Go West Young Man

Who coined that phrase?

Somehow, whenever I had worked my self in to a situation from which there seemed to be no escape or no future, I wanted to get as far away from it as possible. I had had a failed romance, a mediocre job and now I was being sought after, by the Police. Nothing serious though. It was just a little insurance matter that had to be cleared up especially as I had been driving around in an un-registered vehicle.

I looked at the contents of my wallet and wondered just how far I would get with that. I decided to head for South West Africa, a place as far away as I could imagine from my troubles in the Transvaal. After all, I had been there before on a previous occasion and liked the place very much. I drove out into the setting sun.

My journey took me to Mafeking and down along the Molopo River to Tweefontein at the southern ends of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. I slept in the car for one night and continued on my journey at first light. Not having been to the National Perk before I decided that I would do that journey and see some wildlife along the way.

I met an old man who was sitting under a tree on the side of the road and feeling like having a bit of company I stopped and asked.

“What’s the road like from here to Tweefontein?”

“Oh, it is reasonable, Boss, he said, Just got to watch out for the corrugationers, they get really bad sometimes, you know. You wouldnt have a smoke, Boss?”

I gave him a couple of cigarettes.

Those were the days when smoking was the pastime of the rich and famous or so the advertorials said.
I started smoking at the age of 12 and smoked for 20 years before realising what it was doing to my wellbeing. One day at age 31, I crunched up my cigarette packet and declared that I would never smoke again. And I never did!!

I pushed on and arrived at Tweefontein in the late afternoon. The National Park camp had bungalow accommodation and I slept well under the thatched roof. The next morning I was up and in to the park at dawn savouring the cool still air of the early hours. I had advised the staff of the park that I would be exiting on the way to Aranos. They told me to take care as there had been some heavy rain and washaways along the road.

My journey took me along the Aoub River through thorny acacia plains and in the dune corridors. I saw a variety of animals and had quite a close encounter with a group of hyenas. I had stopped for lunch under the shade of a Mopani tree and had the windows of the car open. When in African game reserves you may not get out of your vehicle as there is a distinct possibility that you may become a food source for carnivorous predators. The hyenas must have smelt my meat sandwiches because they appeared out of nowhere. Next thing I knew they were sniffing around the car. Hyenas are real chance takers in life and will exploit any opportune moment to further their interests. I decided to try a ploy and balanced a piece of meat on the open window sill whilst sitting with my back to the passenger door with my camera in hand. Sure enough, before long a great muzzle appeared at the window and snatched the meat away. I took a reasonably good photo considering that I only had a box type camera at my disposal.

I moved on to the next waterhole and saw more game including lions which was a great thrill. The Kalahari Desert lions are quite different to those which inhabit the eastern areas of Africa.

By mid afternoon I drove through the exit point and enquired about the road to the north. There had been some rain, the park rangers said, but by now the roads should be dry. I drove on through a landscape which was becoming more desolate as I moved north. There were several salt pans to cross and the road had become quite slippery in places due to the rains. I came to a section that was very chopped up by large tyre tracks and in manoeuvring my way through this maze the car became stuck on a mud ridge. I looked at my predicament and decided that in order to extricate the car it would require jacking up and some soil excavation underneath. I set to work and whilst working towards my goal I heard a vehicle approaching. A large Jeep four wheel drive vehicle loomed into view. It had tinted windows which obscured the driver. The electric window slipped down with a whine. “Got a bit of trouble, eh?” said the face behind the dark glasses. The voice sounded familiar. I was peering out from halfway beneath the car and got up off the ground to talk to the driver. :I dont believe it!” I exclaimed. It was my classmate Tienie, from schooldays five years prior.

Tienie used the power of his four wheel drive to pull my car out of the mud and we drove our vehicles to a safer vantage and sat down for a chat to catch up on what had been happening in the past five years in our lives. Tienie was working for an earthmoving company up in the north of South West Africa where he was the site manager in charge of earthworks to a new dam. He was on his way to Upington to get new parts for an earthmoving machine. He gave me a mud map on how to get to his construction site and told me to wait for him as he would only be a day or so before he got back and that I was to give a message to his foreman by the name of Spanner.

I set off for the town of Gobabis and beyond. Spanner was quite a character of Namibian indigenous extraction and a flippant sense of humour. We got on well and passed the days working on the machinery and telling tales from the bush. On the second night of my stay at the camp Tienie arrived back with the parts for the machinery and also a spare alternator for his truck. We set about repairing the vehicles and then Tienie and his sidekick had to get back to work and I had to make my way north to Windhoek to find work. We promised to stay in touch.

