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Wild encounters in Moremi and Chobe

Day: 143

KLMS: 22,105

We made it! Recovering in Kasane after the most intense, exhilarating, exciting, exhausting 5 days of the trip so far. Spectacular scenery and more wildlife than i ever imagined, combined with the hardest 4WDing we’ve ever experienced and very little sleep – it will take a few days to fully process just what an incredible experiences we’ve had!

Driving out of Maun, the road turned to sand almost immediately –it’s straight into it! Our first camp was at Third Bridge, in Moremi, just on the edge of the Okavango delta. As we drove on throughout the day, the sand became deeper and deeper which is hardwork on the driver, but Kylie ploughed through. We spent the day exploring the ‘Moremi tongue’, the sandy tracks around the inner delta before heading to Third Bridge.

As we arrived at camp, we had to wait while a herd of elephants tucked into the trees right around our allocated spot. We waited for them to move on a little further, but as others were already setting up camp, we figured we’d be safe to also start getting the tent up. As we began to set up, there were still around 10 elephants close by, so being out of the car for the first time and being so close to them certainly kept the adrenalin pumping but gradually we began to relax as we realised there were more interested in the trees than us! At one point a young elephant decided to come and investigate us a little closer which had us running for cover, but once he’d sniffed us out he soon returned back to the rest of his family.

Elephant roadblock

Camping with eles

Camping with eles

The first night in the wilds, was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least and as darkness fell we were both on tenterhooks as the sounds around us seemed to grow louder – we were quick to get to bed! Sitting up in the tent, the sounds of Africa took over and the noise was just immense. Elephants crashing around, baboons yelling and screaming, Hyenas calling. hippos grunting and lions roaring in the distance – it was animal mayhem and there was little chance of getting much sleep! We lay there listening to the commotion outside the tent, our hearts beating faster whenever we heard something near the tent. At one point Richard looked out when we heard branches snapping right by us to see that we had a whole family of giraffes right round us! Despite being up in our roof tent our windows were still well below their shoulders!

We were up at daybreak the next morning and headed out on a boat trip across the delta with 4 other German friends we’d met in the camp the night before. (One of which had also just completed an overland drive from Germany to Cape Town, so we got lots of great tips!) We sped off through the long reed beds on the edge of the delta heading towards some of the inner lagoons where we saw crocodiles and a hundred different types of birds from beautiful little kingfishers to great big African Fish Eagles. It was amazing to be out on the water, or in a pompous British accent ‘ We were on the Oko DL, darling’!

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Not going this way!

Not going this way!

 

The afternoon was spent exploring further into the pans, which are an absolute maze of tracks and easy to get lost in. Despite the fact we’re here in the dry season, the Delta is actually in full flood, so as we ventured off down different tracks we found a number of them impassable as the water was so high. Being out by ourselves we were keen to avoiding getting bogged, so anything that was too deep we stayed well clear of. Taking a break that afternoon we discovered another coolant leak, this time the bottom hose looked as though it had begun to perish, so while i was on lion lookout duty, Rich was back under the bonnet fixing up the hose. Becoming accustomed to bush fixes it didn’t take too long to patch up and once sorted we sat back in the car to relax and take in the sight of the delta. Taking in the beautiful surroundings and the stillness of the day we hadn’t noticed the huge African Elephant bull approaching the car, despite being over 5 tonnes in weight, he hadn’t made a sound and the first time we realised he was there, was as his trunk began to come through the window! We calmly panicked and managed to quickly put the windows up, the trunk was quickly retracted. It’s amazing to see how gentle these giants can be and satisfied we had no citrus fruits in our car, he headed off into the bush.

Another night of animal pandemonium and with bleary eyes we were up at dawn again. The night also seemed to have taken its toll on one of the younger elephants who we found fast asleep near our tent! Even after packing up, he didn’t seem in any rush to move off his nice comfy patch of grass, so we left him to his Elephant dreams and headed on towards Savuti.

Log bridges in Moremi

Log bridges in Moremi

 

The drive up to Savuti is notoriously tough, just leaving the camp you drive over the ‘Third log bridge’ which is actually submerged, the last part being so deep the water actually comes over the bonnet! The rest of the tracks are a mix of corrugations, deep sand and gullies which if you drive over at any speed soon turns the car into a bucking bronco. It took 9hours to drive 160kms. Along the way we met a Namibian couple, who stopped us for a beer after a particularly gruelling section. Having been to the park several times, they were incredibly knowledgeable about the area and invited us to their camp that evening.  Savuti used to be a huge sunken lake which dried up thousands of years ago and once the remaining waterways dried up, the surrounding land became a barren desert leaving the lions and hyenas to engage in huge battles over the little that was left and cement blockades had to be built round the ablutions and water taps to stop the elephants from destroying everything to get at the water. Then around 5years ago a seismic shift caused the Savuti channel to flow again, the first time in decades, turning the desert back into green marshland once more.

