A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Day Fifty Eight and Fifty Nine – Fishy Morals

19th and 20th November

sunny 30 °C

As we climbed aboard our eighteen foot motorised tin can Somers and I both held vast amounts of anticipation for the day ahead. We had a boat and a skipper and a river. I was anxious to see what we could catch, be it Tiger Fish, Cat Fish or Bream. Somers was anxious as she imagined the rather large hook tearing a hole in the fishes face only for it to be thrown back in the river after we’d had our fun. I explained that we had booked a fishing trip and that some fish pain or even death was to be expected. Somers wasn’t so sure. But she was keen to try it.

We roared along the river, with the wind in our hair and a river flanked by reed beds and crocodiles. Occasionally we would turn towards into what looked like a wall of reeds before at the last minute a narrow gap opened to reveal a channel along which we could wind and dart in and out of pools and interconnecting streams. The fishing went well and despite the absence of the tiger Fish we caught plenty of Catfish the biggest being around five or six pounds. Somers landed a beauty early on and her face at first appeared bemused, leading to a cringe and then a cringe combined with a squint as her face contracted around her nose when the hook was removed. A series of leading questions ensued as the fish lay quietly on the deck. “Is it going to die? Can it breathe? Is its’ mouth OK? Can we throw it back in?” In it went and we continued our fishing. By this point Laura was in the swing of things and had grown very fond of casting and reeling her lure back in, “I could do this all day” she proclaimed. I couldn’t help but notice though that she seemed to be casting in the opposite direction to the run of babbling Catfish at which I was targeting my baited hook. One of those little blighters was destined to be our dinner.

Laura had enquired about seeing the hippos while we were out on the river and our final trip was a little upstream to get close to a local pod. As we sat, quietly moored at the bank, the hippos would surface in a burst of air, blowing water out of their nostrils, before looking directly at us trying to fathom what we were up to. On the opposite bank, hidden from view, women chattered as the sound of a machete hacked the reeds down to be used for roofing materials. Suddenly there was a huge splash and the women fell silent. Gradually, the noise of moving reeds grew louder as the women slowly moved to where the splash had arisen. A gasp, a single sentence spoken, and then the high pitched rapid speech from a group of excited ladies. Our guide translated. The splash was a crocodile and the women had found its nest of eggs and were chatting amongst each other as to their freshness and edibility. The guide decided he too wanted a look and we nipped across the river before disembarking onto the reeded bank from which the mummy croc had just departed. There was indeed a clutch of sixteen eggs. There had been seventeen until a minute previously when one of the ladies had broken it in an attempt to see if the others were edible. The contents had met with her approval and the croc had sadly been outwitted by humans. One by one the ladies collected all sixteen eggs into their upturned t-shirts. They’d be eating eggs for supper.

This little scenario opened up a whole world of whirling thought: Morality, conservation, subsistence living, natures’ innate cruelty and the ethical basis for eating what were most likely a viable clutch of crocodile eggs. Whilst taking the eggs, is from a broader view, lacking in environmental responsibility and certainly unsustainable in the long term on a larger scale, crocodiles are not endangered, in fact there are plenty of them as we had already seen and been told that day. Crocodiles reportedly take children from the waters’ edge and men from their Mokoro canoes on a monthly basis. The remoteness of the nests and carnivorous appetite of the would be baby crocs parents, means that even if they became a sought after delicacy it would be unlikely that too many hunter gatherers would be stepping forward. Whatever the reasoning, it was clear that these particular eggs would not be hatching of their own accord and their fate was inevitable. That was my reasoning for stretching out my hand and saying “Can I have one?”

The lady had produced one from her faded black t-shirt and handed it to me. In taking it I became as culpable and despicable as they. More so, as not only should I know better. I did. And still I took it.

The boat ride home was a sombre one. Our dinner was on the back of the boat and still not dead. The guide had not brought anything to kill it with and weakly reassured us with “Don’t worry, it will die.” Furthermore, we had a crocodile egg and the discussion remained focused solely on the justification of its acquisition. With the admission of guilt and the reality of its chances of survival once found by those ladies, the loose moral justification of the action became sounder. Was there any more responsible way of obtaining a wild crocodiles egg? Shouting at the ladies may have forced them to replace the eggs, but they’d almost certainly be retaken once we left. Perhaps, through our guide, we could have attempted to educate the ladies in the way so many westerners think they hold the moral high ground over other peoples’ ways of living. Had we bought the eggs we’d be encouraging their theft. If we’d been the only ones to stumble upon them, we’d have walked away quickly in fear of their mother making an appearance. Those ova had been doomed the minute their creator left them and tomorrow we’d have omelette for breakfast.

Back at the ranch I set about filleting the Catfish. It was a fair size and it’d provide meat for a day or two at least. It was hard work and I built up a sweat in doing it. After poor Eric our knife had lost its vim and found the bones hard work. I produced four fillets, two from the abdomen and two from the tail. I was imagining the braai when I noticed the first encysted larva curled quietly amongst the muscle fibres of a tail fillet. The fish had worms. As I teased the small globe of worm larva out of the muscle I noticed another, and another, and another. It was riddled. I was put off the instant I’d seen the first larva. Somers held out a little longer and only when we saw the others did we decide that this fish had met its fate without real cause. It would be eaten, of that there was no doubt, but not by us. I gave it a fairly unceremonial burial ‘at river’ as the fish became fish food.

We ate pasta and sauce, creamy pesto flavour, without meat, and went to bed. The thunder and lightning was so close we thought God was taking his revenge.

We rose the next day and had a morning clear out of Redvers. We cracked our ill-gotten egg and our dismay and moral descent were complete when amongst the yolk we saw a tiny crocodile foetus. The egg became monkey food in yet another unceremonious burial, this time into the bush.

As Somers turned to the back of the car another “Oh My Holy Crap” rang from her lips. There was a fairly large vervet monkey sat in the back of the landy tucking into what was left of our loaf of bread. I chased it into the bushes and as I threw sticks at him, he sat watching and eating. He knew my sticks couldn’t hit him in the thick bush.

We said our goodbyes to our hosts and hit the road destined for Maun. The town at the bottom of the Okavango Delta from where we could arrange the permits and accommodation we would need over the next fortnight.

The climate had been hot and humid alongside the delta but as we drove to Maun and briefly left a world supplied by water from the Angolan mountains we had a glimpse at something with which we’d become familiar in Namibia; the arid countryside of a land during dry season. This however seemed all the harsher as we passed a roadside littered with the rotting carcasses of horses, cattle and goats. Vultures sat heavily in the trees, too full to fly and too stuffed, almost, to roost. The pungent aroma of death heralded our entrance to Botswana’s’ ‘Capital of Tourism.’

