Friday, June 13, 2008

African Adventure: Cheetah,Lions and Christmas in the Kalahari (Dec 24-29)

Current Location: Upington, Northern Province South Africa.
Highlights: Cheetahs & Lions in the Kalahari as well as bust brake lines and fractured wheel rim.
Upcoming: Namibia next stop, for the New Year in Windhoek.
Current GPS Coordinates: S 28.455.25 N21.247.23

We just spent Christmas in the Kalahari with views of incredible red sand dunes, very strange desert creatures, and great sightings of 6 cheetahs, 4 Kalahari Lions, and lots of Gemsbok. We cooked very special Christmas and Boxing Day's dinners of fillet mignon and smoked pork with road potatoes.

But it was a very eventful few days getting out of Bloemfontein and
attending to repairs on both Christmas day and boxing day. Here is how the last few days went.

After the gearbox was repaired in Bloemfontein and we were just about to leave our friends Andre & Margie, I did one final look under the car only to see a drip drip from the transfer case. We spent the next 2 hours repairing the leak. One of the workers in the gearbox place had stripped the threads in two of the stud holes for the cover plate in the transfer case. I managed to drill out these holes using my small drill run from the power inverter, then cut to the correct length an oversize bolt using the Dremel tool I also took. This made a very clean cut and left sharp thread end. I
managed to screw in the bolt quite easily and it cut its own nice clean thread. We refilled the case and put everything back together but it was too late to leave so we stayed with Andre and Margie and left the next day (Christmas Eve). We drove about 580 km from Bloemfontein to Upington where we camped the night. Our campsite neighbors had just come from the park which they said was flooded with very freak storms. Since the only two roads in the park actually follow the riverbeds, travel in the park was very
difficult even with a 4x4. Undeterred and willing to try out the Landy in some mud and wet sand we left early Christmas day for the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Despite the floods the park was still open, although most of the water had gone now and most of the roads were passable again. There was one detour however just before the park entrance. This was very badly signposted and we ended up following a dirt road along the Botswana-South Africa border. Just as Aaron noticed that the border shouldn't be on our left, I found out that we had no brakes! The brake pedal just went to the floor. Thankfully I was driving slowly and geared down until we came to a stop. Inspection revealed that one of the front brakes lines had become
twisted forward and was rubbing on the wheel until it had worn through. In fact this was my fault. I had fitted 6-inch extensions in the front flexible brake hoses (I'll explain why some other time) so they flapped somewhat as I had not tied them down. In fact it was no bid deal to get out the spare hose, replace it and bleed the system. We were on our way in about 30mins. We turned round, found the park entrance, and stayed in the nice campsite at the park gates.

We spent the next two days in the park and got some fantastic views of cheetah, some so-so views of the unique Kalahari lions, and lots of sightings of the impressive Gemsbok. This is a barren and very harsh land.

To live in this land you have to adopt a very specialized life style. It's amazing to think that people, the so-called bushmen, inhabited this land. Of any people I have met in my travels, from Amazon tribes to Native Americans, I think I have the most respect for the bushmen. To live in the Kalahari trivializes just about any adversity in the western world, at least in my opinion. The bushmen are different from the black Africans both in appearance and socially. They were the first inhabitants of this part of Africa; way before black Africans migrated down from the north and long
before white man explored this area. It really makes me sad to know that the bushmen were eradicated form South Africa and were considered vermin with a bounty placed on their head. Bushmen in this part of the Kalahari were removed form their land in the 1970s. Today I believe there are still bushmen in some parts of the Kalahari that still live a native existence, but most have been exposed to a western lifestyle and live a quasi-bushman life style. Needless to say, I would have loved to spend more time here.
Somehow I think I will be saying this a lot!

While driving in the park on Christmas day we were honked form behind and told that one of our back wheels looked wobbly. We took a look and the rim had split! We have two good spares so changed the wheel. I have no idea why the rim split as we were driving slowly on soft sand almost all of the time with reduced tire pressure and had not gone over any hard bumps, at least nothing compared to Lesotho. Now we need to find a new rim. My guess is that the rim was just old fatigued.

We left the park yesterday and returned to Upington where we are now. Our plan is to drive to Windhoek in Namibia, about 1000km from here, where we will welcome in the New Year and make reservations to see the spectacular red sand dunes in Soussevlei. With this schedule we will have to miss seeing the Fish River Canyon. We wanted to take a microlite flight over the Canyon and do some filming form the air, but another time maybe. We are really looking forward to visiting the Cheetah reserve, the skeleton coast, native people of Namibia and avoiding the fighting along the border with Angola.

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