We spent an amazing evening with Richard and Leez, although the walk back to the tent through the darkness was absolutely terrifying. We walked back to back, scanning for ‘eyes’ with our torches in one hand, the other armed with pepper spray. A comical sight i’m sure, but we both breathed a huge sigh of relief once we were safely back in our tent.

The next day we’d asked if we could go out with them, as they had experience tracking animals. We sound found lion tracks and were off across the marshes. In the distance we the entire horizon was covered with buffalo – the lions favourite food – we just needed to find a way to get to them. We began to reach the water channels, travelling in convoy we felt braver to tackle the water crossings than if by ourselves. But gradually the water began to get deeper and deeper and we were soon wondering what we’d got ourselves into. We’d gone too far to be able to turn back by ourselves, but we were nervous about the car’s ability to go deeper – but that day Kylie redeemed herself. She ploughed through mud, sand and water, despite the water coming well over the bonnet and our feet were starting to get wet. The final crossing lead us back through the Savuti channel itself. Our friends went first, and as we watched their Toyato Landcruiser disappear up to the windows, we knew that Kylie would be practically submerged being such a smaller car – but the only way was forwards. I was terrified. As we drove into the channel the water was so deep it came up over the windscreen and i thought we were done for, but the car kept going and we were soon out the otherside. Shocked and shakey but so relieved to be back on dry land we kissed Kylie the wonder car! After that we decided to call it a day, we still had a long drive ahead to Chobe so we had to leave the Buffalo chase at that point. But what an experience, tracking Buffalo across the Savuti marshes in our little Kylie.

Tea break on the Savuti marshes

Tea break on the Savuti marshes

Camping at Savuti

Camping at Savuti

 

The intensity of the last few days had begun to take it’s toll and our exhaustion had hit new levels, we were feeling pretty broken and keen to get to our next camp for a rest. But as we turned into the Chobe park and drove down the escarpment, before us the river and the flood plains opened up before us in one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen – had we found Eden? The grassy green plains were covered in thousands of animals, zebras, giraffes, antelope and elephants. We thought we’d been lucky to see around 50elephants at Etosha, but we couldn’t quite comprehend that before us we could see over 500! There were elephants for as far as the eye could see. It was simply unbelievable. The numbers of elephants here are quite controversial as they are so destructive, that they have decimated what used to be a wooded waterfront – all that is left of the forest are patches of stumpy ground. However, the amount of elephant dung keeps the soil fertile, so around the river it is lush green grass – is it a bad thing for a landscape to evolve from woodland to grassland? Our camp that night was at Ihaha, right on the water’s edge. Tired beyond belief we went to bed early and shortly afterwards we could hear the approaching footsteps of elephants. Too tired to be scared, we watched as their looming grey shapes passed by in front of our tent – one by one they marched past we think there must have been over 40. A tip we’d learned from our Namibian friends was that elephants don’t like to cross from the darkness into light, so with so many around we were glad we’d left a rooflight on, to create a light boundary round the car.

For the first time that week we had a lie in until 6.30 and sods law, that would be the day that lions walked past our camp only moments earlier. The rangers came to see us asking if we’d seen the lions –  There had been a pride of 6 which had just passed by our tent about 20minutes before! We couldn’t believe that we’d missed our first opportunity to see lions close-up, but in our sleepy haze it was probably a good thing we weren’t up!

Botswana has been a mind-blowing experience. We have loved, loved, loved everything about it and the vibe and the people are just so relaxed. We have spent the last few days recovering at the Chobe Safari lodge, which has a beautiful deck that looks out across the Chobe – perfect for sundowners whilst watching the elephants amble along on the far bank. An absolute must if you are visiting Kasane.

From here, we will now head onto Vic Falls in Zimbabwe!

 

Elephants as far as the eye can see - Chobe

Elephants as far as the eye can see – Chobe

 

Swimming elephants - Chobe

Swimming elephants – Chobe

 

 

Running Buffalo  -Chobe

Running Buffalo -Chobe

 

This baby elephant was only 5days old!

This baby elephant was only 5days old!

