In this day of widgets and way points its hard to believe that not so long ago none of us even knew what a GPS was. Satellites were things the Russians were using to destabilise the trade unions and the only person who had a moving map in his car was James Bond!
Instead we were forced to rely on old fashion maps, and as romantic as that sounds… it was terrible. Invariably all the tracks you were interested in didn’t exist on the map and even if you spent the money on the really detailed ones chances were that by the time the maps were printed the roads didn’t exist anymore.
This didn’t matter so much when you traveled around places with buildings and beggars on the street corners as you could always stop and ask for directions. Not that any of us would of course, but it was still an option. Out in the sticks however things were a little bit more complicated. If you were looking for a place that was well and truly out of the way chances were that you would end up camping on the side of the road because the hyenas sure as hell weren’t going to give you directions. To us, no location proved more illusive than the utterly remote Kubu Island.
Over the years we tried and failed so many times that eventually we simply gave up. Yet oddly enough the directions always seemed so straight forward:
Drive the given distance out of Maun (a number normally given to the decimal) and then turn right. Head down the dirt track until you see the beer bottle on a stick, turn left and follow the pan.
It was so simple yet time after time completely unachievable. We would set off from Maun and almost immediately be besieged with problems, starting with the fact that the odometer on our Series 3 Land Rover never worked, ever! Instead we were forced to guess our speed (as the speedometer was also far from reliable) and then attempt to work out how long it would take to reach the turn off.
As you can imagine the margin for error was pretty big so eventually we would pick a dirt track at random, or as best as we could figure and head in search of a beer bottle on top of a stick. The next problem there was that we never really knew how far it was down the road. Was it 30min? Was it 6 hours? You would spend hours traveling down a sandy road wondering whether you were on the right track or had someone just stolen the beer bottle?
Every few years we would repeat the exercise and every year the result was the same. Us lost on a sludgy saltpan staring at a battered old compass wondering were it all went wrong. It was a low point every holiday and just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worse it would start to rain. On a continent ravaged by drought, corruption and the AK-47 nothing used to terrify us more than a little rain and a salt pan.
But just as we were giving up hope of ever solving the riddle of the beer bottle, along came the GPS and just like that everything changed. All of a sudden we were able to see where we were and more importantly we could see where we were heading. Kubu Island was once again in our sight! It was time for one last try, and what an outing that turned out to be!
Everyone has a story of how maps have let them down. Tell us your story!