It was Sunday afternoon. We found a bank machine that would give us money, the DHL office in which our coveted sim-card was held and a back-packers lodge, ‘Back to the Bridge’, where we could stay for four pounds each per night. Oh and Liverpool have just beaten Chelsea on the telly. Ooooh.

Posted by ibeamish 23:17 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Day Fifty Seven - Popa ‘Falls’

18th November

sunny 32 °C

Not far from the border with Botswana, at the beginning of the Caprivi Strip, is Popa Falls. This misnomer is actually the name given to a series of rapids as the Kavango river flows south east towards Botswana and the Okavango Delta. It was also the office where we had been told that we could collect a permit for crossing the national park through which the road to the border passes. We stopped and despite a certain apathy for the ‘falls’ we thought we’d better stump up the entrance fee and see them.

To get to them we had to cross a series of streams through thick bush following only the sound of the water to get there. Two minutes in and we were lost. We stumbled upon a local, though I’m certain that stumbling is a euphemism for being preyed upon by him, and he offered to show us to the main section. We took a convoluted path through the bush which eventually opened up onto the falls. At this point our unofficial guide asked us to stay there whilst he went for a swim! As he plunged in head first the Lonely Planets’ words rang in my ears: “The falls is nothing to get steamed up about, though swimming is definitely not safe as there are hungry crocs about.” Our guide jumped out of the other side, a little downstream, and nimbly skipped up stream across the rocks before picking a spot near the start of the rapids and once more diving headlong into them. He disappeared from sight only to surface some distance further down before gingerly breast-stroking/semi-drowning his way to the rocks. “You’re turn next”, Somers challenged.

As our guide got to us I was bare chested, hopping my leg out of my trousers readying me and my purple boxers for a swim. “We’re going again”, I said to John, our guide. My heart was pounding as my feet left the warmth of the rock and I plunged down towards the water. I clambered out of the opposite bank like a spastic frog clutching for hand holds without looking for them and clumsily stepping into deep pools where I thought there was rock. Further up river I stood at the edge, I turned and saw Somers looking on, her camera at the ready, and again I took off. It’s a bizarre feeling, hitting the water and being immediately propulsed forward underwater with only muddied brown vision. As I surfaced I had three things on my mind; breathing, crocodiles and smiling for the camera, in reverse order. Once I was in, the water just had to be ridden and, fancying that the chances of crocs were far higher in the flat pool at the end of the rapids I bailed out pretty quickly as I approached the awaiting Somers.

It turned out that our park permit actually had to be gotten at the park gates, which, despite seeming obvious to most was anything but given the poor advice we were following.

The border was easy. We had no meat and had hidden the cheeses and any tat filed under ‘probable problems’ well away from view. The folk were genuinely lovely and we handed them some dried fish that we’d bought outside the petrol station back in Rundu as a gesture of goodwill. A gesture made easier by the fact that the fish had a certain taste and Somers had picked maggots out of its head earlier on. I hasten to add that there were no maggots by the time the fish became a gift.

We were in Botswana! Ten kilometres down the road we arrived at our first destination, Shakawe. Home to a branch of Barclays that refused my Barclaycard as it had a ‘chip’ and not just a magnetic strip. International banking isn’t always what you see on the adverts.

Our night was to be spent at Drotsky’s Cabins where we would spend the following day hunting for Tiger Fish on the river. We drank through a thunder storm and into the night with three young guys; one from Zambia and one from Jo’burg both of whom had hitched to see the third who was a Botswanan and the son of Drotskys’ owner.

Posted by ibeamish 23:15 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Fifty Six – Crossing the line

17th November

storm 24 °C

A quick spin around a few watering holes and then we hit the road. We travelled out through Tsumeb, home to a cracking museum on ‘ze Germans’ and their eventual expulsion from South West Africa, and on the mineralogical magnificence of a town that is the worlds’ fifth biggest producer of lead. Fact.

The drive continued and Redvers had his first natural shower in a long time. The tarmac was dark with moisture and the rich smell of dried grass made damp by the first rains filled our minds with satisfaction. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.

As we continued along the road north towards Rundu, the town on the River Kavango, two hundred and fifty kilometres from the Botswanan border we drove head first into Police Engagement #5: The Namibian constabulary had been fantastic so far; though we’ve been through numerous police gates they tend towards waving you through as if they’ve bigger fish to fry and hence deserve no such critical mention here. At that point we were fifty kilometres from Rundu when the road signs appeared urging us to slow down. As we approached the well established road block we saw a concrete hut and a few officers sat down, scratching, (you’ll forgive my disdain shortly,) on our left; the road was bedecked with cones leading eventually to a white bordered, red sign with white letters saying ‘STOP,’ just beyond this sign stood the self-important, money grabbing, wanter of Western goods that was already thinking ‘Any excuse.’

So, when Somers crossed the line, literally and not for the first time this trip, and came to a halt next to him, he pounced. “Oh no, you have crossed the stop line,” he said, motioning towards the part of the road where a line may once have existed. “The law says you must stop and the penalty which I must charge you with is fifteen hundred Namibian dollars.” He must have seen the rage building; it wasn’t well hidden and the look of tired disgust I gave him was designed to let him know what and how little I thought of him. I was feeling belligerent, with sensibility my only restraint and Miss Somers being deliberately polite but assertive. Laura found her driving license and explained that she had seen no line and had come to a stop next to him so that she could respect his wishes. “There was no line,” I said. “The line – humph – it has long rubbed away,” he retorted. My blood grew warmer, my patience thinner and my tongue looser. Again, “We stopped for you, there was no line,” I had said only a fraction of what I’d thought. “Look we’re really sorry, we’re just travelling through to Rundu, I didn’t see the line and I’m sorry, but I didn’t try to go past and I stopped here with you,” said Somers diplomatically, it was not for me to speak anymore for fear of writing ‘Day 103 – My Release From Rundu Correctional Facility...’ Somers’ magic was working and she knew it. “Look we won’t do it again, we’ve learnt our lesson, we’re very sorry.” The traditional pause, the sound of our hearts beating but still the pause; “Well maybe this time ees OK. And maybe you have something for me, a cool dreenk maybe.” “I’ve got warm water,” I said urging Somers to start the engine. She couldn’t start it quick enough as suddenly, Grunt #2 appeared at my open window, “What is wrong officer? They crossed the line and must pay the fine” he said as Redvers joined our discussion by engulfing him in a plume of black smoke that arises every time we start his engine. “We’ve dealt with your friend already,” I said, the car already starting to roll, “And he’s told us we can leave” I continued, now shouting over my shoulder, as Somers pulled Redvers away.

We got to the camp site at Rundu and I cracked open a nice cold can of Pepsi and greedily drank down every last drop, I’d have had a second out of sheer malice but I was full from a lot of warm water I’d drunk earlier. Laura reasserted her Britishness by making a pot of tea to match the Chelsea buns she’d acquired earlier in the day at the bakery at Tsumeb.

