Days 341-354: Wrapping up in Cape Town

Now that I was in Cape Town, the work was to begin. In order to import the car into Canada I had to do many things. There couldn’t be any dirt on the car, there were a few repairs I wanted to have done while I was in a place that knew land rovers, and I had to remove all of the wood from the car (customs won’t allow non treated wood to be imported). These things don’t sound difficult, and normally wouldn’t be, except that my car had been driving the muddy African roads for a year and was last thorough cleaned… well, never.  So that mud was pretty baked on.  The dust also manages to get into every little nook and cranny, which when combined with some oil/diesel that had spilled, created a bit of a difficult mess to clean up.

The wood removal was easier in ways, but had complications. I had used plywood to build my bed in the back, and it held everything in place including my small fridge. It also created the storage space for lots of little bits and pieces. The cleaners also needed to be able to get at everything, and all this wood was going to make that difficult. That meant I had to find a place to take everything apart and store it while it was being cleaned.

Luckily I found a campsite outside of Cape Town (Fat Pony Backpackers owned by Allan and Lorna, a very nice couple) where they didn’t mind me doing this kind of work. Allan even helped me out with a few things.  I took all the major stuff out of the car and stored it in a secure place, then proceeded to rip out all of the woodwork.

This was much easier than I expected, so it went pretty quickly. While the woodwork was gone and I had access to it, I also wanted to see what was making the second fuel tank leak. I inspected it but couldn’t find the cause, so I decided it was better to leave it out. I had a lot to do and couldn’t spend time dealing with things I didn’t need to.

Once everything was out, I cleaned it up enough so that I could still sleep in it, and then started on the next things that needed to be done. I got most of the repairs done pretty easily (at ‘Roverland’), and the cleaners (‘Auto Armour’ in Belleville) did an amazing enough job that I almost didn’t recognize my car afterwards. The guy at the storage place commented ‘I didn’t realize your car was green’!

I picked up some large plastic barrels in town (at ‘Plastics for Africa’) and managed to fit most of my stuff in them for transport. I did this thinking they would be outside of the car during shipping, but they fit well enough in the car and they were pretty heavy, so it was simpler to leave them inside. That also made customs easier on the South African side, as none of my personal effects had been declared coming into the country (which is pretty normal for my kind of trip).

Once the now sparkling clean car was all loaded up, I had a new problem: I couldn’t stay at Fat Pony any more as it would all be dirt roads there and I needed to keep the car clean. I couldn’t find secure parking in town that would accommodate a high vehicle, so in the end I parked it out near the airport.

A few days later we had an appointment with customs to pack the car into the container. The appointment was at 8am and I had been warned about the traffic, so at the advice of the locals I took a taxi to the airport parking at 5:30 to pick the car up at 6, in order to be at the port at 8. I think the locals were a little pessimistic, because I ended up having a leisurely breakfast in town and still got to the port by 7. Still, I’d rather be early than miss the appointment so I didn’t mind.

The guy from my customs agency arrived along with the customs inspector, but when we went into the loading area a problem became obvious: my container hadn’t been delivered yet. It got even more complicated as by the time we realized that the container in front of us wasn’t the right one and mine wasn’t there yet, the customs guy had already signed my carnet. Time passed, the container hunt went on, and eventually the customs agent had to leave for another appointment.

He allowed us to just keep the car inside the facility and stamp the carnet back at his office, which was very nice of him.

The container arrived later that morning, and my car got packed away. It was done a little differently than when I shipped the car from Benin, this time they nailed down wooden wheel chocks to the floor of the container as well as strapping the car down very securely. Once that was done we put the customs seal on as well as my padlock, and that was that.

It was nice for all this to finally be done, as now I didn’t need to worry about timetables quite so much and could just relax and be a tourist, albeit a tourist on foot. I was still somewhat sad, though, as I guess this felt like the end of the trip for me, and it’s been a long and interesting one. That car was my vehicle, my home, and even in some ways my protector on a few occasions. I hope it arrives in Canada OK.

