Skeleton Coast National Park – Lions and Testing Idiocy
I had a pretty restless sleep, but considering it was in the back seat of a very compact car, I should be respectful enough to qualify it as a ‘good sleep’. It was 07:17 when I checked the time and as soon as I moved, there were three Namibian police officers standing not far from my car and they watched me get dressed. They seemed to have nothing better to do. It annoyed me that they were so nosey with their eyes. I was not very friendly when I had to talk to them to pass through the ‘Animal Disease Control Check-Point’. They smiled. I scowled.
I asked them if there was a tire-shop in the town of Palmweg. They told me that it was not a town, and that is was just a lodge for sleeping, but that they might have a tire for me. Oh oh…
I passed through the gate. They were not kidding. Palmweg was just a hotel for rich people to sleep who fly into Africa for exotic safaris. I asked an older man in reception if he had a 14 inch 60R/185 tire. He looked concerned and said he probably did not but that he would check. Five minutes later a receptionist received a call on a radio telling me to drive over to the shop area! That was clearly good news.
The bad news was that the new tire that he said I was ‘very lucky’ to get was going to cost me 1,085 Namibian dollars ($73.76) to install. Well, I guess that was the un-luck in my luck. When I went to pay, I handed the receptionist girl 1,200 cash. She was about 27 years old and reached for her calculator to figure out the change she owed me. People in Africa seem to not be able to survive without a calculator to do their math for them. In a naughty move, my hand got to the calculator before the receptionist could and I took it away from her. She looked at me like a child whose puppy I just took away. I said, “Now come on. You can figure that out without this thing!” She still had the same look. “Come on…” I said with a smile. I asked her, “What is 85 minus 100?” She said, “Umm, 25?” Yikes…. I made her try three different times and she could not come up with the right change in her head. I handed her the calculator to make my change…
I see this all of the time in Africa…a lack of education and cashiers who can not do math. It seems crazy that a manager would hire someone to deal with money who is incapable of numerical deductions.
As I went to my car with a new tire on it in front of the shop, I asked the tire-changer what the pressure was, thinking I should keep it low because of the sharp rocks. He took his gauge to check what the new tire was at. The gauge showed 45PSI in a tire that should be around 30PSI. I released the air myself to bring it down to 30. I surely do not need over-inflated tires in these pointy conditions. He should know better than that…
Are numbers hard here? Everyone has at least some education. Is good help really that hard to find?…
I would later test a 45 year old man in a fuel station later who put 175 Namibian dollars of fuel in my car and tried to use a calculator to figure out the change from the 200 dollar bill I handed him. I stopped him to see if he could figure out the number in his head. He came up with the right change and seemed really proud to have been able to do so. I am not really sure what I am trying to do here, but I am totally amazed and completely horrified at the lack of simple math skills here.
I drove back into the park and said hello to my friends at Springbokwasser Gate of Skeleton Coast National Park who let me out last night. I drove all the way to Terrace Bay. It was about 250km of gravel roads just to start my morning. There are the remains of a lot of dead seals on the rocks close to the ocean. Dead seal smell is pretty assaulting to your morning nasal cavity.
I had lunch at Terrace Bay and then I got my Polo stuck in the sand of the beach, miles from anyone, driving in places I should have never been driving. I buried the front end of the car in soft sand as I was turning around. It was a really bad decision by me. Maybe it was karma from my fellow men from the mathematical pressure I was applying to them earlier…
I would like to say that getting the Polo stuck in the sand was me deciding to test my handiness and man-skills to get myself out of a predicament, but this is an honest blog. It seems like I need to test the extreme limits of my idiocy every now and then just to make sure that I am in fact, still an idiot. That is the truth of the situation. I learned quickly with this new turn of events in my afternoon that, yes, I still am a complete idiot. Only two days ago a woman had been raving about my wisdom…
A compact VW Polo is not an off-road 4X4 pickup truck. Little front-wheel drive cars do not do well in sand. I knew that before. However, for some reason I decided to ignore this knowledge I have stored in my head and did not even bother to attempt to retrieve it before I made the decision to drive on the sand. Too little too late did I realize that the particular information to prevent me from driving in such an improper VW Polo place would have been useful to have accessed first.