Once again we watched Angolan life, clearly but again at a distance and this time across the Kavango River. Whilst the men played football in the background, the women came down from their homes to the waters’ edge, washing their brightly coloured t-shirts in the brown water. Water that is heading to the same place as we are. To the Delta.

Posted by ibeamish 23:13 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Fifty Three to Fifty Five – Etosha Again

14th -16th November

sunny 32 °C

Not to speak hereto a point of boredom but we had another exceptional few days, more cheetah and cubs, jackal pups, hyena finishing off elephant bones of the carcass we’d seen one month previously, lion, fighting giraffes, with their swinging heads acting like medieval maces. A head that heavy and at the end of a neck that long, swung with ferocity, each male exchanging blows to submission; it was fantastic stuff, a rare sight and straight from the animal behaviour book.

The waterhole by night was stocked well with elephants and rhino and Somers managed to stay there until the wee small hours unable to draw her eyes from the performance. And Somers gave rise to one particular highlight of the trip. Whilst watching a bull elephant alone at a watering hole, Lauras’ mind once more turned to that of watering herself. ” I’m just going to have a wee,” she said cheekily jumping out of the car. As I turned back to the elephant, a commotion ensued behind me, “Oh my holy crap,” said Somers, jumping back into the car and simultaneously closing the door in one fluid movement. So enthralled had we been at our elephant, we hadn’t seen the second elephant two metres behind Redvers; the one Somers had almost just run underneath whilst unbuttoning her shorts.

As we fell asleep at Namutoni Camp on our last night in Etosha, there was a storm in the east. Flashes of lightning strobed the night sky and the thunder that arrived so long after the flashes kept me awake. The rainy season had come and we were heading into it.

Posted by ibeamish 23:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fifty Two – Back to Etosha

13th November 2011

sunny 24 °C

With heads lacking a little clarity after a litre of wine each we set off for Etosha again. Five hours later after retracing those broken-tyred steps we had taken just a few days earlier, we had enjoyed a spot of early dinner in Outjo and now found ourselves a few kilometres from the park gates.

We were being tight again and as such, tonight we were bush-camping. We found what looked to be a quiet little F road just two kilometres from the gate. As we turned into it lorry appeared from nowhere coming towards it. We bottled it and reversed back out. As the guys pulled up we saw the driver had a Liverpool shirt on. Five minutes later, after an exchange of hellos, a discussion of birth places and an insight into our scrooge-like camping desires he’d given us directions to the best spot to camp and that we had his permission and no one would bother us. Football is a universal language.

Posted by ibeamish 23:10 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fifty to Fifty One - A little shocked

11th – 13th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

“No, there’s not a single thing wrong under here mate,” said Quentin on the phone to Captain Shock in a greatly improved mood. “There’s not a scratch,” he added. “There is a bit of dirt but they’ve driven it for a few hundred k’s.” Somers and I looked at each other. This was promising, we’d spent the previous evening writing account of the events, sorting the photos of the broken shock before and after removal, we even had a video of it. Our confidence was growing.

Before we could even discuss the situation further, a new part appeared, and was fitted. Both Quentin and Captain Shock said they’d never seen a shock so badly damaged before. Quentin still clung to a sequence of events in which the tyre had burst first, in doing so breaking a piece of metal designed to take huge mechanical loads and what’s more, when the tyre burst, it drew the shock towards itself. His logic defied physics; we didn’t care. We’d come for a fight and by nine o’clock in the morning we realised we had nothing to for the rest of the day. Our fiftieth day on the road had turned out nice again.

We wandered Windhoek, and relaxed. Back at the hostel we met a couple of French bankers on a ’round the world trip’ sabbatical. They were leaving and had a couple of sleeping mats and a tent that they needed to shift. The items were three weeks old; we took a mat and the tent off their hands at 50% discount on the tag price. The second mat had a puncture, that one was free. ‘Nice one Rodders, nice one.’

The following day we had Redvers' pressure washed. Laura waxed him in the afternoon. He looked like a beast, his gleaming paintwork and fat tyres, slung on banana suspension, he was ready for anything. That evening we went out to wine bar for drinks with some NGO guys we’d met at the hostel, and drank some very nice wine.

Posted by ibeamish 23:44 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Forty Nine - Tired of tyres

10th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

We bought two hellishly expensive tyres in the morning whilst taking a leisurely breakfast at the bakery and made Windhoek by two.

We hit every tyre shop in Windhoek, bartering them and playing one against another until we found a nice chap at Tiger Wheel and Tyre who sorted us out with four new pimped ‘You can drive across anything’ tyres. Redvers new shoes made him look very handsome, now he needed a new shock and a wash.

We nipped into the suspension place on the way back, with the banana in hand. It was Thursday afternoon, 4.30pm. Not the best time to present someone with a problem but I wanted the ball rolling before Friday. Quentin, the workshop manager, took one look at it, “Its fucked, what did you do to it?” I told him our story; it was more than obvious that he didn’t believe me. “I’ll tell you one thing for sure, there’s no way they’re gonna honour the warranty on that,” he said, helpfully. He took a picture on his phone and sent it to the head of Old Man Emu in southern Africa. I didn’t hear it but Captain Crap Shocks agreed with him. “It’s late, bring the car in tomorrow and we’ll look under it. We’ll go from there.” I gathered my paperwork, picked up the banana and left. I was furious.

Posted by ibeamish 23:39 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Eight – Halfway back

9th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

Given our trials and tribulations we just wanted to get to Windhoek before the weekend so that we could shop around for some new tyres and try and get our warranty validated on the banana suspension. As it stood Windhoek was 918 kilometres away. We hoped that we could set off early, stop in Outjo for a late lunch at the bakery and hit Windhoek by nightfall. All was going splendidly and we stopped briefly in Opuwo, the capital of Kaokoland. The tat mission was ever present and I quite wanted a Himba head dress. There didn’t appear to be any craft stalls as such and we’d all but given up hope until we saw a lady in our car park with a one in her basket. She was with another tourist and so we sat in our car and waited patiently until she’d finished. We called her over and started business proceedings. Three minutes later we had been swarmed. Somers, in the driving seat, had six ladies of varying age and in varying degrees of dress, thrusting necklaces and such through the window. We’d found what we wanted and when Somers told the motley crew to back off, they looked a little offended.

