswana is a textbook case of how people and animals can live side by side relatively peacefully.
Our bags packed into the back of the Jimny with the rear seats down, we set off early after buying some delicious fresh ngwenya (a type of small vetkoek) from Mamma at her tuck shop for Mwandi View Lodge, 167km away via Chobe and the legendary Savuti plains.
Why leave so early, you may ask. Because, as JJ often repeated during our time there, distance in Botswana is measured in time and not kilometres, so we had nine hours and a sunset to get to.
It’s a torturous road with dips, washaways, corrugations and mostly soft powdery sand. We swopped driving duties often because I don’t really have a backside and it was taking a pounding.
So too was the Jimny but it took it all in its stride, thanks to its weight floating over the sand like a few of the klipspringers we came across. Most of the drive was done in 4H, with occasional stretches through deep sand using 4L, more to protect the environment and the Jimny’s drivetrain than for fear of getting stuck.
The Jimny might be small but the clever people in white coats at Suzuki have managed to create an ergonomically pleasant interior with enough space even for my tall frame.
Tired and dusty but ultimately happy, we arrived to a warm welcome from owners Anton and Amelia, before a refreshing shower and holding a glass tinkling with ice while watching a spectacular sunset over the Chobe River.
Normally I would sit around the fire comparing notes and swopping tales into the early hours of the morning but we were leaving at 6.30am, for the border crossing into Zambia, so discretion was the better part of valour this time.
At the lodge’s campsite, there were a host of overlanders in the usual variety of 4x4s and off-road caravans and trailers – but all big and fully kitted. They would be driving the same roads we did, proving that bigger isn’t always better and I’m sure they wouldn’t be returning consumption figures of just over 9l/100km.
We took the tar to Kasane but not before having to slow down for elephants crossing the road and a rare sighting of the Southern Ground Hornbill that’s on the red list.
Doffing our caps to our trusty and dusty Jimny’s at Kasane, we took a tour bus to the border where we met Lou who would take us to the Victoria Falls and Livingstone in his mini bus.
My last crossing of the Zambezi River was on the notorious pont that was slower and not much dirtier than the passport offices on either side.
The new 923m Kazungula bridge, dubbed Bonazazi by the locals, and accompanying passport control office is a revelation.
It’s comparable to anything I’ve encountered overseas, with friendly and efficient staff who had us on our way within 10 minutes of entering the cavernous hall.
The falls weren't in flood but it’s still an impressive sight as the water tumbles over the edge of its 1.7km span.
Taking off and heading back to a chilly Johannesburg and a grumpy Home Affairs official, we had time to reflect on what we had seen and experienced.
We are privileged to live where we do. It’s an easy drive or flight across the border and you don’t need big engines and big tyres to enjoy spectacular views, friendly locals and wide open soul-healing spaces.
The Suzuki Jimny with its 1.5-litre engine and its 75kW and 130Nm does the same if, like I said, you plan properly.
There’s a strong rumour of a four-door version that’s on the way. When that happens we’ll be doing a lot of map reading and proper planning.