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Days 326-340: Manzini, Swaziland to Cape Town, South Africa

I hadn’t really done much in Swaziland in terms of sight-seeing, as nothing I read had piqued my interest (I should probably admit to being quite jaded by this point). On my way to Durban I decided to correct this by going to the cultural village at Mantenga Falls. It was nothing special, and other than taking a few snaps of the nearby falls I didn’t even take out my camera.

The next stop was the city of Durban, which has a bit of a bad reputation for crime, but I was interested to meet up with one of my former colleagues from Belgium who was working there. Sadly, Iain wasn’t well and we couldn’t meet up, so I just played tourist instead. The waterfront was very nice, and quite touristy, but I’m told that if you head into different areas of town it can be dangerous. It didn’t feel that different to me, nonetheless I stayed at a campsite outside of town and took safety precautions.

From Durban I was now basically just heading west to Cape Town, with various stops along the way. The most interesting place was Coffee Bay, where I spent a few days to rest up. That day I was supposed to stay in the town of Port St. Johns where there are several campsites, but the local river had flooded a few days before and none of the camp sites were allowing people to stay, even when I protested I didn’t need much more than a scrap of land to park on.  I had to push on to Coffee Bay, and as I drove there I started to realize it was likely going to get dark before I arrived, and then the fog rolled in. Driving unfamiliar twisty roads on a foggy night is no fun, especially since the drivers here in South Africa are, shall we say, insane.  I had to alter my plans a little and didn’t go to the camp site I wanted, but went for a night to what I thought would be the simplest to get to. I arrived safely, phoned the manager to get the front gate open, and stayed there for the night. The next day I went on to the pleasant ‘Hole in the wall’ campsite/resort named for the nearby rock with a hole dug into it by the pounding waves. I rested there for a few nights and then pushed on to cape town along the ‘garden route’, which is very beautiful.

Time was running short, though, and I had a lot of work ahead to prepare my car for shipping.  My drivers license was expiring, my carnet was expiring, my return ticket purchased, and none of those dates could be easily changed. I packed up and did the final few days of driving until I arrived at Cape Town, the end point of this journey.

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Days 312-326: Serowe, Botswana to Manzini, Swaziland

After having spent a pleasant day at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, the next day I headed off towards South Africa. I had a little confusion at the border as they wouldn’t stamp my carnet, saying that the two countries were in a trade bloc and so it would be stamped when I leave SA. I went to the SA side and they also confirmed this, so I reluctantly entered South Africa without my carnet stamps.

I arrived in Pretoria later that day and arrived at the campsite a little late, so it was already closed for arrivals.  I eventually found the owner and he let me in, so all was well in the end. I was tired so I mostly relaxed for a day or two, but also wanted to go into town to meet some of the people I had met previously in the trip. It was good to catch up with some familiar faces, so that was a welcome break.

I also decided that this might be a good time to look into winches for my car, as finding the winch bumpers might be difficult in Canada and this was really the first time I had the option of adding one.

I did some shopping around and eventually found a winch/bumper that was about what I was looking for and should survive Canadian winters pretty decently. I’m not sure yet if it’s money well spent, we’ll see in a few years.

One of the things I was expecting in South Africa was that the infrastructure would be good here, so imagine my surprise when most of the traffic lights (or ‘robots’ as they call them here) weren’t working for the four days I was in the area. Going through the intersections with eight lanes of traffic converging took forever, with traffic backing up for a kilometer or two, and I often had to go through 7-8 of them each day. For some reason they never bothered putting a traffic warden in those places, I can’t imagine why. Needless to say, I wasn’t too impressed with South Africa’s ‘infrastructure’.

After Pretoria I headed towards Kruger park, one of the ‘must see’ destinations for anybody seeing wildlife in Africa. I didn’t realize you needed to pre-book the camp sites and couldn’t do it at the gates, so I was lucky to find most of what I wanted was still available, since this wasn’t high season.

