Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Test Drive to Angies’ G-Spot

The mechanical examination of N’doto was behind us and Easter weekend was upon us. Given that Hein and Karl were present at N'doto's diagnostic visit I thought it a little surprising when they both suggested that we might enjoy a few days at Angie’s G-Spot located in a valley at the bottom of a steep pass.

“How bad is the road? Is it worse than the seven passes road that we took back from George where we bought the tent?” I asked.

“It’s worse, yeah, but you’ll make it. It can be cold up there so bring an extra blanket,” said Hein.

“I admit that a place called Angie’s G-Spot sounds intriguing but I’m worried about taking N’doto on rough, steep roads before she’s serviced. Besides that, the high lift jack we ordered hasn’t come in yet. What if we get a puncture? We’re just getting used to right hand steering and lift side driving, and we aren’t too good at either yet.” I paused, trying not to sound like a nervous Nellie….  “Wait a minute, isn’t this the same road that you took a spill on your motorbike a few weeks ago? The steep, gravel road with the hairpin turns? The motorbike that’s been in the shop since then?”

“Yeah, but you’ll make it,” he said with a smile. “Harold and Angie have a great little place. It’s very remote. No electricity but you can set up camp along the river, they have a great bar, and they do meals.”

Scott phoned to see if a camping spot was available and Angie said, “Yes, please come!”

We looked at each other. I said, “It would be good to do a test run.” Scott added, “We have everything we need but a ladder for the tent.” So off we went with camp food and wine and Karl’s ladder.

After 13 kilometers on the gravel road we met the huge machine that had graded the road behind us. “No wonder it didn’t seem so bad,” Scott said as he hit the first pothole. Then we climbed. And climbed and turned and climbed and slid and bumped along on the most treacherous road I have ever been on. The hillside fell away from the road so suddenly and steeply that it was like driving along a 40 kilometer long L-bracket. While Scott kept his arms busy shifting and steering, I practiced my Swahili. “Hatari!” Danger! “Edge. Edge. EDGE!” I warned repeatedly. We couldn’t drive in the center of the road because the left side and the right side together were the center. After getting eaten by a particularly bad set of pot holes, there was a new clunking sound coming from the right wheel.

Forty-five minutes later, after we had found that of the three stick shifts poking through the floor board, the one with the red handle was an extra low gear, I began to relax. N’doto was now making her way up the mountain without stalling and there were no other vehicles coming either way (which meant it was also the inaugural drive in N’doto when we were not passed by at least 30 vehicles.) Then we began to smell smoke. We rounded a bend and an entire mountain side opened up in front of us completely engulfed in flames. The billowing smoke spread across the valley like storm clouds. Did I mention it was windy? The flames jumped and raced and danced up the slopes. It was the first forest fire, the first inferno I have ever seen up close. How close? So close that if N’doto had stalled I’m not sure we could have outrun the flames. 

“Should we turn back?” I asked ridiculously.  There was no turning back because there was no turning around. The road was so narrow we would have had to go back down the mountain for 30 kilometers. We hadn’t passed a farm, a scenic overlook (no room for one), or a pullout since leaving the N2, (or as Marius called it, the N-Tuna.)

“We’ll make it,” Scott said quietly.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?!”

About 15 minutes later we spotted a few buildings and a red Coca Cola sign pointing to Angie’s G-Spot. We were welcomed in gracious South African style, offered a drink, and pointed in the direction of the river where we could set up camp and unfold my house for the night.

We set up our chairs and enjoyed a beer at the river’s edge. We stopped short of setting up camp because as we sipped our beers the wind shifted. The sky became smokier and a few flakes of ash landed on Scott’s shoulder. A dog named Black and another named Cruiser came for a visit. A pig named Chiquila wandered by.

“Oh man. I wonder where the rest of this road leads. Maybe we should carry on.” I said more than a little worried. “I’ll go ask as the bar if they’ve had any news about the fires.”

