Uncle Vito Ate a Burrito…and a Few Birds

Finding a long term rental car is a challenge. Anne started working on a rental car for Southern Africa weeks before we arrived. When we had internet, she would check prices at all the big shops and search for a smaller shop that might give us a deal. All were very expensive and it started to look hopeless. We debated going Indian style – putting all 6 of us and our luggage in a VW Golf or a Smart Car, but in an effort to stay sane and legal, we decided to go with something with 6 seats. This kept the price high, but we got lucky and finally found a smaller rental car company which cost significantly less than the big boys. They delivered the car a couple of days late, which was fine as we were lazily recovering from India in Pretoria.

When our van of choice finally arrived, everyone piled in and off we went on a test drive. The children took to the car and started calling it Uncle Vito as it the model name was Mercedes Vito. Uncle Vito came to us a little damaged. The previous renters had abused him and broken a seat and the passenger side sliding door. Even with his bumps and bruises, the kids latched on. I couldn’t quite get over some of the car’s shortcomings and made statements like, “Vito, the shame of Mercedes.” Uncle Vito probably heard me talking and decided to turn on us. Our unassuming mini-van was to become the cause of much hardship for both us and the wildlife of Namibia.

I am still probably too harsh on Vito. He made it the first 4000 kilometers of our Southern Africa drive without incident. His thirst for oil was a little worrisome, but he pushed us through all the dangerous places (South African townships, Botswana’s wild bush, Zambia, and the Caprivi Strip). But when we left Etosha, Uncle Vito started struggling. His internal computer put a governor on us and would not go over 3000 RPM’s. This slowed us down considerably and we puttered to the closest Mercedes repair shop, which took us well off our chosen path. We spent a day wandering outside the repair shop while they tried to resolve the problem. After about 3-4 hours they threw up their hands and sent us on our way. They told us, we needed to go to a bigger repair shop which would have the latest computer diagnostics. They told us and Vito’s owner that he would be safe to drive and sent us on our way 400-500 kilometers away from the next repair shop.

Driving at our reduced speed, we were able to see more of the countryside as fully functional cars zoomed past us. Uncle Vito’s slow pace had an added drawback. We haven’t quite figured it out yet, but his slow rate of progress and low level engine noise turned him into a stealthy critter hunter. We have been keeping track of the number of animals we’ve inadvertently killed on the trip. (We would be bad Jains.) The number had not been significant considering the sheer number of miles we (and our drivers) have driven: a parrot in Australia, a chicken in Cambodia, a cat in India, and a big lizard in Botswana. But in 6-8 hours of slow driving through Namibia, we went on a mad killing spree. It started with a few single birds. Anne would scream, I would groan, and we would move on. Then we got a double kill. Two little birds were playing on the side of the road and together flew right up into the windshield. Thump, Thump. Next we almost took out a family of warthogs. One especially bright boar waited for us to approach and darted right in front of us just as we passed. I swerved a little and the frightened pig skidded to a stop right at our tire and spun around in retreat. Dax claims he has never seen an animal’s eyes look that big. Soon after the pigs came a sparrow and a sparrow hawk who unfortunately was chasing it. We only heard one thud, so we might have missed the sparrow. A couple more birds followed and before the night was over we hit a bat. (Who hits a bat?) By the end of the day we had killed a double digit number of winged wildlife, the last one being stuck in our grill when pulled into our camp site.

The next day was much less eventful as we drove through the desert. Our killing spree came to a temporary halt but Uncle Vito was not done with us yet. The following day we took an easy drive of about 100 kilometers up the coast to see some seals. On the return trip about 20 miles outside our destination Uncle Vito went from bad to worse. He started to heat up and refused to go over 30 kilometers an hour. Never pushing his temperature gauge into the red zone, we limped him along until he finally rolled to an exhausted halt outside the gate of our backpackers’ lodge. Later that night a tow truck came and took Uncle Vito away. The repair shop did an analysis and told us it would be two days before they could fix him. Since our rental car company could find no other replacement car from Capetown to Windhoek, we decided to make the best of the situation and wait. The morning it was due to be repaired, we called the shop and found out it would be at least two more days since it was a national holiday and the part they thought would be arriving from the capital four hours away actually had to come from Johannesburg. By this point, we told our rental car company they absolutely had to find us another vehicle. We were understanding, as they are a small company and were 2000 kilometers away. They again spent all day looking and still came up with nothing. Anne and I decided to go look ourselves. We couldn’t find another mini van but we did find a king cab pickup and a 15 seat microbus. The rental car company agreed to rent us the truck so we could go to Sossusvlei while Vito’s repairs were completed. It was a 500 kilometer drive there one day and another 500 kilometer drive back the next.

Uncle Vito getting towedAsher driving the truck... well not quiteThe great microbus, a VW quantum

Of course, when we returned from our cramped drive, (6 of us do not really fit in a 5 seat king cab) Uncle Vito was sitting in the lot with his front bumper off, draining liquid, with no hope of a speedy recovery. Distraught we called the rental car company again and told them we could wait no longer. We had already lost 3-5 days and needed the 15 seat microbus to take us to Capetown. They agreed and the next morning we were on our way in a Toyota Quantum. Now this car I liked. The kids have not come up with a good name for the Quantum and I could care less. It made the 2000 kilometer drive at top speed without causing us any trouble…at least while I was driving. The ghost of Uncle Vito popped up and spooked two hapless guinea fowl into the Quantum’s speeding bumper while Anne was driving. Her scream is still echoing through the canyons of Namibia.

These are the birds Anne drove over

Editor’s Note: Tom’s selective memory erased the fact from his brain that he actually killed one bird with the Quantum before I decapitated the guinea fowl. — Anne

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