Friday, November 24, 2006

F*ing pirates

A long entry today, to make up for the dirth of correspondence over the last couple.
The adventure continues.  (Attentive readers will recall the definition of adventure - ie last year's nightmare).  Lots of incidents in the last couple of days which will, I'm sure, seem funny with time.
Mrs Blog and I hired a zippy little Avis car from Skukuza (the main camp in Kruger National Park) and set off for the big wide world beyond Kruger's fences to pick up Tonka's new gear stick and indulge in a bit of belated retail therapy in honour of Mrs B's recent not-quite-landmark birthday.
We went to the outskirts of the pleasant regional capital of Nelspruit, to one of our favourite shops - Outdoor Warehous - and to Riverside Mall, a shopping palace of elephantine proportions which boasts its own Holiday Inn and Casino (flash, eh?).
I'm pleased to report that we purchased the following presents for her:
1. A Bosch eletric drill with bonus accessory pack (on special for R250 - about AUD$50 - bargain)
2. A jerry can holder for the roof rack
3. Two Series III Land Rover gearsticks (one brand new, one used)
4. A large roll of gaffer tape
5. Some nifty radiator/fuel hose repair tape, and
6. (in a fit of girlyness) a new toiletries bag.
What a lucky girl she is.  All this, in addition to the six-can esky (cooler) bag I bought for her in the Pretoriuskop Camp shop for her actual birthday.
At this point, I should say thanks, on her behalf to Deb, Bec and the intriguingly-named 'My Float' for your kind birthday wishes.  I look forward to the day when I get a fast enough internet connection somewhere in Africa so that I can find out why you are called My Float, and to thank Bec, on her blog, for advertising mine.  (By the way, MF, despite my best efforts neither CANON, LAND ROVER, or TOSHIBA have come through - yet).
In addition to all the good stuff above, Mrs B did, in fact, also buy two tops - one red, one pink ("I want something that's not GREEN!" she said on the way to the mall).  Also on the plastic were two skirts - one green (the practical person in her won out) and one camouflage - mini.  The latter was purchased after much cajoling from me and resistance by her.  "It looks young and shows off too much leg"  Well, duh.  In fact, it looks so good on her she hasn't taken it off.  It's a Jeep brand (we kept that secret form Tonka the Land Rover.  Memo from Mrs B to web-surfing Land Rover PR man - start producing branded mini-skirts.  They're a win-win).
Enough.  All this talk of clothes reminds me of Bec's gardening tips.  Back to blokey stuff.
On returning to base camp Mrs B and I successfully removed the front floor of the Land Rover and I removed the bodgily-welded gear stick and replaced it with one of the new one.  Bush mechanic, or what? So, we now have three gear sticks but, curiously, only one knob.
I could get all Benny Hill (who someone once perfectly described as the master of the single entendre) here, but I'll try and resist.  Another great Land Rover mystery - why no thread at the top of the gear stick and why no knob?  Is the knob a separate part (3333000999114-14 stick, knob, gear, series III, unthreaded) and how am I to attach it (super glue, silicone, trinipone putty all failed with the old one)?  Bizarre.  The old gear stick's know was forever falling off, mid change, and rolling around the cab like an eight ball in search of the corner pocket.  I feel that I suffer enough for my single-minded devotion to this idionsyncratic marque of vehicle without receiving stigmata wounds every time I change from fourth to third.
Anyway, if you find yourself in Africa in your Series III and your gear stick snaps off (a common occurence, which has happened in my presence twice over the years), drop me a line.  I have cornered the South African market, though don't come crying to me if your knob falls off. (sorry).
Anyway, we were feeling pretty damned pleased withourselves and even posed for pictures of me, a la Fred Flintsone, pretending to drive with my feet sticking out of the floor (sorry, still no pics... we had good intentions of going to the internet cafe at the mall and posting pics, but spent too much time shopping).  Morale was high and I thought that since the floor was off I'd check the oil level in the gear box.  I usually do that on my back, on the ground, and end up with eyefulls of hipp/buffalo/elephant pooh from under Tonka's chasis, so checking the oil standing up was a rare treat.
I started to undo the banjo bolt (which replaced the filler plug in order to ensure oil that migrates from the transfer case to the main gearbox can return to the transfer case via a rubber pipe - if that means nothing to you, don't worry.  I don't have room to explain) and it snapped.  I'm no muscleman, but the bloody bolt snapped off.
Morale plummeted.
Mrs B stepped up to the plate and came up with a plan just in time (I would say that I was close to tears, but I don't cry - ever - and such an admission would be too girly).  We called our very good friends at AVIS at Skukuza, about 50km away, and a guy brought us a car withint two hours.  His wife and young son came in another avis car, to take him back, so we didn't even have to drop him off.  Imagine, Legion of Australian Fans, someone from a car hire company driving the equivalent of, say, Penrith to Sydney, to drop off a car - and charging $20 for delivery.  Talk about service.  His five-year-old was allowed to work the manual credit-card-imprint machine, so we have another AVIS employee of the century in the making.
So, back to Nelspruit (about 40km outside the park) for replacement plugs for both the main gear box and transfer box (I am SO over banjo bolts at the moment).
At this point, I'll point out some key (murphyish) laws of game viewing in the national park...
1. If you go out looking for a particular animal you will never find it
2. If you are running short of time and can't linger you will see something fantastic
3. If you see something fantastic your camera batteries will be flat or you will stuff up the picture some how.
We had been looking for a leopard for some time (as attentive readers will recall) and had also not seen cheetah on this year's trip,,,, so far.
Driving back from the big shopping trip, we dropped our (first) Avis car back at Skukuza and loaded all our fine new possessions (drill, mini skirt etc) into Tonka and raced back to Pretoriuskop.  Travelling at the maximium allowable speed (50kph) we would only just make it back to our camp before the gates closed for the evening.
When we saw three cars stopped on the side of the road we had to stop, however...  Cheetah.  Not one, but three of them.  They crossed the road in front of us and we had the camera out in a flash.  Unfortunately (see rule number 3) I had had mistakenly put the CANON camera on one of the 'creative' settings. Result - 15 virtually completely black frames, with barely a cheetah in sight.  Not happy.  Morale low again.
Next day, racing into White River in the second car, which had just been delivered, what should we see, lazing in a tree 30m off the road, less than a kilometre from the gate?  Yes, Legion of Fans, you guessed it... a leopard.  But banjo bolts and dodgy gearbox plugs won out.
A new day (sort of) dawned through the mist and fog that seems to surround Pretoriuskop in the rainy season and we set off for a drive, at 4.30am, complete with new gearstick and gear box plug.  Lions at Nyamundwa dam, resting on the wall, and then drinking.  Fantastic. Morale rising.  A perfect spot for coffee and baby food (rusks).  Later, we also saw buffalo and elephant.
"Our luck has turned," I may have said to Mrs B (or probably - "It's about f*ing time something went right" given the hour of the day).
But, of course, I spoke to soon.
We got back to camp, feeling quite dozy and were looking forward to a mid-morning snooze in the circus tent (so named because it has a 'big top' - it's 2m tall inside the main bit - and, according to Mrs B, because it's home to a clown - ha ha).  I lay back, feeling quite content, and looked up.
Hole in the fly.  Right at the very top.  Inaccessible from the outside without taking the whole bloody thing off.
Muddy, tiny footprints, and dried wee on the fly....
Something had used the tent as a trampoline while we were out.
F*ing pirates!

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