Monday, September 28, 2015

They Were The Best of Times, etc...

About a month ago, after more than a year apart, we were finally reunited with Ndoto, our 1973 Series III Land Rover in Africa. We worried if she would be just the way we left her, or if she would be there at all. Emails sent to her minder/mechanic had gone unanswered of late. We began to say, “What will be, will be” and “If she’s gone, I hope that she’s having another grand adventure” and we made plans to fly back to Africa anyway. Though “plans” is stretching it. The time we should have spent thinking about an itinerary, much less planning one, were mostly taken over with readying our home for lease. How did we not notice that leak in the roof before? Or the dry rot on the deck that had to be removed, repaired, and resurfaced? Or that crack in the tank on the toilet? And why did the washer and dryer have to go kaput in the same week? In fact, there were lots of kaput things on the house. If we hadn’t noticed them, our German tenant would have I’m sure. I’m sure because I’m half German. It’s my Do it Right, or Don’t Do it at All side. The other side, the Irish part, usually wants to have a beer and think about it tomorrow like that O'Hara Irishwoman. So if we had leased our home to an Irishman or if I’d been in a more Irish mood leading up to our departure, I might have used epoxy on the toilet tank and been done with it. But I knew that wouldn’t be right because our tenant is German not Irish. At least this was the excuse I used to get Scott to do things that have long been on my wish list for the house. “I’m German. Believe me, we must buy the nice Kohler toilets and a new washer and dryer too, and paint the walls….” I also lobbied for a re-do of our bedroom closet but Scott put his foot down saying, “Look Scarlet, we’ll think about doing that when we return in ten months” which means we’ll have a beer instead which is actually fine by me. “Plus, they don’t seem that picky to me,” said Scott.
“I didn’t say they were picky.” And they aren’t. They are very nice and their 2-year-old son loves elephants as much as I do.

In between trips to Home Depot or Kelly Moore Paint, we took care of business. We had the usual,"We can't really afford to be gone for ten months. But we can't afford not to go. Life is short" discussion. We also spent some time updating our wills. There’s nothing like an impending flight to Africa that spurs us on to think about the future—if not for ourselves, then for our heirs.

And then there was our wild thing, our cat Pika. We had to find a home for Pika for the ten months we planned to be away. Generous friends and neighbors offered to take her, but they had cats or dogs or both, and Pika is like Greta Garbo in that she vants to be alone. Enter my best friend since first grade Bonnie Fine Johnson (growing up, if she responded, “I’m okay” I’d always say, “No you’re not. You’re Fine! Hahaha!”) Bonnie and her husband had recently lost their cat Simba. “Can’t we take her?” she asked. This was a perfect solution. Except for one thing. Bonnie lives 6 hours away and Pika only tolerates car rides of up to 30 seconds. Suffice to say, I lost a lot of sleep worrying about how I would get Pika to Susanville. I asked friends for advice and they said, “Sedate her.” I asked the vet and she said, “Sedate her.” But Pika gets morose on sedation so I knew that wasn’t going to be any better than her yowling and barfing for 6 hours in her zebra stripped kitty carrier.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but the night before Pika and I were to make the journey to Bonnie’s I tried a different set of search terms on the Internet. It turns out “Traveling long distances in a car with a wigged out cat” elicited the answer I needed. I scrolled through the results and all answers were the same. “Kitty Calm.” “Use Kitty Calm.” “Kitty Calm saved our marriage.”

First thing next morning I was at Petco buying a spray bottle of Kitty Calm. A short but assertive blast into her carrier and onto her favorite blankie ten minutes before departure was all it took. I put her in the carrier and she assumed a position that remained unchanged for the entire journey. The stuff is magic. Or perhaps it was the soothing British accent used by the reader of Circling the Sun, the book on tape that we listened to without pause the entire way. When I pick her up in ten months I’m going to pop Circling the Sun into the CD player again, but without an assist from Kitty Calm and I will report back the results.

Pika, I am happy to report, is being loved and spoiled by Bonnie and her husband Scott and is becoming more Garbo-esque by the day.

In addition to house repairs, and a long drive with Greta, something else took up the time we should have spent planning an itinerary. Scott was flying. He was doing a lot of flying. He was so close to earning a private pilot license from the FAA, something he has been trying to achieve off and on since he was sixteen, and he wanted to finish all his requirements before we left. I knew he would pass. Everyone we know had no doubts he would pass. But he exhibited an uncommon lack of confidence in the two months leading up to the examinations. Adding to the stress was that Scott didn’t want to book Africa flights until he passed the exams. “Just focus on your flying and we’ll book the tickets once you have passed your tests,” I said not really meaning it but trying to be supportive. Friends and family began offering spare beds beginning September 1st when our tenants would move in and I thought about a road trip back to Susanville to see Pika. On August 27th,  four days before our tenants moved in, Scott came from the airfield and said, “I’m going to go ahead and book the flights to Africa. If I don’t pass the test, I’ll just do it when we get back.”

But of course on August 31st at 5P.M., the day before our departure to Africa, he did pass.
Let this be a lesson to you kids. Don’t ever give up on your dreams. But don't drink all the champagne in one night.

We had so much champagne (thank you Howells for the bubbly) that we forgot about all the things remaining on our punch list. The next morning, as our tenants were moving in, we were still packing our bags. Our tenant Christian was incredibly understanding and I got to show his little boy Roger the rusty live-size baby elephant named Clover that sits in the corner of the backyard.

And Ndoto?  Clarry at Bushmaster in Hoedspruit wasn’t ignoring our emails, he was busy working on Ndoto! She had been well very taken care of and was running better than ever.
"You know, you are over invested in this old Landy," Clarry said to Scott.
"Yes, I know that but my wife loves this car," and he looked over at me already sitting in the co-pilot seat. "I'm so happy I could cry," I said as we left.

Scott and I drove into Kruger Park and to Timbavati. We drove in and out of Hoedspruit. We got to meet a sweet little girl named Sanne and see some of our Southern Hemisphere friends.

The evening we picked up Ndoto I installed a brand new memory foam mattress to her rooftop tent then made the bed with soft new sheets and plush duvet. “We’re home,” I said to Scott as he poured the first Gin and Tonic of our new adventure. Ndoto sat tall on her rebuilt chassis and murmured quietly on her new pistons. The steering was tighter, but we no longer had to downshift to second to climb hills. It was all so wonderfully perfect. For two weeks everything was going so well. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Then, on our way back into the Kruger Park, this happened:

Back in Hoedspruit, Clarry and his Indy 500 Pit Crew, leaning into Ndoto like a team of ER surgeons, had the engine apart faster than you can say, "How much does it cost to repair a cracked block?"
But since Clarry is a miracle worker, I think she’ll soon be as good as a 43-year-old Landy can be and get us where we want to go.

 Kruger Park, South Africa, in a Land Rover Discovery loaner.

Next: “I Will Speak Well of You Constable, on Facebook and Everywhere!”