Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Bad news, CUTE puppies, and dinner with a billionaire (Jan 13-16)

Current Location: Windhoek, Namibia.
Highlights: Cute puppies, Dinner with a Billionaire, fixing the leaking gearbox, the Namibian Coast, and some BAD news.
Upcoming: The skeleton Coast with huge seal colonies, and flamingos, war in the north with three dead French tourists, and some serious 4x4 in Kaokoland
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 22.565.89 LONG: E 17.071.82

We reluctantly left Cheetah View for Windhoek as we finally got in touch with another group from Phoenix that are driving from Cape Town to Pairs. More on this in a moment as they are rather an interesting group, but first I want to reflect some on Africa so far. Thus far we have only traveled through South Africa, Lesotho, and Namibia. Although we have seen some incredible sights, seen some incredible wildlife and landscapes, I can’t help but wonder where the “real dark Africa” I came in search of has gone. Southern Africa, except for the parks and reserves, is mostly a huge collection of farms. It seams that most land is either private farmland and the rest National Parks. That said, there are still many incredible people and places to experience. I have a feeling that Botswana will be more of what I came to Africa to experience. That is a wild land without the fences of South Africa and Namibia where you are somewhat free to roam and experience the land as it has been and the native people who live with the landscape rather try to change it. Although even so far we have found some really fantastic rural, unspoiled areas, but you have look hard. I wonder how this might change if somehow my as yet unborn grandchildren were to return to Africa; maybe in the same Land Rover we are using, and trace our footsteps.

Back to more current issues, although I have to say its become a past of mine to think about the future and the past and what life will be like in 50 years form now. It just blows me away to think how different the world was when my grandparents were growing up or even my parents. OK, enough of what occupies my mind during idle moments. We left Cheetah View after a fantastic few days. The day we left we saw some of the really cute Anatolian shepard puppies that are bread to protect flocks of animals like sheep and goats. These animals are bred as part of a program at the CCF where the dogs are given to farmers to protect their flocks from predators like leopard and to a lesser degree cheetah. This way the farmers will not shoot the predators as the dogs protect the flocks. The dogs are from Turkey and when they are just 8 weeks old they are put in with the flock to bond with them so they will protect them. The dog in the picture below is called Tiger and she had just had 8 puppies. How CUTE.

Once we were puppied out, we left Windhoek to meet up with another group driving up to Paris. Brian Elliot from Phoenix who told me about their trip and suggested we try and meet up contacted me via e-mail. They were staying at the Windhoek country club, probably the most fancy place in Namibia and almost on a par with the Phoenician in Arizona or some other very fancy resort. They are doing the trip in three brand new Land Cruzers, fully decked out with new accessories. I went down to their room and was introduced to Mike. Mike is a great guy who is 80 years old and has traveled to over 110 countries. He neither looks 80 nor acts 80, must be all that travelling that has kept him young. Apparently Mike saw the article in the Arizona Republic newspaper on the expedition and wanted to tell me about a National Geographic program in which he is involved. Thanks Mike, that was very cool of you! We were gradually introduced to the rest of the group, first Ted who is a South Africa in charge of security. Security! Hmm I thought, I’ve never met a group that had a security person. Then I was introduced to Brian who was in charge in the logistics of the whole trip and who was also the personal chef. What, personal chef, I thought, what’s going on here? Then a guy in shorts, no shirt, and socks walked in and introduced himself as Tom. He didn’t seem to have a role. Lastly I was introduced to Andy, a fellow Brit, who was the trips photographer. It turns out that Tom is a billionaire and CEO of a fortune 500 company and just decided to take off and do a trip thought Africa.

We went to take a look at their vehicles. These were brand new top of the line, totally deluxe Land Cruisers with CD changers, walnut trim, AC, automatic, with many of the accessories most overland vehicles have. We then went to look at our Landy. What a contrast. No music at all, and AC, what’s that? I’m not sure they had invented vehicle AC when our Landy was built. But we do have real sheep skin seats and leather trim (which I fitted)! However, they were having a few problems on the IT side of things as they too were communicating with a web site and needed to communicate on the road as I think Tom was still trying to do some business form the road. They had two iridium phones (at $4500 each) and had managed to make a call only three in over 30 attempts. I am now glad Iridium rejected our request for sponsorship. In addition, they were having a problem sending digital pictures over the slow Internet connection they were having. This is partly because they are direct dialing AOL in the USA to send and receive e-mail. I showed the group our Thrane and Thrane sponsored mini-M satphone which has worked flawlessly (for voice and e-mail) for us and the next day they placed an order for one. I also showed Brian how to reduce the file size of graphic to send over e-mail which involved them installing a copy of a graphics program we have. Take a look at the communication part of this site to see how we are communicating. Although I am sure there are many ways to communicate with a web site and send and receive e-mail from Africa, the equipment and system we are using well works very well and above all, it’s the most inexpensive way that combines the use of satphones and land lines. To give you an example, we sent the last diary entry and downloaded e-mails from a server in South Africa and Arizona with one phone call that cost us about 10 US cents. It’s not always that cheap, but it’s just an example. They have a few other IT hurdles to overcome, but they are resourceful and are fortunate to have the financial backing to have things couriered to them from South Africa or the USA. I just hope they have better experience with countries in Africa than I have! That night we left Tom’s group in the luxury of the Windhoek Country Club and drove a few kilometers along a gravel road to park on a grassy verge overlooking a beautiful valley under the clear sky. This was where we stayed that night.

The next day we decided to fix the leaking gearbox as we were loosing about 250 ml of oil every 500 kms. We did the repair in the car park of a large hardware store. It took us all day in the hot sun and probably the most stressful repair I had done. It involved removing half the floor panels which we had only just replaced and careful sealed with putty in Bloemfontein after the gearbox work there. Them removing the top cover plate of the gearbox and them removing the selector shafts to reseal everything. I have never done any kind of gearbox work before and gingerly removed the selector shafts. To cut a very story short, I could out the shafts back in. They have to sit in the correct grooves in the deep depths of the gearbox and to do this; you have to fit them through a very small hole in the top of the box. After what seemed like hours, I finally managed to figure out how to get them back in. The good news is that the gearbox leaks appears to be fixed now, but we have not done a long run yet. The plan was to leave the next day for Swakopmond on the coast, but they didn’t happen. After some more routine maintenance on the Landy, Aaron discovered that his valuables bag was missing. We strip searched the Landy, but could not find his bag. He either lost it or it was stolen. We think it was taken from the Landy while it was parked in the locked gates of the backpacker place where we are staying, but one of us was with the vehicle for just about every minute it was parked there. It had his passport, credit cards, driver licenses (USA and International), address book, vaccination cards, and some money. Last night he phoned his parents who stopped the credit cards, and this morning (Sun 16th) he has gone to the Police Station to report it as stolen. This is obviously terrible for many reasons as some of the things can’t be replaced such as driver licenses, money, phone number and address book, and vaccination cards. I am not sure now when we will leave Windhoek.

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