– “The adventure is over” I said, and fate said, “HAH!”
– This morning, man, I can’t even.
– So. For the past two weeks, Rejoice has been helping me with my fieldwork. She agreed to face danger and great personal discomfort for the promise of some pocket cash and the chance to see lions. Rejoice really really wanted to see lions. She worked with Hloniphani and I a month ago in Letaba hoping to see lions. No lions. She worked with me last week in Shingwedzi hoping to see lions. No lions. Then she came to Skukuza, and we even got up one morning at 5:00am to get out before the tourists to see lions. No. Lions. In her own words, Rejoice was sad.
– I told her, ok, my fieldwork is over, but lets try one more time. Again, we got up at 5:00am and charted a route to Lower Sabie, the fated lion holy land according to one of our game guards. Getting ready to go took a lot less time than usual, as there was no need to pack the car full of gear, find munchables, pick up the game guard, etc etc all the work that usually accompanies a day in the field. But as we were walking out the door I looked over and saw my leatherman, lonely and abandoned on the bureau, and I thought, eh, why not, the car might break down. Aha. Ha. ha…
– Even at the time it wasn’t that funny, because this has happened before. I alluded to it in the leatherman entry, but one morning in Letaba we had just picked up our game guard and were about to head out into the field when the car refused to start. I was driving at the time, so of course this would happen just in time to make me look incompetent in front of the game guard and everyone. Hloniphani tried with no luck, so we popped the hood to take a look at the battery. A friendly guy named Thomas lent a hand and his tools (and my leatherman put them all to shame) and after swapping out the battery and other mucking about we decided that the battery was fine and the problem was elsewhere. (Thomas was slightly less helpful when he jerked the emergency break so hard it snapped, but that will go unmentioned). Hloniphani and I experimented with plugging in random stray wires with no result, so finally we decided to just tow it into town. Thomas again proved his helpfulness and lent his truck for this purpose. After hitching up the car, Hloniphani and the game guard began towing the truck while I remained in the cab to steer and work the break (because otherwise the truck would not stop at stop signs, which is illegal you know). This was an adventure all on its own. Hloniphani would accelerate too quickly coming out of stoplights and every time I thought he was going to jerk one of the bumpers off. Then he would signal at me “let your foot off the break” and I just had to sit there and seethe. The game guard didn’t help matters by telling me later, “Don’t worry, you did good!” while I glared at him through a stiff smile.
– And that wasn’t the only thing! (Oh and if you’re curious it was the car starter that was broken. We fixed that, the hood (a long standing problem), replaced the back license plate that fell off 200kms ago, and the emergency brake) A week later, when Rejoice and I were on our own with the game guard, we were driving to Letaba when one of the truck tires blew out. Again I was driving, but this time I handled things fairly well. I found the jack and the sprocket wrench, I got the spare out of the trunk, I tried to help with the actual changing of the tire but I was waved away. In the end it turned out our jack was too small and we had to call for a road service vehicle anyway, but by the time the guy got there all the hard work was done. It turned out that a patch on a previous blow out had blown again, so I ended up having to buy a new tube.
– And all that is beside the point, or not so much beside the point as proving the point that This Truck, man, *shakes head* … just, this truck.
– Where was I? Oh yes, grabbing the leatherman as I headed out the door. We hit the road and not 5kms outside of Skukuza Rejoice saw a lion. “Stop! Keala stop stop!” I had driven right past it and never saw it, and by the time I reversed it was long gone. But Rejoice was happy, and I was relieved that at the very least she had seen a lion. I asked her about it, how big, male or female, and listened to the excitement in her voice as she relayed the brief experience. We continued on to Lower Sabie (because you never know, right?) and a few times I got the whiff of something like burning rubber, but the temperature gauge showed everything was fine and I had gotten the water and oil checked just yesterday so I wasn’t too concerned. Then, about 2kms from our turnoff onto a dirt road, the car engine just died. Completely. At 40kms/hr. I coasted onto the side of the road and barely had time to turn the blinkers on when smoke started pouring out of the hood.
– We checked our phones. No cell reception. We checked the map. We were 14 kms from Lower Sabie. We had no game guard, so I couldn’t get out of the truck to check under the hood. I was about to do this anyway, when Rejoice grabbed my arm. There was a pride of lions around the car. A Fucking Pride Of Lions. Around the car. That was broken. With no cell reception. Hours before tourists are usually allowed out of the research camps. Great.
– So we sat there. I tried starting the car a few more times with no luck. The lions didn’t leave. At this point (the point at which I was fairly sure we weren’t going to die), this was actually still pretty cool. And hey, Rejoice really got to see her lions. Eventually some tourists came by and we flagged them down. (“Excuse me, hi, do you—“ “Did you see the lions??!!” “Aha, yes, we saw the lions, but do you have cell reception? We’re in a bit of a bind.”) They didn’t have cell reception but they agreed to inform someone at Lower Sabie about our plight. We watched our knights in shining armor drive into the sunrise… for fifty meters… and then stop… and then sit there for ten minutes … and then turn off onto a dirt road going entirely the wrong direction. Fuck. Other attempts to get help were equally (un)successful, so finally we decided we had to help ourselves.