 

Sunset at Chobe

Sunset at Chobe

 

 

 

 

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Into Botswana

Day: 137

KLMS 21,957

Our final days in Namibia were spent on the western edge of the Caprivi Strip, at the best camp we’ve stayed at so far, Ngepi.  Nestled on the banks of the Okavango, the camp has been created by someone with a great sense of humour and is known for its unusual open-air toilets and baths scattered throughout the camp. Each camping area has its own quirky ablutions, ranging from ‘The Toilet of Eden’ a lovely little loo set in an oasis of plants & flowers, ‘The Throne’ which is a huge carved wooden throne toilet which looks out across the river, to ‘Poopa Falls’ which is a toilet seated at the top of a telegraph pole. A self-guided ‘Toilet tour’ makes for a hilarious afternoon of discovery as well as an overload of toilet humour and silly photos. After the toilet humour began to wear thin, we went off for a swim in the ‘croc cage’,  a floating steel cage swimming pool in the Okavango river! Despite the protective cage, it was hard to relax in the water knowing that hippos and crocs were all around – a quick dip was enough!

Open-air toilets (thank goodness) Ngepi
Open-air toilets (thank goodness) Ngepi
The bathroom, Ngepi

The bathroom, Ngepi

The croc-cage, Ngepi

The croc-cage, Ngepi

Back at camp, we met a great couple in the site next to us, Jenny & Tony, who were British ex-pats who had retired to South Africa and were currently on holiday. We spent a hilarious evening with them at the bar, enjoying one too many beers. We had to be up early the next day, as we’d booked to go on a fishing trip, but what we hadn’t realised is that although we were still in Namibia, the camp actually worked on Botswana time, GMT +2?? So with sore heads we woke early and got ready to meet our guide, as we were getting the last of our things together we saw the guide walking towards us. ‘Where you been?’ he asked. ‘I waiting you for 1 hour’. It was still too early to compute what he was saying until he pointed to his watch laughing ‘ You guys on Namibia time, it is half past 8!’. Oops! We quickly grabbed our stuff and rushed to the boat, hoping that we hadn’t missed our chance of catching an elusive Tiger Fish. The boat was little more than a platform & engine strapped to a couple of canoes, but we were too focused on the fishing to worry about the sea-worthiness of our boat. We dropped our lines in and began trawling off the side. It was a beautiful morning and out on the river there was so much birdlife, hippos and game up on the banks, it was lovely just to be out on the water, regardless of whether we caught anything or not. But as I sat back to relax, ‘Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzz’, my line was running! I jumped up, yanking the rod back as hard as I could and began to reel in my catch. Just 10minutes in, I was about to land my first Tiger Fish! They’re great fighting fish and as I reeled it in, the fish leapt into the air a number of times, it was an awesome sight and I couldn’t help but be incredibly smug that once again my fishing success was  far exceeding Richard’s! That said, there was no way I was taking the hook out of this thing, it’s got huge razor sharp teeth, so I left this to the skill of our guide. Fortunately for Richard, the Murray River episode wasn’t going to be repeated and shortly afterwards he too caught a Tiger Fish narrowly avoiding being out-fished by a girl again!

Fishing is hard work

Fishing is hard work

Check out the teeth!

Check out the teeth!

Richard's was definitely smaller than mine!

Richard’s was definitely smaller than mine!

 

Namibia has been truly amazing – a land of spectacular & remote landscapes, friendly people and an abundance of wildlife. It’s a very easy place to travel (when your car is working) and as a friend said, ‘It’s still only Africa-Lite’, ‘Africa-proper’ still awaits!

Cheeky local children

Cheeky local children

 

We crossed into Botswana at Mohembo – a very quiet and easy crossing. Brits don’t require visas, just a free entry permit, but you need to buy road tax and insurance (250Pula). We headed through with little fuss, before reaching the Vet fence where we had to queue for awhile. To protect their beef export market into Europe, a fence was erected to prevent domestic cattle from being infected with foot and mouth disease from feral animals. As you cross the fence line, the car is searched for any meat products, the car tyres and all your shoes have to be sprayed with disinfectant. It seems more of a government tick box, than something that actually offers any disease prevention and instead the fence prevents the second largest migration of wildebeest and zebras (after the Serengeti) meaning wildlife numbers are plummeting in the area as these nomadic animal are no longer allowed to continue their traditional migration.

Again the change complete change in everything around us one we crossed the border was amazing.

