Land Rover

Buying a car

By the time I completed my FAO “Andre Mayer” assignment I was already involved in collaborating with other colleagues of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) on the on-going work on the resistance of cattle to tick infestations. With Robin we had achieved good results so ICIPE was interested in the continuation of my work. As I enjoyed both, being in Kenya and the work I decided to stay as a research scientist of the Tick Programme, still led by Matt. Some time afterwards Matt became Deputy Director until his untimely and sad passing on 3 August 1985.

The end of the FAO assignment not only meant writing a final report but also the return to the local FAO Office in Kenya of our beloved VW kombi. At the time we lived in Tigoni, 30 km far from Nairobi, and a car was a necessity for my wife to get to her job at the Commercial Office of the Embassy of Argentina in Nairobi and for me to get to Muguga from where I would be working. ICIPE did not offer cars to its employees and all cars were managed through a car pool that I would only be able to use for field trips when booked in advance.

n kinangop safari rally kombi

Our kombi during the rains.

We required a car that would not only be able to do our daily “rat race” but also to be able to take us and, more importantly, bring us back from the many safaris we had in mind! So, after considering the ideal and the possible we decided to go for a short-wheel base Series III Land Rover. Both series II and III Landies were common in Kenya at the time and I have had ample opportunity to test them during my many trips to Intona without a hitch.

We needed to find the car fast, before handing back our kombi so we immediately started to check the classified adverts in the Nairobi newspapers. For a few days we only saw vehicle offers that were either too expensive for us or suspiciously cheap to be in the desired condition. Eventually, after about a week of searching, we found an advert that offered one, very reasonably priced, considering that it was a 1975 model and that the price included a number of useful camping items!

We phoned the seller and agreed for a visit the following morning, as we were rather anxious to get the car. At the agreed time we were driving through Lenana road near the Hurlingham area looking for the car, when suddenly there it was, being washed by the house’s gardener. We drove in and walked straight to the car. The gardener greeted us and allowed to have a good look at it. It was a real beauty and I would not let it go. While I was sitting inside looking at the gear levers, another car drove in and I thought “Oh dear, there comes another buyer with more money!”.

It was a lady and she came straight towards us. “Who are you?” she said. Her tone rather unfriendly I thought. “I am interested in the Land Rover and, as we agreed with your husband, I believe, we came to have a look at it” I replied. “I am not married and the car is not for sale!” she replied still rather curtly. At that moment I realized that our anxiety to find the car we needed had got the best of us and, seeing the car, we drove in without looking at the house number! Feeling foolish (yes, another time!) and after apologizing profusely to the now calmer lady owner, we departed in haste. I regretted tha the gardener may have got an “ear full” because of our carelessness.

Apart from being upset at our mistake I was feeling rather disappointed as I really liked the car and I was fully aware that the possibilities that the one we were to see would be in a similar condition would be rather difficult. However, now carefully checking the house numbers, we drove a couple of blocks down the road and found the right house.

This time the owner was waiting for us and brought us to the car while telling us that they were selling it as they were returning to the UK and would not take the car as it was a left hand drive (LHD) model, designed to drive on the opposite side of the road. That was a disadvantage that explained its low price. Aware of this shortcoming we decided to look at it as we were there. It looked like a well-kept car, worth having.

My wife and I held a short consultation and decided that, considering our situation, the car would be suitable and arranged to get our mechanic to check it the following day. He confirmed that it was sound so we bought it. The price (Stg 1,500) included two petrol tanks and two jerry cans, various mechanical tools, a roof rack where a tailor-made mattress would fit perfectly and then it would be covered by a frame with a thick canvas that would be a veritable, though home-made, rooftop tent and one that would shelter us a few times on safari.

The issue of being a LHD never bothered us as, not being a fast car, the difficulties of overtaking at speed were rare. The car only misfired once after crossing a flooded river and its ignition system dried by the ubiquitous “fundi”, it went well again. I still have the jerry cans and the roof canvas. Unfortunately, the mattresses flew off undetected during one of the crossings of the Mara plains during an ill-fated journey during which -heavily loaded for some reason- also the back door failed as it popped open scattering all our belongings for a stretch of road until I managed to stop the car to collect them!

