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 Monday, 17th December, 2012

I have learnt from experience that every foray into the wilderness will inevitably produce what has become known as 'The Brandy Moment'. A brandy moment is the product of an episode, incident or adventure of the adverse kind. It is a moment to celebrate and reflect upon the succesful survival of a trial that Nature deems necessary to fling at we[e] mortals daring to venture off the well worn track of civilization. As I said, I have learnt from experience and these days, every time I embark on such expeditions, I take along a bottle of fine brandy encased in a special shockproof bag placed in a special place in my 4x4. This is placed alongside the medical kit as it's for medicinal purposes only. Strictly of the psychological sort you understand.

Having just returned to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, this time with a couple of good friends, Jeff and Lynn, who had never before been to this wildest of wild places, my travel compadre Amanda and I were not surprised when The Brandy Moment presented itself in true classic Kalahari style. Nature has a funny way of dealing with initiates. It's a test that one needs to pass before she accepts you into her bossom and this time was no different. We had been esconsed in the park for a few days and had already endured the dust and thunderstorms so typical of the Kalahari in December, so when the thunderheads began barrelling in by mid afternoon of the fourth day as we drove to one of the remotest camp-sites on the sub-continent, we paid little heed.

By evening with our tents up and a fire roaring, the wind began to whip up a few more notches and a wall of dark purple loomed menacingly across the dunes. The wind however was blowing hard in the direction of the great thunderhead, which was now angrily flashing shards of white. The group consensus was that the storm, despite it's threatening nature, was being blown away from us and that there was nothing to worry about. Yet, somehow I was unconvinced so I put out the fire just in case that storm had sting in the tail. It did have a sting, the sting of a scorpion, for no sooner had I covered the coals, the wind switched direction and with such force that the tent of my hapless friends complete with bags, matresses, and other gear flipped head over heel destined, it appeared, for the land of Oz. Had it not been for our desperate lunge for the now pegless guy ropes the tent would still be rolling down the yellow brick road. The screaming tempest, however, was so strong that we too were about to join the tent in it's heavenly odyssey. As the rain clattered in, I yelled above the din that it was best to collapse the tent altogether. This done I then quickly lashed my own tent to the heavy 4x4 now stategically parked as a buffer to the approaching storm. By now the full force of the storm had hit, the drops were as big and hard as pebbles and the four of us scattered and dived for the shelter of our respective cars.

There we sat, drenched and breathless, waiting out the gale with the heavy 4x4 shuddering from the force of the wind with windows misting up from our gasps. Outside the wind shrieked and the visibility was reduced to a hazy blur of storm water and swirling flotsam from the canopy of Camelthorn trees. At the height of the storm we detected a rapid movement outside. A dark figure dashed over to the collapsed tent and was leaping about like a bezerker in the stinging rain. It was Jeff. What in the name of the entire pantheon was he doing out there? I had to get him back in before he did some serious bodily damage and reluctantly dived out into the maelstrom. The ground by now was covered in an ankle-deep sheet of water, the collapsed tent was now under the water with Jeff dancing about it with great consternation. "Worry about the tent later", I thought until Jeff yelled that he had just realised his expensive camera was still in the tent. Looking at the floating muddy morass of canvas at my feet, it was very clear that the only future use his camera had was to be enjoyed as an unusual cocktail. Nevertheless, we persisted in trying to extract it from the torrent. The wind had dropped slighly, enough to re-erect the soggy tent. Inside was not pretty - sleeping bags, mattresses, all their clothes and of course the camera bag were swirling in mud and water. The latter was retrieved and rushed into the car for a prognosis. I remained outside in the pouring rain, I was so drenched it was pointless seeking shelter, and besides the downpour was strangely warm, so I lifted my face to the heavens and enjoyed a shower the way Nature intended.

The storm, as with all thunderstorms in this part of the world, passed as quickly as it arrived and soon the rain was replaced with a rainbow, a bright golden sunset and the musical chatter of the resident bru bru and crimson-brested shrikes. My two friends though were shattered. Their nerves were frayed with hearts in their slip-slops as they surveyed the destruction.


Behold The Brandy Moment. "Aha!" I exclaimed raising my index finger like a wise old sage then dived into my 4x4 where I retrieved the special bag from its special place, extracted and uncorked the special bottle and poured four liberal tots of the special swill into plastic tumblers. Then Amanda and I toasted the initiates on passing Nature's first of many tests. The transformation was rapid. Brandy works fast. No sooner had the warm liquid settled in the bowels, the edges of nerves were smoothed and dulled, the smiles and the sunny, summery personalities of Jeff and Lynn returned just as the sun bid us a good evening in a blaze of soft pinks and oranges. Everything returned to the way it was meant to be - 'tout est bien, qui finis bien'. The fire was re-started, the tent was mopped up, the clothes and sleeping bags hung to dry in the warm desert breeze... and the camera, amazingly, still worked.