Even though Mick’s engine was running fine, it was making a slight but undeniable rattle/knocking noise. As much as we would have liked to ignore the problem and hope it would go away we knew better than to do that. The timing was terrible as the whole of Windhoek was closing for the Christmas period. There was only one thing for it. Sit and wait for the Suzuki dealer to open in 2 weeks time.
While back in Botswana we had put out a call out on the Wild Dogs motorbike forum looking for an address to ship some supplies from Australia to Windhoek. A guy named Johan replied and offered up his address on the quite reasonable condition that we didn’t send parcels full of cocaine. He also kindly offered to cook us a braai and put us up for the night. Johan and his wife Jume picked us weary and dejected travellers up from the bike store and helped us transport our mountain of spare parts and tyres to their house, which was located right behind the Namibian presidential complex.
Namibia’s State House care of their North Korean Hommies and the Namibian tax payer. Apologies for the poor quality (we got it off the net) but we didn’t want to risk taking photos of the place. It is all very odd – the fence around the perimeter is decorated in a clearly Asian gold motif. The North Korean’s received about 40 million big ones (USD) for the project which they spent on food for their people…just kidding I think they built a theme park… and a prison.
The State House of Namibia is a foreboding structure that looks a lot like the kind of building the average James Bond villain would plot world domination from. The aesthetic is unmistakably North Korean; outlandish, oppressive commie-chic to the point that a satirical piss-take couldn’t play to the stereotype any better. It was both designed and constructed by a North Korean company, and finished off by the Chinese, which I guess means they cleaned up the shoddy North Korean workmanship to a slightly less shoddy Chinese standard and installed as much surveillance equipment as the structure could support.
You see the Nambian government, like Dennis Rodman, shares a bizarre and disturbingly close relationship with North Korea. During the war of independence North Korea is said to have provided significant support for the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia and a number of the now ruling government folk received military training in Pyongyang. The construction of the State House (a ‘symbol of friendship’ between the two countries) and a number of other projects was granted to the North Koreans without going to tender, unlike all the other government projects in Namibia.
From Pyongyang with love. The National Museum of Namibia
Which begs the question….WHAT THE F@$K? The implications of such a close relationship with the social/political pariah state of the planet I am none too sure about beyond the proliferation of intimidating and unattractive soviet inspired architectural monstrosities such as the National museum, Heroes’ Acre and State Complex. What is clear is that it is shady as all get out and you can’t help but wonder if Namibia’s ample uranium reserves have something to do with the North Korean/Namibian BFF status.
When we rode into Windhoek we experienced our first presidential motorcade speeding through town with all lights a’blazin’. Our Namibian friends informed us this was a regular and rather obnoxious occurrence for them having roads closed while some government big wig goes to town for official business and/or late night Nando’s munchie run. We were disappointed to hear that we were several years late for witnessing a ‘real’ Namibian presidential motorcade. The previous president would have a bunch of ‘sweeper’ vehicles plough through town shutting down the streets to allow for the motorcade to come through at break neck speed soon afterward. A bunch of motorcycle cops would ride out in front of the Chevrolet motorcade and the procession of heavily armed military vehicles and bringing up the rear would be, I kid you not, a truck towing an anti-aircraft gun. The cavalcade constantly had to stop to allow the truck to catch up and there was only ever one guy to drive the truck and man the gun. Now I have no idea what uber-militarised, Chuck Norris Delta Force, Die Hard yippie kai yay, Jean Claude Van Dame-y shit he was expecting to go down on his 15 minute commute though sleepy Windhoek but I highly doubt the poor fella in the truck was sufficiently skilled to spot the threat, park up, set up the anti-aircraft gun, aim and blast the baddies out of the sky. The former president’s passionate approach to his own well-being makes me convinced the North Korean built State House came equipped with cinema and library of Chinese pirated DVD’s of every bad 80’s action film ever made.
A pic from the National Museum. See I am not making this up. The North Korean influence is so strong in Namibian politics that the first president Sam Nujoma pulled a Kim Jong-Il/Un and said this back in 2006 – “We have uranium here (in Namibia) and we train our own scientists and engineers and if they (external forces) create nonsense we can make our own atomic bombs”
Now back to the issue that was even more worrying to us as North Korea’s intentions – the sound coming from Mick’s engine. We visited a mechanic friend of Johan’s to get his two cents on the rattling sound. He was of the opinion that it was piston slap. Mick wasn’t so sure and was guessing more like broken valve spring or something more minor, so whipped the top off the head but couldn’t spot anything. One thing was clear however, that mechanical gremlin rattling away in the engine would require parts from South Africa so we resolved to enjoy the downtown as best we could and prepare for a budget hammering.
We were extremely fortunate to have the offer of a place to stay in Windhoek. Without it, the budget would have suffered terribly, not to mention the need to stay that long at a cheap inner city backpackers may have driven us completely mad. Tony and Freidel, our hosts from our previous stay in Windhoek, were holidaying in South Africa and had offered us their place should we need to return to Windhoek. When they extended the offer we thought it very kind but surely we wouldn’t need to stay in Windhoek again. Tony, however, knew better. As an avid flowerer of overland bike trips like ours he thought there would be a reasonable chance we might need a place to stay in the event of unforeseen mishap. So with that, we had a place to stay to wait out the festive season.
