Tuesday, April 29, 2008

5 days driving through East-Central Africa

Back in Harare after a drive with both ups and downs from Nairobi, Kenya to Harare via Tanzania and Zambia. Round 3700 - 4000 km in 5 days..

I think I can safely say that we experienced both the best and the worst sides of this type of long travels and the way people can act towards you.

The traffic situation in Nairobi is the worst I have ever experienced and I will be happy if I never have to experience anything worse. A kind of permanent traffic jam and it can easy take 45 minutes or more just to move from one place to another. Even though we started driving before 5 am to avoid morning traffic it was still tough to get out of town and onto the road towards the border.

Once we reached the border we got stuck for around 2.5 hours.. mainly cause the car we drove had to be "exported" out from Kenya due to it having been "temporarily imported" for such a long time. Waiting in the heat forever was irritating but one of those things you just have to endure.

After that we were making good progress towards Arusha over the Masaii-plains when after an hour or so we hear and feel that one tyre is rapidly losing air. Great, the first flat already. Get all tools out and start removing the flat etc. surrounded by a small crowd of incredibly dirty sheepherding kids.

And now is when the problems begin.. the car in question, an Isuzu KB280 D/Cab, has the sparewheel sitting under the car at the back. Using a hoisting mechanism one is supposed to lower it and then retrieve it. It is "only" that the whole thing refuse to budge more than a quarter round or so.The wheel is definitely not moving. Finally I heave with all might and - the tip of the lever breaks...

Now what to do? I manage to get the broken part out but now the lever does not fit proper and we are getting nowhere. I flag down a truck that is on its way up towards the border and explain our situation, hoping perhaps they have the same type of lever. As it happens they don't but they have plenty more tools than we do. One of manage to hammer the tip of the lever back to shape and then all 3 of us try. And we all agree that it is stuck and the only thing that will happen with more force is that we break the tip once more. Now what to do, we can't drive some 20 km to Arusha on the rim.

One of the guys come up with the idea that it might be possible to remove the whole mechanism with wheel and all from under the car. He crawls under and slowly but surely manage to undo all the bolts and Hurrah! Roughly 1 hour after we stopped the sparewheel is finally free for use. I profusly thank the 2 guys for all help and the amount of time and sweat they sacrifised for us. I hand them some money (tanzania shilling that we dont have too much of yet).

This can serve as one of many examples of the best sides of traveling through Africa and interact with Africans. People are often friendly, unhurried and willing to assist and help whenever they can.

Once we got the tyre fixed in Arusha (new tube, the old had more or less disintegrated) we continued to Moshi. The city lies at the foot of Kilimanjaro, unfortunately very cloudy weather with some rain meant we did not really see more than the lower slopes this time. We found a nice small hotel where we basically collapsed, worn down after a tough first day on the road. After a shower and a dinner (of course we got the waiter that could have been in Fawlty Towers) we crashed in bed to get well deserved sleep.

Next day was completely different. We just drive on along good roads down towards Chalinze where you then either turn down towards Dar es Salaam or up towards the mountains and the borders to Malawi or Zambia. I manage to get hold of old friend Darrin who runs a camping/lodge between Mikumi and Iringa and we made it our goal for the day even though he would not be there. A nice drive through Mikumi National Park where we saw giraffe, elephants and assorted smaller game along the way ended the day.

It is just about dusk when we turn off the road and in to Baoabab Valley. I had not been there since 2001 and I am well aware that it has had problems since but also that they started refurbishing last year. Was hoping for the best so that Mia would not be too disappointed.

Only problem is that the place seems totally empty! After some hooting 2 nice and friendly masaii guys show up, Steven and Jimmi. The situation is that the manager Eric apparently has left for Dar to seek medical treatment, the cook too but to get some leave and the "vice-manager" Oria is in the nearest village to get malaria-treatment.. OK. I explain to Steven that we know Darrin and he has promised us "the River Banda" for a friendly price (Baobab Valley Camp is right next to Ruaha River). Steven carries our suitcase down to the rather grand River Banda, it has got a huge bed and is semi-open to the river. Sadly no power as the generator stopped working and Steven doesn't know how to fix. We refresh with an icecold shower and chill a bit when suddenly the generator roars to life! Only nothing changes in our banda... I go up to the restaurant/bar area and find that Steven had got help from 3 gentlemen who stopped to camp for the night.

Too bad then that our banda is not connected - and that Mia finds a small scorpion in the handbasin. Hm. We kill it and you bet that the sheets were thoroughly shaken before going to bed.

