Mountains Climbed Lions Tamed

Glen Davis

What could be more perfect? That would be our guides, the staff of Kwa-Zulu Natal Land Rover Experience, the world's first franchised Land Rover off-road training group, led by the irrepressible Rob Timcke, a chain-smoking, Red Bull-slugging firecracker. Timcke is a born raconteur who nevertheless inspires utter confidence in his ability to bring everyone back alive. Not just a talker, Timcke was raised in a hunting camp in the old Eastern Transvaal on the Mozambique border, where his first language was Zulu. He spent time in the Congo during the really bad years as a South African army intelligence officer and became a professional hunter until 1993, when Communist Party leader Chris Hani was murdered and trophy hunters stayed home. Next, he set up tourist dives to view tiger and great white sharks. Without the cage.

Timcke then jumped into teaching people the fine art of off-road driving. "I was always a bush person," he says, "never a sea person. After nine years of getting really seasick, I found some idiot of a bank manager to buy my operation." His cohorts include his stunning Akrikaaner wife, Carina. ("I slept my way into a job," she cracks. "Unfortunately, my previous job paid much more.") Her brother Pierre Versfeld and top fly-fishing guide Antony Diplock complete the group. Diplock is not a big talker, but then he lives alone on an island near Namibia and, at the age of eighteen, participated in the tribal coming-of-age circumcision ritual with his boyhood Zulu friends. He doesn't need to talk much.

Handshakes and hellos out of the way, we climb behind right-hand-mounted steering wheels and head south in convoy. To acclimate us to driving on the wrong side of the road, Timcke has sent us down the coast road past the rugged Twelve Apostles mountain chain flanking our left and the beach towns of Camps Bay and Llandudno on our right. We climb the Chapman's Peak toll road clinging to seaside cliffs and rumble through the shrubby natural fynbos ("fine bush") habitat of the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve splashed with the bright spikey blooms of protea. South Africans are rightfully proud of this, the densest of the world's six floral kingdoms, counting between 8500 and 9000 species packed in an L-shaped area centered around Cape Town, no more than sixty miles wide. The camera car just misses a turtle in front of us. "Ooh, a fynbos tortoise," chuckles Timcke. "They're quite rare."

The plan for a brief mountainside sojourn in the dirt is scratched due to a hard, fast storm blowing in from the south. This brings fond memories to Timcke: "Carina and I ran a safari in Botswana. We were camping when massive, massive thunderstorms rolled in. You could see lightning for miles. She was setting the table with white linen, and I noticed the ground was alive. Scorpions and spiders. 'You take me home and you take me home now!' she yelled. This other time we were scouting in Zambia, and I sent her out to check the depth of the river crossing. She was chest-deep and turned and yelled, 'What if there are crocs?' I told her, 'Don't splash.' " What a gal.

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