Monday, December 2, 2013

Car Troubles

Car Troubles

I am sitting at a local Gearbox Repairs Shop at the moment, here in Pretoria. The problems that I have had to deal with over the past few months regarding my car’s automatic gearbox has been enough to drive me insane. To say that I have been tempted to just allow the vehicle to just fall off a mountain would be an understatement.

I got to thinking about all the various problems I have had over the years at the lodges, regarding vehicles, breakdowns, irate guests needing to help push start vehicles amidst herds of buffalo, elephants and even prides of lions in the dark.

The one story that is foremost in my mind, comes from when I was but a trainee ranger at the first lodge that I was employed at. Thinking back now, the incident could well have meant the end of a very short career as a ranger, all of 3 weeks. But, it seemed there was a bigger plan for me and my life as a Ranger and Lodge Manager.

Mabula Game Lodge in the foothills of the Waterberg is where I started my bush life in 1998.
Fresh faced, milky toothed, and in awe of the bush legends I was going to be rubbing shoulders with, I started my career in the month of April. Fitting into a team of 21 Rangers was a tough task, especially being the new kid, the one without epaulettes, ( A story for another day ).

As the new kid, the worst of the vehicles was assigned to you, and that would become your office for the next few months, until you had been able to climb your way up the ladder of experience. Needless to say, I was assigned M1.

M1 – what a beast, 4 gears, no power steering, brakes that had to be pumped 10 times before they engaged and gear lever that had to be held in place all the time, lest you wanted it to disengage whilst driving up a steep hill, and with a top speed of 30km/hour. I was truly in my element, as M1 was mine!!!
I ended up Driving This vehicle - K3 for over a year and a half.

It did not take long before M1 had to go to the workshop for starter problems, and I was assigned a substitute vehicle for an afternoon drive one Saturday. To help you understand, as happy as I was with my M1, other rangers also had possessive attitudes over their assigned vehicles.

The only available vehicle for the drive was M26………….. If I thought my car was a beast, this was the fleet’s jet fighter, and it belonged to a rather large, experienced, intimidating older fellow called JP. 

Those that have seen me will attest to the fact that I am by no means a small demure chap, but in context, JP was twice my size, three times more intimidating than even the general manager and to me, a young 20 year old, someone with a hard beard that needed to be addressed as Uncle JP.

Do Not mess with JP!
The vehicle was a beaut, the only one with a push start ignition, massive free flow exhausts that made the growl of the powerful V6 engine send all manner of wildlife scampering for cover. Power, status, and the awe of invulnerability all went hand in hand with M26, but along with all the perks came the very real threat of being dismembered by JP if I so much as put a spot of mud onto his pride and joy, his child, his Baby.

The drive was a great success, leading to my first dinner invite by my guests who were staying in a Time Share camp called Modjadji. A quick Radio call to the Head Ranger, and permission was granted to stay out and join the guests for a braai ( BBQ ) with the proviso that I had to be back at the lodge to lock the car away before 11pm when the workshop gates were to be locked by the standby ranger.

Dinner came and went, as did a few beers, and at half past ten I took my leave and departed to return back to the lodge, an easy 20 minute drive. Little did I think at that stage that I would only arrive back at my room at 3am.

Between Modjadji camp and the Lodge is a long up hill drive, almost a kilometer long, as you ascend from the old flood plains to the hills of the mountains predominant in the Waterberg. My foot touched the accelerator, and the flood of petrol rushing into the carbs sent the vehicle hurtling up the hill at a steady pace of about 40 km per hour, in 4th gear I must say. My little old M1 would have needed to be geared down to 1st gear, and I would have chugged up at 20 km per hour.

The car was slowing down as I neared the top, my foot depressing the accelerator even more, in an attempt to try and not have to dislodge the beer from my hand to change gears, I neared the top with a few chugs and splutters. The inevitable happened, yes, I needed to change gears and gear down to 2nd. Everything went smoothly, until I released the clutch, and started to take the sweeping left turn as I crested the hill.

All hell broke loose, the revs shot up through the roof, the back wheels kicked up the dust as they dug into the ground road, and flung gravel through the air. The rear end of the car started losing traction, and was sliding out to the right behind me. Trying to over correct with the ever increasing speed was futile. Not helping was the back right wheel shredding against sharp rocks on the side of the road.

My life literally flashed before my eyes as I ended up speeding towards a large Wild Seringa Tree about 30 m off the road into the savannah. Then, BANG!

Wild Seringa Tree, much like the one in the story
I took a minute to compose myself, and almost immediately thereafter left the vehicle running as fast as my wobbly legs would take me. This was my first accident, and Hollywood taught me that the car would explode if I did not get out of there fast. I waited, and waited, waited some more, and after 5 minutes I came to the conclusion that all movies are not to be believed, as the car just sat there, no smoke, just steam rising from the buckled radiator.

First up was to get rid of any implicating evidence, and to this day I still feel guilty about flinging an empty beer bottle into the pristine untouched wilderness of a game reserve. Although I was not drunk, I could not risk being accused of this, based on an empty bottle of beer in the car.

Next was to assess the damage, wait, next was to light a cigarette, and then assess the damage.
My heart sank, I had neatly connected with the tree which made a perfect v shaped notch slap bang in the middle of the grill. Not a small notch it must be added, a notch that sent the Land Rover badge more than half a meter further back than it should have been.

So there I was, 11pm on a Saturday night, 3 weeks at a new and unfamiliar job, and I had just managed to wreck JP’s vehicle. At that stage I was solely concerned about my well being once JP found me. The future continued employment prospects did not even feature in a glimmer of a thought.

My worst fears were not yet realized though.

I had to get back to the lodge, write a report on the incident, wake up the workshop manager to tow the vehicle back to the workshop before morning traffic passed by and saw a wrecked game viewer standing 30 m into the bush, and face JP, let alone my employers.

The getting back to the lodge was the tricky part. Here I was, a rookie in the dead of night, walking the 5 km to the lodge, unarmed, unskilled, with no flashlight to guide me between Rhinos, Buffalo, Elephants Leopards and Hippos to name a few. I was on the verge of death, and felt like running into the mountains that they could just consume me, never to be found again.

Wildlife at Mabula as a ranger looks on from his Pride and Joy

Well, to cut a long story short, I managed to reach the lodge in one piece, although at a stage a group of browsing giraffe made me pray real hard for forgiveness before the inevitable: death by hoof.
My report was written, I managed to rouse the grumpy workshop manager, and was saved by a fellow ranger who had thankfully reported a problem with the accelerator pedal getting stuck on M26 the previous day.

It took a while for JP to forgive me, but he did. He managed to score from the whole process too, as after a month he took responsibility of a newly refurbished, better built, sparkling M26 as it rolled off the workshop floor.

I retained my job, and fortunately my arms, else I wouldn't be here typing these memories as I sit and wait for my own vehicle to be completed.

Thanks Jayps, You will always feature in my wild memoirs. 

Note: Images used in this post have been sourced using the internet for illustrative purposes only, and are not the property of Rudi Hulshof. Should there be a problem with their use I will be happy to remove them.

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