Our next stop was at the veterinary control point. No meat is allowed to be transported out of Kaokoland due to the risks of foot and mouth. The tender and final piece of Erics’ gluteals was sat in a tupperware box at the bottom of the fridge and that delicious piece of muscle was foot and mouth free. When asked I told the police officer and veterinary assistant that we had no meat. He said OK, but didn’t wave us on. The next thing, he was back. When asked about a fridge we told him we had one and he insisted on looking in it for meat. Uh oh. I clambered into the back making it look very awkward, took the lid off the fridge and noticed Eric partially hidden under a couple of water bottles. I scrambled out backwards, clattering and bumping and finally back on the tarmac told the officer he was more than welcome to get in and look. He unwittingly called my bluff and as he climbed in our heart rates quickened. He took a long look and paused. “OK,” he said, “you can go.” Phew.
As I said all was going well until 530kms into the days’ journey our back left tyre blew out. It was supposedly the best tyre on the vehicle and the fact that half of the road bearing surface was now loose was just bad luck. The rubber had come away at the radial wires; I’d given up trying to understand why. Despite the bits of rubber and metal poking out of it, it was still inflated. The inner tube hadn’t given up yet. It was half past four. We had 60 kilometres to go. We poured water on it to cool it down and set off at 30kph, and at 30 we stayed, and prayed, for two hours hoping we’d make it before the tyre croaked.

We arrived just after six thirty, there was a tyre shop in town, we’d have to pay it a visit in the morning and then try and get to Windhoek.

Posted by ibeamish 23:38 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Seven – Pooped at Epupa

8th November 2011

sunny 41 °C

We had planned on leaving to get back to Windhoek but after our exertions over the last few days we decided we should stay another night and recoup. Using palm nuts we played boules at the river side, we read our books and called our shocks supplier in South Africa to find out where it could get replaced. (Six weeks and ten thousand kilometres for it to fold like a wet tissue.) It can be done in Windhoek when we get our tyres.

The heat was too much to do anything during the day, infact we spent the day moving our chairs with the shade, but as the sun sank we walked west along the river. Few things have left me in awe and Epupa and the Cunene are one such location. Five hundred metres of rocky ground have three or four clefts down which the water is channelled. At this, the driest time of year the water still roared. The river is bordered by huge palm trees that appear as an oasis tonic to the towering yellow scrub hills that fill the rest of the picture. Huge 800 year old Baobab trees cling perilously to the edge of the falls, physics defies their existence when so much of them appears to be suspended over nothing. One of the trees bears testimony to those that got too close to the falls. The names of the deceased fill the visible trunk of a tree that is seven metres in circumference at its base. We walked further along the river to a depth measuring tower. The deepest measurement was in excess of twenty one metres. The water was nowhere near this level. I couldn’t see far enough down the measuring rail for fear of falling into the canyon. Even here where a concrete and iron monitoring tower had been built, drift wood and desiccated plant material had wrapped itself around the ladder way above where the measuring rod ended. All around us, drift wood was strewn amongst the rocks. It was truly beautiful. We agreed that one day we would return at the height of the rainy season.

Another fire and again Eric provided. This would be our penultimate steak.

Posted by ibeamish 23:35 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Six – Shocking

7th November 2011

sunny 40 °C

With our tyres as they were, and the temperatures hitting the low forties, rubber conservation was imperative. We were to start early in the cooler part of the morning before the ground got too hot and then drive for as many hours as necessary during day light maintaining our slow speed to avoid friction heating our tyres any further.

Before we could get going we heard voices coming along the road. Our eyes widened and our pupils dilated with nervous anticipation. The voices grew louder, we weren’t well hidden. Would it be the chief asking for compensation for us using his land, would it be curious locals coming to see if they could get some sugar or mealie meal, (crushed maize meal, the staple of African belly fill,) or would it be the middle aged Himba couple that we now saw approaching us aback their donkey steeds. The gentleman climbed down from his donkey, I say down but his feet were only six inches from the ground to start with, and he loosely tethered it around a bush. He was wearing an old long over coat loosely tied around the middle and I could see his loin cloth and bare chest through the opening of the coat. He then raised a leg onto the river bank and placed one hand on the raised thigh as if striking a thoughtful ‘catalogue’ pose. The silence was broken by the sound of running water and I immediately turned to see what Somers was up to, she was stood next to me. The noise was coming from in front of me. I looked back. The guy wasn’t smiling even though the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned and his eyes were ever so slightly closed, it was the satisfied face of a dressed man looking directly at us whilst having a wee.

His wife approached and we soon realised communication would be based around pointing and the art of mime. We understood ‘sooka’ to be sugar, but we had none so that was easy. The lady kept raising both arms to the blue sky. Sky equals rain, rain equals water. A commodity too precious to be given away, especially in our uncertain circumstances, empty bottles however were more than acceptable. We had four spare 5l empties. We handed them over. I offered them some of our porridge that I’d cooked the day before. It had taken on a burnt wood flavour and wasn’t entirely delicious. But with strawberry jam to sugar coat it, it provided some sort of nutrition. Mr and Mrs weren’t so sure. Mrs tried it first and seemed to like it, she got a second helping; Mr licked it and decided it wasn’t so good. We couldn’t blame him; we’d been battling a bit with it ourselves.

Anyway, no sooner had they taken the plastic bottles they had hidden them in a bush, to collect at alter date, and were back on their donkeys. They told us they were heading to Okangwati, which coincidentally was also where we were heading. I wondered who’d get there first.

Our slow trawl continued and two hours in we started to hear a banging noise from beneath the car. I thought it was the porridge pan at first but Somers advised that it was the car and that we should really have a look. For the next kilometre we repeatedly looked underneath Redvers, shaking his drive shaft, his transmission, his differentials, his exhaust, I even ran alongside to see exactly where the noise was coming from. It was his back right, somewhere near his wheel. After a while Somers worked out it was the shock absorber casing that was rattling. This was the one place that we thought we had covered. We had put brand new Old Man Emu shocks on for just this reason; we’d be driving hard ground. Old Man Emu is supposedly the toughest brand, its slogan is ‘Built Tough in Australia’ that should have been a warning. Even though it rattled it was all still firmly attached and we felt like it was working. We were driving slowly. We thought it should be alright.

An hour later we hit what we had least wanted to see. Ahead our ‘D-road’ became a washed out track that turned into a quite tough 4x4 course with very steep sections. We were climbing rocks two feet high and crossing gaps three feet deep. At times we climbed ten metres in only twenty metres of ‘road.’ Every foot of forward motion involved undue strain on our disintegrating tyres. (Redvers is more than capable of dealing with this territory, it was partly the reason that we’d come this way and we were confident enough that normally we could get through it.) Every inch seemed to have one of the tyres scraping for purchase and then once grip was attained the engine forced two tonnes of Redvers uphill on just a sharp edge of rock. We spent half an hour dealing with the worst of it and we were just getting to the top of a very tricky section when there was a bang and a rush of air.

