Oh Mercy! Mercy! Get My Jersey!

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

Oh Mercy! Mercy! Get My Jersey!

If I could, I would chisel in stone: “Never a dull moment.”  And “The winds of misfortune will prevail without fail”! The weather report said, rain.  I said “no way!”  The annual rainfall in the Tankwa is 10mm, so why get our knickers in a knot?  I did keep my eyes on the skies, and, I was right, for once.

So we packed up our Honey Badger with a few pieces of clothing, jerseys, beanies, gloves and scarves.  One thing is for sure.  It’s cold there. In the middle of nowhere, 120km from Ceres on the gravel road.  There where the sky is blue-blue and the smallest plant celebrates each drop of water rewarding us with sweet blooms.  Past the Padstal, that famous landmark.  Annually the location of Africa Burn.  We were there for the peace and quiet and to put our Honey Badger through her paces.

Shale, rocks, gravel and sand mark the barren landscape.  Here and there some scrub, dotted with more rock and a few fygies and daisies in bloom.  A film studio marks the landscape with its surreal structures and the abandoned artworks from this year’s Burn.  One has to witness the stark beauty with your own eyes.  Magnificent.

The Tankwa Tented Camp would be our destination for the weekend.  A good choice. Popular with motor bikers, city slickers in search of  peace and quiet, gypsies, hippies, townies and lovers of the great outdoors. 

It’s only when you walk in the veld that you see and experience the beauty of the Karoo. You have to put your nose to the ground.  Once you’ve done that a world of colour and life opens up.  It is astonishing.  What made the early pioneers decide to set up camp here, settle, raise their children and have a flock of sheep I don't know.  It must’ve been the awesome sunsets. Silence couldn’t have been a prerequisite?

We did a lot of investigating.  In the pub we supported Paarl Boy’s High as they defeated Paarl Gymnasium, we chatted to other guests and found out that there is only a 1֩ of separation between us. Jan-Paul can attest to that.  I was surprised to see other Worcesterites and met a bonny baby boy, his beautiful Mom grew up alongside my own children and the baby sister is  now all grown up.  Carla and Maree it was delightful meeting up with you again, you’ve grown up, but, I still see a girl in you. Sue's skill at Jenga was quite something, soon attracting quite a crowd!

We did have a drama, but I've been sworn to secrecy and my lips are sealed.  Not my story to tell unfortunately but we met four fabulous friends (kids) who have left an indelible mark on all our hearts. You flew in on a breeze,  your smiles, good humour, adventurous spirit and youthful enthusiasm left us breathless. I know we can expect big things from you in the future. I will never look up at the skies and not think of you.  You make Survivor look like child’s play. Hope to see you around Katinka Oosthuizen, pilot extraordinaire Henk van der Spuy, Sasha Gouws and Braam.  Braam I'll do my best with the kid who's thinking of spending his GAP year being adventurous in Stillbay.

Percy and Sue made Percy's Perfect Pasta Pot - Lasagna in a pot. Delicious. Jus certainly know your pasta dishes Bro.  As we say in Afrikaans "die Son skyn oorals"  The Son/Sun newspaper headlines once again sent us reeling with their outrageously provocative headlines!


The tribe spoke and we decided we’d take a slow drive home shortly after brunch.  We’d stop at the Padstal for a delicious Ginger Beer, say goodbye to Percy and Sue and who knows we might see snow and we’d have plenty of time to settle before enjoying a movie and end the week with an early night.

Pipe dream.  Percy had hardly crested the koppie in a ball of dust when our “tyre Dogs” started beeping.  The temptation to ignore the beep was great.  This, a man who emphatically ignores the lady on his GPS had second thoughts and we rolled to a stop.  Flat tyre.  Never underestimate the shale, those flakes are as sharp as Minora blades.

Bravely Butch battled the spare tyre from the back of the truck.  The jack looked too small and flimsy for the job, the sand shifted, the shale cut into his back and his knees have no cartilages.  I took to the hills to see if I could find a beep of connectivity.  Nada. My brother had disappeared into the dust never to be seen again. I was of no help at all as I hovered around sympathetically trying to help, handing over wrenches and wheel spanners.  Butch kindly didn’t swat me or wave me away to get on with it.  He kept a cool head.  The gardening tools came in handy Jaco and Erin when we needed to do some digging to remove a layer of gravel and stone. Just goes to show when you least expect it gardening tools save the day!  With all our might we couldn’t lift the damaged tyre onto the back of the truck and unceremoniously rolled it into our living quarters.  Up the steps we huffed and puffed and heaved and shoved it.

I am a firm believer that Karma is a bitch.  It was while we were changing tyres that I spotted a cloud of dust winding its way towards us at a very slow pace.  We didn't want to get stuck behind it so pushed ahead as fast as we could. Battening down the hatches and leaping into the cab.

