WATER AND SURVIVAL
Do not underestimate the importance of water and the maintenance of proper water intake by the members of your group of travelers. In May 1998 I got a vehicle bogged down on Sowa Pan. Two of us were traveling in a single vehicle. The day before I had spent about three hours in the sun shooting pictures and by evening I realized that I was dehydrated. I began a program of drinking large amounts of water over a prolonged period. By the time we got bogged down the following day I thought I had recovered. After 30-minutes in the scorching heat on Sowa Pan the symptoms returned in a form which spelled danger. Initial symptoms of dehydration is a headache and tiredness. Advanced dehydration comes in the form of nausea, light-headedness while sweating seems to stop. It can also be accompanied by a rise in body temperature probably because the body’s cooling mechanism is failing.
This is what happened to me. It was our last day before our return leg and we had only 15-liters of water remaining. The heat was intolerable, the sun and white surface of the pan unbearable and our vehicle, which had overheated, was deep in a mire of thick black mud. Already dehydrated, with not enough water, miles from nowhere and with an immobile vehicle – it was a scary situation. Knowing the dangers of crossing the pans and having got myself into this predicament I wanted to turn around and give myself a swift kick in the backside for my foolishness. I decided that we should have one attempt to get the vehicle out but that our preparation would be thorough. If the recovery attempt failed we would construct a shelter and rest until nightfall. Having donned a long sleeve cotton shirt and long trousers for protection we began to work. One hour later, with rests every five minutes, we made our first attempt and succeeded. Things could have been much worse.
Water consumption should be calculated at no less than six liters per person per day in summer, and four liters per person per day in winter. This includes washing and drinking. Additional water requirements must also be catered for.
• Vehicle requirements: radiator refills, windscreen washing, cracked pipes and leaks.
• Tyre repairs: soap and water is needed for lubricating tire levers.
• Evaporation and spillage.
On extended trips, water stored in a translucent container will eventually turn green. Black, light-proof plastic containers are therefore best for water storage.
Water cans with a plastic tap at the base are very convenient, but because the taps are easily broken, remember to remove the tap and replace it with a plug when traveling. I prefer heavy plastic water cans with handles. I decant water from these cans into a smaller insulated water container with a small tap at its base. This keeps the water easily accessible and cool at the same time. The light weight of the small container also means that it can be moved around with ease.
Steel water cans can give the water a metallic taste and rust can make the water undrinkable. If you wish to carry water in steel Jerry cans, paint them white to avoid possible confusion with fuel cans. The white surface will also help to keep the water cooler.
Wine bags (the silver bags found inside 5-liter boxed wine) make excellent water carriers. When frozen solid and then placed in a cooler-box, they make excellent space and weight savers – when they thaw, you have 5 liters of drinking water, and when empty they can be folded up and put away.
Water carried in goat skin or canvas cooler bags is a way to keep water cool for drinking but the substantial water lost due to evaporation must be taken into account. Although hanging a cooler bag on the front of the vehicle cools the water very quickly, the bag must not simply be hung on the string handle as the abrasion caused by a rocking vehicle quickly damages the bag and the string handle soon breaks.
Be sure to disinfect water bottles once they are more than a year old by filling with water and adding a teaspoon of chlorine. Leave for a couple of days and then rinse thoroughly.
Water storage and health
The golden rule when carrying water is: never carry all of your water in one container. Should a fitted tank split while traveling and all the water run out, you may find yourself in a situation where you are left with no water at all. A second container inside the vehicle must be regarded as your emergency supply and should not be decanted into the vehicle’s auxiliary tank. The fitting of auxiliary water tanks is covered in chapter-3.
There are serious health risks associated with aluminum water tanks and while aluminum is an ideal material from which to build a tank, the health risks are severe. I understand that some plastics are also risky. Tanks should be built from stainless steel (high-grade) or food-grade plastic.
In tests that I conducted to see how long water can be stored before it goes green or becomes contaminated, these are my findings: In dark containers even bore-hole water (no chemicals) did not grow algae in six months. In containers where light can penetrate, in six months the water was still drinkable but there was a ‘green’ taste. Purified tap water after a year in a dark drum, was still drinkable. I flush my tanks a week or so before a trip and then refill with fresh water before I leave. I have never had any algae growing in any tank or can, light or dark, on any trip, even the longest.
