Hi All, it has been way too long since any of us wrote and so much has happened in the past few months that I just can’t keep it in anymore.
I am sitting here writing this on a desk filled with guano from the bats that choose to defile my desk every night; the friendly spider-wasps that have been building their nest since Christmas are watching me with a jaundiced eye and Benjamin the Friendly Francolin is picking at the scraps from last nights kitchen raid. Yip – the badgers are still attacking us every night, even whilst we are preparing the food! If we take meat out to defrost, they will steal it right under your nose and then defend their frozen popsicle with determination!
Well – we had the biggest flood in our history here in January when a tropical storm hit the region and washed all our office furniture and equipment into Mozambique! We even saw several hippo surfing past (clutching onto their passports) en route to the Mozambique coast! The region was declared a “disaster-area” by our esteemed government and the town of Hoedspruit still has not been restored – people que every day for their daily ration of water which is trucked in by the military and the access road to town is worse than our own internal roads. We went from semi-3rd world to stone-age overnight! We rejoice in the fact that we built the camp on a hill, have solar power and our own bore-hole!!! Who needs a government to supply us with any service?? We also drive Land Rover (or push them) – so the worse the roads are… the better!
Anyways, we managed to get a grader and several other evil-looking earth-moving contraptions onto the reserve to help us restore the internal road-network as the lodges were struggling to move around. So with a bit of luck… and as long as the machines do not keep breaking down… we should be back to normal soon.
SO, on the subject of vehicles…..poor old Beelzebub returned from the local mechanics again – this time it made it as far as the entrance gate before it broke down again! You should have seen the fit that I threw – man, it was an epic rant and the mechanic responded like a super-hero, only to break it further. Well, we leaked more oil than you could pump into the Gulf of Mexico in a year! We were quick to cover it up with sand as I know the American spy-satellites move overhead from time-to-time and the last thing we need is an USA invasion to find “weapons of mass destruction” after they detect a massive amount of oil in Balule!
Spartacus sprung a leak in the radiator and we spent the whole night patching it up. It should have gone faster… but the old Captain Morgan intervened yet again. So, the radiator might be reinstalled upside down and the pipes are now twisted to reach the outlets, but hey! It is better than the local mechanics.
Enterprise came back from Mozambique with a slipping clutch – after 400 000km on the clock. We sent it in and the mechanics managed to drop the gear-box… breaking it into little pieces. So, it was sent all the way to Nelspruit and many weeks later……..I picked it up from town… it then broke down on the way back to the reserve. Tim and I spent the rest of the day on the side of the road fixing it ourselves. Yip- these mechanics are the spawn of Satan and I have threatened to kill them many times, but they know that I will have to vanquish them with some sort of Van Helsing-like spell! They are not of this world!
Anyways, I could go on for ever about the vehicles and equipment failure which is such a big part of our lives as researchers in the African Savannah, but I will summarise the rest to cut it short:
- Snatch broke a diff = fixed,
- Lazarus broke a steering-box = waiting 2 months for spares,
- Mufasa broke a prop-shaft, brake calliper and fuel starvation = almost fixed,
- Ark broke a chassis = welded again, Dave… no problems!!!!
This is all a result of the storm damage as we exported all of our roads and tracks to Mozambique in one night! I was called out to help Stefan who was out with Paul (intern) tracking rhino – they were stuck and the car would not go. So after 4.5 hours of struggling to get to them, I winched my way to their location only to find that the accelerator had broken anyways. So, we tied a length of string to the carburettor and Stefan drove the Snatch back like riding a horse, pulling of the reins to command the car! It worked!!
The storm also destroyed our work schedule as we have been working all day to repair roads just to move around to access our survey sights, etc. Just to put things into perspective, it would take us over 1 hour to reach the entrance gate IF we did not have to dodge 3 broken concrete bridges, get stuck in the mud a few times, cut new tracks through the bush to avoid new hazards, wait for another vehicle to pull us out of a river-bed… only to find the tow-rope had broken in several places and is now shorter that Stefan’s attention span… etc. Then we get out of the reserve – at last, and try to head into town on the provincial road… which is GONE in places! This last 16km takes longer than the trip through the reserve. The topic of discussion in the region is about the strange phenomenon of having a massive road-construction team, with the most amazing looking vehicles and weird space-aged looking road-building contraptions standing around… in the same place for weeks… labour sleeping under trees… some begging from motorists who are not going anywhere and even some selling sweets and chips on the side of the buggered road! I do take my hat off to the ladies who diligently wave a red flag at all motorists battling along this road – to warn them of the dangers ahead! THIS, people, IS AFRICA!
So, hold thumbs that we will be back to operational status soon and I will keep you informed. I want to thank the volunteers and university interns who have helped us during this time – much road-packing and slaving away to get back on track. Thanks guys!!!