Stuck in the Mud

Kgalagadi (2016): Part 1 – A disastrous first attempt!

This was to be our first visit to the South African side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, having had a brief visit to Mabuasehube in 2012. We decided that for this trip we’d stay in the SanParks accommodation and check on their camping facilities for future visits. Nossob was a must in my book and the rest of the bookings revolved around availability there. Our travel plan ended up as follows:

  • Leave Cape Town 26 August and over-night at Kalahari Guest House (Upington);
  • 27 and 28 August – Kalahari Tented Camp
  • 29 and 30 August – Twee Rivieren;
  • 31 August and 01 September – Nossob
  • 02 September – Kgalagadi Lodge
  • 03 September – Blou Nartjie (Calvinia)
  • 04 September – Home

We set off from Cape Town at 6:00am on Friday 26 August. We’ve always loved the drive up north through Ceres, Clanwilliam, Calvinia and beyond. It was no different that day. The scenery was as beautiful as ever and the spring flowers were just starting to show themselves. Life was good!

Just after 10:00am, with about 50kms to go to get to Calvinia, disaster struck. I felt a loss of power and a few seconds after that the engine shut down. Fortunately there was plenty of room on the verge of the road to pull over and park. Even for a non-mechanically minded person like myself I knew we were in trouble. An inspection of the engine confirmed it…a strong smell of burning oil and no water in the expansion tank told the story. A cooked engine. A BIG oops!!

A photo of the engine with me in the background

On my way to inspect the damage

A view of the broken thermostat housing which caused a sudden loss of water and then overheating

The cause of the cooked engine…the broken housing which accounted for the sudden loss of water and over-heating of the engine

We were lucky to have cell phone reception (albeit patchy and weak) and I phoned the Automobile Association (AA) to arrange for recovery and transport back to Cape Town. After a couple of phone calls they confirmed that a contractor from Calvinia would collect us and take us home.

A picture of me looking a bit grumpy

Grumpy old man…it was a boring and stressful wait on the side of the road

A view of the flowers on the verge of the road

At least we had some flowers to look at!

We waited, and we waited, and we waited some more. Finally, just after 3:00pm, the contractor arrived in a twin cabbed bakkie and a roll-on trailer. We had our misgivings…the set-up didn’t look fit for purpose. We assumed though that he knew best.

After greetings and introductions we were told that we’d be taken on to Calvinia for a “rest and freshen-up” before heading back to Cape Town. I thanked him for his concern but pointed out that we’d already been “resting” for the past 5 hours while waiting for him. We’d much prefer to avoid travelling another 50kms further before heading back home again. He said that this had been the agreement with the AA consultant. I told him that it hadn’t been discussed with me by the AA and that I wasn’t prepared to waste time going on.

To cut a long story a bit shorter, another hour was wasted trying to resolve the issue with the AA. Eventually it was decided that we’d be taken back to Nieuwoudtville (about 15km) and that another contractor would be found to meet us there and take us home.

The trip to Nieuwoudtville confirmed our suspicions about the bakkie and trailer…it started fishtailing at less than 50km/h. Fortunately the driver managed to control things but it was a frightening experience.

We spent another hour parked next to the main street of Nieuwoudtville waiting for the AA to make alternative arrangements. It came as no surprise when we were eventually told that a towing contractor from Klawer would only be able to collect us the next morning and that we’d have to find a place to sleep over that night.

Pippa walked to a farm stall down the road from where we were parked to ask for some help to find a room. It was a very busy weekend for the locals though (with the spring flowers starting to bloom) and all the accommodation in town and the surrounds was booked out.

The good folk at the farm stall spent an hour phoning everyone they could think of to help us find somewhere to stay. Eventually they found a place with a couple who had just finished renovating a room and who were about to set up a B&B. So, 12 hours after leaving home the Calvinia contractor off-loaded us (and the Land Rover) in their yard. We were their first B&B customers!

A view of our car parked in the yard of our hosts for the night

Frustrating to see the car looking perfectly normal parked in the yard. Lovely sunset though!

The silver lining out of all the frustrations and worries through the day was the fantastic response from fellow travelers and the Nieuwoudtville residents. We were amazed at the number of people who stopped to offer us help and to make sure that we had water and food while we waited to be collected.

We had a pleasant evening in spite of the disastrous day. Our hosts were very friendly and invited us to have a braai with them and their neighbour. We weren’t in any mood for that so declined the invitation but enjoyed having a drink and a brief chat with them outside our room.

A view of me sitting outside our room

My little place outside our room

At 9:00 the next morning we were very relieved to see a proper rig arrive. Our car was quickly winched onto the back of the truck and Pippa and I scrambled up into the cab with Sarel the driver. The trip home took about 5 hours and was actually very pleasant. We were both really impressed with Sarel’s driving and his courteousness to other road users.

A view from the cab of the tow truck

A view from the cab of the tow truck

Hope springs eternal and it wasn’t long after we’d settled into our comfort zone at home that I suggested to Pippa that MAYBE things weren’t as bad as they looked and MAYBE the guys at the workshop would find no serious damage to the engine and MAYBE we could be on our way again by about lunchtime on Monday!

It was a long weekend waiting for the car to be collected and assessed!

Monday morning arrived and the car was collected and taken to the workshop. An hour later our hopes of a reprieve were dashed…no quick fix to that engine!

Part 2 to follow.

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