Portable camping showers consist of a heavy duty plastic bag, black on the one side, transparent on the other. A short hose, tap and rose are attached to the bottom. It is filled with water and left in the sun with the clear side exposed. After about three hours, it is ready to give a delightful hot shower. Left in the midday sun for five hours it will produce water hot enough for a cup of tea, although this is not recommended by the manufacturers. These showers hold between 10 and 15 liters, are inexpensive and are available in most camping stores. Alternatively, use the cooler times of the day to view game and enjoy your surroundings, and during the midday heat when all the animals are resting in shady places, enjoy a cold shower. Electric showers are another option
For very long trips into the wilderness a bucket with a sealed lid is useful. Put in the soiled clothes, a tablespoon of washing powder and hot or cold water. Now drive for a while over some rough ground. The harder your suspension, the cleaner your washing will be. The bucket is also useful for many other camp duties.
Sound Systems and Overlanders
Nothing in this whole wide world frustrates me more than having to endure the music of other campers when camped in a remote spot. Many years ago it was easy to find absolute solitude, but because of the plethora of 4x4s available today, it has become increasingly difficult to do so. This means that finding a camp where no other people can be seen is difficult, but to find a place where no other people can be heard is even more difficult. It beats me as to why after all the trouble to get to a remote area, many visitors immediately turn on their radios. Surely the idea of this is to leave the city noise behind? May I suggest trying to live without music, play-stations, MP3 players and TV! Try it. The sounds of mother nature may not be as loud, but they are so much more life affirming. And please, please, be sensitive to the wishes of others.
This is perhaps the best tested chemical field purification system available and is called ‘Syn. Aquacure’ in Britain. Its name is derived from what it does; ‘Floc’, means flocculation: the removal of debris, and ‘Chlor’, means that it chlorinates the water. Ingredients in each tablet cause the sediment to coagulate and separate. This sediment can be removed by pouring the water through a cloth strainer. No special equipment is necessary and purification can even be done by making a hole in the ground next to a raw water source.
Unless filtered through ultra fine membrane filters, filtering without chemical purification will not make the water drinkable. It will only serve to make it more pleasant to look at, since harmful bacteria and viruses will pass through all but the finest of filters. Filtration should take place before purifying with iodine or chlorine, and afterwards when using Chlor-Floc. A cloth filtration bag available at camping stores will make the job easier.
Iodine and chlorine
In an emergency Iodine is very useful to the traveler for purifying water because it is readily available in most towns. It is also available at mission hospitals and clinics. Chlorine tablets are available as a water purification agent, but like iodine, are rendered inactive by pollutants in the water. It is therefore necessary to filter the water through gauze or cloth before the chlorine or iodine is added. Beware of overdosing – iodine and chlorine are poisonous in high quantities.
It is far better to equip yourself with one of the better suited water purification systems available from most camping stores. Good examples are Chlor-Floc purifiers and Katadyn water pumps.
I have had first-hand experience of Katadyn water filter pumps. These devices require no chemical additives whatsoever, and although expensive, are unequaled in their efficiency and ultimate safety – in fact they are so safe that the source water can be ridden with typhoid, dysentery, cholera and the purified water leaves the pump crystal clear and ready to drink. Not only is the water cleared of harmful bacteria and viruses but of pesticides, herbicides and harmful chemicals as well. In some models the water produced is pharmaceutically sterile. There are many makes of filter pumps now being used as standard issue to the Red Cross throughout the world.
Filter pumps work in this way: the inlet pipe is lowered into the source and the water is first filtered through an open cell foam filter housed in a wire cage, thereby preventing the ingestion of large particles. Then the water is pumped under pressure through a special ceramic filter. Even if you think you may never need it, buy a purification kit or filter pump and stow it in your vehicle. Be prepared for the unexpected.
Before you set up camp, look closely at the area you are considering. Game tracks look like people tracks – flattened paths that snake their way through the bush often to and from water. If a hippo or a herd of elephant use this track on a regular basis and you set up camp in their path, it could lead to an unpleasant confrontation. It is imperative that you never sleep with food stored inside your tent. You are very safe inside a tent, even against lion, hyena, hippo and elephant, as long as you follow this advice.
If you camp close to water, remember that game will want to drink and therefore you should ensure that there is easy access for the animals, especially if you are camped in an arid area. Animals made skittish by your presence may be too scared to drink and could die. Do not approach wild animals on foot unless you are accompanied by an experienced guide.
