01 First Start

FIRST START : South Africa to Tanzania

After years of planning and toiling we said goodbye to loved ones and departed. Ingrid was on University vac and was to travel with us for a month. In Nylstroom we greeted good friends and left with some biltong. (Something we would not taste again for a very long time.)  We beat the crowds by being at Beit Bridge border very early in the morning. 

  In Mutare (Zimbabwe) we filled up with diesel, as it was cheapest there until Arabia!  A remote track next to the Zim/Mozambique border with signs saying; “Minas/ Landmines” led to the Nyamapanda border post.  We had to pay R50 border tax, R30 temporary import permit & R85 insurance (even though we had comprehensive insurance, giving worldwide cover). A 5-hour drive, and uneventful crossing of the beautiful bridge over the Zambezi River at Tete, took us to the Malawi border, where the entry procedure took only 10 minutes.  We had to drive until very late to find a campsite in this overpopulated country.  Nkhwazi beach was ideally situated with green lawns and large trees next to the beautiful Lake Malawi.  A perfect place for Jan to wake up at on his birthday. Up to Mzuzu there was good tar. However, the last 120km were potholes held together by tar. We picked up two Swiss, stranded because the bus refused to travel that stretch.  That night we prepared a special meal at Karonga; at the Rakeside Rodge. (Malawian for ‘Lakeside Lodge’).

 

Instead of going directly to Dar es Salaam we took the eastern route towards Lindi. The first 609km in Tanzania was excellent tar (a gift from the British government), through green tea plantations and forests of wattle and bluegum.  The road was on a watershed and the views to the horizon were of endless wild forest.  From Songea, the road surface was absolutely atrocious; red powdered dust and continuous large dongas.  20 km/h for 570km. Finding a campsite, the first night, was easy, but after Tunduru there was more habitation and after dusk we pulled off into a Cashew tree grove. A whole village and the village ‘chairman’ (slightly sozzled) came and welcomed us and invited us to park where they live.  Eventually we managed to terminate the endless pow wow.  The next morning we left a thank you parcel under a tree and departed at 5 am.

                                                                                                                       

Crashed.

About 100km before Lindi, there was good tar again.   Leoné and Ingrid were sleeping in the back.  Jan could not travel too fast, as he had to slow down regularly, for the washed away bridges.  Suddenly there were two, nearly invisible, successive subsidence dips in the otherwise perfect tar.  The first one threw the vehicle up in the air. The second one had a vertical ridge.  When the vehicle came down in the second dip the left front wheel hit the solid curb.  The 6 bolts between swivel ball and axle casing sheared off.  The side shaft became mangled on it’s way out; the two steering tie rods couldn’t take the strain and snapped; the brake pipe also.   Jan shouted: “Crash”! The wheel assembly headed into the bush and the Overlander’s left front plunged into the ground, causing severe leftward drag with no steering and no brakes; as it left the road there was a steep embankment, about 3m high, causing the vehicle to overturn onto its side.  The speed had been reduced somewhat until the brakepipe snapped; the thick bush also reduced the impact; fortunately no large trees at that point!

Blood was streaming from Leoné’s face.  She could stand (on the inside wall!) but was screaming with severe pain around the left hip.  Jan, who was hanging unhurt in his seatbelt, loosened it and climbed through the chaos.  Ingrid was lying unconscious between the door and the roof. Fortunately she came-to quickly, as water from the tank was dripping onto her face. Outside an immense crowd had gathered.  One helped Leoné climb out through the right front door to lie on the ground outside.  Ingrid first tried to restore some order inside, but soon became aware of back and chest pains.  A small man on a motorbike said there was a Mission Hospital nearby (visions of Aids!).  He went for help. A Land Rover ambulance arrived. “I’m Dr. Mwambe.  I am a German trained doctor. You are in good hands“.  No major injuries, it seemed, and Ingrid and Leoné could be painfully moved, (having refused injections on the spot) to St Benedict’s Mission hospital at Ndanda, five kilometres away.          

Tanzania Crash:

In the meantime Jan got really busy: apart from counting the blessings, like:

We had missed a large donga by 10m; (had we hit it, it would have meant full frontal impact); the fact that the vehicle was lying on it’s Left side, (which meant that: the toolbox was on the upper side and he could get to tools, chains and tackle); the diesel tank was on the underside (and so the 160 l diesel ran onto the ground and not into the vehicle); the batteries were on the underside too, (so water instead of battery acid dripped into the inside.) Although acid did get onto some of Leoné's clothes, which subsequently disintegrated (sometimes while wearing them!).