Back in Swakopmund we had the fortune of meeting a really cool Swiss family who we arranged to meet up with again in Etosha National Park for Christmas. Over 3 years ago Nicole and Roy departed Switzerland in their Landcruiser for a long dreamed of trip around the world. Plans went a little awry when they discovered in India, 9 months into their dream trip that they had an unexpected guest along for the ride….. they were pregnant. When faced with the conventional option of ending the journey, going home and being parents they instead opted to see how it went having a baby on the road. They travelled from India to Thailand, Nicole getting bigger and bigger along the way until little Kevin was born in Thailand. Kevin spent the first 6 months of his life in Thailand until it was time to hit the road again. Theirs is an amazing journey. You can check it out at www.globexplorer.ch Not wanting to spend Christmas alone and keen to catch up with these guys again we figured we might as well keep our Christmas date and hire a car for a week of conventional touristing while we waited for the Suzuki garage to open. First up though we needed to arrange for a visa extension. Strangely we were only given a month long visa this time instead of the 3 months we received last time. It was a huge disappointment having to pay almost $90 all up for visa extensions on a visa that is free on arrival in the first place. A total bummer!
This is Polo country
We managed to hire ourselves a little VW Polo buzz box for a week and zipped up to Onguma Lodge at Etosha National Park on Christmas eve. I was reminded of my rather strong physical aversion to travelling by car as I was bloody carsick the whole way. We set up camp and celebrated Christmas eve in the not so traditional way by watching a couple episodes of Breaking Bad. We met Roy, Nicole and little Kevin for Christmas breakfast the next morning. The rest of the day we spent relaxing in the beautiful lodge overlooking the waterhole with a drink or 4. That evening we had a lovely Christmas dinner and were really glad we made the effort to get up to Etosha to meet our new friends rather than having a lame Christmas with just the two of us.
Mick with Nicole and Roy. Great company and game steak for Christmas dinner
Mick browsing the interwebs in the comfort of the lodge. Just in front was a waterhole where we’d watch game come throughout the day and visit
Just a few of the giraffe that came in time for our sundowner
A bunch of males ‘necking’ where they fight for dominance and to impress the ladies. According to my extensive investigations (a minute on Wikipedia) these fights are usually pretty harmless, but can end with broken necks and death. But far more often then not they end in the males…er…getting a bit excited and mounting each other. Homosexuality in giraffes is exceedingly common. Who’d have thunk it?
Boxing day was spent driving through Etosha National Park and looking for all the ‘critters’ the place is so famous for. We managed to see a great range of animals (which we will now bore you with) and often very up close and personal, however the big guys like elephant, rhino and lion eluded us.
Look geologist friends – zebra stripes with sinistral off set
Little Kevin noticing Mick’s beard for the first time
And reacting accordingly
Saying goodbye to new friends
After saying a fond farewell to Kevin, Roy and Nicole and arranging to meet up again in Switzerland we left for the Hoba Meteorite site near Grootfontein. The meteorite was pretty rad it must be said. It is the largest single piece of meteorite ever found and the largest single mass of native iron ever discovered near the earth’s surface.
Sorry, but it had to be done….
In the right hand corner of the photo you will see bits of the meteorite have been cut away by both scientists for research and regular vandals
It is tabular in shape, about 3m by 3m by 1m thick and weighs in at an impressive 66t, and the iron oxides in the soil around the meteorite suggests that it was significantly bigger. The most fascinating thing about the meteorite is that there is no crater associated with it. The meteorite was discovered by a farmer ploughing a field, and once they eventually dug around it (it sits in its initial location) there was no sign of temperature and pressure related shock textures let alone a crater. The explanation? It is believed that due to the flat tabular shape it fell to earth at a lower speed and at a low angle, and ‘jumped’ like a stone being skimmed on a water surface until it reached its final position about 80,000 years ago. Seriously, is that not the coolest things you’ve ever heard?! (Editor/Mick’s note: No. Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer….. thats the coolest thing I’ve ever heard)
The Hoba meteorite is composed of about 84% iron, 16% nickel, and trace amounts of cobalt and other metals
Johan and his wife Jume invited us to drop in on them at the family cattle farm near Etosha where they were celebrating Christmas. Our willingness to gatecrash on any occasion was rewarded with not one but 3 cakes for afternoon tea. I like how this family rolls. Johan’s dad didn’t speak English and was highly impressed (perhaps too impressed) when Mick spoke the only few words of Afrikaans he knew. After that there was no convincing him that Mick actually didn’t speak Afrikaans at all. We had a great time and left 2 sets of tyres on the farm with the plan to pick them up after wearing out our new knobbies in Kaokaoland.
