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Survival in the bush: tips for hardy self drivers...


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#1 Game Warden

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 10:52 PM

SURVIVAL IN THE BUSH


----------------


In Africa the ultimate denouement is never far from hand. While I was living in my safari concession on the banks of the Omo River in Southern Ethiopia, a Landrover was found about two miles from the river with a body in it. The car had broken down, and the occupant, a rather adventurous resident of Nairobi who was attempting to drive alone to Cairo, had run out of fuel, ideas and water simultaneously. He had feared to walk a couple of miles in the direction of the river and therefore perished.

In 1973, I was driving in convoy with two Landcruisers along the shore of Lake Rudolf (Turkana) - my assistant driver being a young Swiss - to prepare my camp for the visit of HRH Prince William of Gloucester. It was the usual hot day in the Kenya Northern Frontier District (N.F.D). Suddenly I saw the following Landcruiser suddenly veer off the rough track and stop amongst a mass of boulders and sand scrub. When I returned I found the young man to be virtually unconscious, suffering from heat stroke. This was my fault as I had failed to ensure that he took salt tablets as well as his anti-malarial pills, and he had drunk too much water in the heat of the desert, which had made his situation worse. Salt pills (oral re-hydration salts), a bathe in the lake, and plenty of tea made it possible for him to continue driving the next day, but I had learned a valuable lesson in man and heat management

My colleague and friend, the late Garnet Seed, whilst he was the game warden running the Uaso Nyiro (Samburu) park, north of Isiolo in the Kenya N.F.D., once missed a French tourist who had driven out of the lodge in a hired Landrover and had not returned. For two days Garnet ignored the situation, thinking that the man had driven out of the park without the courtesy of saying farewell or paying his account. Shortly after, he happened to drive down a little-used track and found the unfortunate man stuck in a sand donga and almost dead from thirst and hunger. Half a mile away was the flowing Uaso Nyiro River, but the man had feared to leave his Landrover because he had seen lions in the area. He had burned the seats of the Landrover to keep warm at night, but had not thought to dig in the warm sand of the dry river to find water. Garnet got in the car, selected four-wheel-drive, and drove it happily across the donga; the intrepid traveller had not even learned how to put his vehicle in four-wheel drive!

Still on the subject of thirst: once, when driving through the Serengeti National Park on my way to my camp at Makow, I stopped, aghast, to see a young bearded white man, limping towards me through the middle of nowhere, clasping a young child to his bosom. He had set off down the track earlier that day in a VW beetle with no spare wheel, and no water. We found his wife unconscious, their front wheel battered by motoring on a flat tire until the car rebelled. Had I not happened along the result might have been serious.

Having water on board is important. I always save the 5 litre silver plastic bags from boxes of South African 'Chateau Cardboard', wash them out and fill with water. When flying, I keep one under the seat of each passenger (the same in a car) - that way they take up no room, and in an emergency each person has his ration. As stated earlier in this book, these 5 litre bags are also useful for cold boxes. Pour in about 4 litres, squash out surplus air and then freeze them. They keep the coldbox dry and cold for days, and the melted water is cold and very useful for adding to other, more fortifying drinks such as Scotch.

Another essential I always carry in the aircraft or car are several 6x6 foot sheets of black polythene. In the event of a crash landing or breakdown in a desert situation such as Northern Kenya, Kalahari, Ethiopia, Sudan or Egypt, you dig a pit in the sand about five foot in diameter and two or three foot deep, place a tin or some container in the middle of the pit and cover with the polythene. Place a rock or heavy weight in the center to make the sheet slope downwards, and a surprising amount of water condensation will take place, and can be gathered in every morning.

Nowadays all my petrol-driven cars – older models before the electronic age - have two coils and condensers fitted, ever since my Series 1 Landrover (the first car I owned in Africa) burnt a coil at 12,000 feet on the Cirramon track in the tundra on Mount Kenya. Luckily the twenty-mile hike was downhill! Unlike the Landrover, the Landcruiser has no provision for a starting handle to crank the engine in the event that the battery packs up. However, the Landcruiser does have a starting handle dog on the center of the flywheel; you merely have to construct another circular bracket out of fairly strong steel, and weld it to the front bumper or bull barn in line with the flywheel, and buy a starting handle from a car breaker. Also take a body-building course.

If your vehicle is travelling in soft sand, and should you overheat and lose battery strength when stopped, there is a way of re-starting the engine without trying for a push-start. Jack up the rear wheels, and turn them in gear with the ignition on - I’m not saying this is easy if you are alone, but in my personal experience, desperation gives you hidden strength, and a rope tied around the circumference of the wheel and pulled can get you out.

Always carry some plastic tube in your spares kit, and a can, for should your fuel pump pack up, you can gravity-feed straight from a can to the carburetor. I was caught-out without such a can on Zambia's Zambezi escarpment. However, I did have a two litre box of red wine, and being a frugal Highland Scot (it being against my principles to waste anything); I drank the wine first, and then filled the wine-bag with petrol. If my safari car has a mechanical pump, I now fit an electric one with a 'T' junction and a special switch.

