E on the petrol gauge stands for Enough
I was beginning to realise that not having enough petrol was the least of our worries.
We are off-roading up and down huge sand dunes and steam starts to rise from the engine. The fan belt has broken and god damn it if Sue and I haven’t gone and left our tights in the flying safari plane.
You would think that given that these were the most expensive 4 days of my life so far I might be slightly put out that we were literally in the middle of the desert in Namibia in a rust bucket Land Rover that’s got a brick doing something crucial on the clutch and is overheating in the desert – at least not having any petrol wasn’t really an issue anymore – but no. I was having the time of my life.
So how does one combat a broken fan belt? You drive with the bonnet up to try and cool the engine. This means you can’t see where you are driving so you stick your head out of the window to see the way. You freewheel down sand dunes as much as possible and you get as far as you can before giving up and making your clients walk the rest of the way out of the desert. Why is this fun? Because you are with Andre – a Schoeman brother on the most amazing flying safari ever. You may all be in love with Levinson Wood right now but rolly, polly, bearded Andre is the man for me.
Andre has an energy, enthusiasm and encyclopaedia mind that makes you see the fun and adventure in any moment of adversity on a flying safari. What? Scared? Don’t be an imbecile! You are fine! You are with me. Chill. Enjoy. Laugh. Go with it. So that’s exactly what we do. We all look at each other and think…. “cool…. today is not our day to die… today is the opportunity for a great story for the next dinner party….“
“A Land Rover is like a mother in Law… always sick… but never dies.”
We ditch the land rover in the middle of nowhere (to us) and he makes a mental note to call his brother to make arrangements to come and pick it up and mend it… sometime soon. “It’s by that sand dune with the tufty bit of desert grass where the lizards like to hang out. O, and chuck some more petrol in it will you?”
Andre is our pilot and guide, mother and father, spiritual guru and cult leader. I’m on a 4 day flying safari in Namibia with Amit – young, handsome blue eyed boy from India, Sue and Pete from the UK– She a Police Detective with great stories (that I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you), He an Ex-Teacher with a winning charm and “Amy” – the slightly rusty, more than slightly unkempt yet devine airplane who’s charms have wooed the likes of Brad Pit. Yes… Brad sat on her lap and made her soar.
“Pilots do not use the word stuck… we are just temporarily immobilised.”
“Bugger” says Andre, “I knew I should have taken that faster!” The Land Rover was temporarily immobilized on top of a perfect triangular sand dune. I was really starting to enjoy it now. I wonder if all clients are so lucky I thought. How is my hero going to get us out of this one? Hmmmm… oh I see…. Dig out the sand a bit…. Get a wopping great jack and stick it under the back end… jack it up enough that you tip the Land Rover high enough to drive over… brilliant! Hang on I haven’t quite got the perfect shot… my next dinner party is going to be a hum-dinger!
AMIT – “Aren’t the markers for the landing strip over there?”
ANDRE – “Ah yes…. Well this is close enough”
It was like Andre was a mix of father figure, Crocodile Dundee and ski instructor. I sooooo wanted him to be proud of me. For him to think that I was worthy to travel with him on this flying safari. Impress him. Make him like me. I was determined not to be scared in the plane, to always ask intelligent questions, to make him laugh, pretend I understood all the complex geography – Yes.. Andre is the kind of man that can make rock formations sexy – and generally just be the best client he had ever, ever had.
Andre was my superman. This was a very ordinary looking man who had lived a very not-ordinary life. A life full of incredible and diverse experiences set in stunning, stark, dangerous scenery . He had been brought up by an amazing character of a father who had started diamond mines and embarked on building ports in this most desolate and unforgiving of coastline environments. He had flown helicopters in the war with Angola, he had shot a leopard and never forgiven himself, he is a scientist, geologist, conservationist, politician, biologist. He is the most fascinating man to talk to. He is my hero.