Kruger was very good and lived up to it’s reputation, with lots of great infrastructure and very well set up for tourists. Each major campsite had a store, restaurant, and gas. In fact, the infrastructure and roads were good enough that often I didn’t feel like I was in a park, at least until a bunch of animals would cross the road nearby.  The only animal I didn’t see that I was hoping for was a Cheetah, although the lions were hard to find for the first few days.

Kruger was the last game park I was going to visit on this trip, so I was a bit sad to leave it, but after five days it was time to move on.

The next stop on my was the tiny country of Swaziland, the world’s last absolute monarchy, where I stayed in the second largest city, Manzini. There wasn’t a whole lot to see or do there, as it’s quite similar to South Africa in terms of climate and culture, but it’s nice and was a good place to rest after a week of pretty constant driving.  Once again nobody was interested in seeing my carnet at these borders, but I decided that was likely normal here.  After I was rested, it was once again time to move on back into South Africa.

 

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Pics: Kruger National Park, South Africa

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Days 302-311: Livingstone, Zambia-Serowe, Botswana

After saying goodbye (once again) to Jodana and Adam, I left Livingstone and headed into Botswana. I crossed the border with no real hassles (you get used to the normal issues) I stayed overnight just outside of Chobe park, which is famous for it’s vast elephant herds. I was lucky to see a few elephants on the road, and group came to the river next to the campsite for a drink that evening.

The next two days in Chobe park itself were, I must admit, disappointing. Chobe is renown for it’s herds of elephants, and I guess the stars weren’t aligned right (or in this case the weather) as I only saw four or five elephants over two days, with many game drives. To put that into perspective, most people report seeing hundreds or even thousands.  It was overcast when I arrived, and some of the people I met said they go into the forest when

that happens… ‘but there were tons around yesterday!’ Seeing such herds was something I was looking forward to. Sadly, there were no fuel stations inside the park and with my reserve tank unusable I didn’t have enough diesel to add an extra day onto my trip, so I headed south.

About half way through the next day’s drive, I encountered a problem, once again my battery light went on. I pulled over only to find that my new alternator’s pulley was out of line with the other pulleys for that belt. Some more checking showed that the bolt retaining the pulley had come loose and fallen off, and the pulley proceeded to strip the threads from the pulley shaft and even bend it! The only thing I can imagine was that I didn’t tighten that nut well enough, although it was pretty tight. Needless to say, this alternator wasn’t easily repairable even though it was only a few weeks old. I checked the GPS and found that there was a campsite about 30km back named Drifters, so I proceeded to limp there a few km at a time. The belt that drives the alternator also drives the water pump, so I could only drive for minute or so before I had to stop and let the engine cool down again. It took a couple hours, but I finally got to the campsite. Luckily for me, they also had a workshop and there was a town 15km further down the road with a good parts dealer. The manager at the campsite was quite helpful, and after a few days I got the alternator replaced. It took a couple of tries, though, as the first alternator I purchased was a dud.  I double checked the pulley was on securely this time, and off I went.

After leaving Chobe I was planning to visit the Khama Rino Sanctuary. It’s quite small, considering the animals they have, and so I only stayed the one day, doing game drives the afternoon when I arrived and the next morning before leaving. It has a good reputation, and I can see why, there were many rhinos there, and several other animals as well. Definitely worth a visit.

 

 

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Pics: Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Botswana

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Pics: Chobe Park, Botswana

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Pics: Livingstone, Zambia (second visit)

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Days 281-301: Mwandwizi-Livingstone, Zambia

After I got all of my visa issues sorted out in Mbala, I met up with my friend Jodana and she directed me to her village of Mwandwizi, which otherwise would have been quite hard to find. She’s a peace corps volunteer there teaching the locals how to do fish farming, something needed to diversify and stabilize the local food supply.

