Sam Wat­son

Sam re­dis­cov­ers the value of team­work and sim­ple in­ge­nu­ity on his lat­est African ad­ven­ture, and of­fers some low-tech, in­ex­pen­sive life-hacks

LRO (UK) - - Contents - SAM WAT­SON

…re­dis­cov­ers the joy of team­work, in Africa

Re­cently, I was in the beau­ti­ful forests of cen­tral Kenya work­ing with the Born Free Foun­da­tion and the Mount Kenya Trust. We were map­ping a fence that had been built on the flanks of Mount Kenya, Africa’s sec­ond­high­est moun­tain (af­ter Kil­i­man­jaro).

The fence had been built be­cause ele­phants had been snack­ing on farm­ers’ ba­nana crops and this led to con­flict – the farm­ers of­ten at­tacked the ele­phants to pre­serve their liveli­hoods. So the two en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, to­gether with Youth for Con­ser­va­tion and the Kenya Wildlife Ser­vice, had built a huge ele­phant-proof fence to pro­tect the farm­ers and the ele­phants from each other!

It was an in­ter­est­ing few days spent in a pair of De­fender 110s as we fol­lowed the course of the fence. At one stage, I had a gang of lo­cal vil­lage kids rid­ing on the roof rack of my 110 – they had never seen mo­tor ve­hi­cles this far up the moun­tain, and were tak­ing bets on how far we would get.

The fence needed to be plot­ted on a GPS to cre­ate a map, and the Wildlife Rangers with us were un­fa­mil­iar with the tech­nol­ogy, so I gave a quick les­son in GPS use at a nearby sa­fari camp be­fore we set out. Ev­ery 100 me­tres along the fence we’d pause the two Land Rovers and plot the point. River cross­ings caused in­ter­est. You never know what’s liv­ing in Kenyan rivers (crocs, hip­pos, snakes; all man­ner of friendly lo­cal in­hab­i­tants could be along for the ride). So in­stead of wad­ing in on foot, and test­ing the depth for the two snorkel-equipped Land Rovers in tra­di­tional fash­ion, I care­fully nosed my 110 into the wa­ter with one of the rangers sit­ting on the bon­net with a long branch. He would poke ahead and test the depth. Sev­eral times in four-foot-deep wa­ter I had to re­verse and ma­noeu­vre awk­wardly among rocks and un­der­wa­ter plants – but ev­ery­one crossed the rivers with the same num­ber of legs they started with, so that was a bonus.

Tyre choice – it does mat­ter My truck was shod with Miche­lin XZLS – Camel Tro­phy-is­sue tyres that are phe­nom­e­nal in their abil­ity to deal with rough ter­rain. How­ever, the other De­fender was wear­ing road-spec Miche­lin LTX boots – fine and quiet for tar­mac but far too smooth for any­thing se­ri­ous off-road. As a re­sult, when we met steep climbs, the other wagon slith­ered and slid around alarm­ingly. It was the dry sea­son, so the earth was hard-packed and solid, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to grip with smooth tyres. My so­lu­tion was to de­flate the tyres a lit­tle and to use a panga – a lo­cal ma­chete – to cut steps on the worst of the climbs so that the road tyres could bite.

All went well; and even­tu­ally, with the fences mapped, all eight of us made our way back to the ranger base for an overnight camp. The pre­vi­ous night, we’d camped near Sa­gana vil­lage and I’d pro­duced a case of lo­cal Tusker beer from the back of the De­fender – which had caused great ex­cite­ment. Has­san, one of the rangers, by birth a So­mali, had in turn of­fered me some qat, a lo­cal leaf that, when chewed, acts as a nar­cotic. I de­clined po­litely! As for the vil­lage kids, they de­parted for their vil­lage af­ter our trip through the jun­gle with huge, ex­cited grins – the Land Rovers had got all the way along the fence line and they had some sto­ries to tell their mates (not to men­tion the en­joy­ment of sev­eral pack­ets of Polo mints that I’d passed them).

I’m no techno­phobe, but… Ul­ti­mately, the ter­rain and cir­cum­stances – poor tyre choices and dif­fi­cult river cross­ings – were dealt with, not by fancy trac­tion con­trol, ex­pen­sive gear or huge amounts of winch­ing and sweat, but by sim­ple im­pro­vi­sa­tion by a few guys and use of the equip­ment at hand. Part of the joy of us­ing Land Rovers far from the beaten track is meet­ing and over­com­ing in­ter­est­ing sit­u­a­tions, of­ten with in­ge­nu­ity and the min­i­mum of kit.

Some use­ful equip­ment news, if you’re one of those roof-tent users who gets frus­trated when the tent mat­tress slides on the roof­tent floor to one side or the other, or if you find con­den­sa­tion builds up un­der­neath your mat­tress. You may like to in­vest a few quid in a sheet of Ikea’s car­pet liner called ‘Stopp’. This is de­signed to stop rugs slip­ping on smooth tiles but can also pro­vide ven­ti­la­tion un­der roof-tent mat­tresses, or help them grip slip­pery roof tent floors. You just never know what use­ful stuff you’ll find in Ikea.

I love their mag­netic kitchen uten­sil racks for hold­ing tools or gear around camp, and their kitchen towel rails are handy for use in the back of the Land Rover for all sorts of gear.

Fi­nally, if you’re trav­el­ling to the con­ti­nent at the mo­ment, don’t for­get the ACSI Camp­ing Card, which gets you dis­counted low-sea­son prices at thou­sands of Euro­pean camp­sites from Septem­ber through to the end of De­cem­ber. You can hunt it down on­line at vi­car­i­ous­press.co.uk.

‘One of the rangers of­fered me some qat, a lo­cal leaf that, when chewed, acts as a nar­cotic. I de­clined po­litely!’

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