We drove on through the villages of Botswana – it was a beautiful drive, the villagers all coming out to wave, everyone looking happy, the sun was shining, Kylie was behaving – it felt really good! As a testament to how well the car is running, we even received our first speeding fine! Driving out of a village where the speed is 60km/ph, we were just hitting our cruising speed of 80km/hr when a policeman jumped out in front of us, almost a little too excitedly! Apparently we weren’t out of the village yet and so it was going to be a big fine – 1,000Pula! Richard got out of the car and began chatting with the officer. Talk soon turned to where we were from, where we were going and how many kilometres we needed to do. Rich then turned up the charm levels explaining that we’d been having some troubles and how we wished we had a lovely car like his ‘Powerful and Strong’ Toyota Landcruiser. Not quite done on charm Richard continued with ‘Wow look how shiny and worn your hand-cuffs are, you must be a hard working officer, locking up all these bad criminals’. The magic was beginning to work and the fine was soon reduced to 400Pula, not before some dodgy suggestions of a 200Pula backhander to cancel the fine! Happy to take the legitimate fine and not pay a bribe we were soon on our way – both slightly proud of our ‘penalty notice’ as weeks before we’d barely thought we have a car that worked, not to mention one that could break speed limits!

Our first stop was Tsodilo Hills – this place is truly the Uluru of Botswana. Out of the flat landscape, 4 huge granite hills rise up to 1500m  making it a place of huge importance to different tribes and religions over the years. It’s cultural significance has earned it a World Heritage listing as it also contains the highest concentration of rock paintings in the world – created by the San bushmen over 3,000years ago. A relatively untouched area, the road in has only recently been improved so tourists have only just beginning to discover this area. However, the locals have still got a lot to learn if they are to keep tourists coming. It turns out that back in May the area was handed to the local community to run, which I’m all for, but the prices that they now charge are ridiculous, considering it was all free up until 6months ago. We arrived at the gate and were told we needed to pay 50Pula each to enter, a new fee, but seemed fair enough so we pay the entry fee. When we get to the centre the guide asks for 120Pula and he will take us to see the paintings. Again, more expensive than the guidebook states, but still seems reasonable as it’s a private tour for 2 hours. We walked up over the ‘female hill’ and are shown the beautiful red rock paintings, it’s uncanny how similar they are to the Aboriginal paintings in Australia, even though the continents had long been separated by that point, there are many similarities. The most bizarre thing (apart from our guide who would just suddenly start peeing without warning on more than one occasion) was the depiction of whales and penguins. The nearest coastline is Namibia over 600klms away.

We had a beautiful walk in the late afternoon sun and when we returned we asked if we could camp near to the centre, as the guidebook said camping was free if you’d paid for a guide. The response was no, we had to head back to the community camp by the entrance gate, where the cost was 130Pula EACH! This was more expensive than any of the luxury lodges we’ve camped at, so we hoped with fake optimism that the new camp must be equipped with fantastic ablutions, pool, Jacuzzi, bar……. Was there? NO! We found ourselves in a dusty field with new but broken ablutions. Despite having only opened in May, the toilets didn’t work, the sinks were still unplumbed on the floor and the shower, although with running, hot water had such large sections missing from the wall that taking a shower meant exposing yourself to the rest of the campers – fortunately there were only a few others there. There were a couple of complementary extras – a couple of donkeys which kept bonking loudly close to our tent and the other was a scorpion which had us scarpering for our socks and shoes! We left the camp the next day feeling very disgruntled. It was shocking to see that a new community project was in such ruins already. I tried to have ‘words’ with the woman on the gate, but knowing my efforts were pointless I didn’t waste my breath for too long and we left.

Tsodilo Hills camp

Tsodilo Hills camp

Free scorpion

Free scorpion

After the abysmal camp the night before, we were relieved to arrive in Maun at Sedia Hotel – with fantastic facilities and big camping areas right by the river – all for 50 Pula a night! That’s more like it! We needed a good base to relax in, as the next day was spent running round in circles in what is the parks permit & camping fiasco. The parks decided to privatise the campsites a few years ago, so before you can get a parks permit to enter into Moremi, Savuti and Chobe you have to book your campsites. Of course, all the campsites are owned by different companies and their offices are scattered across Maun, so the circus begins of rushing from office to office working out who has what availability. As we hadn’t booked ahead, we had to rely on cancellations so in all we must have visited each office at least 3 times as we didn’t want to book campsites in the north of the park until we had confirmation our camps in the South had been booked. The most illogical and farcical process I have encountered yet and expensive! Park entry per day is around $50 plus camping fees, which at Savuti is $100USD, that’s almost 80 quid to camp for a night!!!….there better be a free bar, Jacuzzi, pool….!

