07.09.2011 - 15.09.2011 9 °C
After a whole world of boerwors, biltong and braaing we've decided its time to start heading for home in a round about way.
Somers and I purchased Redvers (General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG, wikipedia him,) on Boxing Day 2010. He's a 1995 Land Rover Defender 110 300tdi two seater rest of world edition. He weighs two tonnes when loaded, does about 10k's to the litre and he's an absolute beast. He can cruise on the motorway at 100kmh (just) which is almost as fast as some of the slow cars round here and he can haul his ass over two foot boulders and up properly steep stuff, unless of course the steep stuff is just a normal hill in which case he just slows right down.
It took about 8 months to register him in our name. This involved a fair amount of graft including a two hour queue in Pinetown traffic registry before Somers had our application form rejected. Her inquisitive nature led her to ask the ignorant young lady, who at this point was filing her nails, what was incorrect on the form. The direct consequence of this line of questioning was Somers being forcibly ejected from the building by armed security. First world country they say...
Anyway things got better and the list of repairs to Redvers has increased no end:
- fixed air blower thingies inside
- fixed rear door lock
- built a super boss drawer for him
- batteries not charging properly so replaced alternator (myself, mechanical hero...)
- forgot to put radiator hose back on after replacing alternator which led to it sitting in a naughty place and getting a big hole in, all the radiator fluid on the floor instead of the radiator (less of a hero)
- fixed radiator pipe with gaffer tape (hero)
- replaced said radiator hose but mistakenly pulled off the steering fluid pipe in the process (less of a hero)
- bought new steering fluid and learned how to bleed the steering system
- serviced him myself (winner)
- forgot to check the brake pads during my service (see later blog for hero status)
- new batteries (he uses two)
Obviously we're aware that Redvers being a Landy means that he's quite like a pedigree dog. You look at him and know exactly what breed he is but he's almost always sick and requires constant treatment. In his case his brain (electrics) isn't what it used to be and he will occasionally be found to be flat for no reason, his heart (engine) seems reliable but has been known to stutter occasionally and often fibrillates in cold weather and his eyes (lights) only work if the connections happen to be functioning that day.
With this in mind it was imperative that we test him out properly. So we loaded him up and went to Lesotho. Famous for having the highest low point of any country in the world and I'm sure many other fascinating facts also.
On the way we stopped off at Winston Churchills capture site, he was in an armoured train when it was ambushed by the Boers.
A bit further on we hit the Drakensberg Mountains and climbed Cathedral Peak (3005m) before sleeping overnight in one of the caves. Someone had kindly but fresh straw down for us!
Next day we drove up Sani Pass, "[The pass] requires above average driving experience... has occasional remains of vehicles that did not succeed in navigating its steep gradients and poor traction surfaces, and has a catalogue of frightening stories of failed attempts at ascending the path over the Northern Lesotho mountains." There were a couple of heart quickening moments when Redvers popped out of Low Ratio and when we started slipping backwards on the ice but we made it up in time to see the Boks get bloody lucky against the Welsh. (Somers' parentage and the fact that I can almost see Wales from my house determining our support.)
We got to our village at Molumong and set about arranging a pony trek. Our host informed us that the guide was away om holiday. The next morning however he had found the guides' brother who thought he would be able to help. We felt uneasy as we pointed out that he had no horses. In return he explained that this wasn't a problem and if we gave him an hour he'd have some ready. A couple of hours later and we had a guides brother, some ponies and an adventure on our hands. My' four year old' pony was clearly Cushing-oid, about fifteen and a bit disappointed to have me on his back. Somers was in her element and had fared better with a horse that looked like it might survive the trip.
We trekked down to the Orange River through peach blossom lined villages, past ladies washing their clothes in the streams whilst youngsters played in the dirt before running to the white folk to utter the oft repeated words, "Give me something!" We replied "Hello!" everytime and it seemed to confuse them for long enough to make our horse-backed escape good. That evening we stayed overnight in a Rondavel in the hills before riding back the next day.
The return journey was one full of misery due to my having the sorest arse ever known by a heterosexual man. We had however paid our guide the evening before. This meant that today would be three parts shopping trip to one part look after the tourists. We went to the local shop where our guide bought himself a beer, a new hoody and joked with the owners as he filled his saddle bags with all the goodies he could find.