Crikey was nowhere near as foul as the word I used. We’d had the wing mirrors trained on the back wheels since we set off and it only took a cursory glance at the flat heap of rubber that clung limply onto the back right wheel to repeat the word that sounded nothing like crikey. The sat-nav displayed one hundred kilometres to the main road. We’d been making good time, but once again we had a tyre to change in the middle of the day and this time, without shade. The second spare was on the roof, it took two of us to unbolt it thanks to my dodgy homemade ‘secure’ bolt fixing. I was walking around cursing like a drunk, collecting what I’d need to change the wheel. On the ground Somers was a little more cool headed and methodical. She’d chocked the front wheels and was now under the car looking at the damage. The tyre that we’d so caringly protected for 24 hours would still have been intact had the cheap, prison labour built, banana coloured excuse for an Australian shock absorption device not been neatly jack-knifed through our tyre. Curse, cursing curse, curse, curse. Criking Australians. I got the hi-lift jack and the number 19 spanner out, we’d need them both. The wheel came off. We stabilised Redvers with a small boulder under the diff and we switched jacks to take off our crumpled shock. We switched jacks again and put our spare wheel on. We packed away and set off an hour and a half after we’d heard the pop.

We weren’t yet through the rough stuff and we had no idea how much further it would go on for. Repeatedly we’d hit a nice stretch of track or sand before then hitting a rocky section again. It was on one such sandy section that Somers actually saved the day. With a good 70kms left to the main road she asked me stop the car, she could smell burning rubber. Crikey.

Once again we were on our knees, and then on our backs under Redvers’ back end. Without his shock there had been nothing to hold his suspension spring in place. One of the slow rough sections must have allowed the spring to partially jump out and it was now wearing a line through our already roughened second and final spare. Thus ensued another hour of jacking in loose sand. Jacking in sand is something akin to pile driving, the weight of Redvers just pushed the jack deeper through the sand. We needed a base plate. We found sequentially bigger rocks to act as such. One seemed to have worked before Redvers creaked and slowly leaned forcing the jack to slip and its’ end to dig into the body work. Another dent, another story. The jack stopped working, it took a few minutes before I realised a pin had come out. I dug around the sand and found it and hammered it back into place. More boulder hunting. Eventually we found a huge rock, we barely managed to carry it between us but even this small mountain needed extra support rocks beneath it. With the substructure in place the jack stood well and up Redvers went. We managed to get the spring back in place and lowered the jack. Yet, unless we could somehow secure the spring in place we would have to repeat this debacle every time we crossed a tough 4x4 section.

Somers however was sailing a purple patch and the genius that was spewing forth was uncontrollable. She appeared with a packet of tie wraps. Jeepers, I thought. How can two tonnes of metal be held together with a few narrow strips of plastic. “Just use lots of them,” she said. What else could we do? Redvers right hind leg was now held together using tie-wraps and hope. Our situation was thus: two perishing tyres in front, two suffering but intact and capable tyres behind. One shock missing behind and replaced with twenty seven tie-wraps. Somers had stopped us driving the second spare into another broken mess. We were on a road that was so bad we may not have seen another car for days. We certainly hadn’t seen fresh tyre tracks that day. It wasn’t worth thinking about our situation had we lost another tyre at this point. We’d have had to walk or wait. Somers had saved us for now.

Over the next thirty kilometres we stopped over twenty times to get out and check our spring was in place. We couldn’t afford to lose a tyre. Fortunately the road steadily improved from here. We reached the main road at Okangwati at half past five, it had taken all day to get there, but now we had a level, graded, gravel road. We turned north, away from Opuwo and away from fuel and fresh tyres.

An hour later we got to Epupa Falls. We managed to swim in one of the pools and saw the last rays of the sun setting on the Angolan hills whilst sipping gin and tonics on Redvers balcony. The relief was paramount.

We fell asleep to the rumble of the falling Cunene River and the sound of cicadas in the trees.

Posted by ibeamish 23:34 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Five – Tyred Out

6th November 2011

sunny 39 °C

We took our time getting ready. At half past eight the sun was already ridiculously hot. The sand was becoming unplayable in bare feet. We broke camp and hit the river.

Oh what brilliant fun! Driving up the river bed. Even though the river was dry the trees and shrubs were still green, Springbok and Gemsbok wandered the river bed and at one point we nearly didn‘t spot the giraffe about five metres away from the track stood under a tree! Redvers felt good, we had plenty of food and water and the previous night we’d refilled his tank from the jerry cans we’d been carrying on the roof. We’d travelled nine hundred kilometres and we had about eight hundred more before we saw a petrol station again. Along our route we passed deserted villages, wooden huts caked in thick mud and dung to insulate against the heat, empty kraals in a state of disrepair: ghost towns. These areas are predominantly inhabited by the Himba people. Many of the Himba still dress traditionally with intricately decorated loin cloths elaborate necklaces and ankle and arm bracelets, most striking are the bare breasted women with their skin coated in ochre butter to protect against the sun, their hair is dreadlocked with the same ochre butter creating a Medusian plethora of snakes rising from their heads, atop this sit ornate head dresses identifying them as adults and the patterns in their jewellery indicating social and childbearing status. The guys have a half-skirt get up which equates to something like having your sweater wrapped around your waist. For the front piece they have a loin cloth of pleated material or leather which has a strap around their waist, the majority then wear t-shirts and boots and have their hair shaved into a Mohawk with a short plaited pony tail coming off the back of their head like a small tail. Their tall walking stick completes the ensemble.

The Himba are a big draw for tourists in Namibia and we’d already seen some Himba ladies in Windhoek. It was nice to be driving the road less travelled. The people we were seeing hadn’t dressed especially for us, they were going about their daily existence and we just happened to be passing through. We were travelling at the driest time of year, just a few weeks before the rainy season arrives. The villages we had seen weren’t entirely deserted. Some of the Himba are semi-nomadic, moving their cattle into these villages when water is abundant and the river is in flow.

Climbing out of the river bed we continued alongside it for a while. And then we came to what must be the most remote craft stall we’ve visited yet. Our location was now such that we were a minimum of four hours drive from any main road. We’d seen only one other car in two days driving and that was as we left Sesfontein. Yet here we were next to a bare breasted, ochre skinned, Himba lady, next to her husband and child with a fairly well stocked craft stall. It should have been easy. With so little traffic and hence so little opportunity to sell it was a buyers’ market. But conversely we couldn’t help but admire these guys, we were going to buy almost regardless of what they had to sell. I now have a necklace made from bone, string and seed. Somers has a new necklace, made of metal nuts and leather, and we have a small wooden container, we’re not sure what it’s for. We bartered but only half heartedly.