It was still a success at sale time when leaving Kenya in 1989 to go to Ethiopia. We sold for twice what we had paid for. The only time when we have made money for one of our used vehicles!

mabel on l rover...

My wife looking for footprints.

Land Rover Kakamega forest

Being cautious at a Kakamega forest bridge.

turkana safari 6

On the way to Koobi Fora in Turkana with Else and Paul.

turkana safari

Again, during the trip to Koobi Fora with Paul’s Land Rover.

turkana safari 3

Stuck on arrival at Koobi Fora lake shore and being pulled out by Paul.

northern frontier 1

Through Amboseli dry lake. Well, rather wet that time, hence the picture to show this rather unusual situation!

Land Rover M Mara with Mc on top

The great experience of riding on the roof!

jj y mc en amboseli 8.45.15 PM

Young wife and Bushsnob posing on the Land Rover!

 

 

 

An Amphibious Land Rover

I mentioned earlier that I worked as a veterinary practitioner in Uruguay for four years after my graduation in 1975. It was after a couple of years of this work that the events narrated here took place.

It was a luminous autumn day that, as usual, started very early with a mate breakfast[1] before going to work at the clinic. The latter, as most clinics in Uruguay, was a mix of agro-business (belonging to a third party) with our clinic attached to it. At the time we were three partners, myself being the newest.

The shop was a popular meeting place, close to the main bank and it was normally busy. Apart from customers seeking to purchase agriculture-related products as well as getting advice on veterinary issues from us, there were friends and hangers-on all the time. That morning was not an exception and, when I got there, Gerardo, one of my partners was talking animatedly with one of the visitors, Pozzo, a well known farmer from a neighbouring farming area.

The topic of conversation was the then-current situation of the River Plate which was undergoing an extreme low tide that, according to a veteran like Pozzo, had not been seen since he had “use of a memory” as he put it. Pozzo was known as a colorful character reputed to eat eighteen fried eggs for breakfast among other colourful stories attached to his name!

Clearly the situation was interesting and I suggested that, once the business of the day was dealt with, we should go and investigate. Pozzo said he would join us, as he wanted to see what the Carmelo coastline looked like at low tide. So, before lunch the three of us climbed in my car and left for the beach, located a few kilometres away. At the time I had bought a 1959 Series II SWB Land Rover, after trading in my first car, a beautiful red and black voiturette Chrysler 1931 that was too expensive to run on paraffin leave alone petrol!

On arrival at the beach it was clear that the situation was extreme and I had never seen a sight like that before. There was no water for at least a couple of kilometres into the river where only wet sand could be seen except for the navigation channel where the river was still “wet”! Spectacular situations require equally remarkable responses… and I rose to the challenge! For some reason I hatched the idea of going down to the beach and then to drive all they way to Conchillas to surprise my wife -then my girlfriend- with a glorious and an unexpected virgin voyage after 30 kilometres of beach drive!

With the agreement of my eager companions we set off driving over wet sand for a few kilometres without stopping, looking for possible Spanish galleons carrying gold that sunk during the conquest… Of course we found no trace of them but found a large and shallow lagoon where several rather large fish had become temporarily trapped. They were bogas (Leporinus obtusidens) a good fish both to catch and to eat. We watched their futile swims towards the normally deeper areas that ended in them almost coming out of the water! It was a unique sight as these were large fish, apparently doomed. After watching their comings and goings for a while we left to continue our journey.

The way ahead looked clear, apparently all the way and we felt encouraged to go on. So we climbed back to the car and I engaged first gear. The car did not move forward but rather down, or at least its rear end did. I revved the engine but -of course- made matters worse by sinking further into the wet sand. We got out to inspect the situation and realized that we were in a tight spot, particularly bearing in mind that the front wheel transmission in my ancient Land Rover had become somehow disconnected some time back and I had not repaired it!