Her village is a nice and very isolated place, but the population seemed a bit more spread out than in the other villages I had been to. My original intention was to visit a few different volunteers, but after a day or two there I realized that my truck’s engine was making some odd noises I didn’t like, and then after trying to charge the aux battery by running the engine for a while, the car wouldn’t start. Combined with a few other things I had noticed, I concluded that my alternator had failed. In order to test that and be sure, I had to start the car. Luckily, I had a solar panel and I switched that from charging my aux battery to my engine battery, which let me start the engine after half a day or so. A few quick checks showed me that indeed, the alternator wasn’t working.

Given that my car wasn’t seeming to be reliable, I decided going to a lot of remote villages wasn’t a good idea and just stayed with Jo for an extra few days, which was quite nice and relaxing. One of the projects that she showed me was the local community school that needed windows, doors, desks, chairs, and a teacher to take over from the local lay-preacher who was coming in to teach a few hours a week. I took some photos for her to use in a grant proposal, and the kids really seemed to enjoy that. Finally the day came when I had to leave, and so we headed into Mbala, the town near Jo’s village.

We stayed overnight at a fairly cheap motel there (Grasshopper Inn) and even though I parked the car right outside our window, a thief broke on of my windows and rummaged through the contents of my car. He had somehow also gotten our room window open and fished a few things out the window. Luckily, he didn’t get any money or anything important, we were quite lucky.  He took a point and shoot camera I used as a backup for when I don’t want to bring my expensive DSLR, a cheap cell phone, and some head lamps. When I think about the things I could have lost, I’m quite thankful. A woman staying in another room had the door broken in and lost some money and a couple phones, and she ended up having to fight the guy off, which would have been very scary. We heard her screams but couldn’t figure out at the time what it was or where it was coming from. Looking back on it I’m kind of glad I didn’t know, as we later found he was carrying a knife.

I patched up the window with duct tape, filed a police report, and then headed south towards Lusaka.  On the way to Kasama, my first stop on the way, my car problems got worse. I noticed the engine temperature was getting higher than it should, and after slowing down to test the power steering I found it wasn’t working either. I pulled over to the side of the road and found that my fan belt had fallen off! It was still there in the engine bay, so I put it back on. The fan belt drives the water pump (to cool the engine), power steering, and the alternator.  Since I knew the alternator was giving me problems, I suspected it was the problem, but testing the pulley on the alternator didn’t show any wobble or resistance to moving so I was confused.

A couple kilometers later, the problem happened again. Again, I put the fan belt back on, checked what I could think of to check, and continued. It fell off again, almost right away. At this point I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, I needed to do some reading and thinking. I took the belt all the way off and we proceeded to limp the last 15km into Kasama. This was sort of painful, as I had to drive about 3-4 km and then stop for ten minutes to allow the engine to cool down. Luckily I had a temperature gauge fitted on the oil filter, so I had a pretty good idea of the actual engine temperature and could see when I had to stop.

Eventually I made it to the lodge were I was going to stay for a few nights, and had some time to try and figure out what the issue was. It didn’t take too long, actually. It turns out that when I had my water pump die in Kenya the replacement fan belt was the wrong type. At some point Land Rover changed the diameter of the alternator pulley, and so the new belt that goes with it is a few mm shorter. I had the longer belt, and should have had the short one. It had worked for about a month, but I guess after that time it slowly stretched and finally just hit a point were it would start to fall off. I had a spare belt, so I dug it out and it indeed solved the problem.

When running the engine after putting the new belt on, I heard the engine didn’t sound right. I took the belt off, checked all the pulleys, and found the bearing on the water pump was shot. This was the water pump that was less than a month old, of course. In the end I decided it was my fault, as when I was taking the water pump off the first time in Kenya, I was having a real problem getting one of the bolts off.  In my attempts to get it off, I bent the water pump pulley a bit. I concluded that the wobble of the pulley caused the bearing to wear, and ultimately caused the pump to fail. I took the pulley off and tried to straighten it out as much as I could, and the result was a little better, but I definitely needed a new pulley. I had been looking for one already and knew it would be hard to find, but figured I should be able to get it in Lusaka. if I could get to Lusaka, that is. I still needed a new water pump.

