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".)