“If at first, you fail….. Erase all attempts of your first effort,”
It was my turn to sit at the back of the plane. We have been flying about 10 minutes. I didn’t want to appear stupid in front or my hero but I felt compelled to say something. “Excuse me Andre…. is this flap thing meant to be up?” I wasn’t sure what it was against the window but it didn’t look right. “Ahhhhh” said Andre in his ever calm, ever understated fashion. “The luggage door appears to be open.” He did a mid air “jiggle” with the plane from left to right so that the door shut itself
“I guess we should check that all the luggage is still with us when we land.” Yeah… probably a good idea.
I believe “Sod’s Law” is the phrase I’m looking for here. We all had minimal luggage for this 4 day trip. I had a day pack with a few pairs of knickers and a toothbrush. It would have been great if that was the bag that had fallen out of the plane. “Sod’s Law” however dictates that the bag filled with camera equipment, iphones, ipads, house and car keys, credit cards, passports and other essential personal possesions that is both worth the most in monetary value and also fucks up your life more by loosing it…. is the one that falls out. Somewhere between very remote place near the Angola border and 20mins later flying over even more remote Namibian bush….. Sue’s rather valuable bag had fallen out of the plane.
Sue is a Police Detective and she is at this point a close second to Andre in my hero list. She has just lost this bag and is amazingly calm. Andre my #1 hero goes into understated superman mode. He is calm. “OK… you guys go and visit this village and I am going back to look for the bag.” What? That sand coloured bag that has fallen into a sand coloured desert? I am sure he will find it. NOT. We spend the next few hours trying our hardest to enjoy our experience and secretly all trying to work out how Sue and Pete are going to be able to make the rest of their trip work without the contents of this bag.
A few hours pass and we wait for the plane to land and Andre to appear. We knew that he hadn’t found the bag… how could he have found it? In thousands of square meters of the desert on a flight path that he doesn’t normally take – avoiding an incoming plane – and not really knowing when it fell?
Suddenly trumpets trumpeted and life went into slow motion and soft focus. My hero, my Andre, emerged from the plane as calm and collected as ever yet dare I say slightly strutting? Slightly pleased with himself and happy with life? ………..Clutching……………… a sand coloured and sand covered bag.
Not a man to easily accept hugs and kisses my Andre had to deal with our excitement and happiness and disbelief and general god worshiping. Have you heard the story about the coke bottle that fell from the sky in Africa? Here is our version of the bag that fell from the sky.
Andre had flown back to the start of our flight path ready to instigate some form of desert bag search – he told us later how he didn’t really have a clue how we were going to actually do that. As he landed, apparently a local man was walking out of the bush towards him. The local man told of how had been walking in the middle of nowhere when amazingly a bag had fallen from the sky! The local man remembered that there was a place not too far away from where crazy foreign tourist types flew in and out on on their flying safari and he wondered if this is where the bag from the sky had come from. He decided to abandon his journey and bring this bag to the flying machine people….. in case someone needed it.
Really…. what are the chances?
My hero made sure that the local man was compensated well in both monetary and verbal thanks – as well as 4 foreigners who never met him wishing him blessings and luck for him and all his family when they heard the news!
Amit: “there is a fly in here….”
Sue: “Nobody open a window!”
Our final campfire was a celebration. How lucky we had been. That we had survived the broken radiator, the temporary immobilisation, the human eating crocodile, tea in Angola, the bag falling out of the plane, the fact that the rusk biscuits ran out after day 2!….. that the 4 of us passengers had got on so well…. (When Amit and I had been waiting at the airport to find out who was sharing the trip with us we had feared a large German couple called Bergit and Boris…)
The moment of truth had arrived for me. That point in every traveller’s trip that you long for and dread at the same time…. the guide’s adjudication. Andre took me to one side and said….. “Anyway…….” In that way that he always did…. in that way to prepare yourself for what’s coming next. I felt my heart jump into my throat… he was going to give me my client score…..
”It was really great having you on the trip Becky.”
I had passed the test. Andre had enjoyed my presence. I am an OK person. I passed.
- I did the flying safari with www.skeletoncoastsafaris.com
- I booked the flying safari through www.steppestravel.co.uk
- I packaged this flying safari with a self-drive safari and some tailor-made private activities
Brick doing something crucial on Trusty Rusty’s Clutch!
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