Washing and swimming in pools frequented by crocodiles and hippo is dangerous and should only be done once the area has been thoroughly looked over and there is somebody keeping constant watch. If you are going to swim, I strongly advise making the swim as brief as possible.
In many areas where animals are accustomed to the presence of humans, hyena, baboons and monkeys will raid your camp when your back is turned. It is important not to allow these animals access to your food. They will eat anything they can reach, and if they succeed they will become versed in the art of stealing which will only encourage them to try again.
NEVER, FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER, FEED A WILD ANIMAL!
Once, while camping at Serondela in the Chobe Game Reserve in Northern Botswana, I placed two full 20-liter Jerry-cans on the lid of my cooler-box to prevent the baboons from getting inside. I walked about 20 yards away to do some fishing. After about five minutes I heard the clang as one Jerry can hit the ground. I turned and ran towards camp. By the time I got there the lid was open and three rolls of Kodak film had been stolen. The baboon, more used to stealing citrus fruit, obviously thought that if it was yellow, then it must be tasty. I seethed as I watched the baboon climb the trees above the water, tear open the boxes, undo the plastic containers and drop my films into the river. Since that trip to Serondela, dozens of resident baboons have had to be destroyed because they became talented at tearing open tents. All this could have been avoided had they never been fed, or been allowed access to campers’ foodstuffs.
An easy way to identify a harmless scorpion from a dangerous one is by the size of its pincers – the smaller the pincers, the more dangerous the sting. Scorpions with large pincers have less need for a highly toxic venom and hence the sting will be no worse than a wasp. Scorpions armed with small pincers will be armed with a more potent toxin in their sting, and a thicker tail. The venom is neurotoxic and the sting can result in cardiac or respiratory failure, or both. Some scorpions can spray their venom and envenomation of the eyes can result. It is therefore very wise to treat a scorpion as if it were a snake. Do not get too close, do not antagonize a scorpion or pick up a dead one. Scorpions seem to be attracted to camp sites and you may find one under a tent ground sheet when the tent is packed up, or under a Jerry can or cool-box left sitting on the sand. They also like living in cracks in dead wood, and the risk of being stung while collecting fire wood is very real. Shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them on in the morning. Because scorpions and many snakes are nocturnal, do not walk barefoot at night.
Knowing about snakes, where and how they live, will go a long way in helping to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
Most snakes depend on camouflage to protect themselves and unless they are moving they can become very difficult to see, even at close range. Fortunately snakes for the most part prefer to flee and will only attack in self defense. This is why more than 90 percent of recorded bites have occurred in people handling snakes. (Source: A Field guide to Animal Tracks – L Liebenberg) The puff adder on the other hand remains motionless when approached. This is why this highly venomous snake features very prominently in the list of recorded bites, as most are unwittingly stepped on and the snakes have retaliated by striking.
Here are a few simple rules:
• Wear calf length boots and long loose fitting trousers when walking in the bush.
• Step onto rocks and logs and not over them. A snake resting on the other side or under a log will not be seen, and a step onto and a glance over the log may reveal a snake which may otherwise have been stepped on.
• Avoid walking in very long grass where the visibility of the path is restricted.
• If you are picking up rocks or logs, do so by lifting or rolling them towards you, thereby allowing a path for a snake to escape by moving away from you.
• Never put your hand into a place in which you cannot see, like a burrow or a hollow tree trunk. If a snake has made a home there it will have nowhere to run if it feels threatened.
• Do not walk around at night without a good torch – many snakes are nocturnal.
• Should you encounter a snake at close range, remain motionless until the snake retreats. Alternatively, withdraw very slowly – snakes have very poor eyesight and will strike at what they perceive to be threatening them. A sudden movement may induce a strike.
• Do not pick up a ‘dead’ snake unless you are absolutely sure it is dead. The rinkhals shams death when threatened.
• Do not approach snakes to get a better look unless you know
what you are doing. Some species like the Mozambique spitting cobra and the rinkhals are able to spit their venom up to three meters and should the venom enter the eyes, thorough and continuous cleansing with water will be needed if the victim is to avoid permanent eye damage. Wearing sunglasses gives good protection against spitting snakes.