So here we are, relaxing by the pool at Sedia, Savannah Dry in hand and Swansea City V Spurs on the telly! Tomorrow we head off into the wilds of Botswana, looking forward to some serious off-roading (deep sand and water crossings) elephant dodging and hoping we don’t end up on the Lions’ a la carte menu! If the car, and us, make it through this, then we can get through anything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swakopmund to Etosha

Day: 131

KLMS 20,865

Swakopmund is another very German town in Namibia –it definitely doesn’t feel like Africa! We treated ourselves to a posh camp at Alte Brucke where you’re given your own en-suite facilities and endless hot water! Luxury! The next day we found ourselves a mechanic and to our surprise (again) he said he could easily get transfer case seals from Windhoek by the next day for us, so to come back and see him tomorrow. With the car booked in, we decided to treat ourselves to some fun and went off for an afternoon of sandboarding. The dunes just outside the town are huge, so armed with a super hi-tech piece of MDF board (specially designed for sandboarding apparently, with one side rough and one side super shiny for extra speed – haha!) Specially designed or not, oh my god, these things fly, sliding down the dunes at nearly 80km/hr is an unbelievable amount of fun – it was hard to hold on for laughing so much! Swakopmund was a great town to be based in for a few days, but once the car was sorted we were excited to be heading out of town and back into the bush again, heading north to Etosha National Park.

Big Rich at 80km/hr!

Double trouble!

Double trouble!

Etosha is over 20,000km² but due to the vast salt pan that covers the majority of centre the wildlife is forced to stay around the waterholes along the southern edges. The high concentration of animals, make it one of the best places to view wildlife in the world. We headed up to the park, but as we hadn’t booked ahead all the campsites were full, so instead we camped at one of the lovely lodges just outside and made the most of the free wi-fi, pool and bar before getting an early night. Safari days start early, 5am! I’m usually terrible in the mornings, but as the alarm went off i could hear a lion in the distance so was out of bed like a shot, desperate to get to the park to try and find the lion we could hear. And as we drove through the gates, the sun was beginning to rise and there in the early dawn light, there he was, our first African male lion! Strolling through the grassland, he kept doing his deep, bellowing call for other lions which is the most awesome sound. There were no replies this time but we followed him slowly for awhile before he disappeared off into the bushes. First sighting within 10minutes of arriving – it was going to be a good day! We spent the day driving round the edge of the pan, the white salty expanse disappearing off into the horizon on one side, and scrubby bush and grasslands on the other. We drove slowly from waterhole, to waterhole where we could just park up and watch the different herds of animals wandering in for their daily drink, elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, every kind of antelope you can think of and an array of birds – including Zazzoos! (Yellow horn bills to those who haven’t seen the lion king!).

Zazzoo!

Zazzoo!

Etosha pan

Etosha pan

 

 

The sheer number of animals at any one waterhole was just staggering. We drove to Halali which is mid-way through the park and thought we’d ask about camping on the off-chance they had availability. ‘Yes of course we do, we have plenty of spaces’ the receptionist said and booked us in for the following night. Having been told repeatedly over the phone, email and at the gate they were fully booked, we couldn’t believe how empty the camp was!!! The NWR park management are incredibly frustrating,  it’s all very ‘computer says no’ and they seem so uninterested in their jobs – there is no point asking questions about the park or the animals – they won’t know! Fortunately maps and guide books are available. The only other grumble i have about the parks, is the other people and the lack of ‘safari etiquette’, we saw some shockers, particularly when elephants and lions were involved.  People forcing their cars past to get a better view, resulting in them either blocking everyone elses view or scaring the animal off. One afternoon, we were meandering along when we turned the corner to see 3 large elephant bulls walking up the road towards us. We stopped to give them as much room as possible (having both read the ‘Elephant whisperer’ we know what can happen if an elephant decides you’re too close!) but couldn’t believe it when 2 cars flew past us and drove right up to where the elephants were. They were lucky these elephants were so placid, but what idiots!

Day 2, bought us one of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far. Just after arriving at a waterhole, we were so excited to see a herd of elephants appearing from the bushes, striding over towards the water. The matriarch leading the long line, they marched right in front of us, heading straight into the cool muddy water where they began to splash, spray, swim and play. There were about 15 of them and it was brilliant to watch an entire family, the boisterous ‘teenagers’ charging about, the babies doing their excited squeeling trumpet sound and  slipping and sliding in the mud whilst the mature elephants kept a watchful eye over them. We were so absorbed with watching this family that we hadn’t seen that other elephants were also making their way over. We sat opened mouthed as elephant after elephant appeared from out of the bushes until there were over 50 elephants all splashing around in the muddy water in front of us. The noise, the smell, the presence of that many elephants was just incredible. We watched them for over an hour, both just sitting in complete awe of what was happening in front of us, before gradually the matriarchs decided it was time to go and one by one lead their families back into the bush where they simply vanished.