I soon found work in Windhoek with a farmers co-operative company, BSB, and started immediately driving out to isolated and remote properties to collect Karakul lamb pelts. The farmers slaughter a percentage of day-old lambs during the lambing season and then the pelts are cured and dried and eventually exported overseas for use in the production of evening wear for ladies. I often wondered if whether those fashionable ladies ever knew of the circumstances of the manufacture of their gowns and stoles. They would probably have been thoroughly disgusted. Anyway, my job was to go out to the farms and vie for their business as there were other firms in the marketplace doing the same. Normally I would ring the various farms to see if the owners wanted any items or produce from town which our company would supply on a credit basis. I was given a Ford F100 utility vehicle and an assistant to help with loading and unloading. Most nights we were guests of one or other farmer but some nights we camped out in the scrub in our swags. On the fringe of the Kalahari Desert areas we normally lit a large fire at night so as to ward off possible predators such as lions and hyenas. On one very memorable trip we were motoring down along the highway to the south of Windhoek when I heard a clicking noise coming from the front of the vehicle. The utility had just had four new tyres fitted and the tyre company had neglected to tighten all the wheel nuts. At a 120 kilometres per hour the left hand front wheel came off and headed for the bush. The nose of the truck dipped and soon we were running on the wheel hub with sparks flying in the air. I hung on to the steering wheel as I would not dare to touch the brakes and we skidded on the tarmac for a couple of hundred metres. My assistant, Klaas, a Damara tribesman, who was very religious, started praying aloud with his hands clasped in front of his face. Maybe that is what saved us as we came to a grinding halt a few metres off the side of the road pushing a bow-wave of sand with the front bumper bar. As we stopped, Klaas said Amen! We inspected the damage and I sent Klaas off to look for the wheel. It is amazing just how far a speeding wheel can travel and Klaas took a full half hour to retrieve the wheel which had bounced its way through the scrub for almost one kilometre. There was only one thing to do. I would hitch a lift back in to town and get another truck. Then we would have to shift the load over which included two drums of diesel fuel and some heavy bags of stockfeed. This took almost half of the day and we had to wait for the tow truck to arrive to remove our damaged truck as it was un-driveable and one could not abandon the vehicle as parts may be pilfered by passers-by.

We continued our journey into the desert region in the afternoon and, not knowing the road ahead, was surprised by a windrow of sand which grabbed hold of the front wheel and spun the steering wheel out pf my hand. Luckily we were travelling slowly and the truck just lurched into the bush and came to a halt, rocking from side to side.

“Oh! Good Heavens, Boss” exclaimed Klaas, “the Lord is rightly on our side today. Our time has not come yet, thankyou Lord!”

I smiled, as Klaas was to repeat this phenomenon over and over again. Darkness caught us still 100 kilometres from our first customer. We camped on the lee side of a sand dune and after lighting a fire and eating from our supplies of tinned food we slept soundly until first light when the Lourie bird woke us from our slumbers.

My weekends were taken up going down to Marienthal where Tienie met up with his fiance. She had won a beauty competition the previous year and had been crowned Miss South West Africa. She was indeed a very good looking girl. She had two sisters as well of equal good looks and I cottoned on to the elder one. The girls’ family had a speedboat and we would frequently go skiing on the Marienthal Dam, a vast expanse of water, in this desperately dry country. We had some good times there. But I blotted my copy book by getting a little drunk one day and driving my car into ditch close to the girls’ home and was told that I need not darken their doorstep again. So ended a time of great fun and loving.

Some months later Tienie sent me a letter to say that he was now working even further north in the vicinity of Tsumeb. I decided to go up to visit him there and set off from Windhoek on a Friday afternoon. About 50 kilometres out of Grootfontein my Vauxhall developed engine trouble and the big end bearing collapsed, spilling oil out on to the road and seizing the engine so that I was going nowhere, fast. There I sat stranded in the dark until a kindly soul towed me in to town. My car was diagnosed with an expensive engine rebuild and that was that! I hitch-hiked back to Windhoek,. The parts would have to be sourced from Johannesburg, in South Africa, so it would be a month or before I would have the car running again.

Leaving my car in the hands of the mechanic, I hitch-hiked back to Windhoek on the Sunday, and managed to get back to the hostel where I was staying in time for a sleep before taking to the road on the Monday morning again. Weeks passed into months and I worked and played and got in to all the things a young bloke would. Then, one day, out of the blue, Tienie arrived at my place of work and invited me out to dinner. That evening we met in the lounge of the Kaiserkrohne Hotel. Accompanying Tienie was an older bloke by the name of Jaco.

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