I was stuck.
But, I was amazed at how cool I remained at what I had just done. I was surprised at myself. I was making jokes to myself, aloud like a crazy man, about the sticking(?). Who was this calm man that I was being? He seemed far too casual to be me in this situation…
Fortunately/unfortunately, I knew exactly where the jack was for the car from having used it last night. So I went and got a flat rock to place under the jack once I learned it was jacking the jack itself into the sand rather than jacking the car up (sort of like Chuck Norris who does not push himself up when he does a push-up, but rather pushes the world down). I got the tire off the sand and I found another flat rock to put under the tire. I let the car down. I did the same thing on the other side of the car. I put flat rocks in front of the rock the tire was on that I intended the car to drive across to free me from my sand-sinking. I got in the car, I put it in drive, I held the brakes tight, and put accelerator to the floor and then lifted my foot from the brake-pedal!
Well, I moved a little over a half meter. I was now buried in the sand in a new spot…
Next time I would think to put the rocks width-wise instead of length-wise. I was trying to cheat for distance. The large flat rocks just shot out of the sides of my spinning tires.
I thought about my father. I thought about how when he is in a situation like that one I was in, he never expects that he will get another chance to make it right and makes chance #1 count by doing it well the first time. It always requires more work the initial time, but he never has to do the job twice because it always works the first time. Somehow, this lesson never sticks with me. Rush, hurry, cheat, lose.
Re-jacking the car and placing the rocks width-wise, I had to find about eight flat stones to carry a small distance, but I placed one under the front tire, let the car down and then strategically placed the remaining three rocks per side width-wise to make a sort of sidewalk for the car tires. I got in, I did not rev the hell out of the car this time. Instead, I just firmly accelerated forwards and, VOILA, the back tires bounced across the rocks after the front had made it to salvation and I was sand-freed.
Still a handy-man. Still an idiot.
It all seemed like a bad omen. I figured I would get out of Skeleton Coast National Park and head for Etosha National Park to see the wild game one more time before I get out of Africa. I can drive through the park for about $6, so I would be crazy not to. Having the complete freedom of a car sure does give a man a lot of options, even if my choices are sometimes sub-standard.
On the way out of the park, I came across a two-toned sand dune that was about 100 meters from the gravel road I was on. I was in the middle of the park and there was nothing around me but desert. I wanted a photo of the dune, so I got out of the car and I began walking across the sand towards the mound. I was about 50 meters from the car which was about half way to the dune when I noticed them the ground…Lion tracks! Holy shit! Holy shit! It scared me so much. I was alone in the desert and the car seemed a long way from where I was at the moment when I began to flee. I ran as hard as I could for the car.
As soon as I got inside and had the door shut, I could not quit thinking how stupid that was of me. I mean, the desert is empty and with nothing but the occasional oryx, so one forgets that there are predators like lions out there because you never see them. But they are there. I can not describe the terror of being so vulnerable, 50 meters from any kind of safety when you see lion tracks in the sand… Wow that scared me.
I drove back to Springbokwasser Gate, said goodbye to my friends working there and headed for Etosha. The drive was up and down about 210 kilometers of gravel roads over rolling hills and sharp dips that I tried to smoothen by scraping the VW Polo over them. Only a couple of hours after burying the car in the sand I was again treating it like a 4×4. But, the drive itself was great. I had two different jackals run out in front of me and then run away again in the way a coyote would. I had to hit the brakes hard two different times for two different herds of impalas. And I had to stop for a group of zebras who were all over the road. I met one car for each hour of driving in the Namibia countryside. The vastness was fantastic.