Half an hour later we were driving along singing to the Stereophonics when we heard a characteristic squelch coming from the back left of the car; a characteristic rubbery squelch; a flat tyre squelch. It was one o’clock in the afternoon, it was over 40 degrees, fortunately the left side of the car is where our awning is. First things first, we pulled it out to provide shade while we worked. Redvers’ tyres have been an ongoing topic of debate. They’re old and the sidewalls were slightly cracked but there was still a reasonable amount of tread left on them, (we were just past the wear indicator.) We’d initially been advised that they should make it to Nairobi, we knew by Windhoek that we’ d more likely need to buy new tyres in Botswana or Zambia. Our trips to Etosha, Sossusvlei and the Waterberg had been taking their toll as the tyres wore and chips of rubber came away from the tread. Perhaps in hindsight these were all arguably good indicators that Redvers was wearing holes in his shoes. Perhaps we were too tight or maybe we were just inexperienced. I had wanted to wear the tyres down to almost smooth, I’d rationalised that we weren’t travelling at high speed and we still had another five thousand kilometres or more on them. I was horribly wrong.

Looking at our back left tyre there was no single puncture. The rubber looked tired; it looked uneven, like plastic placed near to a flame. There were multiple tiny punctures. The radial wires had pushed up through a good centimetre of rapidly perishing rubber. The tyre hadn’t burst, it was falling apart.

We were carrying two spare tyres and so the immediate problem was easily solvable. Only fifteen minutes later we had replaced our nice alloy with a sturdy steel rim that held on it the newest of our six tyres. Newest meant very little when we looked at the geriatric line up of rubber that adorned Redvers. The tread on the ‘new’ tyre was half a centimetre above the wear indicators but it was no spring chicken, I’d bought it off a Land Rover contact in Pinetown back in Durban for twenty five quid. Our second spare was a get out of jail tyre. It had, in theory, enough tread to get us out of a sticky situation and to the first place where we could repair a tyre or buy a new one. We inspected our three other tyres more closely, they were all in various states of advanced decay. The back right had a flap of rubber two centimetres by two centimetres underneath which was the mesh of radial wires. We now had over 200kms to travel to the nearest main road, it was more than 350kms to the nearest garage with fuel, and we weren’t planning on going there directly. More importantly these weren’t just normal kilometres of tarred or gravel road they were over some of the trickiest ground we’d come across so far. We set off slowly. We didn’t want to experience using our last spare.

Priorities were changing. Our route had been a roundabout way of getting to Epupa Falls on the Angolan border. Our plan was still to get there before turning around to head for Opuwo and the safety of a town with amenities including fuel and a proper garage. We now suspected that we’d need to revisit Windhoek for a fifth time to get new tyres but if we turned back before Epupa, we wouldn’t be able to justify the time and expense of going back again. So, slowly-slowly was what was necessary. Uncomfortable and untrusting in our tyres we also knew we wanted back to the main road as soon as possible. Long hours of slowly-slowly were necessary. Somers drove like a champion Le Mans driver for five and a half hours over ground that doesn’t let you rest for a minute. Deep sand hiding sharp rocks, sharp rocks hiding among the stony path, steep climbs and seemingly sheer descents, all at below 20kph, the concentration required drains you like no other driving. We made ninety kilometres in just over eight hours driving. We took a pass between Mount Okamanga and Mount Ondjamu and struck camp in a river bed that was unnamed on our maps.

We cooked more Steenbok steak, some mealie pap and tomato relish and quietly wondered if we would make it out of the wild the following day.

We fell asleep to the not so distant sound of drums and singing in the nearest homestead.

Posted by ibeamish 08:45 Comments (0)

Day Forty Four- Corrugations

5th November 2011

sunny 34 °C

We were fresh today. It felt like something of a beginning for the first major section of our trip. We had left the Atlantic Ocean yesterday. We would now travel across Africa to the Indian Ocean before turning left to head north. Today our little off road trip began. To begin we had to pass through the main town in the area which was Sesfontein.

The road wasn’t too bad, corrugated in places, crossing plenty of dried up tributaries and streams but not too bad. We could cruise at forty kilometres per hour just nicely. We passed Purros. It was a settlement really, hut and kraals. We didn’t see a shop.

This was when the road got nasty. The corrugations were horrific, ten centimetres deep in places, relentlessly pounding the suspension, shaking the car apart unless we travelled below ten kilometres an hour. For much of it we drove off the side of the road following where someone had done the same before us. Still it was awful, looking at the map on the laptop someone had annotated ‘this road will break your suspension.’ It got so bad in fact that we eventually turned off. Somers had spotted a river bed that we could drive up and it had to be better than our current road surface. We turned off the ‘D road’ onto the Khumib River bed. A couple of kilometres along, we stopped. We set up camp, collected wood and got a fire going. Red wine, Eric drumsticks and Scrabble.

We fell asleep to the sound of absolute heavenly silence.

Posted by ibeamish 08:43 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Three – Beamo Grylls, Grills

4th November 2011

sunny 39 °C

Walking along the beach the next morning the bags under our eyes told of a long night interrupted by lots of rain, the noisy Atlantic and nightmares of waking to find the water lapping against Redvers’ doors. Looking down I noticed a fair amount of discarded fishing line and that gave me an idea for a video.

Beamo Grylls. Using only what I could find here in the deserted Skeleton Coast I would craft a fishing rod and line and catch some Cod for our supper. There was plenty of line which I wound around a thick piece of wood as my spool. I found a piece of wire which I then spent an hour filing to a sharp point with my Leatherman before attaching some shells as my sink weight and another piece of wood as a float. The bait was a piece of liquorice. Whilst this may be frowned upon in fishing circles Somers and I have eaten a lot of fish and I a lot of liquorice and we both thought they might like a nice piece of the stuff. I couldn’t help but think it was all too easy. The beach dropped off quite sharply as it hit the ocean but I’d have to be in the water in order to be able to cast far enough with my right arm. I pictured Bear with his team of well equipped fishermen already out catching what would be the fish used in the final shot, I pictured his beaming face fresh from a night in the eighty quid a night lodge and I saw me, crotch deep in cold rough water, holding a supreme 10 or 12 pound Kappeljou Cod, a champion among men, Somers content with her choice of such a rugged male specimen - able to survive anywhere he is thrown. Generally I thought a lot in what was only a few minutes and when I cast my tackle for a second time the line snapped mid flight. Hook, line and sinker into the briny sea. You can’t imagine my dismay. I stormed up the pebbled beach, past a filming Somers, grumpy as all hell.

The day could have started better but we were soon nearing the park gate formulating excuses for how we’d spent two days in the park with no evidence of accommodation. Fortunately for us the gate keeper was preoccupied with a German couple (both boys, and definitely a couple) who had punctured their tyre on the way in.

We were travelling again, and at a fair old rate on the gravel road. As we rounded another corner the brakes slammed on and we skidded to a halt as the plumes of dust that we’d created sailed past us and through the giraffe that were crossing the road ahead of us. Ten of them in all, mooching around like rabbits might on an English common, as wild as is possible nowadays. We took advantage of the break and had lunch and collected some firewood for later on.

