02 Second Start

SECOND START August 1998

Two months after our first departure (and four weeks of repairs and re-issue of visas), we were ready to leave again. A last minute task was some photocopies of our passports at the local pharmacy as it was Sunday. After all the vehicles were stored and everything locked up we set off again. Where were the passports? Whew! Fortunately it was only a 2km detour and the pharmacy was still open!

It was all tarred road (though often with numerous potholes, particularly in Zambia). We drove long hours, stopping only for fuel and to sleep. Messina was our first stop and we enjoyed the good campsite under Baobabs. Near Harare we were fortunate to find a space in spite of all the fences, next to a game farm. In Zambia, north east of Lusaka, near Kapiri Mposhi, we were shielded from the road by a giant anthill. We found the radio mast again, where we had stayed before, in a cleared level area of the natural forest. The new leaves on the trees were amazing shades of copper, rust, maroon and lime green.


The 5th night out, we thought of camping earlier, when we saw a veldt fire coming towards us. On we went until 9 o’clock when we stopped to ask the way. As we pulled off, the left rear side shaft broke. In 4-wheel drive, with front traction, we could carefully follow the track to Kizolanza Farm campsite. The next morning, when replacing the side shaft, Jan noticed that the rear propshaft universal joint was also broken. The spare did not fit. (It happens sometimes!) In Iringa, 50km further, we bought the spares but then had to drive most delicately (again front wheel drive only) for another 135 km to a suitable place for the mechanical operation. This “suitable place” was on the banks of the Ruaha river in between Baobab trees on a concrete slab where a building used to be. Just in case Jan and this Diplodocus were feeling sorry for themselves… there suddenly arrived – a double-deck London bus! A giant camper with low ground clearance; 8 young people in it; seats and sleeping space at the top and kitchen and dining area on the bottom level.

On the 7th day at the turn off to Dar es Salaam we had completed the circle home and back. (A detour of 7000 km!). Through green sisal fields we drove towards Arusha. The clouds lifted and we were fortunate to see Mount Kilimanjaro with its snow-covered peak. After 4050km in 8 days we reached Masai Campsite at Arusha, a popular overlanders’ sojourn. The next morning we found ourselves completely surrounded by little tents.

Towards Ngorongoro and Serengeti. Incredibly bad corrugated and pot-holed dirt road through the town of Mto wa Mbu and then up a hill overlooking Lake Manyara. Thump! Thud! Crack! Left front swivel ball housing cracks and side shaft goes too. Jan phones Brian there in the middle of nowhere (satphone to cell phone) and asks for replacement spares to be sent to Nairobi. Jan toils for 3 hours while a procession of identical safari vehicles pass us.

When we entered the Ngorongoro Conservation area, we were on the North rim in thick indigenous forest. There was such thick mist, we could hardly see the potholes. 15km of crawling down to the valley floor. Once down in the sunlight it was awesome seeing herds of wildlife next to a large lake with the backdrop of the 600m crater walls. The rim campsite is at 2340m and quite cold. On towards Serengeti, on more of the total of 640km of the incredibly bumpy, chassis shaking, battering of bones. Those corrugations were leading to an affliction we called “progressive whiplash”. Jan often tried skilful “tightrope driving”; that is balancing one wheel on the slightly smoother outer gravel edge of the road, sometimes left and sometimes on the right-hand side.

Serengeti: “land of endless space”... The plains are covered with golden grass, the colour of lion. We were indeed lucky to detect a large pride just after we had entered the park. New for us were antelope like the Topi, Thomson’s Gazelle and Grant’s Gazelle. Because of the sparse bush, birds are concentrated in small areas, and we saw many... We admired the architecture of the Seronera wildlife lodge but stayed at Ngiri Campsite with very few facilities; but resident buffalo and birds like Fisher’s Love birds around us. Serengeti is so flat & level because of the volcanic ash from Ngorongoro Crater. It was now September and the wildebeest had migrated to the North but we were thrilled with a good variety of animals we did see.

The same way back. A worthwhile detour was to Olduvai gorge where the Oldupai (wild sisal) grow; and where the Leakey family had discovered the bones of Homo Habilis and 3,5 million-year-old footprints. We met a South African Ranger there who works for the Tanzanian National parks. He said that the Serengeti is still dependent upon donor money. He assured us that all fees go into conservation. We had paid $25 each, entrance plus $30 for the vehicle plus $20 pp camping. (i.e. US$120/day with zero camping facilities!) We saw “Whistling acacias” (because of little mud balls made by ants) and Lions paw (wild ‘dagga’). The Masai people in Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya were a photogenic delight. They wear bright red tartan cloaks and lots of beaded adornments. They always carry a stick or a spear. We have seen them at markets, tending their cattle and once also a whole team playing football, draped in this gear. The “young warriors” wear black clothing and paint patterns and masks of white ochre, on their faces.