Fortunately Jan had previously modified the springs, so that he was able to remove the broken main blade and replace with spare (bolted instead of forged spring clamps). The impact had caused the chassis to compress 20mm and the main & 2nd blades to break.  (Used hand hoist onto bumper to re-align axle). He had also brought a spare track rod and drag link.  A Tanzanian policeman in pristine white uniform was on guard duty waving a baton to keep the scores (100+) of spectators away.   Hours later, when the tow truck arrived, Jan had repaired the axle for own wheel support and steering; the wheel was ready to be fitted (could not do so with vehicle on it’s side); and the chains were attached to the special uprighting rings (pre-fitted to the side members for this purpose, but hoping not to be needed!).  Ahead came an earthmoving machine, which simply removed the bush so that there would be an inclined towing road up the embankment. It also lifted the vehicle, by the D-ring, to fit the wheel.  The towing proceeded to the large mission workshop, under kind Father Godhart; where they also had a guest cottage.

            At St Benedict’s Hospital, Sister Rose’s gentle touch cleaned the wounds and soothed the bruises.  When Leoné’s distorted nose started bleeding again, she said: “Oh you are breeding from the nose!”  Though in agony, Ingrid and Leoné had to giggle.  After the uncomfortable taking of X-rays, Dr. Mwambo diagnosed “no bones broken”.  People from the mission came to say “sorry about the accident”.  After a dreadful first night, and hearing the abbey chimes every 15 minutes, we met some more charming sisters and even learned some Swahili from Father Manfred.  We were in the private ward of the Staff of St Benedict’s Mission, Ndanda.  Part of our 5 star treatment was the wonderful meals from the Tanzanian/German kitchen served by the gracious young Brother Winfred who also picked flowers for us from the Hospital’s large tropical garden.  The patient in the next door ward was being treated for Malaria – and when a mosquito sneaked in to our room, we were alarmed....  After 3 days we joined Jan at the guesthouse where he had been toiling incessantly.   We were stiff and sore, and scrubbed and packed in slow motion.

He had stripped and cleaned everything, then re-assembled with new sideshaft assembly, bearings, seals, brake hose, shock absorber, etc.; from parts carried, and could get a steering arm from the mission to replace the bent one. Cranked engine without glow plugs to expel oil from cylinders (due to having lain on its side for 8 hours). Washed, cleaned, test-drove …5 days after the accident we were on our way again. A rose from the workshop garden was Father Godhart’s good luck gift.

We were still heading east towards the sea, which we reached at sprawling Mtwara.  We had been told of a lovely beach near there.  We never found it and on the very day we had left the mission we broke a right rear side shaft (clear illustration that we could not use the axle diff lock, since the torque delivered by this engine was more than a single sideshaft could handle).  So that first night we spent in the middle of a sand track.  Next morning Jan found that the spare sideshaft did not fit! (The lockable diffs had tighter tolerances then the normal ones). With a hacksaw blade Jan worked the spline grooves deeper and 4 hours later made it fit; we had 4-wheel drive again to continue towards Dar es Salaam.

At Lindi on a promontory with baobabs overlooking the sea we saw the moon rise.  The road was very badly washed away and at times we only did 10 km/h.  The vehicle body had been distorted and the doors were tight. Because of sore ribs and breastbones, Leoné and Ingrid could not open them without Jan’s assistance.  Ingrid’s University vac was running out, but we had to make a detour to Kilwa Kisiwane (a name on a map, which had fascinated Jan since childhood).  We had to obtain a permit and hire a dhow for the 40-minute crossing to the Island, from the town of Kilwa Masoko.   On the island we walked along fields of bananas and cassavas from remains of an Omani Arab palace (10th century) to a 15th century Portuguese castle ruins.

Back to the main route of muddy, washed out ditches, worsened by truck ruts; pontoon over the Rufiji river and many more bumpy kilometres - painful for a battered body, all the way to Dar es Salaam.  Silver Sands campsite north of the city had a nice beach and some interesting fellow travellers.  It also has guarded parking where we left our Camper while we went to Zanzibar, by boat.

On Zanzibar we had a few relaxing days of walking the narrow streets with their carved doors and balconies; and learning about what grows there.  We went on a most fascinating ‘spice tour’ and saw clove, quinine, nutmeg and other exotic spice and fruit trees. 

             Jackfruit

 There were sultan’s palaces from the heyday of the slave trade.  We explored the beaches and enjoyed the view from rooftop bars and sampled local food in the market and at sea front restaurants. Ingrid was well enough to go scuba diving a few times. She flew back from Dar and we started the 3600km-journey back, driving 9 hours a day.  To make matters even worse, Jan had contracted a stomach bug and was very ill for a few driving days.

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