An hour later we were stopping again. At one of our river crossings was a herd of elephant playing in the water a hundred metres away from us, twenty five of them from baby to matriarch. We watched for an hour or so. During that time two vehicles came towards us from the road ahead. One was an open backed pick-up (bakkie) driven by a group of local guys who stopped briefly in awe of their local wildlife; the other was an overland vehicle with a couple of tourists in. We hold the latter responsible for what happened a few miles further on.

Somers spotted him first. A little Steenbok, fully grown but none the less small by nature, just lying at the side of the road wide eyed at the approaching Redvers. Steenbok are normally very shy and all too quick to run, but he sat there quietly, watching. We stopped five metres from him. He still hadn’t moved, but he was clearly looking at us. Something was clearly not right. I got out of the car to see what was wrong and only as I got within three metres from him did he attempt painfully to stand and wheelbarrow himself, dragging his hind legs three feet towards the bush. He gave up and, walking up to him, I stooped to stop him going further. I stroked his back as if to calm him knowing full well that he’d never been touched by a human and that his fear must have been pinnacle. He looked like he’d ruptured his abdomen as beneath the skin of his belly was a large soft protrusion, alien to his other contours. I looked at Somers and we knew what would happen next.

I’d struggle to break his neck in one go, I’d already named him Eric in my mind by this point, God knows why, so we had two options, a knife or strangulation. It makes me feel sick even now. My job means I’ve been at the surviving end of many one sided duels with animals. Each one as justified in its own way as the one I was about to add to the list. I’ve had animals in worse pain, owners grappling at their ‘baby’ unable to control their tears and unable to say goodbye but this was wholly different. Both options available were barbaric but I couldn’t deal with strangling something. I took the kitchen knife from the drawer; I knew it was sharp enough. With the sickening feeling in my stomach building even further I walked back towards him catching a resigned glimpse from Somers. Half way I stopped. “This is the right thing to do isn’t it?” I asked, rhetorically. Laura confirmed the inevitable and my reluctant walk continued. I picked him up in my arms and moved him from the road; it would be easier if the scrub hid the unavoidable bloodshed. He bleated loudly. Like a lamb. I’d never felt this awful before. I was trying to imagine what was running through his brain. To my mind he was no longer thinking ‘Predator! Run!’ I’d anthropomorphised him into thinking about how I hadn’t been so scary the first time but asking why I was now carrying a knife?

I placed his body between my legs and holding his chin in my left hand pulled it towards my stomach. He didn’t struggle. The knife was heavy in my right hand, too heavy to lift. I turned to look at Somers. She was looking away. “Hon,” I said shakily. “You’re doing the right thing,” she shouted in reply. I turned back. Sweat was dripping off my brow and my heart was pounding and my stomach was turning, my skin tingled and my head throbbed with every heart beat. I looked at the knife again, I looked at him, his slender neck, his huge black eyes, his little horns and his helpless situation. I muttered the word sorry as I drew the knife, pressing to make sure I was deep. He passed out. I made a second cut to ensure his fate.

As I’ve already said, I never really thought killing something could be so hard, the combination of the Bambi looks with the lambs cry and I suppose the forty degree heat and a tired mind all played their role. But what had needed doing had been done. Now all that lay before me was a carcass. A fresh carcass. I cleaned the blood from my knife and took the hind limbs off at the hip, taking as much of the hind quarter meat as I could. We wrapped them in plastic and put them in our fridge. Nature would look after the rest of Eric as the circle continued. Spike would be proud.

We found a community run campsite at Khowareb Schluct on the Hoanib River. Yet another extremely pretty location with running water and shady trees that overhung us like protective sentinels shielding the still fierce heat of the sun. We had been away for a few nights and it was good to be clean again in a place with plenty of fresh water. But we knew the next part of our trip would be the toughest yet. We’d be spending anywhere between three and six days in the wilderness of North West Namibia, Kaokoland. Although some of the roads were marked as D roads we’d read they’d been built by the South African army when the British had persuaded Jan Smuts and Louis Botha to take Namibia from the Germans in 1914. At best they’d be well marked 4x4 trails. At worst they’d be impassable.

In some bizarre scene reminiscent of days of yore, Mr and Mrs performed their respective chores. Laura aired our bed linen and then sat stitching our torn clothes. I took Eric’s legs out and prepared them, skinning them first before taking the steaks off and two rather large drumsticks. Given Eric’s small stature there was a reasonable amount of meat; almost two kilograms by my estimate. I washed the meat off, salted it, wrapped it and put it back in the fridge.

We lit the fire, drank beers and cider and braai’d steak trying to piece together the days’ events.

Posted by ibeamish 10:36 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Forty Two – Oil Rigs and Shipwrecks

3rd November 2011

sunny 35 °C

The day got off to a belting start when the park guys started fixing their car at the break of dawn. We lay still in our crumpled sleeping bags for a while contemplating rising. Eventually we could take the noise no longer. My entrance on the scene in just my boxers was made more impressive as my foot slipped on the first rung of our dew laden ladder. I very briefly hit every other rung on the ladder as I fell semi-graciously to the dirt. I stood quickly, dusting myself off. I pretended that the girly little squeak hadn’t happened and that I hadn’t just fallen seven feet down a ladder. The guys fixing their car stood in bewildered, but only mild, interest at another white man acting weird again.

A short distance into the park we found the wreck of The Benguela Eagle (1975.) Further on we found the cinematic remains of an old inland oil rig. It seems the entire thing was built of iron and steel and now this huge structure sits in the desert rusting away. There isn’t a square inch of it that isn’t rusted.

Somewhat coincidentally, that morning we’d decided it was high time we made a music video and this spot provided an amazing location. Somers, it seemed, slipped very naturally into the role of music video icon and performed brilliantly in front of camera. My talent was lacking, I was well aware of it, and so in an effort to pad out my part of the routine I went for the highest point on the rig. That was a lot easier said than done. The rusted steps had no actual ‘step’ remaining; the square floor panel on which I was stood was covered in about six inches of excrement from the local bird life, not that we could see any of the offending creatures. My scene involved a jump before swinging my arm out towards the sea. I wasn’t sure that the floor would stand a jump and it was telling in my face as Somers started the camera rolling. My half baked jump landed heavily. The floor beneath me flexed. Not like a piece of thick rubber or thick metal but more like a piece of peanut brittle. I heard a crack and looked down to see a line running along past the heels of my feet out to the edge of the golden brown structure. My mojo was gone. I gingerly climbed back down like a criticised prima donna and muttered something about being over this video making crap.