I did a lot of hunting around town and did finally find a new pump, but they were asking about 20x what it was worth. It would have been convenient to get a pump in town, otherwise I would have to get a bus into Lusaka, find a pump, and get another bus back. Still, the price they were asking was ridiculous and I got them down to about 4x what it was worth, which turns out to be pretty close to what I could buy one for in Lusaka.

After a quick water pump replacement I now had a working water pump, a mostly unbent water pump pulley, and a fan belt of the correct length. I felt that now I should be able to get to Lusaka and there I hoped to find an alternator. In the meantime, I could use the solar panel to charge my engine battery and that seemed to be going OK.

It took me another few days to work my way down towards Lusaka, as I was taking it easy and wasn’t in any rush. When I got there I had a bit of a hard time finding the parts I needed, but I did manage to get an alternator and a spare (just in case!) water pump. I hadn’t found a replacement pulley yet and was worried the vibration on the pulley would kill the new water pump after a short while.

I had some problems getting the alternator switched over, as getting the pulley off of the old alternator was difficult. You may have noticed that “removing pulleys” is not my strong suit. I got some help from a local shop and we got the pulley off eventually by destroying the old alternator. That was OK, I had a new one. With the new alternator in place and working (yay!) I could finally drive without worrying too much about things. Over the next few days I saw some weird things with the electrical system still, but after a few tests I was convinced that the new alternator was still OK… my problem was my auxiliary battery. I had known the aux battery was going, as it’s little charge indicator never showed green any more, and even after driving for a long time it didn’t seem to be able to run my fridge for more than 8-10 hours. When I first installed it the fridge could run for 2-3 days without a problem, so I knew it was on it’s way out. I disconnected the battery from the rest of the system to make sure the dying battery didn’t kill everything else, which meant I was still mostly running without a fridge, which was annoying.

Another couple of days found me returning to Livingstone. I knew there was a good Land Rover garage here there, and there were a few issues that had been bothering me that I needed to sort out, like the stupid pulley. I also needed to replace the bushes on the front shocks, and had been having problems getting the old ones off. Finally, I still needed to replace the window broken by the thief in Mbala.  The shop was really busy and couldn’t do much on my car until after Easter, but they did help me replace the window right away with an old one they had lying around.

While waiting to get my car into the shop, I hunted around and found a replacement aux battery, which is very nice as now the fridge can be run for multiple days on a single charge once again! I also knew that Jodana, her boyfriend, and another friend of his were coming into town over the Easter weekend, and it would be nice to see them as well.

When they arrived we had some fun kicking around town and two of us went down to see the falls again, they were much more impressive this time around as the last time I saw them it was dry season and now it’s the wet season and the falls were in full force. Walking along the pathways to see the falls was like being in a strong shower a lot of the time, and we got totally drenched. We were warned about that, so it was OK, even kind of fun!

 

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Days 272-280: Mwanza, Tanzania-Mpulungu, Zambia

Heading out from Mwanza I was now going through the middle of Tanzania, where there honestly wasn’t much to see. It was several days of long driving days, where my main annoyance were the frequent police checks. One day I was stopped over 16 times, adding over 90 minutes to my journey only to have to answer the same silly questions over each time and deflect the occasional request for ‘presents’. That got really annoying by the end of the day, so the next day I went via a more direct back road instead of the much longer highway highway route and although the road was much worse and I had to drive much slower, I probably arrived around the same time as if I took the highway… and no police checks!