Because ticks carry disease, some of which can be fatal, it is important to know how to avoid being bitten. Wearing boots with long trousers and applying insect repellent or paraffin to your socks will prevent them climbing up your legs. Ticks often sit on the ends of long blades of grass and wait patiently for a host to pass by. If you walk through long grass, inspect yourself thoroughly afterwards. If you find a tick, do not pull it off as it may leave its head behind. Smearing Vaseline, grease, disinfectant or alcohol onto the tick will make them release their grip. Ticks called tampans bury themselves under the surface of the sand and lie in the shade of a tree waiting for a host to use the shade as a resting place. Avoid setting up camp under trees in cattle areas. These ticks can emerge from the ground in their hundreds!
Game viewing and photography
The best time for both of these pursuits is in the early morning and late afternoon, when the animals are active and when the light is at its best. Lenses for landscape photography must include a wide angle of about 28mm, or my preference, a 24mm. Professionals shooting landscapes often use longer focal length lenses to do this – a 135mm is ideal. For photographers keen on game, 180mm and 300mm lenses are ideal.
For successful bird photography you will need a focal length of 400mm or more. Remember that when using this type of lens, a tripod or some means of supporting the lens will be necessary, although some of the better image-stabilizers can cope with some movement. If you are shooting pictures from inside a vehicle and are unable to use a tripod, have a small canvas bag filled with sand handy. Wind down the side window and place the sand bag on the edge of the door. Now you have a steady support which can be molded and shaped for the lens, and the window can be raised for best viewing comfort.
In developing countries never photograph government buildings or employees and it’s a bad idea to even point your camera at a military installation or vehicle. Keep your photographic equipment packed away, but within easy reach when passing through border posts or road blocks. At some border posts you may need to declare your camera equipment and it is a good idea to have a list of each piece of equipment and its serial number from which you can copy the information down onto the declaration document. Never photograph a soldier in uniform or you may find yourself being interrogated as a spy.
If you shoot digital, remember to add to your packing lists, items like camera battery chargers and spare memory cards. An updated and I think useful and complete packing list appears at the end of this chapter. Feel free to copy it and use it on your travels.
Choosing maps for navigation in remote areas requires some understanding and know-how. This is covered in Chapter-10.
Many vehicle insurance companies do not appreciate or understand the 4×4 lifestyle and as a result frequently do not properly cover vehicles and their owners when the vehicle is used off-road or in the wilderness. Conversely, 4×4 drivers either think that no matter what they do, their insurance will cover them, or that their insurer should know what the risks are and therefore will cover them.
Either way, it is not uncommon for the insured to be shocked when a claim is rejected because the conduct by the insured is considered ‘unreasonable’ by the insurer. But what is unreasonable? I cannot answer this, but some of the pictures left illustrate what I would consider unreasonable. For example, sliding and hitting a tree while attempting a 30° angle on an off-road trail isn’t. If your insurer is not aware that a 30° slope (to a novice a slope such as this is frightening) on a trail is just part of the excitement and thrill of ‘normal’ 4×4 driving, it may be considered ‘unreasonable’. For this reason, specialized 4×4 insurance is as important as any equipment that you may purchase for your vehicle.
Make sure you are properly covered for your 4×4 activities, whether it be on a local 4×4 event or a safari to another country. An insurance product developed in conjunction with the author is available, covering all conceivable eventualities, even including repatriation of persons and vehicles from foreign countries.
To supplement this chapter I have put together a DVD program called ‘4×4 Over-landing’.
Over two hours in duration, this presentation covers much of what is included in this chapter, namely how to take a vehicle and equip it to wander into the wilderness. The story begins in the Western Kalahari where we travel in a small convoy. The route has its challenges and as they are met the camera stays rolling. Finding water, grass seed problems, navigation, tents, packing, freezers, safety, towing trailers and a whole lot more are part of the story. In addition there are sections about equipping an expedition 4×4 and much, much more.
Let’s stop paying lip service in the cause of conservation. Talk is cheap. Every one of us has a contribution to make. The most valuable contribution is to stay on existing tracks and encourage other motorists to do the same. Do not assume that a vehicle track, if it is visible but not well used, is an official track. It may be that the driver ahead of you has been thoughtless and has made his own track over virgin ground. Should you now follow the new track it won’t be long before it becomes a well-used track – adding yet another to the vast maze cris-crossing our continent.