Elephant play - Rietfontein waterhole

Elephant play – Rietfontein waterhole

 

On a complete high from our afternoon of elephant play we headed into Halali camp in the middle of the park. Armed with a couple of sundowners we headed to the waterhole viewing deck, to see whether we’d be lucky to have any other visitors to join us watching the sun set. The day was going to get even better. A family of elephants soon arrived and with the waterhole only feet away, it was amazing to be so close to such giants. The elephants were soon joined by 2 black rhinos, but not wanting to share their water with anyone we watched as the older elephants began squaring up to the rhinos. We watched some pretty intense scuffles between the two animals and only being feet away added to the intensity!  As night fell and the elephants moved on, the waterhole was now clear for other animals to return and to top off our amazing day a pair of white rhino brought their tiny calf in for a drink, the peace of the African bush only interrupted by the rhinos slurping sounds.

Sunset at Halali camp

Sunset at Halali camp

 

After 3 wonderful days in Etosha, it was sadly time to move on so with heavy hearts we left the park, hoping very much that will come back one day. We are heading north now, towards the Angolan border to spend our last few days in Namibia in the Caprivi strip. We have absolutely loved our time in Namibia, and have been completely bowled over by it’s beauty, it’s remoteness and the generosity of the people we’re meeting along the way. But just as you become at ease with one country, it’s time to move onto the next and the familiar butterflies return as you begin to wonder what the next country has in store for you. Botswana beckons!

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Big Red Dunes of Sossusvlei

Day: 123

KLMS 19,226

We left Luderitz in shock, not quite believing what had happened. Did we really just blow the engine up in the desert? And did the one mechanic who would see us, just so happen to have the part we needed to fix the car? We were too nervous to celebrate, it all seemed too flukey. As we drove off every noise, bump and groan made us jump, both of us wondering whether the thousand parts that had been scattered across the garage the day before had all been put back in properly, or whether Kylie would suddenly take offence to not having replacement butterfly valves installed. We drove onto Helmeringhausen about 250km away and although the car seemed to be running pretty well, unfortunately not all of our problems had gone away. Pulling up outside the only hotel in the town we could hear hissing coming from the engine and as it cooled down something began to pour out from underneath the engine. Standing in the dusty, one-horse town watching the pool of liquid grow bigger under the car my heart sank, ‘Not again Kylie!’ Rich popped the bonnet and could see immediately that one of the radiator hoses was leaking and so got to work re-fitting a new one. Fortunately it was only radiator coolant on the floor and nothing more serious so it was a fairly easy fix, but not very reassuring! But then the most bizarre thing happened. The owner of the hotel we were parked outside came out to see if we were ok. We told him the whole breakdown story and his jaw dropped when we told him about the donor engine valves from Udo’s auto. ‘The engine at Udo’s, it is mine!’ he exclaimed. It turns out the parts were actually from his old Hyundai Terrican which he’d blown up a year earlier and taken to Udo’s to have a new engine installed. It was such a bizarre coincidence it was almost spooky – i’m not sure why Lady Fate lead us to meet him, but i’m sure it’s all part of the plan.

All fixed, we headed up to the beautiful Duwisib Castle, built in 1903 by Baron Captain Hans Heinrich Von Wolf. Namibia was once part of the German empire, German South West Africa and when the Baron left the army he decided to build a castle for himself and millionairess American wife, right in the middle of the desert, an area he had grown to love. The castle was furnished with no expense spared, shipping in furniture and fittings from around Europe, including many thoroughbred horses which they continued to breed at their stud. Sadly when WWI broke out, the Baron re-renlisted in the army and returned to Germany with his wife, only to be killed two weeks later at the Somme. His wife never returned to the castle, leaving the building and all of its belongings many of which are still there to see today. It’s fascinating to walk round and see their pictures still on the walls and get a glimpse of their lavish life in the desert over 100years ago.  We camped the night at the guest farm next door, huddling up once again as temperatures plummeted below freezing.