With Johan’s family at the farm
View from the top of the Waterberg
Next up we visited what our map called the dramatic cliffs of the Waterberg. We got some much needed exercise and killer view from the hike to the top before jumping back in the Polo and going to checkout some (sort of) nearby dinosaur footprints. The road there was dirt and sandy and full of ruts, corners and whoops, which made us miss being on the bikes all the more as it would be fantastic riding. However, we were realising that being reduced to travelling by car was not all together a bad thing. For one, it really showed us just how fatiguing it can be travelling by bike. Often we find ourselves arriving at a place of interest and being too tired and to go and check the place out like a good proper tourist. We often just hang out and do nothing for a whole day before forcing ourselves to go check out the waterfall/gorge/historical location/point of interest. We’ve started to feel a bit like lazy bastards. The comparative ease of travelling by car made us realise just how hard we are working all the time so now we wont feel bad by being the bludgers who seem to be doing nothing by just sitting at the backpackers all day.
Dinosaur footprint trail re-enactment
Putting the Polo through its paces. Thankfully hire cars are more capable off-road. I’m sure a hire car would win the Dakar if it was allowed.
Game drive through Erindi Game Reserve
We headed further south to the Erindi Private game reserve. We saw the usual display of African animals and forked out a small fortune for an admittedly good campsite. Then, before we knew it, our little road trip was over and we were back in Windhoek again. New Year’s eve was a very quiet affair which we celebrated with the sound of fireworks and burglar alarms ringing though the night. Windhoek completely empties during the holiday period and the thieves were out in force. After more days relaxing and generally time killing the Suzuki dealer was finally open. Mick took the bike to the workshop first thing and was told by the mechanic he was too busy today but that he would look at it with Michael tomorrow. He had a listen to the engine and also thought it was the piston so that was now 2 for piston, Mick for top end and one guy who thought it was fine but he doesn’t count.
Enjoying the German influence in Windhoek – Porkknuckle-errific
Mick arrived at the workshop bright an early the next day ready to get to work. Unfortunately, the mechanic got pissed the night before and failed to show up. Having been without functioning bikes for weeks we were starting to get fed up with the delays so Mick asked the workshop manager if he could just do the work himself. The manager said ok so Mick pulled out the engine and striped it he found a miniscule amount of play on the big end. He then split the cases and removed the crank and ordered a variety of new parts including a crack pin, con rod, big end bearing, thrust washers, piston and rings, main bearings and gudgeon pin. With the parts ordered we just needed to wait for them to be air freighted to Windhoek.
Mick’s found an apprentice in Johan’s bike mad son, Tiaan
Fortunately the Dakar had just started and we had access to cable television so the days passed nicely watching the live timing feed online and televised broadcasts of the race, we were especially thrilled to see Aussie Toby Price absolutely killing it! 3rd on debut – that fella is a freak. He’ll win it in the next year or 3, no doubt.
Yet another social engagement
Found Australia’s favourite biscuit (Tim Tams) in a Windhoek supermarket and promptly introduced all our new friends to the height of Australian culinary excellence – the ‘Tim Tam slam’. For the uninitiated, this is biting off the end of the biscuit, dipping one end in coffee and using it as a straw.
Breakfast on the veranda with Tony and Freidel
The parts arrived Friday afternoon just in time for the weekend. So… you guessed it… more waiting. The next obstacle was that the crank had to go to an engineering shop to get the crack pin pressed out and the new one pressed in. The usual engineering shop they use couldn’t fit the job in for another week but they managed to find another place to do it a couple days later… more waiting.
Here you can see the damage to the con rod and crank pin bearing surfaces. Was just before TDC. Thankfully the big end bearing was still running on the two outer strips of intact bearing surface otherwise it could have gotten really ugly.
Now a note on the mechanical problem: Mick, the mechanics and workshop manager at the Suzuki dealer had never seen a failure like that before and are not sure how it happened. The bottom ends on these things are renowned for being pretty bullet proof so it is a strange thing to have occurred and was possibly related to the earlier gearbox problem Mick had back in South Africa. Mick’s brother (a diesel fitter) suggested it could have been related to the bike running extremely rich for a good part of its life. Mick’s bike was purchased second-hand sight unseen with 16,000km on the clock. Ebay…yep, always a risk. He later discovered that on top of being a lawyer (should have set off alarm bells) he was also a backyard genius who put a drill bit through the main jet and lifted the needle as high as it could go. The bike was running so rich it was using about 50% more fuel than normal and maybe it was detonating? These are a couple theories anyway.
FINALLY, about 3 weeks after we discovered the problem, the motor was ready to be assembled. The workshop guys pushed in the main bearings and put the crank in and timed the balancer shaft then Mick put the cases back together himself and rebuilt it from there. It was really strange for us that they seemed so content to let Mick do so much of the work himself thus denying themselves of what I would have thought were valuable billable hours. It was great for us as we saved having to pay for about 10 hours of labour.
Saying goodbye to our Namibian friends all over again
The bike was ready so it was just a matter of finishing off minor chores, packing, saying goodbye to great and generous new friends and remembering how to ride again. With our visa extension starting to run out we had a lot of remote Namibian ground to cover. With the bikes in good health and with energy to burn we were off to see just how epic the off-road riding in Damaraland, Skeleton Coast and Kaokoland could get.