KENYA September 1998

It took Jan 8 hours, and some persuasion, at Nairobi airport to extract the spare parts, which the Cotton team had so efficiently dispatched. At the SA High Commission there were faxed letters from Liesl and Ingrid. We were happy with that but fed up with Nairobi. (Felt just like Jo’burg). So at 5pm we decided to get the h…. out of there and head North for the Rift Valley lakes. We plunged into the rush hour traffic.

Late that night we reached the large lush green campsite at Lake Naivasha. That area is the largest producer of roses in Africa. We saw acres of rose bushes the next day and hot houses but no colour anywhere. We crossed the Equator. At Lake Baringo it was hot, humid and “mozzy”. From a local motorboat we saw hippo, croc, and lots of water birds. Kenya: Equator

The road to Lake Turkana (“The jade sea”) and beyond was tough. It consisted of lava beds with shattered small rocks, up to large boulders. There was patterned dry mud and huge salt pans. The trucks had left deep tracks in the washed away sections. The constant hot wind blew the dust from behind into the front windows. What added to the fascinating but hostile scenery was the fact that there was no vegetation near the Soda Lake; only black volcanic rocks. The distance from Maralal to Moyale was 786km. Our average speed was 21km/h. It was 39°C and Jan had to fix another breakdown. He even had to weld a steering arm in the middle of the road.

The Samburu tribespeople we saw, in the town of South Horr, were interesting to look at. The young men were painted and wore an ostrich feather. The women’s adornments consisted of beaded earrings and a pile of single necklaces. If they are unmarried they wear a bright silver medallion on the forehead.

Marsabit was where we had to join the convoy. We were able to buy a used left steering relay arm (just in case the welded one didn’t last). We had to find a workshop with press (to straighten track rod) & angle grinder (to weld swivel ball). Once again the Catholic Mission with a Technical School workshop came to the rescue. We also stayed there for the night.

Narrow escape from deadly ambush:

The Monday morning we were up at 5 to be first in the convoy. We waited but no other vehicles arrived. An Irish motorcyclist came along and we waited. At 09:30 we hired our own armed Police security guard. ($20). We offered to take Liam Kelly’s spare tyres and he went in front. When he stopped for lunch we passed him. The road was the usual; corrugations and deep furrows left by trucks in the wet season. We were bumping along as carefully as possible. “Thud!” “Crash”! Left rear wheel severed. Stub axle broken. Alas! We have no spare. It is late afternoon. 144km have taken us 5 hours. We have more than 100km to go. We are 6000km from home. Jan starts working immediately. The policeman, Shukri and Liam help, but Liam is thinking fast of a plan.

Jan sketches the part, gives him $200, to buy the part in Moyale for return by next convoy. The police Land Rover which passes, does not wait for him. He follows another. He thinks Leoné should be evacuated but she declines. Jan works until dark. Leoné and Shukri pan the bush trying to detect bandit movements. The high lift jack obstructs the chair storage area; so we sit around in the dirt. When we go to bed, Shukri climbs through the hatch. We hand him his machine gun and he keeps watch on the roof the whole night. (chewing sticks of mira, a shrub containing a stimulant drug, growing there).When Jan starts working again, the next morning, our loyal guard passes out on the front seats, with a loose curtain over his head. Cattle trucks pass but no spare part. A large herd of Camels are too afraid of us to pass without much persuasion. At 13h15 the part arrives, together with some unrequested bearings. Liam’s accompanying note says the change is at a hotel in Moyale. Jan was so well prepared that we left half an hour later.

At 17:30 we were still 50km from Moyale. Crunch! Bolts broken, front left. Shukri helps to take the wheel off and put back and quickly we are ready to go. Oh dear! It will not start! It is getting dark and to quote from Liam’s note “A second night on the road and the Shiftas are sure to get you”. Clear diesel air lock and relieved we move again. Lots of animals on the road: kudu, dik-dik, jackal, guinea fowl, baboons, and wild cat – real jungle. About 20km from Moyale there is a single light on the road far ahead. It disappears. When we get closer, it reappears. Jan switches on the powerful spotlights and it is gone. We reach Moyale’s security barrier after 8pm. Shukri speaks to his mates. They tell him about the ambush at 2pm that afternoon, 20km from town (!), of a vehicle and 9 people including the armed guard – all murdered. (Shukri is convinced that the light we saw were the bandits preparing to ambush us, but that the spot lights had scared them, since here only police vehicles have ‘spots’). At the Medina hotel we find Liam’s “letter” with $160 change rolled up like a rod. Our guard escorts us to safe parking in the border area. He is pleased with his well-earned bonus.

The next day quickly through Kenya side. At the border is “the boy” with a note from Liam. He had come to collect the unused bearings (or the money if we had used them). The Kenyan border police confirm the report of the previous day’s ambush.

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