Monday, August 25, 2008

Break down, down, down, down.

When on Safari, don't break down in the middle of nowhere. Don't do it. But if you do, it's going to fit in nicely there with your travel stories of Africa.

I was driving a Land Rover 110 TDI to Swakopmund from the south a number of years ago. I had three quests, very quiet people. And a heavy duty, 'Off-Road' trailer. Heavy duty, that is, except these little ridicules little axle stubs on it. While crossing the Kuiseb River and the canyon lands beyond it, about three centimeters (lets say an inch) of it broke off. This was enough to send the trailer's wheel, hub and all, forward and traveled along next to the car. I slowed to a stop. I was relieved to see the wheel was going to cross left and would hit an uphill, and probably fall over there and stop. As it started to slow on the incline, it started to fall over, only to be bounced up by a rock, and with fresh momentum, start down hill, over the road, and way down a little Canyon. I felt this to be a little problematic. I said very little (still using basic English words.) The quiet guests said nothing.

I stopped and started dealing with the turn of events. First, the radio. To far out to reach Swakopmund where we had our base at the time. Then I focused on getting the tire. This was some job. It really is a heavy thing just to life a large four wheel drive tire up. To get it up the side of a little canyon is a little heavy duty. Some nature conservation guys came past and gave me a hand. Dust, sweat, and a little axle greese. I smiled. The guests said nothing.

I already could see from the begining that there was no road side fix for it. I couldn't weld the axle, and wouldn't have taken a risk like that in any case. The Kuiseb road is busy, and so enough there were a number of cars passing us by, each with a solution to our problem. Eventually the plan became: 1. Remove the stuff from the trailer 2. Pack what I could on my vehicle. 3. Find a good person to take the rest.

Simple plan. Trouble number one. I had a mass of camping equipment. Nobody passing along had space for this kind of stuff. Finally a stroke of luck, a lady with an empty horse carriage thing. She took a lot of my camping kit on to Swakopmund.

Number two: The trailer didn't want to come off. This took time. Finally, with help from another nice dude, we got a trolley jack under where the old tire was, to level the trailer and using my jack from the car, we managed with effort, to get the hitch to come out. It half burried the jack. It was one of those jacks that was a really bad idea from landrover at the time - the screw mechanism one? Don't know it...well it doen't work.

Anyway, Land Rover free, we could continue. Now with extra stuff loaded inside and on top and now without a trailer and with the jack left under the trailer were it dug itself in with removing the trailer from the car. I figured we would be in radio range soon and we would be able to get some help from our office.

We packed up, the day getting a little late now, and moved on towards the coast. I explained what my plan was. The guests didn't say anything.

10 km started to radio. Nothing. 20 km, nothing. 30...sounded like I may have had a response? Couldn't say for sure. Just a little further and we could be in good radio range.

BANG!!! The heavy load was just to much for our tires and one send out a burst as it blew out. My words were not so English any more. The guests may have mumbled something.

I tried the radio; surely we were close enough now. "swakop base, swakop base come in for Vernon"...."swakop base, swakop base, come in for Vernon"...

Finally the reply: "swakop base standing by for Vernon"

I started to explain my problem. The reply..."talk in shorter bursts...connection poor."

"I'm 130 km from Walvis Bay"
"I broke the trailer's axle"
"At the Kuiseb"
"I sent the stuff on"
"I am 35km from where I left the trailer"
"I have had a blow out"
"I left my jack under the trailer"

My boss, good man, who I think is hiding away in the bushes after the stress of managing five of us guides, got a flat bed trailer organized. I managed to stop a car with tourists and borrowed their jack and changed the tire. We moved slowly on to swakopmund. My boss passed us later. The only vehicle he had was a landrover forward control...very, very slow. He didn't throw anything at me. Good man

One last little thing happend. We had a flat tire in Etosha. The car was still loaded heavy and I was changing the tire with the guests still in the car... there had been lions around there. The screw bar of this silly jack bent out. I reacted fast enough to shove the new tire in to the wheel mound, ballancing the car on it. I had to stop tourists for the second time in the tour to borrow a jack. I felt a bit of a jack...

The guests said nothing. I was never to sure if they were a little freeked out by it, scared of me? Or were they just tough or super trusting that their guide would find a way out? I will never know...unless they return to do another tour with me. I'll have a good old bottle jack, with a high lifting jack for back-up, don't you worry.

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