Harold and Angie were in Plettenburg Bay doing their shopping but a friend of theirs was minding the place in their absence. “What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Well, I’m a little worried about these fires. Have you heard anything?”

“You’ll be fine,” said the barkeep. "You’ll have plenty of notice if we need to evacuate.” Then he added emphatically, “Don’t worry, you’ll make it.” Why does everyone keep saying that?!

I walked back along the river, checking the depth should it become necessary to lay down in it to escape the flames. But it was more creek than river. Behind me, storm clouds were building.

I found Scott sitting where I left him, only a few more flakes of ash resting on his shoulders.

“Well, I’ve been assured that we have nothing to worry about. Let’s set up our bedroom.”

We had it almost completely set up, me on the roof and Scott up the back on Karl’s ladder attaching the rain fly, when the skies opened up and bombarded us with buckets and buckets of rain.

“Hooray!” I shouted back to Scott. “We do have that new clunk coming from the chassis but at least we don’t have to worry about the fire.”

We finished setting up and stood by the rear door under the half of the tent that hangs over the back until the storm finished. After wood fired hot showers (thanks to Lagos the groundskeeper), we retreated to the bar where we spent the evening getting to know Angie and Harold and hearing their stories. (Everyone here has an incredible story.)

“G-Spot doesn’t mean what you think,” said Harold as we were about to call it a night. “Six years ago we stopped at this spot on the river and Angie just kept saying, ‘This is so great. Just great.’ So we set about buying the land and building this spot. The G, (Great), Spot. Today is our 5 year anniversary of the opening.” Drinks all around.

Scott and Tris

Angie’s G-Spot, South Africa



Globetrekker, And Now, I Would Like to Have a Look at Your Hooter.

Any 1973 Land Rover, even if she’s named N’doto Jema (sweet dream), would need some tinkering before she’s fit to go out on African roads for a year. N’doto was no exception. Karl introduced us to his neighbor Hein who in turn introduced us to Niles at VIP Motors so that N’doto’s underside could get a once over up on a lift. The Landy was so high up on the lift that Karl, Scott, Hind, Niles, another mechanic and I could walk underneath her and examine her belly in all her age and mud-encrusted glory. For a while no one spoke. I broke the silence with, “Obviously, her beauty lies in her simplicity.” I received blank looks from Hein and Niles.  Karl smiled. Scott said, “Tris, you are so loyal….”

Hein, Niles, and the mechanic moved slowly underneath N’doto speaking in Africans and touching all her all over lightly as if they were tickling her tummy. Like doctors they made their diagnosis, Niles pointing to well-worn areas and prescribing while his mechanic jotted down (on two pages) the various treatments required. The felt oozing fluids, wiggled the wheels, examined the springs, kept anything flammable well away from the fuel tank, and ignored the exhaust system. The brakes disappointed and the bearings growled.

At the completion of the examination Niles made a comment and everyone laughed. “Hein, what did he say?” I asked.

“He said that you should buy another Land Rover and tow it behind you for spare parts.”

Ha ha. Ha.

On Tuesday, she goes back into the shop for a complete service; oil filter, lube, radiator flush.… A replacement fuel tank, and various other parts were ordered so that N’doto can obtain the certification of road worthiness required by South Africa. These repairs should happen between one and three weeks. Or “now-now” or “just now” or sometime.

Karl also introduced us to Marius, the automotive electrician whose shop is conveniently located just around the corner from Jembjo’s, Karl and Mandy’s guesthouse. Marius has a very thick Africans accent so we had to listen intently as he examined all the wires and connections. Her beauty lies in her simplicity but there were loose connections to the wind screen wipers, the tail lights, the horn, and various other spots. When Marius found two operating cigarette lighter sockets under the seat (for operation of a portable fridge) he repeated with quiet astonishment, “This works. Yes, this is working!” Marius repaired all the loose connections and installed a second, just in case, battery under the passenger seat which we have already used to chill wine in our portable fridge. Yes, life is good.