Eventually I came to Mtamba village, were my friend Dave is working as a peace corps volunteer.  I had met Dave in Zanzibar and he invited me to see his village, and that’s been interesting for

me in the past so I took him up on it. What I didn’t realize was that Dave’s village is up in the mountains, up a road with about fifty steep and tight-cornered switchbacks. The harrowing drive was worth it, though, as the view in the village is spectacular.

Dave showed me around the village a little, and I heard about some of the projects they had to increase tourism a bit. The Kitulo National park is basically next door, Tanzania’s newest and least visited park. We talked about it, and eventually I decided I would exit his village via the park and Dave decided he’d come with me, as he’d not really had a chance to see it. The park itself is quite nice, with some spectacular views and lots of flowers. There aren’t many animals there, so this isn’t a park you want to go to for game spotting, but if you like flowers I suggest a visit. It’s pretty cheap, and when I signed the guest/registration book we were the first visitors to come through in a week!

We spent a little time trying to find different areas of the park, but since we couldn’t stay there for the night and I had to get into town, we had to move on and be satisfied with that. It was well worth the trip.

From there I headed to Mbeya, the nearest large town. At this point I had to make a final decision about my route. I wanted to go back and see some of my friends I made in Zambia, but that would take a bit of time and I was starting to be aware that I was running out of time.

My original plan had been to head south from Tanzania into Malawi, then head west through Mozambique and Zimbabwe into Botswana and then into South Africa. There were two time constraints I was facing, however, my drivers license was going to expire in mid-may and my carnet de passage (kind of a passport for my car) would expire at the end of May.  That meant that basically I had be finish with my driving by mid-may, or I had to fly back to Canada to renew my license and also deal with some Belgian logistics to get my carnet renewed and sent to me wherever I would be. The trip back to Canada wouldn’t be cheap, and so in the end I decided to skip Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.  It was rainy season anyway, and I had been warned that the roads could be really bad in those areas. I also wanted some spare parts for my car and I knew I would have trouble getting those parts in any of those places.  So in the end I decided to double back through Zambia and then hit Botswana and South Africa, putting the car into a shipping container in Cape Town, spending a few weeks as a backpacker in South Africa, and then flying out of Africa from Johannesburg.

So with my mind made up, I headed back towards Zambia, but not the border right near where I was… all of the people I wanted to visit were in the north. That meant a very long day of driving, as there wasn’t really anywhere to stay on the route. Little did I know that the ‘good’ highway for most of my route had just been dug up and was still under construction. Let me be clear on this: they dug up the whole 200km stretch of the highway and had, when I saw it, rebuilt about 3km of it. I spent most of the day driving on a rough ‘temporary’ dirt road right next to what looked like a really nice highway. Every once and I while there would be a stretch were they let you drive on the smoothed highway surface, but always within a few hundred meters you were shunted off to the side again.

When I finally crossed over the border and got to Mpulungu on the Zambian side of Lake Tanganyika, it was dark and I had been driving for 12 hours. It wasn’t fun.

Adding to the fun was that I was seeing a few signs that maybe my alternator wasn’t happy, and I was also getting a little stressed out. Luckily I knew a few of my peace corps friends were going to be at the lodge when I arrived, and indeed there was a group of about fifteen of them! I knew four or five of them from Christmas and Zanzibar, so it was nice to see them again.

I was going to go visit my friend Jodana in her village, but I had one small delay: I hadn’t cleared customs/immigration yet. The guy at the border gate filled out a portion of my carnet, but I had to get immigration done at Mbala (about an hour away from where I was staying) and customs at the place I was staying in Mpulungu. The issue was that I crossed the border Friday evening at around 6pm, and both had closed for the weekend by the time I got to Mbala. So basically I had to hang around Mpulungu until Monday morning, go to customs, drive to Mbala, do immigration, and then I could meet Jo and see her village. I was a little worried about the chance they might make a fuss about me being in the country with no visa for a few days, but either nobody noticed or nobody cared and it all went smoothly.

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