So, it was a matter of digging and pushing, which we did for a while. After each attempt the car would move a bit and then sink again. We were in trouble! As if being stuck was not enough of a problem, we heard Pozzo say: “I think the tide is coming in”. As I revealed before, he had a reputation for being witty so we did not pay attention to his words and kept on digging frantically.

After a few minutes I could see that not only was he correct, but also that the water was coming in remarkably fast! After a few more attempts the water reached the wheels and the sand became liquid rendering all our efforts totally futile. As the loss of the car became a certain probability I reacted and decided to look for help ashore. “I will go and find a tractor to pull us out” I said not before agreeing with my companions that they would take out all movables from the car, preparing for the worst. I ran to the shore and, very luckily, found someone driving a tractor cutting bulrushes, taking advantage of the lack of water. My hopes increased when I realized that I knew him. A mixture of the absurdity of the situation and my heavy breathing due to the running did not help my explanation. Eventually he understood and agreed to have a look.

My heart sank when he announced that it was too risky to enter the water to pull the car because he could also get stuck in the river as the bottom would be very soft. I insisted but he steadfastly refused so I gave up. I believe that my dismay helped in his decision to take me in the tractor to seek further help. We drove up the steep bank to see if the owner of another tractor would dare to go in as they had a larger tractor.

Luckily the owner was there. This time I did not need to explain much as, before our eyes and into the river we could see my Land Rover being progressively denuded of its movable parts by my trip companions. “There is no way we can pull it with a tractor” he said and added, “If we get stuck, we lose everything!” Somehow my mind moved to what story I was going to tell the insurance company about how I lost the car and then the idea of bringing a wreath every year to the spot also came to mind but it was quickly discarded as superfluous!

“I will try to pull it with horses” the voice of the farmer brought me back from my total loss-related thoughts. “What?” I just managed. “Yes” he said, “I have horses and a pulling harness. I think the horses will pull it out”. He called a couple of workers to bring three horses, the harness and ropes and, before ten minutes had passed we were going down the bank towards the “sinking” Land Rover.

The situation was now desperate! The water has come in fast and it had already covered the wheels. My companions had been waiting, wondering whether I was coming back. We entered the water and walked towards the car with the horses. The car was a pathetic sight as all movable items were no longer there and the water was now covering the engine and flowing inside it! Realizing that time was not on our side we got to work fast and harnessed two of the horses to the submerged bumper. A guy sat on the bonnet with the reins and I sat under water behind the wheel as, although the engine was flooded, there was still a need to steer! A horse was kept in reserve and all other hands got ready to push.

Despite my strong reservations about success, we agreed to push and pull at the count of three. What happened next was unexpected. Under the strength of the horses the Land Rover rolled forward with ease and moved to the triumphant shouts of my rescuers! “Do not stop now!” I shouted, my adrenaline flowing while seated in water to up to my breast steering and watching the back of the farmer on the bonnet that was controlling the horses, our real saviours. Stop we did not and, eventually, we managed to get the car on dry ground and away from the highest tide line mark to a safe zone. I was a happy man and, at the same time amazed that two horses could move a stuck car so easily. Later I realized that the increase in water depth helped greatly in making the car lighter.

News moved fast and, by the time our rescue was over and we were wondering what to do next, my father had come and witnessed the action. Being a photographer, he took the only picture I have of the event that I present you with here. It is a bad scan of the print he took but I hope it shows the absurd situation I got into and, luckily, out of.

The speck in the background is the semi-submerged Land Rover then there is open water and in the forefront an extensive area of water covered with bulrushes.

The speck in the background is the semi-submerged Land Rover then there is open water and in the forefront an extensive area of water covered with bulrushes.

The aftermath was an anticlimax! My father towed us back to Carmelo where we arrived after dark and straight to the mechanic. After dropping the car and when we were alone, as expected he lectured me on my lack of prudence!

In addition to the failure to achieve the feat -and impress my girlfriend- I also suffered financial humiliation when the time came to pay the bill for the car repair!

[1] Mate is a traditional drink where hot water is drank after sucking it through ground dried leaves of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) with the aid of a bombilla (metal straw) from a calabash gourd (mate).

See also  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_%28beverage%29 for more details.