After the tail lights were lighting and wipers were wiping, Marius stretched and said, “And now, I will look at your hooter.”

“Uh, what?”

“I can fix your hooter now,” said Marius.

A few moments passed before Scott started chuckling, “Oh! Do you mean the horn?” Then Scott informed Marius that where we come from, horns are horns but breasts are sometimes referred to as hooters. Without missing a beat, Marius said, “In that case, you shall have two.”

Scott and Tris,

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

Heroic Efforts and a Lucy Moment



I feel as if I’ve been reborn – and it’s not just because since arriving in Africa my poo is the color of newborn baby poo. Due to the heroic efforts of 6 people (see video link below!) I was able to sleep in our rooftop tent for the first of what I hope to be more than 365 nights.

Scott spent all day in the driveway of Marius Electrical cutting away the rails of the roof rack so that the second hand Hannibal Rooftop Tent we purchased in a town about an hour from Knysna would fit on the roof rack of N’doto. Hours later, after all the cutting and grinding were done, Karl and Scott unbolted the rack from the roof, carried it down the street and around the corner, and set the rack, with tent on top, up on six stacks of bricks in the driveway of Karl and Mandy’s guesthouse.  The only thing left to do was attach the tent to the rack.


I might have been told, “Don’t touch it. It’s not attached yet.” But there she sat, her walls erected, and her doors wide open welcoming me with open arms. I couldn’t resist. I was dying to check out my new home. I waited until Karl went back into the house then crept into the tent on all fours. I was just past the center of the tent, the part that hinges, when the tent slowly folded up closing around me like a Venus Fly Trap clamping down on pesky insect. I began laughing. I thought, How funny that must have looked! A real Lucile Ball moment. And then I thought, Oh man. If someone had been around to record the slo mo collapse of tent around me, it would have become a YouTube sensation! A million hits at least. And then I thought, Uh oh. I’m trapped.

Only my head poked out the narrow opening.  There was nothing for my feet to brace against and the sides were too steep to pull myself out. I felt like mince at the bottom of a crispy taco- there was no way of escape. I was just about to swallow my pride and call for help when Karl and his contractor appeared in the driveway. I wish I could describe the look on their faces. I’ve never seen it before. Oh yes I have…. on Ricky Ricardo, and Fred and Ethel Mertz. The contractor, probably thinking sticking around would result in more work for him (even I wasn’t sure I hadn’t broken the tent), made a hasty departure out the gate. After briefly trying to pull me out (that was funny too), Karl handed me an empty jerry can which I used as a booster to climb out. To Scott’s credit, all he did when we told him what happened was laugh and shake his head.

I went back in the house where I could stay out of trouble. Scott and Karl bolted the tent to the rack and then the International A-Team made up of Scott, Mandy, Karl, and Jembjo’s guests Sarah Richardson, Susie, Andrea, and Jenny, with Fraser the Dog directing, lifted the entire unit up to the roof of N’doto.


That night there was a big party and a big storm and as fun as it was speaking with an African Trails truckload of over landers who had transited down from London, I could barely wait for bedtime to come. At around 8:30, at the first crack of thunder, I found Scott and shouted, “I’m going to batten down the hatches! See you there!” I climbed up on the hood, then up to the roof and into my little cozy nest complete with down comforter, pillows and zebra striped duvet cover. The storm unleashed her fury and the little tent (and the entire Land Rover), swayed to and fro rocking me to sleep. Some time later, Scott and Karl called up to me, “Room Service!”
My heroes had plated up a serving of the wonderful dinner for 30 prepared by Mandy, Karl, Sarah (not only a good cook – she’s also a doctor), and Susie and Billy (both veteran overland drivers.)
 Unbelievably thoughtful.  So much. So kind. So generous. My heart is so full that my chest hurts when I think of all Karl and Mandy have done for us, starting with babysitting N’doto in their driveway for over ten months when events beyond our control delayed our departure to Africa. As long as I live, I will never forget what they have done for us. 


Knysna, South Africa