Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Welwitschias, Flamingos, Dunes, fuel pumps, and helping out a VW. (Jan 20-23)

Current Location: Swakopmond, Namibia.

Highlights: Bizarre Welwitschia plants, flamingos by the 100s, huge sand dunes, and we fitted a new fuel pump.

Upcoming: Cape Cross seal colony, Skeleton coast, Brandberg mountains with crystals and bushman paintings, Kaokoland: extreme heat and off road driving.

Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 22.67.76 LONG: E 14.52.50

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get pickpocketed in Windhoek. We tried for about an hour to find a filming location to park the Landy, but just couldn’t and it was far to busy and exposed to film from the street, especially with Aaron very conspicuous camera. While I was walking along "pickpocket alley", I could see who were the teams and where they were operating as they approached me. They would try to sell you a newspaper and show it to you up close, then their partner would use the cover of the paper to try and take something from your pocket or fanny pack (in British English fanny pack = bum bag). Somewhat disappointed, we departed Windhoek for the Welwitschia Plains and Moon Landscape just outside of Swakopmond on the coast in the Namib-Naukluft Park where we spent the night at a very remote "campsite" literally in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

This area just blew me away. It was a remote and barren place where it hardly ever rains with very little vegetation except for the bizarre Welwitschia plants. I bet most people have never heard of the Welwitschia plants unless they have taken a botany class. They are a very rare and evolutionary ancient plant that evolved before flowering plants. They can live for up to 2000 years, have only two leaves, a tap root that grows just 3 meters deep (although it was once thought that the tap root was 100 deep) and each plant is either a male or female. Because it seldom rains in this area, Welwitschia plants were adapted to survive from moisture they could trap from blankets of fog that is blown in from the coast, 30 km away. The ocean on the Namibian coast is very cold and cool winds blow over the ocean onto the land where moisture forms fog blankets. It is from this fog that the Welwitschia plants obtain most of their moisture for survival. This made my day seeing these plants so up close and personal as I had learnt about them in just about every basic biology course I had taken since 6th form at school (for me that is 17 years ago!).

Swakopmond is a small coastal town that attracts lots of visitors as its one of the few towns on the Namibian coast. I found Walvis Bay, just 35 km south, more appealing because of the huge populations of flamingoes and other seabirds, many of which are seasonal migrants, that feed in the lagoon close to the saltworks. In fact, the lagoon hosts about half of southern Africas flamingo population.

We also hit Dune 7, a monster size dune popular with sand boarders and quad bikers. We wanted to try out the Sealife underwater camera that was sponsored. We had seen several "ordinary" cameras fail when people used them on the dunes as sand had got into the mechanism. The Sealife Reefmaster camera is pretty much bullet proof however and not only good for underwater shots down to 150 feet, but great for any action situation where you need a completely waterproof, sandproof, dustproof, sand shockproof camera. We even buried it in sand, blew off the particles, and snapped away happily right afterwards.

On our way back from Dune 7 into town, we stopped for a VW microbus and Land Cruiser stopped at the side of the desert road. The VW had a flat tire and the Land Cruiser driven by two very friendly policemen who were investigating a suicide in the dunes. The 6 German girls in the AVIS rented VW did not have a jack and the spare was flat anyway. The police didn’t have a jack either, but radioed the AVIS emergency number to have someone sent out. We had a jack and a compressor (ARB compressor as part of the diff lock) so put air into the spare tire and changed the tire for them. Just as we had finished, the AVIS guy turned up, although I don’t know what he could have done as he had neither a jack nor a way to blow up the spare tire. We had them on their way in a few minutes and the police escorted them into Walvis Bay and we made our way to Swakomond. So far we have helped out 5 vehicles. We have towed out a Nissan and Toyota, dug out one Toyota and lent tools to another Toyota. I wonder when it will be our turn to get help?

Latest on the Landy: We replaced the fuel pump while in Windhoek with the spare mechanical pump as every now and then when it got hot and we were going up steep hills, we would loose power. Several people told us that this is a fuel pump problem, so I thought that the new spare might be better than the old pump Leimer had used. In fact the new pump was worse. On several occasions on the rough and steep route we had taken to the coast, the Landy just cut out on a hill. The remedy was to take off the fuel hose to the carb and suck the petrol through until it flowed again. Then the car would start and we could proceed. I promised that as soon as we got to Swakopmond, I would fit an electric pump so bought one from the local Midas. They had a made in Germany suction type electric pump for N$380 (Namibian Dollars = US$65) which was a little too pricey, so he reduced the price to N$310 and I bought it. We fitted the pump later that day and the Landy runs fine but we have yet to test it on steep grades in the heat yet. When we hit Kaokoland in the next few days however, we will hit extreme heat and off road situations.

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