The old diesel engine often had problems with the 'heater' plugs. It was always advisable to carry a spray can of 'cold start'(ether), though a hank of Mutton-cloth soaked in petrol did the trick at a pinch. The diesel engine is far more reliable than petrol, and usually gives good notice if it intends to misbehave. The newer diesel engines no longer require to be 'bled'(to rid the system of air) if run out, which was the curse of older models.

Again, driving in a Landcruiser the extremely difficult route from the Omo valley in Southern Ethiopia to Addis Ababa, I saw to my horror, in the rear mirror, my rear wheel extending from the axle. I stopped just in time, and eventually found that a pin had snapped inside the rear differential, allowing the half-shaft to float outwards with the wheel. I re-assembled the differential, my enthusiastic Ethiopian assistant catching all my fingers inside the diff. The next problem was, of course, that my make-shift pin could not cope with the enormous strain of the Ethiopian highland tracks, so I had to disconnect the rear prop-shaft, and drive the Landcruiser in four-wheel-drive with the front wheels only providing the drive. It worked and we limped into Addis about two days later. On the way back to Nairobi the clutch started to go. I managed about seven hundred miles before coming to rest at Isiolo, two hundred miles from home. I took out the clutch (you need two or three jacks and half a dozen helpers for this), and I had a local tinker use pot-rivets to rejoin the plates; in spite of a swishing noise as the rivets hit the case, it got me home to Nairobi!

One should always carry a few extra brake union nuts, carefully blocked off with weld or epoxy putty, because when a brake pipe is knocked off or holed by the hostile terrain, rather than having to find perhaps several feet of brake pipe, it is easier to block off that particular brake and repair it later.

I cannot be enthusiastic enough about the Turfor hand-winch; this marvel has carried me into and out of some of the most impossible country in Africa, principally in Ethiopia where I have crossed ten-thousand foot mountain ranges, and deep rivers. The Turfor has a tremendous advantage over the usual electric, front-mounted car winch, you can attach it to front, back or sides. In the treeless dambos of Zambia, I have been forced to use a 'dead man': you bury a six-foot log, at least five foot down, with a chain up to the ground level, and then winch yourself forward or backward.

In south-west Zambia, I hit a stump and snapped the steering-rod completely in two! I used a jack handle wired to the useless steering rod with baling-wire, and wrapped several times around the tie-rod ends. It got us back to camp. In Rukwa, Southern Tanzania, my Landcruiser steering box broke, forcing me to drive two hundred miles to Mbeya with two poles tied roughly to the front bumper and the rear gun-rack, which allowed the two pilots in the back of the vehicle to push against the front-wheel tyres and guide the car in their estimation of the right direction.

Some time ago patches and puncture solution were difficult to obtain in East and Central Africa - this gave another meaning to the phrase 'down at heel' as far as professional hunters and other bush-men were concerned. The Bata safari boot at that time boasted a rubber heel, which when cut-off and soaked in petrol was converted into a formidable glue for attaching a patch, cut from an old inner-tube.

Regarding the towing of vehicles: never go too fast, keep a steady pull on the towed vehicle, and try not brake without slowing your vehicle on the engine first, making full use of your gears. Where possible the rear vehicle should take on the duty of braking the front vehicle.

Finally: on safari (as in life), whatever befalls you, remain calm, and should no answer or solution be in sight, make a cup of tea at once and sit down. Help or inspiration will soon arrive.


(Taken from the Safaritalk article "The Safari Africa Cook Book: Recipes & Recollections of African Adventures".)

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#2 Traveldaddy

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 09:41 AM

Great advice GW. It's so dangerous to be out in the bush if you have not fully prepared for it, and as you have outlined in this article there are still many people who will venture out with little or no thought for if and when things go wrong.

Really informative, and hopefully eye-opening article. I hope that anyone who is planning a self-drive excursion reads this information and puts it into practice.

Keep it up GW.

#3 armchair bushman

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 12:43 PM

What a great article!!!

#4 twaffle

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 11:46 PM

Puts my dreams of African self drive into perspective.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#5 luangwablondes

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 01:26 AM

The funny thing is, with all the electronics in vehicles nowadays, its almost safer to be in an old landy. The series landy is fairly basic and with some ingenuity you can get it back on track. Not so with the modern vehicle. When someone hires a vehicle, I tell them a sat phone should be at the top of the list for required equipment.

#6 tripsinafricaJA

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 02:11 PM

Very good article, you need some ingenuity a sense of determination and tea to help you overcome any mishaps that may befall you. I liked this as I'm thinking about driving to Nairobi from the Uk soon.
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#7 graynomad

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 03:36 PM

I drank the wine first

Classic :)

 

Great stuff and equally valid in Oz. You didn't mention more than one spare wheel/tyre and being able to fix them in the bush.