Half an hour later we were back on the road. Just as we noticed the truck train, two heavy vehicles bearing down upon us. We settled into a nice rhythm I resumed my knitting, needles clicking and our Audible book back on track.  And then BAM. Hardly two kilometers later the steering wheel shuddered and shook, once again we wobbled and groaned to a stop.  Without the early warning beep of the tyre dog we gaped at the damage.  Shredded to smithereens was the new tyre.  This time we were stuck for the duration. The long train came trundling past leaving us in the dust.

We had no cell phone reception.  Scribbled notes with telephone numbers was the course of action.  We flagged down 5 vehicles, handed over our distress notes and sent them on their way with the hope that they’d relay our messages once they had a signal.

The last vehicle to stop sped off in a cloud of dust at 17h00 we didn’t see another vehicle until 8h30 Monday morning when we heard a drone through the thick mist enveloping the landscape.  That one got away.   We estimated that if Mossie from Tyre King sent his recovery vehicle off at 8h00 we’d have a new tyre by no earlier than 10h30. 

I couldn’t sit around and wait so decided to take my camera and walk.  It was while I was scouring the landscape for plants to photograph that I realised how fortunate we were.  Here, safely, in the middle of nowhere we could experience a “break down”.  We had the opportunity to test our survival skills so to speak.  We found we coped.  Our truck is fitted out with everything we need. Butch and I set up our camping chairs, enjoyed a sundowner, we were entertained by a few Karoo chats before they set off to nest for the night.  We had food, water, and a comfortable bed with our own linen and my favourite pillow. We could brush our teeth and prepare for bed in luxury.  We were off the grid with all our creature comforts.

Dr. Burger Prinsloo hesitantly stopped and greeted me as I emerged like an apparition all arms a-flapping from the thick mists at the Sutherland turn-off, who’d expect to see a person there at 8h00 on a Monday morning after all? On route home they promised to check in and monitor our rescue mission.  They kept their word and gave the driver of the recovery vehicle our exact location.  We were spot on, they arrived shortly after 10h30. 

With speed and efficiency the two men got down to business. Settled the jack, removed the shredded tyre and within minutes had the new tyre on the rim.  Without saying much and with utmost patience and mutual respect for each other, they settled the tyre back on the truck, tightened the nuts to the requisite grind.  Loaded the two defunct tyres and followed us to the tar road before waving us on as we parted ways, they to the N1 and us to Ceres.  Now it was peddle to the metal all the way home. 

We had to a few appointments to make and the dirt road lay ribboned before us.  An over-turned truck brought us back to reality, accidents happen when you least expect it.  Vigilant we must be at all times.

This was a learning curve.  We can’t travel without a Sat phone. One needs two spare tyres (we knew that) and a winch is a necessity.  I may not wash my hands in the bathroom basin while Butch is lying under the vehicle.  He doesn’t need a sudden soaking gush of water all over himself.

Teething problems were expected and with good grace we handled the electrical shortcomings, our appliances tripped continuously.  Although we had ample hot water we realise we’ll have to use the geyser sparingly it’s a guzzler.  After much to-ing and fro-ing and head scratching it was discovered that our deep cycle batteries were malfunctioning resulting in an electrical failure.  As the devil would have it the guarantee had just run out but, the supplier has been sweet talked and is willing to replace them free of charge. 

Yesterday 6 new wider, bigger, better, sexier all-terrain Hankook tyres and custom-made rims were fitted. (and I hear now, we have a NEW set of tyre monitors!) At last we are properly shod and prepared for any African road. The good advice given regarding a Sat, phone was investigated thoroughly and we will have a rented phone delivered two days before departure.  We are hooked up.  On Tuesday Hein at AC Motor Homes will set aside his deadlines to fit a motorised winch.

Our ordeal would not have been as painless without help from the following friends, acquaintances and strangers.  We’d like to thank the following people for advice, encouragement, help and support Everard Smit – CONVEYCO, who broke his journey, turned around in search of someone to repair our damaged tyre.  Dr & Mrs Burger Prinsloo, Anton Strydom, Mossie Mostert, Percy and Sue Knight, the recovery crew from King Tyres Worcester, you rock fellas. AC Motorhomes (once again), Pro-Fitment Worcester without you we’d always be forever in the dark. Thank you for negotiating new batteries for us. You certainly came to the rescue, we're confident the wheel has turned and our fortunes are looking up.  Johan Lochner who never says no and the Schultz's who made a U-turn and gave us advice regarding the Sat Phone and confirmed Butch's theory that tyres on dirt road should be soft.  We will confidently set off on our next adventure, rest assured. Mossie said he received at least 8 phone calls during the course of Sunday evening, that means everyone who stopped made a special effort to honour their promise to us.  Thank you, you are the Samaritans who make us believe in the kindness of strangers.

I hope to be back in the Tankwa next year, all dolled up in my airy, fairy, finery to catch a glimpse and experience Karoo sunsets at the Africa Burn. Maree and Cecil, soon you'll embark on your adventure to New Zealand.  Although I am very sad that another young couple are immigrating, I wish you well.  With your big smiles and enthusiasm you will be successful in all your ventures. Be sure to keep up with us, we look forward to following your journey.