Duwisib Castle

Duwisib Castle

The next day we headed up to Sesriem, the gateway to Sossusvlei – the iconic red sand dunes that feature on every postcard of Namibia. Driving across the desert landscape was breathtaking, for somewhere that looks so barren there is a surprising amount of life.  Having not booked ahead, we were allocated a spot in the overflow site at Sesriem, which although far from the ablutions meant you are allowed into the park an hour before the public gate is opened. We went for a drive that afternoon and reached ‘Dune 45’ which we decided to walk up and watch the afternoon glow on the dunes from the top. It was a hot, sweaty, steep climb to the top but the view was just fantastic. The colours are simply stunning and the constant changing reds and oranges are beautiful to watch – it’s an absolute photographer’s paradise. It was a blissful afternoon, before returning to the car to find yet another problem – something else was beginning to leak from under the car. Once again, Rich got back under the car trying to find the source of the leak, which this time looked as though it was coming from the transfer case, so most likely a seal has gone. We decided to head back to camp so he could take a better look, the uneasy feeling had returned along with serious doubts as to whether the car is going to make it the remaining 20,000lkms to home. Rich spent the evening checking he’d reconnected the drive shaft properly after we were towed (it has to be disconnected on automatics for towing) and checking the different oil levels. The flow seemed to slow so all we could do is keep the transfer case topped up until we could find a garage, the car is still driveable, so it could wait.

Dune 45

Dune 45

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So before day break we packed up under the starry sky and headed off  into the desert to watch the sunrise over the dunes. We joined the convoy of cars streaming out of the gates, racing towards Dune 45 once more. It’s a shame to have to share such a magical moment with hoards of others, but nevermind! We still secured a great spot on top to watch the sunrise and it will be one of my most favourite moments on this trip. As the sun beamed down, people began to move off, one by one running straight down the steep slope beneath us. The adults started it, beckoning nervous children to follow – there is just no simpler pleasure in life than running down sand dunes, no matter how old you are! Of course we joined them and bounded down the slope to the bottom, shame it was so far back up to the top as i wanted to do it again. We drove on to Sossusvlei where we got to put the new engine through its paces with some soft sand driving. It was deep, but the car ploughed through no problem so at least we were reassured that everything under the bonnet was ok. We walked out to the Hiddenvlei, a saltpan in between the dunes where there are petrified trees – again, many iconic photos of Namibia are taken here.

Sunrise from Dune 45

Sunrise from Dune 45

Dune running, for kids of all ages

Dune running, for kids of all ages

We returned back to the car, the sight of her reminding us we had problems to fix, jolting us out of blissful morning. Seeing the other overland buses parked up, i had a pang of jealousy – such an easy way to travel! My thoughts began to take a downward spiral, plotting how i could get away with ditching the car and jumping onto an overland bus, but my scheming was interrupted, when an old guy off one of the buses came over to see us. Alan was 72years old and from Albury NSW Australia which was the first stop on our trip. Alan had noticed our NSW plates and was keen to hear about our journey. Sadly his wife had passed away 3years earlier but he’d decided he would continue their passion for travel by visiting all 7 continents before he died. Over 60 countries and 5continents now completed he was covering a similar route to us on various overland buses. Next year he’s going to South America! He loved we were taking time out now to travel together while we were still young, something he wishes he could have done with his wife. ‘You’ll never regret it’ he said. His timing was impeccable, his story reminded us how lucky we are to be doing this journey – he provided inspiration when we needed it and we were so glad to meet such a remarkable man, who even in his 70’s was still full of passion for travel and adventure.

So with a new sense of determination we got in the car and headed back to Sesriem – despite being a town of nothing more than a few safari lodges, the one thing all safari lodges have is safari vehicles and safari vehicles need mechanics! We pulled into the nearest one and found their inhouse garage where we got the car quickly checked over. It was agreed that it did just look like a seal on the transfer case had gone, so as long as we kept an eye on the oil levels, we would be fine to drive onto the next big town, Swakopmund. So we trundled on, it was slow going as the good gravel roads we were expecting turned out to be pretty corrugated, so we took our time, including a long stop for famous apple pie at Moose McGreggors bakery in Solitaire before finally calling it a day and heading off down a deserted track to find our first bush camp in Namibia.

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Bumped into a Gemsbok on the way down!

Bumped into a Gemsbok on the way down!

The Hiddenvlei amongst the dunes

The Hiddenvlei amongst the dunes

 

 

 

 

Kylie’s Nine Lives

Day 120:

KLMS 18,275:

Pajero means a number of different things – In Spanish the word ‘Pajero’ means ‘Wanker’ but in the rest of the world including Mitsubishi HQ  Japan, ‘Pajero’ means Mountain Lion! A mountain lion is essentially a cat and if they say that a cat has 9 lives, Kylie has lost yet another one, but by some feline stroke of luck, our old girl is back up and running once more.