 

As for new vehicles, I hate them with a passion for outback travel, I'm an electronics engineer but could think of nothing worse than having a computer control anything in a car more important than the radio. The stories I've heard about computers stuffing up boggle the mind. For example a friend's new MAN truck refused to go because it though the brake linings were worn, who the hell cares, you need to get back to a town brakes or no brakes. I once drove an old Hilux from Litchfield NP into Darwin with no clutch, God only knows what a computer would have done in that case.

 

As I'm fond of saying, you can't jam a sapling into a computer to make it work.

 

As for my dream vehicle, this was it

 

30442.jpg

 

Note the spare wheels and tyres on the roof and the cable for my Tirfor winch. Ah happy days.


Edited by graynomad, 03 February 2013 - 03:39 PM.

GRAYnomad, aka Rob Gray, nature photographer and electronics nerd. http://www.robgray.com "Scattered showers my arse" -- Noah, 2348BC.

#8 egilio

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 10:13 PM

Nice! I've driven a landie withouth  clutch (which you don't really need to shift gears :D ) and no brakes at the same time. Made the ride a bit more exciting at times :D.

 

Love the picture of your old cruiser!!!


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#9 A&M

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 03:41 AM

Also ,a very important point never leave your car,no matter what,somebody will find you ,like the author says ,sit down and make some tea.

 

Love the cruiser graynomad.

 
 


#10 graynomad

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 04:29 AM

never leave your car

Same rule here, every time someone dies it's because they left the car. That said if you can see a river and you have no water then go for it, as long as you can find your way back.

 

In the bush that's not as easy as most people think. I know somebody who just went for a midnight wee, turned around and realised he had no idea where his camp was, very easy to do in the pitch dark. Having made that first fundamental mistake at least he didn't make the second one and go looking for the camp, he sat right down where he was until dawn.

 

That was a great car. I used to love rocking up to the remotest part of say the Kimberley and plonking my $5000 old banger amongst the $100,000 tricked-out Prados and whatever. I'd get to the same place and have $95,000 more in the bank...which I needed to pay for the petrol, that thing used to guzzle it like there was no tomorrow, I had 8 jerry cans in the back. :)


GRAYnomad, aka Rob Gray, nature photographer and electronics nerd. http://www.robgray.com "Scattered showers my arse" -- Noah, 2348BC.

#11 Swahealy 43

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 05:17 PM

Love these topics!! Have often wanted to self drive in Namibia and these are the kind of articles that give good advice. That said it does also make it all seem a bit daunting with all the tech and winches lol!  If have no mechanical experience so would at least take a crash course it that so I at least knew the basics. I also think an ability to keep calm helps. And great advice have read on many of these threads is never to leave the vehicle. If they are looking for you it will be the easiest thing to spot. Oh and the other thing is that if you can, to give someone your projected route and time/number of days/itinerary of how long you plan to be out there. If hiring that could be where you pick the vehicle up from. That seems my bit of common sense from a novice point of view. I will do it one day!! And take off road lessons lol!!!



#12 graynomad

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 12:20 AM

 

I've driven a landie withouth  clutch

Me to on several occasions in various vehicles.

 

@Swahealy 43, I wouldn't get to worried about winches and technical FWDing, all that knowledge will do is get you further into the poo :) Just choose where you drive. That said the more experience you have with such things the better I suppose, and some mechanical knowledge can help a lot.

 

I've seen people hopelessly bogged, I lowered the tyre pressures and away they went. Heck I even found a couple who didn't know to put the front hubs in, they were bogged to the rear axle and going nowhere, turn two knobs and off they go.

 

On another occasion I encountered people who were stranded in a rental in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception. The problem was a simple broken fan belt, they couldn't even diagnose that let alone fix it.

 

And one final anecdote, some German backpackers who at least had made an effort but when they put the spark plug leads back on the car would only run on 1 or 2 cylinders. I asked if the HT leads had been replaced correctly, Yah yah, they are all different lengths. I looked and found that the distributor was placed in the centre of the engine, therefore the leads were symmetrical, ie the lead for cylinder #1 was the same length as the one for #6 etc. After swapping a few leads the motor ran just fine.

 

And then there's the time I hit a bull at 80MPH...and the Japanese tourists with the immobiliser...

 

Oh that's enough, catch me around the campfire one day and fill me with beer :)


GRAYnomad, aka Rob Gray, nature photographer and electronics nerd. http://www.robgray.com "Scattered showers my arse" -- Noah, 2348BC.

#13 Swahealy 43

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 08:59 PM

That seems like an enticing proposition!!!! I will pay for the beer!!:) One day I will get down under and would love to wild camp. Nothing beats a campfire and swapping some ripping yarns!! Real and imaginary!!







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