We went for a walk along the beach near Toscanini, an old diamond mine. Sadly we didn’t find any diamonds but we did find bones. The beach was littered with seal and whale bones. In a few kilometres we saw more than thirty seal skulls, we saw whale ribs, 15 or more feet long, Somers lay lengthways next to one, and vertebrae the size of a bath tub; the parks title is clearly no misnomer,

The afternoon was spent hiking across five kilometres of salt pan come sand dune to the oceans’ shore where lay the Montrose (1973.) By far the best wreck we’d seen yet, it still has its mast and is therefore far more potent and pleasing on the eye than previous wrecks. It was also one of the most scenic, and remote, picnic spots I’ve ever dined at. Arabian pepsi tasted amazing. It’s not just the fifty P shop in Liverpool that still sells Arab coke with the old style ring-pulls.

We weren’t allowed to camp overnight in the Park unless we stayed in the eighty quid per person lodge. That didn’t suit, so we drove off to find a secluded spot on the pebble beach at the shores edge nestled in behind some dunes to keep us clear of the road. As we climbed into bed a storm was brewing over the Atlantic the waves crashed thunderously against the shore, lifting and smashing pebbles as big as a human head against the beach. From all the way to my right, north, all the way to my left, the south, and all the way from the roof of the sky in front of me down onto the horizon ahead lay one huge black cloud. It’ll never hit us I thought as I slipped into a dream about Redvers being washed into the ocean.

Posted by ibeamish 10:28 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty One - Beached

November 2nd 2011

sunny 36 °C

We drank coffee whilst we sat watching the distant ocean glow brighter as the sun rose on our backs. Today was a great day. We were to be shipwreck hunters again!

There were a few wrecks on our list that we hadn’t seen with Emma and today was the day we would get to see them. We pretended we weren’t on just another tourist trail. Wired with caffeine and the romantic notion of tracking down these once noble vessels that had come to the end on these inhospitable shores we gunned Redvers to life and the hunt began.

The first on our list was another ‘unknown’ wreck. It was five kilometres from the main road and so there would be some 4x4ing to do. We turned off the road at a position from which we could head due west, following another cars foot prints. The track was easy and two kilometres in we hit a rocky bank running through the centre of a large salt pan with what looked like fairly deep sand either side of us. With the bank as our bridge we were sailing, we were closing on the wreck and the excitement was building. (My mind was playing out the pirate impressions already as I’m sure was Somers’.) But plain sailing was soon to end. Our bank petered out into darker sand with from its appearance was fairly crusted. Somers slowed the engine and looked at me. I looked back shrugging. My words were, “Just gun it I reckon.” Somers took the bull by the horns and Redvers roared as we left our bank and hit a very thin crust beneath which lay deep, sticky but extremely slippy mud. Ten meters onto the pan we stuck. Redvers wheels spun as we gently tried to ease him out, reverse, forward, reverse, forward, spinning wheels, sinking deeper. We stopped, we needed a new plan.

Plan A was exactly as you’d guess. Despite my earlier words of encouragement Somers had been driving. I’m a boy, brash of mind and with confidence (misplaced) when there’s a woman nearby. I got in the drivers’ seat and fired him up. This’ll be easy I thought as I gently got Redvers’ wheels to spin on the spot just like Laura had. Hmmm.

Plan B was to dig our way out. This was never going to be a dignified affair. The folding shovel was unleashed as Somers became rock collector and I dug down to our wheels through wet/mud with the consistency of the thickest gooiest chocolate brownie you can imagine. I had to scrape the earth off the spade by hand as it stuck so firmly. In the dug-out trenches behind the wheels we placed rocks galore. Back in the car it was Somers turn to get us out. I was videoing. Spinning wheels going nowhere. Damn it. No good. Every time we attempted escape Redvers’ wheels dug in deeper. We were three kilometres from the road and a hundred and fifty from the nearest town. It would be embarrassing to thumb down a Toyota driver for help. We needed a Plan C.

The good news was that we’d anticipated this day long before I laughed at Mr Toyota stuck in the sand. Buying accessories we’d been like kids in sweet shop and so our toys weren’t just limited to a folding spade that carried with it an air of Chinese disposability. We had a high lift farmers jack, (made in China,) tow ropes, elastic recovery ropes and shackles (useless without a car to pull us out, probably made in China) and a pair of the finest sand tracks known to man (made in South Africa, but I’m highly suspicious they were imported from China and relabelled.)
We’d had two attempts already and we’d been stuck for about half an hour so this would be it. We found a big rock to put the jack on but even this just sank into the mud under the combined weight of the jack and vehicle. Using lots of rocks we managed to create a strong enough base to lift each individual wheel using the alloys as our lifting point; this was dangerous in itself as we didn’t want to crack one of the alloy rims.

Over the next two hours we tried various combinations: we dug deeper tracks, we dug out the wheels, we placed layers of rocks beneath all four wheels and then placed the sand tracks on top of these rocks, even putting stones in the sand tracks, each time we had a failure we adjusted something, lifted another wheel to put even more rocks down, placed foundation rocks for the smaller rocks, it was bloody hard work. When Redvers finally came unstuck and reversed out,( in true General Sir Redvers Buller style,) it was two o’clock and I had the best sunburnt builders bum since Eve made Adam do the weeding in Eden.

We settled Redvers on our rocky bank, ate a lunch of avocado, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, standard traveller fare, and set off on foot for the bloody ‘unknown’ wreck.

It turns out that my new scarf has yet another use. A pirates’ headscarf. I posed with my eye patch and headscarf with a mean grizzly face, I hadn’t shaved for a few days, you can only imagine the luxurious and full beard I now possess. (“There are at least six hairs,” said Somers. My hurt feelings made me ask just how she gets her teeth such a lovely yellow colour. That gave us some ‘quiet time.’) )

Walking back to the car we found another seal carcass whose flipper had rotted to just its sun bleached bones. Somers picked it up and pulled her sleeve down over her own hand so that the flipper bones became her new prosthesis. Cue an impromptu photo shoot with Somers performing model like poses with her freaky skeleton hand. We laughed to exhaustion and trundled back to Redvers.

Our hiccup had delayed us. We were supposed to be through the park gates by 3pm. It was 3.45pm by the time we arrived.

The gates to the southern entrance of the Skeleton Coast National Park are made with two huge skull and crossbones that are flanked by 15 foot high whale ribs. It was fairly spectacular but we had bigger fish to fry. I walked into the office, permits in hand, and looked for the man in charge. His name was Umshlongo and since we were late we couldn’t enter. No great surprise really, but by no means the end of our discussion. A short while later I had negotiated two options. One was to travel through the park and directly out of the other gate, the second was to stay with these rangers. We chose the latter and agreed it would be for free. Great stuff. As we unpacked the tent, we watched the rangers drive off into the National Park, fishing rods and tackle on the back of their car, straight past the ‘Strictly No Fishing’ sign. They obviously needed dinner and there must be whole load of fish waiting to be caught given no one else is allowed to catch the little fellas.

Posted by ibeamish 10:09 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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