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!