Friday, February 20, 2004

College Towns, Insurance Claims, and Our Favorite Family in Joberg... 

1/28/04 to 2/20/04: I savored my day and a half in Nelspruit because I knew things were going to get hectic in Johannesburg. At the last minute I opted to give the Beast a facelift in Pretoria rather than Johannesburg, since our insurance company’s main office was right down the street from one of the hostel’s in Pretoria. The saga of the accident had caused plenty of headaches during the past few months, so I was pretty fired up to put a nail in the coffin of Cruiser saga. When we originally called our friends at Budget Insurance the day after the accident, they informed us that we were covered in almost every country we had traveled in EXCEPT TANZANIA. At the time I did my best to keep venom from spewing out my nostrils and calmly asked them to review the tapes from my sales call where I was sure they would hear my sales rep claim that the policy covered us “All over Africa”. For the next three months Budget never returned one of my e-mails (And there were plenty), but I had held off on calling them until I was back in South Africa since the 20 minute call from Tanzania had cost us $70. When I called to say I was in town to say hi, they weren’t too happy to hear from me. I think they were hoping we’d been kidnapped or something. After a three-day runaround, they finally told me they were rejecting our claim. I immediately appealed their decision because I knew my secret weapon of a travel partner was flying down from Zanzibar to slap them around with her legal expertise. They agreed to review the decision and in the meantime I started fixing the Beast up on my own. I was planning on the worst-case scenario of $0 from Budget, so my plan was to spend as little as possible to get our baby ready for the auction block. Those plans went a little sideways when the first quote for bodywork came in at $5,000! The “Panel beater” actually laughed in my face and told me I’d be lucky to find someone to give the Beast to, must less sell it. Five panel beaters later I found a guy who would do the job for $1,000, but it would take over a week and I didn’t want to spend that much anyway. With professional repairs out of the equation, I stopped by the hardware store and stocked up on paintbrushes and masking tape. The crumpled shell of the Cruiser was going to get hand painted makeover for less than $50. Sweet! In-between battles with the insurance company and runs to the hardware store, I managed to slip right into the daily life of Hatfield, a small college oriented suburb of Pretoria. University of Pretoria was full of fields for exercising (Rugby & Cricket fields of course) and the nightlife went off seven days a week. I felt like I was back in college, only with more face wrinkles. I also found a great little Yoga studio next to the center of town, so I went to work taking out my insurance company aggressions on my joints and tendons. About a week after I arrived in South Africa, Shannon arrived from Zanzibar to help close the deal. If the Beast didn’t sell in a month, Shannon would stick it out until we had cash in the bank. Two buckets of paint, two windows, one door handle, and four rolls of masking tape later, the Cruiser looked as good as new…almost. There were still plenty of gouges and dents, but we were banking on our buyer caring more about function than form. On the morning the Beast hit the pages of the South African Auto Trader, our phone started ringing off the hook. By that evening we had accepted an offer almost at our asking price, and by the next day we had four people waiting in line if our first buyer flaked. We couldn’t believe it. We knew Land Cruiser’s were popular, but this was kind of ridiculous. An American guy even offered us $700 more than our original buyer if we would put him at the top of the list. Our integrity kept us committed to our first buyer, and it turned out to be the right call since the American turned out to be all talk. The day after we accepted our first buyer’s offer, he had the entire purchase price in Rand ready to hand over to us in cash. Luckily we met with the banks to make sure we could convert Rand’s to Dollars and got our first lesson in international finance. Apparently South Africa is amazingly anal about money flowing into and out of the country and we would have to prove we converted Dollars to Rand in order to convert Rand to Dollars. Since we bought the Beast from the Canadians using Dollars, there was no way we would be able to get the Rand out of the country. Ouch! All was not lost however. Luckily for us, our buyer had been dreaming of owning an old Land Cruiser like ours for years, and he wasn’t about to give up. After over a week and five failed schemes, our trusty buyer Stewart found the loophole that would save our rear ends. Each South African can “Gift” up to 30,000 Rand to an overseas account each year. Therefore, Stewart and his wife just divided the purchase price in two and each “Gifted” half of the purchase price to our American accounts. Whew! While all this cash chaos was going on, Shannon and I relocated down to Johannesburg to stay with Matt Drew, one of the great South Africans we met while hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains months earlier. Matt and his Mother Sally were AMAZING hosts, and the combination of Matt’s birthday BBQ, Sally’s home cooked meals, and a week of great conversation made our stay at the Drew household one of the highlights of the trip. Matt’s dog Sam (Fitting, don’t you think?) also enriched our stay, but the restaurants and clubs Matt took us to are what kept our minds spinning. If you’re into nightlife, Johannesburg has all the options you could find in almost any major American city, including thousands of beautiful people and way too many trophy cars. During one of our last nights we were relaxing at a snazzy Israeli club when an interesting insight popped into my head. I think living close to death breeds a passion for life. The predominately Israeli crowd was going off, and the club was full of energy, positivity, and smiles. Matt and Shannon both mentioned that the majority of their Israeli friends have a particular zest for life, and I could see it all around me. Amir had eluded to the same phenomenon while he was traveling with us, and Tristen had nothing but great things to say about the Trance music that comes out of that small country. This is not just an Israeli thing by any means. Almost everyone I’ve met along the way who’s grown up or lived under life threatening circumstances, seems to have a special sparkle in their eye. Rishard is a great example. He grew up in Iran watching bombs explode all over his neighborhood and that guys zest for living is off the charts. Is there a correlation? Who knows, but it definitely got me thinking. Right before Shannon and I packed our bags for Durban, I had my final confrontation with Budget Insurance. We went round and round, but after all the blood sweat and tears, I agreed that they don’t have to pay for the official damages of 13,000 Rand if they fully refund our 3,300 Rand worth of insurance premiums. We probably could have gotten more if we lived here and took them to court, but 3,300 Rand cash was better than nothing at all considering we were never really covered in Tanzania. I don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch, but IF all the transfers go through over the next couple weeks, the combination of the great sale price, the pre-sale of the winch, the insurance refund, and the weakening of the Dollar (We now get more Dollars for every Rand), will mean we actually made money on the Beast, even after all the repairs. This wouldn’t include all the petrol costs, but if you would have told me we’d make a profit on the Cruiser while I was staring at it’s crumpled corpse on the side of the Tanzanian highway, I would have told to take another hit off your crack pipe. I’m still not sure how everything worked out so perfectly, but the universe seemed to be conspiring for us, so I’m not asking any questions.

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