Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The day beer let us down.

Ever been so thirsty that you'd swap a full beer for a single sip of water?
Jip, it can happen:

After early coffee and rusks Tom and I hit the fire breaks at first light. As a result of yet more major surgery in an attempt to rectify the damage caused by the crocodile some years ago, Tom was again on crutches and unable to drive. His division, like those of the other senior game rangers, spanned some 20 000 hectares in the Kruger National Park and had to be patrolled on a regular basis.
Not being a Parks Board employee, I wasn't allowed to drive his official 4x4, so we set out in my Gelandewagen. We thus didn't have radio communication, but we had everything else: rifles, pistols and twelve cold beers in a tiny cooler.
Shortly after 5 A.M. the aircon was already going full-blast - the day was once again going to be a scorcher.
By the time we had the puncture some six hours later, the temperature was already above 44 degrees Centigrade and climbing. Just getting out of the vehicle was like stepping into a pizza oven.
We did not relish changing a wheel in this.
Little did we know it was merely the beginning of the nightmare.
The impressive-looking hydraulic jack that came with the vehicle wouldn't work. We fiddled and tinkered with it to no avail. This thing wasn't going to get a two-ton G-wagon off the ground. Besides, the metal was getting so hot you could no longer touch it with bare hands. And we re getting very thirsty, so we each had a cool beer.
Plan B: The vehicle was equipped with an 8000lb Warn winch. Gingerly driving on the flat tyre, we found a tree with a suitably thick branch and positioned the vehicle directly under it. Climbing the tree and attaching the winch sapped our remaining strength, and dehydration was beginning to set in. We tried another beer, but couldn't swallow the stuff. It actually hurt.
The bloody winch couldn't do the job either - all it managed to accomplish was to take some of the weight off the suspension, but the front wheels were still firmly on the ground. Even if we'd had a shovel (which we didn't) we simply no longer had the strength to dig the wheel free in the hard soil. So I had to climb the tree again to free the winch cable. By now we knew we were in deep trouble. Our lips and tongues were swollen and parched, and we could no longer speak coherently. This was a whole new dimension of thirst. We gave the beer another go and the frothy lukewarm stuff made us gag. It was like being on a raft in the middle of the ocean - liquid was available, but drinking it is more likely to kill you than slake your thirst.
Plan C: There were some dry washes caused by soil erosion, and we tried to maneuver the vehicle into a position where one wheel was hanging in the air. I have often managed it by accident before, but doing it on purpose seemed impossible. The wheel travel of the suspension defeated every diff-lock maneuver I tried.

By now it was 4.30 and we knew the situation was becoming life-threatening. The tourist road was some 10 Km distant, and sacrificing the wheel was the only solution. Fortunately the veld was mostly sand and gravel without too many rocks.

By the time we were approaching the tarred road we knew we were too late: the tourists had already been confined to the rest camps for the night.

Then, in the distance, a huge Parks Board tipper truck went roaring past. Tom pointed the muzzle of his .458 through the window and let rip. It felt as if someone had lobbed a stun grenade into the vehicle, but it sure got their attention.
It was a roadworks team returning to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. On the back of the truck they still had some six inches of tepid water in a five liter Jerrycan. They considered it a delight to tuck into our remaining beer.
With old jam tins as cups, their lukewarm water was better than liquid gold. It was the essence of life itself. I don't recollect the water even getting to our throats - it seemed to enter our very souls straight from our parched lips and mouths.

Don't under estimate the stuff.  Ever.

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