First, a bit of history. Sometime after buying Kylie as a knock-about run around, I discovered a few details regarding her chequered past. She has actually been written off by insurance companies on two different occasions. Once due to ‘malicious damage’ and once for ‘storm’ damage i.e. flooded. So if you are superstitious this means that 2 of the 9 lives have been spent. I also knew that the previous owner had blown the engine and had to get it rebuilt. Life 3 of 9 gone. I then bought the car for not much and the previous owner managed to make back the money he spent fixing the engine. I had a cheap old truck with a nearly new V6. Everyone is happy.

Forward in time up to a few days ago and we were happily trundling along the corrugations towards Cape Diaz, the location of the first white European to land in this locality. As we headed across the salt pans to the cape Sophie suddenly tuned to me and said what the hell is that noise? I also heard the noise but was convinced that it was just stones bouncing up from the gravel road and hitting the chassis rails. About 500m further and a few ‘pings’ the engine just stopped. We managed to get towed back to camp, so I could look over the engine for clues as to what had gone wrong.  The next morning I was convinced that I had found a leak in the inlet manifold and that it could be fixed easily. The leaking manifold would mean the air mixture entering the engine would be incorrect and as a result would not run well.  We drove the spluttering Kylie to Luderitz Motors where the owner Udo said he could help us out. As his assistance was confirmed three of his mechanics tore into the failing engine.

Udo's mechanics get to work straightaway

Udo’s mechanics get to work straightaway

The engine is soon taken out and lies in pieces across the garage

The engine is soon taken out and lies in pieces across the garage

Not going anywhere fast

Not going anywhere fast

I was keen to hang round for a bit to see how things would pan out, expecting to be there for ages even though it was a fairly simple fix. The exact opposite happened. It didn’t take the garage long to completely strip down the engine but the problem was not a simple one at all. The inlet manifold on this engine has an over complicated air supply and exhaust gas mixing system, this doesn’t really lend itself to an overlanding vehicle that could require remote bush fixes. We were well aware of this when we decided to try and drive Kylie back home so I guess we are now living the consequences of our decision. The over complicated butterfly valve system had disintegrated and one of the butterflies fell into the piston valves in the engine head. A compression check showed that piston 6 had zero compression so the valves were stuffed. This is a nightmare as this engine is rare in this part of the world and the last time Luderitz Motors worked on a Pajero they had to wait 5 weeks for parts. Bummer……

Number 6 butterfly valve is missing (left)

Number 6 butterfly valve is missing

The broken butterfly (c) what its meant to look like and 4 bent cylinder valves

The broken butterfly (c) what its meant to look like and 4 bent cylinder valves

 

We retired to our accommodation at the igloo to jump on the web and start sourcing the parts we needed albeit not exactly brimming with confidence of a quick fix and expecting a mammoth bill. We planned to get comfy in Luderitz. While searching I contacted Alan at ANG service, aka the guys we used in Cape Town for Kylie’s service. He came up with the great suggestion that we just remove the butterfly valve system and run the engine without it. Doing this would result in a slight loss of power and torque, but the car will run. Armed with this knowledge we returned to Luderitz motors the next morning and discussed the option with Udo our mechanic. He agreed that this fix should work and he was happy to give it a go. So with no immediate need to replace the manifold system and butterfly valves we just had to get a new set of piston valves. This didn’t seem too bad and I guessed we would be back on track in a week or so.

Sophie and I popped out for a coffee and a walk round town. On the way back to the igloo we called into the garage again to get some more items from the car. As I walked in, Udo met us and in his calm manner said ‘I almost finished’. By some miracle Udo told us that he actually had valves form a partly refurbished Kia motor out the back of the workshop. Kia used the same 6G74 motor in their cars until recently. In the pile of tractor and lorry motors was an exact match for Kylie’s motor, albeit a lot newer and many less klms. Having followed the advice of the Bradt guide to ‘Africa Overland’ we also carried a full engine gasket set so with this and the valves for the Kia I couldn’t believe our luck! We had everything we needed for the repair.

So today we picked up Kylie. Still in shock that the repair was completed in less than 2days and the parts we needed just happened to be ‘out the back’, we were still concerned as to whether the engine would run when pieced all back together – but it does and the difference in power is hardly noticeable. Tomorrow we hit the road and hopefully that will be last of the bad luck for a while, fingers crossed Kylie doesn’t lose another life on the way home! Thank you to everyone who has sent us messages of support and offered to help – it’s been so great having you all there behind us, willing and encouraging us through what has been quite a rollercoaster – we really appreciate having you with us!

Onwards and Upwards – for real this time.

R

The igloo we stayed in

The igloo we stayed in

 

Inside the igloo

Inside the igloo

 

 

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