While Mia with some assistance from Steven makes something with eggs to eat (once we fixed that the gas was finished in the kitchen) I go and check on the other visitors. It is hard to believe but on the parking stand 3 Morris Minor ranging in model from -49 to -65 (I think it was).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Minor
In these cars a company of 6 are travelling and planning to drive these oldtimers from Cape Town to London! Beat that! I gave them some information on Dar where they aimed to arrive next day and generally on driving in Tanzania (good roads, plenty of police, roadblocks and villages to slow your progress). Fantastic! Eventually I managed to find some info on the net about their MAD Odyssey.
http://www.morrisminoroc.co.uk/index.php?page=406

Next morning Oria is back and we chat about old memories from Dar, how to continue to improve the Valley and such while Mia makes some breakfast. Then it is off towards our next goal, the border between Tanzania and Zambia. After much thought we decided to drive that route since we count on it taking one day less and we are a bit tired of travelling (spent nearly a week in Nairobi before starting the drive home). We get to the border as the sun starts to set and this is not only one of but THE most chaotic border I have ever experienced.

Luckily I know what to do, what documents to sort and what needs to be paid so in the end it did not take all that long actually. We drive on and are now faced with the next problem: where to stop for the night. Nightdriving in Africa is generally best avoided and on these truck- and busroutes definitely not recommended. I called a friend in Lusaka and asked for advice, he recommended the small town Mpika som 300 km from the border.

And now we sadly run into problems again. We had just passed the turnoff to some small place and were starting to worry over how far we had left, if nothing else because it was quite some time since we filled up diesel. We saw a number of buses that had stopped on the side of the road (it is by now pitch dark) and decide to stop and ask someone. Mia turns off towards the "oncoming" side of the road as the drive side is full of parked buses. She then sees a man in reflecting clothes waving frantically from the "drive side" of the road. Thinking it is police or something waving to her (you have no idea of the amount of roadblocks we had been through) she crosses the highway. From behind comes a bus that did not manage to break in time but hits us in the back. It is of course the bus the man is waving for...

Now follows the less nice side of people in Africa. Out of nowhere a sort of mob quickly gathers that are trying to get in the car, get me and Mia out and for some reason seem set to either steal or beat us up or both. It feels rather nasty and Mia is also very upset and trying to argue about who's fault is the accident. I manage to get round the car to her side and a police in civilian clothes has also appeared and is trying to calm things down. A bunch of pissed off buspassengers contribute to the commotion as does the fact that quite a few people are obviously drunk.

The police finally manage to quiet things down and we drive the car some 30 meters to a roadblock (why did we not spot that and stop there...).. After this follows hours of discussions, interrogations of the drivers and witnesses, various police get involved (the most senior notably drunk), negotiations etc before we take our car together with the bus driver and police to the nearest station, 45 km in the wrong direction. After paying fines comes the next problem: there is nowhere to make a copy of license and documents in the middle of the night. Argh.

After some discussion we agree with the busdriver to "codrive" to Mpika and meet the buscompany agent there. He can then copy the documents early next morning, give us the originals and then we continue. Fine, we get there, meet the guy, are shown to a motel where we crash into bed, completely wasted, at 2.30 am.

Following a quick breakfast some hours later we meet up with Peter at the fuel station. Now we find out there is no power in Mpika and it is said to stay that way - for 2 days until Monday... aaargh once more. Eventually we agree that Peter comes with us some 400 km to a larger city where he can copy documents and then meet his boss. We manage to copy along the way and then part with Peter. Once we hit Lusaka at the end of this day it is all about shopping a bit, eat some food and just watch TV and catch up on lost sleep. The last leg home the next day goes via the small Kariba Dam border, a very conscious choice by me as I know buses and trucks are not allowed via that border. Thankfully the drive is very non-dramatic and we arrive home in good order.

Having arrived home I noticed that 5 days in a car was an excellent way to mature a Gouda cheese we bought in Nairobi, yum. The children are still in Nairobi and will be home in a couple of days.

Zimbabwe is in a sad state and the circus surrounding the election outcome continues. While we were gone the rate for 1 USD fell from round 65 million zimdollar to around 115 million.. and a bag of peanuts cost 73 millions last I checked. A lunch sandwich with cheese and sandwich meat costs 70 million. Welcome to Ha-ha-harare, fun capital of Southern Africa.

Will scan and post some photos from the trip later!
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