Saturday, 12 June 2010

close encounters

Whoops, time has wings and again I have neglected to keep the blog up to date.....not helped by the demise of my laptop and even more sporadic internet availability.

Highlights over the last couple of months include a visit from Alan's side of the family, Gail, Andy, Clare and Paul quickly follwed by his mum, Joy. Eilidh also impressed everyone in April when she was part of a three strong team who cycled on rough gravel tracks through the mountain passes from Windhoek to the coastal town of Swakopmund. Most of her year at school took part, sleeping under the desert stars (no tents) at night before checking their shoes for scorpions in the morning and setting out on the next leg of the 400 km journey.

At the end of April the schools close for 5 weeks so we took a couple of weeks in May to explore the beautiful and remote Kakoaland, more adventures covered in Alan's musings.

At least Alan still has internet in his office so here is a copy of his latest ramblings.......

The Kavango River rises in Angola before flowing through Namibia and on into landlocked Botswana, emptying into the vast Okavango delta, a mighty river that never reaches the sea.  From Friday to Monday we stayed at Ngapi Camp on the banks of the Kavango, in the region of Namibia that takes its name, a beautiful location. This was our VSO Global Education weekend, the subject of which was community conservation, an undoubted success in Namibia, where endangered species, such as the black rhino, now flourish. Ngapi falls at one end of the community conservation scale, the land owned by the community, the camp leased and operated by an investor/proprietor. Further up the scale communities are responsible for large scale conservancies, some truly vast, where they manage the land for wildlife (as well as for subsistence agriculture). Here the local people benefit from tourism, on occasion communities operating their own campsites and lodges, or receiving payment from trophy hunters, the latter's activities tightly controlled under licence. This whole area of community land ownership is fascinating and there is a resonance with our own community land initiatives many of which have breathed new life into Scotland's rural areas.

On Saturday night we sat around the fire, chatting, drinking, discussing the day's events, telling stories. One of the camp guides, Ernest from the nearby village, liked riddles and we were intrigued to hear a local version
of the 'fox, chicken and corn' conundrum where you have a river to cross and just one boat. How do you get them all across safely, taking just one animal or item at a time? - only in Ernest's version it was a hyena, a cow and a bundle of grass. Here's another of Ernest's riddles for you, answers on a postcard please. The man who makes it doesn't want it, the man who buys it doesn't use it, and the man who uses it doesn't know it.

We had a bit of a scare travelling back on Monday and our own close encounter with African wildlife. Ngapi is in the north of the country about 700 miles from Windhoek and we were keen to reach home before dark, leaving early and getting a move on - probably too much of a move on in fact. Approaching Okahanja the road was good, straight as a die, the tarmac smooth. We have a big beast of a car, a twenty year old Nissan Patrol, with a 4.2 litre diesel engine, tough as a Kudu steak. It's the only car I've ever really felt an affection for, not for what it is, for who can fall in love with a piece of metal, but for the quality of engineering, the
robustness of the design. It's a classic piece of machinery which you can maintain and repair yourself.  I like it.

As we hammered along, suddenly and without warning a huge warthog sprung from the side of the road. I braked hard, tried to swerve but there was no chance, we hit the hog hard. The bull bar and bumper took the force of the blow but as the front drivers wheel mounted the poor creature's body, the car momentarily lost contact with the road. The rear wheel struck the hog as the front of the vehicle came down and I struggled hard to keep control. With too much speed and track rods bent by the impact we careered off the road and down a steep embankment.  I fought to keep the angle broad, worried the vehicle would roll, and we cut a long arc through the waist high grass, bouncing over boulders before slowing. Remarkably we managed to steer back up the embankment and onto the road, parking neatly in parallel. For a brief moment I had thought we would lose everyone.

The following morning part of me didn't want to leave the house, wanted to keep all the family close. Eilidh on the other hand merely considered this all good facebook material! 

And of course everyone was great. Vehicles stopped, people climbed out and rushed over, shaking our hands and thanking God, helping me as I pulled the animal's body from the road heaving on a broken tusk. I suspect the meat wasn't wasted either. All of us are okay which is all that really matters, and our VSO colleagues, the Fab Four, Katy and Kev, Steve and Kat, who arrived soon after, couldn't have been kinder, ensuring we were fine and taking Eilidh and Cameron home with them to play the piano and watch Ninja Challenge on satellite TV!

And the car? Well thanks to Piet, a genius of a bush mechanic with a large club hammer and a 12 ton pipe bender, we straightened the steering rods and completed a repair any garage would have been proud of. Wheel alignment Tuesday morning and a bit of panel beating this weekend and the Big Blue Beast will be right as rain.

Cameron now wants to paint a warthog on the bumper and cross it out, just like the Red Baron...............Nissan Patrol 1 - Warthogs 0.

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