– By this point we had been sitting there for over an hour, so I tried the ignition one more time, and it worked! I told Rejoice that we were going to drive very very slowly to Lower Sabie, at about 15 km/hr. She was all for this plan until I mentioned that at that rate going the 14 kms, would take about an hour. Then she was less okay. This was all aggravated by the fact that we needed to check out at 10am. We had missed our check out the previous day and Patricia at the Skukuza office had graciously allowed us to stay an extra night in a new house. If we missed check out late again I was afraid she’d be pissed for good and forever. And I have to work with her next year. So it was all very stressful, not even taking into account the whole stranded in the bush with lions situation.
-We made it to Lower Sabie and, after popping the hood, I discovered a seven inch crack running down the length of the radiator hose. A friendly gas attendant did an absolutely gorgeous patch with electrical tape, duct tape that I provided (which is called cello tape here), and pvc glue, and told us to drive back to Skukuza to get help. We set off with five 2-liter pepsi bottles filled with water and another gas attendant who agreed to make the trip with us just in case. Things were going great. And then things starting going differently.
– It was the Friday at the end of the month; Pay Day. Skukuza was utterly deserted. Only Patricia was left (we managed to check out, if not on time, then before she exploded at us. Actually she was really sympathetic). So we couldn’t get any help but we got a recommendation for a mechanic in the nearby town of Hazy View that sold parts. We left the park (and so couldn’t get back in) and got to the mechanic at around 3:30pm. It was a broken down, open air place, with dead cars everywhere, and my confidence continued to decrease from there. The first thing they did was rip away our beautiful patch. The second thing they did was to say, ‘yep, that’s a crack.’ The third thing they did was dig around in a pile of crap: bent metal, shards of glass and plastic, bits of rubber, looking for a ‘replacement’ hose. Yeah right, and no surprise when they didn’t find anything ‘sufficient.’ One of the guys said he was going off to buy the part somewhere else. I was skeptical. It was already 4pm and most places in Africa close between then and 4:30, and that’s when it’s not Pay Day. But off he went, and then people proceeded to ignore us. This would have ben fine.. –ish. Except they also continued to fuck around under the hood of the truck. What were they doing?! There was nothing to do until the part arrived. To make matters worse it was starting to get dark….
– We waited and waited. At one point a guy came out and told us they would work on the car tomorrow. Like hell they were! Where were we supposed to sleep? The cement? He told us, we’ll get you a lift home. To Acornhoek? That’s two hours away, no ways man. So he shrugged and left. Finally the other guy came back with a hose that was obviously the wrong shape (I was paying very close attention by this point). He sawed it in half, and then sawed our hose in half, thereby destroying my plan B of patching it again myself and getting the hell out of there. He then proceeded to put them together. By this point it was 7pm and I was starting to… well, not panic exactly, but get fairly concerned. The gate at Wits Rural closes at 10pm and neither Rejoice or I had a key, and we still had a two-hour drive in front of us. I was also wondering if this wasn’t just an elaborate ruse to keep us there until after dark and then take our organs (see next entry). Finally, finally he finished and waved us over. And thank god because they were starting to roll all the broken cars into the compound, change clothes and go home. He told us, this will last you until back to Skukuza. Come back tomorrow. Excuse me, what? We’re going to Acornhoek, I’m leaving for the States. I can’t come back tomorrow. (“You’re from the States? From where?” “FOCUS you imbecile!”) So that changed everything. No he wasn’t done, no this wasn’t going to hold us until Acornhoek. 30 minutes later it was the thermometer that was broken and needed to be taken out. What would this involve? Dissembling the radiator. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Perhaps sensing our displeasure and the decreasing likelihood of paying whatever exorbitant fee he was going to charge us, he adjusted our fan belt for us, because it was “loose,” and he wanted to be “nice.” It’s now 8:00pm. The sun has been down for hours. We’re freezing, and hungry, we’ve been up since 5:00am with nothing but stress during every hour of the day. Finally he finishes. I refuse to pay his fee and give him 500 rand, which we had to take out of the wages I paid Rejoice because it was all the cash we had and they didn’t take cards. Before we left he gave us his phone number and told us to call him ‘if something goes wrong.’ Suspicious? Slightly.
– About two kms down the road, the car started to shake and a horrible grinding noise sounded from under the hood. The fan belt. The thought jumped up immediately. I pulled over, got out of the car and checked under the hood. Nothing obviously on fire, and I didn’t have the proper tools in any case. We weren’t going back, no way in hell were we going back, so I made the impulsive decision to carry on. The noise continued, a truly horrendous sound at night, in the middle of nowhere Africa, when you’re hundreds of miles from a friend. We got lost. I pulled up google maps and just thought I had figured out a route when my phone ran out of batteries and died. I proceeded to make my way from memory. I told Rejoice we might have to sleep in the car. She was not happy with me.
– We found our way back to the highway, and were making good time, but even so it had reached the point where all the little things you can usually ignore were compounding on themselves to become almost unbearable. I had a pounding headache, my eyes stung, the car was still shaking and making grinding noises, cars were speeding past us and people coming the opposite direction refused to dim their brights so I was constantly afraid of running off the road. It sucked, man. It really, really sucked.
– We made it back in time (9:50pm) before the gate closed. The car never broke down. I dropped Rejoice off and staggered into my house, leaving everything in the truck. I remembered I hadn’t eaten since 12, so I chewed on a lemon cookie before giving up and downing a half a bottle of wine. And that’s about as much as I remember.