Another sunny and calm morning in the Kalahari. A few pheasants joined me for breakfast when Manfred and Servier dropped by early morning to check if Zimba would start off again. Their happy faces were short-lived after Zimba showed no sign of electronic life. Even the jumper leads didn’t help this time. Another check on cables didn’t change the situation either. Seems that this zebra doesn’t want to leave the Kalahari. Manfred and Servier were on their way to Rundu on their weekly run. They would send a tractor over, to pull me and Zimba through soft sand all the way to the B8. There, a mechanic would wait to help out. A great plan, hope it goes well.
While I was trying to put my thoughts together on paper, Alex the community camp manager dropped by to say ‘Hello’. I told him my story a little more detailed this time, which almost brought tears into his eyes. An emotional, caring young man. Alex is actually the grandson of the king from the Gciriku tribe, which settled in this area a long time ago. Even though faced with modern day problems, the king is still highly regarded and respected locally and nationally. Alex has a dream of building a communal Art Centre for and about his people. This would hopefully get the young ones interested in ancient tribal rituals, history, medicine, dance, and art. This would benefit the community, as well as travelers for a welcoming break in between long drives from or to the Caprivi Strip. I hope this project will go ahead. Fundings are, as always, the major drawback.
It was almost lunchtime before Robert arrived with his tractor. The sand was already too hot to walk on barefoot, I was hoping this tractor would tackle the soft sand with Zimba in tow. A steel chain was connected to Zimba, which I didn’t like the idea much. Steel has no stretch factor, I hope his driving would match that. Chris was at reception when I paid for my overtime spent at Khaudum National Park. He was one of the Rangers I helped to pull the unfortunate elephant out of the well. He said, that he wanted to check on the carcass the next day, but they ran short on time. So was I at that stage. So, we passed through the ‘Khaudum National Park gate’ once more, not quite as I expected.
Robert was really rough by accelerating and changing gears, which resulted that we didn’t get far. The anchor point on Zimba snapped and Robert and his tractor were off. Whistling and shouting made no difference, he didn’t hear a thing. John, who sat next to me, started running after the tractor, which was still moving forward in steady pace. It was rather amusing watching this, as it clearly reminded me of the old classic movie ‘The Gods must be Crazy’, which was filmed somewhere around here. It looked exactly like that. As they both returned, I had my tow rope out. I have one more tow point on the car, but if that breaks, then I won’t get anywhere. I reminded Robert once more, to make sure that the rope is tightened before he kicks the accelerator. The sand was melting hot and it was slow going. I know that with all the extras, we are a heavy load, but I was a little surprised about the lack of the pulling power of this strong tractor. We still had another 30 km to go, as the tractor buried his back wheels in the soft sand once more.
This time, I pulled the pin, fearing the tractor engine to blow up, or something else to break. ‘We can’t go on in these conditions’ I explained. ‘Something will break sooner or later! I am happy to camp here tonight, but we need to get moving very early tomorrow morning.’ Eventually, both agreed, but they had to get firewood from the village, they said. Off they went on their way. I didn’t know if they would stay there, or what time they would come back.
I had another chuckle with Zimba, as they disappeared. ‘Here we are again! Stranded once more in the Kalahari Desert.’
The sun was setting in spectacular fashion over the ‘False Mopane’ trees.
On the eastern side, the full moon appeared over the horizon. Pure Desert magic. Another magnificent Khaudum natural display.
Zimba was happily parked as well. It was dead calm and quiet, apart from the swarm of wild honey bees, buzzing around my soapy water bucket. Sometime later, relaxing in my chair, I heard a lion roar from a fair distance away. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me and discarded the thought. The moon was at its highest point in the sky, when I heard the tractor return. Are we going now? What’s going on? ‘Boss, are you awake?’ John asked. ‘There was an accident.’ That woke me up real quick.
It was really hard to make sense of what John was trying to tell me. But this is what I understood, whilst waking up. The other Landcruiser driver, which was supposed to return today from Rundu, had an accident, details weren’t clear. John would drive the tractor back to the station, to ask the ranger to use the tractor and drive the injured to the hospital??? This all didn’t make any sense to me and there was no sign of Robert, who I thought is sleeping at the village. Anyhoe, off he went on his tractor and I went confused back to bed. I got up just before sunrise again, another glorious morning in the Kalahari Desert. I clearly heard the lion roar once more from afar. There was no mistaking this time, my mind was not playing tricks on me.
I sat down with coffee and breakfast and was wondering what today will bring us. After John’s confusing message last night, I expected the worst and hoped for the best. Anything can happen, this is Africa after all. It wasn’t till around 11:00 am when I heard the tractor approach. A little late again, the sand is already heating up. I won’t get far today either, I thought. To my surprise, Chris was driving the tractor and asked me what happened last night. I wasn’t quite sure what he was referring to and told him what I knew. He spoke to John earlier, who said that Robert fell off the tractor and lies injured a few km further north from this location!!! Are you kidding me, I thought? How on earth would that happen? I jumped on to the tractor and had to hold on real tight. It’s like sitting on a bouncing ball. I could imagine how someone could fall off.