Beers sounded good to me so I bought a big one and went outside to play footy with the school kids. After failing to wow them with only six keepy ups and a now frothy beer i reverted to trying to take them all on. This soon turned into a hundred black kids versus the white guy, unfit, out of breath and drinking beer I was struggling a bit so i ended up running headlong into the most concentrated group of about twenty 8-12 year olds. As bodies scattered and kids screamed and, most importantly, I got hold of the ball. This was my moment, I turned and legged it as fast as I could toward goal screaming Premiership narrative as I went. Eight year old's tried to keep pace but this aging striker was in his prime. The one unlucky kid in goal wasn't even playing football but that didn't matter as I put my foot through the ball and rifled it dead centre just past his ducking head.
I turned around to see a hundred slightly confused children, I smiled, held up my beer and let out a half hearted breathless roar before doubling over and coughing profusely. The kids loved it and were straight back over to carry on.
We got back to Redvers at about three, got in and set off to Mokhotlong where I'd seen an old landy that we could get a spare wheel from. The cows in the scrapyard had to be pushed away before the bargaining began but I after that, the fact that neither of us spoke a word of the others language didn't seem to matter. I got the wheel for R100. Under a tenner. Boom. The wheels' removal took a while and so it was half four before we set off again.
Earlier in the day, we'd seen a gravel road with 'a bit of 4x4 track' in the middle that could get us to Katse Dam, so off we went. Thirty kilometers later it was dark and we were driving though ruts over a foot deep with random boulders scattered here and there. Now Lesotho is a mountain kingdom and a road through a mountain pass normally has two steep sides one going up and one going over the edge and straight down. Neither of these are ideal camping spots. Eventually we did find a flat bit, on top of the mountain at 2800m. With no wind, no rain and only ridiculous 4x4 track behind and in front of us we decided to strike camp, in the back of Redvers, with the fridge, the gas bottle and stove, all our bags and countless other useless cr!p that we were gradually realising wouldn't be essential on our trip. (Including Somers' electric toothbrush...)
One hour into out peacefull sleep the winds arrived and brought with them the rain, the sleet and the thunder and lightning. We lay open eyed at the top of the mountain somewhere in the middle of the storm in the biggest lightning conductor for thirty kms in any direction. As dawn approached we started him up and got going. We still had 70kms to go and the first thirty was on 4x4 track. We averaged 7 kmh for the first 24 kms crossing fields and rivers and even crashing into a boulder when I was temporarily bemused by Somers filming sheep, goats, donkeys and cows all grazing together. We managed to pack stones under the car to build a ramp which we could drive up and over the boulder to ensure the trip continued.
We hit Katse Dam, a big wall holding back lots of water, and actually fully amazing for what its done for Lesotho and after a tour of the aforementioned big retaining wall we carried on o cross a pass at 3100m and then begin our snaking descent back towards the border.
This is where my earlier statement about the brakes comes into play, (hero status is revoked forthwith and transferred to the Somers.) For a while Redvers had been a bit smelly. We couldn't work out if it was brakes, gears,clutch, engine or just tyres on road but we were getting a little anxious. Also he was a bit rattly near the front right wheel. Ignorance is bliss and Somers was driving so I carried on videoing some stuff. Somers was using the gears for our descent to take the pressure off the brakes which was going very well, until we started picking up to much speed on a steep section coming into a tight corner, as Laura pressed the brake it went loose and despite continued pumping just wasn't working anymore. I was still looking back at the video of me crashing into the boulder. "Hon, the brakes aren't working!" she stated in only mild alarm as she slipped it into second gear and the engine roared us back to thirty k's an hour. "Impressive Somers," lack of brakes however slowed down the rest of the days driving with only one notable 'near incident' at a crossroads for which we couldn't stop. We got back through the border near Buthe-Butha with some hand crafted paperwork and slept before crawling back to Durban the following day.
Redvers is currently being serviced, new brake pads, new brake assist vacuum thingy and tomorrow he goes to have his new shocks put in. Practice trip over wehad our penultimate leaving braai, at which Amanda (McVeigh) cooked some delicious tomato and brie dish, and fillet steak until I was sweating from my eyes.
We leave for Cape Town via Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and the Garden Route on Wednesday morning, Redvers being out of hospital of course.