It has become apparent that in Southern Africa some of the most outspoken members of the 4×4 community, who advocate responsible driving practices, who are recognized by the country’s environmental protection institutions and claim to be the leaders of the cause when it comes to protecting the environment against the damage done by 4x4s are themselves the worst offenders. For obvious reasons I am not at liberty to give names, but in one case, an individual 4×4 tour guide and outspoken champion of eco-friendly practices took a 70-vehicle convoy on a Cape West coast beach drive. This same individual frequently takes ten or more vehicles onto the Boatswain salt pans and encourages the vehicles to drive alongside one another. Not a single track is created across the pan, but 10! In the video footage I saw, he encouraged his party to collect as much firewood as their roof-racks could carry and burn several massive bonfires.
It is no surprise that South Africa’s beaches have been closed! Surely more restrictions will follow?
Surely one of the main reasons why we enjoy four-wheel driving as a hobby is to enable us to explore the untouched wilderness? Then why do we not take better notice of good camping practices in order to preserve it?
Sound camping practices:
• Dig a deep latrine. Faeces simply covered with a layer of soil is not sufficient. Jackals dig up shallow latrines. The deeper the hole the faster the decomposition. Bury the minimum amount of toilet paper. Burn the rest. Use unbleached toilet paper.
• Never bury rubbish. Wild animals dig it up and spread it around.
• Most cleaning chemicals contain phosphates, which contain nitrates. These run into water courses after rain and pollute the water. Water containing excess nitrates promotes the growth of algae to unnatural proportions, and eventually waterways can become choked with algae, starving the water of oxygen. Therefore wash well away from water courses.
• Avoid setting up camp on animal tracks. These look like human paths – they often lead to water.
• Never feed wild animals – you may be signing their death
warrant. Animals which become accustomed to being fed usually end up making a nuisance of themselves. Often they have to be destroyed by wildlife department officials. Those that feed them
are the real killers.
• When camping in arid areas, do not camp close to a water hole. If it is the only water hole in a large area, desert dwelling animals will travel great distances to get to the water. If you are camped too close they may be scared away and this could cost them their lives.
• Dig away an area and make sure that the surrounding grass
cannot catch alight.
• Do not burn newspaper without breaking it into small pieces
and rolling it up. Large pieces can catch the wind and be blown
into the air.
• Never leave a fire unattended. Don’t go to sleep inside a tent and leave a fire blazing away.
• Bury a fire after it has turned to ash.
• Use existing camp fire sites if you can. It’s very unsightly when the ashes from old camp fires are scattered all over the place.
• Be aware that buying wood from roadside vendors could mean damage to indigenous forests.
• Do not take wood from a live tree, make a fire under a tree or on
its roots. If possible, take your own firewood – you may think you’re not doing much damage yourself by burning a single dead branch, but when all campers do it a single dead branch soon becomes
an entire tree.
Poor driving techniques and irresponsible driving are the biggest cause of damage to tracks and the resulting erosion. Drivers who repeatedly spin their wheels or apply accelerator in frustration when a tyre battles for traction unsettle the surface layer. The rain falls and the unstable topsoil washes away.
This concept is not new, but what is, is the attitude of some off-roaders who try and make it over an obstacle no matter the cost. If all of the off-road obstacles we encounter were easy, there would be no thrill of overcoming the tougher ones. But, challenging obstacles to the point where vehicles are damaged and the track is destroyed is not worth it. There are plenty of trails and obstacle courses where this can be done without damage to the environment, without creating a mess that following vehicles are unable to traverse and without offending anyone. Let’s please be responsible for what we do with our 4x4s.
Once I was driving on a large dune field, ideal for experimenting with vehicles, tyre pressures and driving techniques. It was operated by experienced off-roaders who should know better. I was at the head of a group of novice drivers. After an hour or so most of the drivers had gained confidence and were looking for something a little more challenging. The guide suggested that they attempt a short but very steep dune climb in two-wheel drive. At this moment I made the mistake of letting it happen. A vehicle will climb anything, it will even fly, if it goes fast enough. And that is exactly what happened – a vehicle took off. At that moment everyone looked a little embarrassed that things had got out of hand. Amazingly, the Hilux involved sustained no damage.
It is this same attitude that promotes reckless use of our environment. Alcohol may have played a part in both of these scenarios. Alcohol and driving, including off-road driving should never mix. Unfortunately, I feel as I write this, that my words will be like an ant trying to persuade a buffalo to give way.
Other good off-roading practices:
• After digging a vehicle out, fill in the holes.
• Bull bars are not for clearing bush in front of your vehicle. They are to protect against impact.
• When winching off a tree never tie cable around it as it ring-barks the tree and kills it.
• Look around the site of a recovery for spades, shackles and drink cans lying hidden in the bush.