We saw Robert lying on the side of the track a few km north. He was in pure agony, but responsive to a degree. He was sweating, hyperventilating and most likely dehydrated, it was a serious injury. We gave him some water to drink and poured some over his head to cool him down. His left hip and his lower back were swollen, no external injuries. He couldn’t sit up or stand up, just lying on the side. Nothing Chris or I could do, apart from comforting him and keeping him hydrated. We knew that Manfred had taken one Landcruiser to Rundu for his weekly refill and refuel. The other Landcruiser, driven by Jeremia was missing in action. We didn’t know where he was and couldn’t count on him. We comforted Robert as good as we can, but we needed to get him to a hospital, very quickly.
We drove to the next village, hopefully being able to get phone reception and call for help, externally. It was a long, bouncy and slow trip to the village. I left my phone in the car, Chris phone is in Rundu. We had to meet the school principal and ask to use his mobile phone. A lot of time was wasted by discussing explaining the situation. Everyone had something to say. Nothing goes quickly in Africa, even in an emergency case like this. I told Chris to hurry up with the discussions, we need to act quickly. There is only one spot to get reception here. A man-made wooden mobile phone stand marks the exact location. It was quite a surreal experience for me, not many people cared that one off their own is lying and possibly dying in the ditch not far from here.
Chris eventually had the reception to call his wife. He told her to call Manfred and to come here as soon as possible. Hopefully even quicker. That was it. We didn’t know exactly if she had received the message, if she understood correctly and if she was able to get a hold of Manfred. We just hoped for the best. This was the only thing we could do, sadly enough. Life is hard out here, it doesn’t become more obvious than at this moment. Around 1 pm we drove back to Robert as quick as we could. His condition had gotten worse. Hardly able to speak, hardly able to move, hardly able to drink.
We drove back to Zimba to pack water, food, a tarp for shelter and my Maxtrax to lift his body on to Manfreds Landcruiser tray back. They weren’t nearly long enough, but better then nothing. We used the tarp to create shelter around Robert, it was another steaming hot day and he was lying in the direct sunlight. We poured water over his body to cool him down and I gave him some cookies as a little energy boost. We couldn’t allow him to faint, that would be the last critical stage before falling into a coma. I am not quite sure what time exactly in the after we heard Manfred’s Landcruiser, but boy were we glad to hear it. We quickly unloaded his load and used a fold up metal table to lift Roberts body on to the tray back.
I joined Manfred in the drivers’ cabin while Chris stayed with Robert in the back. Manfred needed to but couldn’t drive too fast. The dugout sand track and corrugations must have caused immense pain. I told Chris to make sure he doesn’t lose consciousness. Fortunately, he didn’t. We eventually arrived at the tar road junction and turned west to the nearest local hospital, 20 km from the turnoff. We arrived at the understaffed hospital just before sunset, lifted Robert on to a wheeling bed and pushed him into the hospital. A nurse looked after him until the doctor arrived. He wanted to X-ray him first before further actions. I told him that Robert needs to get to Rundu hospital ASAP, to get some professional attention. Very, very quickly.
Well, what a day this turned out to be. I was hoping for the best, but we all experienced the worst. A well deserved light beer recapped the day. We were all exhausted and speculated on how Robert would have fallen off the tractor. We drove to the east to tell Robert’s wife and family the very bad news. It was late by the time we got back to Zimba. We parked the tractor next to him and Manfred and Chris drove back to Khaudum. We’ll stay another night here. I wonder if I ever get away from here.
I just got up as Manfred and Chris arrived. Even though the sand wasn’t hot the tractor power was not enough to pull Zimba through the soft sand. Which is unbelievable really. We needed Landcruiser help.
The tractor then was pulling the Landcruiser, which was pulling me.
As we got through the softest sand section, Manfred had to turn around, to recover the second Landcruiser, which had broken down in the Park the night before as well. This really wasn’t a good week for anyone. At another soft sand section, the tractor buried its back wheels again. ‘This is going to be a long day to cover the next 20 km to the tar road’ I thought as I placed the Maxtrax in front of Zimba’s back wheels. This worked really well and we got surprisingly far. Chris jumped off the tractor with a big grin on his face. ‘The tractor hasn’t been in 4 WD the whole time.’ He said. ‘I just realized now and engaged 4 WD mode. The front wheels are moving now as well!’ I simply couldn’t believe what he just told me. ‘Are you shitting me?’ I asked. ‘This whole excursion, all the drama, all that happened, because the tractor wasn’t in 4 WD mode?’ I was speechless. Nevertheless happy, that we would cruise the last part off the track. I can’t remember being so happy to see the tar road again. And so was Chris. A sigh of relief fell from our shoulders.
Two Landcruisers were on our tail for the last two km. Two Swiss couples came from Khaudum as well and parked behind us. ‘Are you the guy that camped with lions?’ One lady asked. Typical Africa! The only thing that moves quickly is the news.
The men had a quick look at Zimba’s electrical state, but couldn’t find the problem either.
Chris enjoyed a cold beer after we swapped shirts. He got my Lion singlet in exchange for his Namibian National Park shirt. I am certain, that neither will forget this series of unfortunate events for a while.
A few friendly locals dropped by for a chat.
Chris is well known in the area and the sight of a broken down zebra grabbed the attention. Although, not all were quite certain.
Servier’s brother arrived a short while later and couldn’t find Zimba’s problem either.
He then towed us with a tow bar to Rundu.