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!
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.
During the next stage of my trip I was joined by Jodana, a peace corps volunteer that I originally met in Zambia over Christmas. She had expressed an interest in joining me for this part of the trip, and I’m always ready to have company for a while.
We started in Zanzibar very early the day after the festival ended, which was tough but necessary if we were to get out of the city. I had to get to Dar on the ferry, then take another ferry over the river to fetch the truck from the campsite were I had stored it, then we had to meet up at a store and pick up some groceries and a tent for Jo before we could actually get on the road. Of course not much of this went according to plan, but we finally got going around mid afternoon and made some decent progress towards Mount Kilimanjaro. We didn’t have the time or inclination (har har) to climb it, so there was no need for us to actually enter the park. The second night of out trip we made it to Moshi, were we could almost see the mountain in the distance. Sadly, the mountain was covered by clouds and we couldn’t see much. We spent the night there and then moved on to Arusha the next morning.
Driving into Arusha park was a quite nice, but I will admit that I was a little disappointed with how few animals there were. The scenery was quite nice, though, and so it was still a very pleasant day and well worth it. Since I had been driving a lot and was tired, we stayed an extra day in Arusha to explore the town a little and headed to Karatu, a town just outside of Ngorongoro Crater park, the next day.
As the best time to view the crater is early in the morning, we slept in Karatu for the night before heading into the park for 6am the next morning. We were tired, but it was definitely worth it. The crater park is amazing, with tons of wildlife everywhere. The was Jo’s first real safari drive and so her excitement made it more fun for me as well. After seeing thousands of Zebras I’ve gotten a little jaded I guess, so it’s good to remember how unusual some of these sights are.
Sadly, the morning came to and end and so did my time with Jo, she had to head back to her village, which would take several days. I drove back to the park gate and in very little time she had found a ride back into town with a couple of tourists that had also just finished a safari drive. It was annoying that I couldn’t drive her back myself, but if I left the park I’d need to pay a second time to come back in.
After dropping off Jo I headed to the park’s main campsite so I could go into the Serengeti fresh and early. On the way in I just missed seeing a Leopard, which would have been cool, and on the way to the park I saw a lot of giraffes and elephants quite close to the car, which sadly Jo missed.
In the morning, when heading into the Serengeti, I started having car problems: when working the engine at all it would suddenly lose power after 30-40 seconds. The was odd, and I wondered about my fuel filter, which was past due for a change, and also about my last tank of gas that I had just bought the night before. I tried to change the fuel filter on the road, being somewhat careful as I knew there were predators in the park, but the spare filter I had was missing it’s drain plug, and the old drain plug wouldn’t fit, so I had to continue with the old one. I tried draining it as well as cleaning out the air filter, and that helped a but and got me through the next two days until I could get another replacement filter. I was worried about if it could be other issues, but it felt like the engine was getting starved, so the filter made sense. It was either that or a hose collapsing under vacuum, I thought. Changing the filters the next day did the trick, however, so my first guess was correct.
After leaving the park I headed north to Musoma, where I would meet Stephan and Anne-Tina, a Swiss couple working for an NGO in the area. I had met them on Lake Tanganika, and again in Zanzibar, so I thought it would be nice to pay them a visit and see the town. There isn’t much to Musoma, but it has some nice views of Lake Victoria and it was a pleasant stay.
My next stop was Mwanza, the second largest city in Tanzania. This was on my route but I had also met two teachers from international schools here while I was in Zanzibar. They had indicated that I could come for visit, so I did. Never invite me to drop by unless you really want a visit!
Having a couple of locals acting as tour guides and social coordinators was quite nice, we went out quite a bit, and I met many locals. One of the locals, Timothy, was a drumming teacher and suggested going to the local cultural museum at a nearby town of Bujora. It showed a lot of the traditional dress, housing, and such from the area.
After finishing up in Nairobi I was basically finished with Kenya and now only worried about getting to Dar Es Salaam. I had plans to meet up with some peace corps volunteers there, some of the same ones I met in Zambia.
On the way was Tsavo park, which I had heard many good things about, but which also didn’t seem to have much I hadn’t seen a lot of already. Instead of doing safari drives there, I decided to just take a leisurely drive through the park on my way to the Tanzania border. The park was quite nice, and I saw several animals without any effort.
The border crossing was pretty easy, if maybe less formal than I expected.
On the Tanzania side I had a little trouble finding a camp site, places seemed to be closed or not a placed that looked like I wanted to stay there. Eventually I found a motel that allowed camping and the next day drove the rest October the way to Dar. The police on that highway were really annoying, though. I was pulled over five times that day for no real reason and was starting to get annoyed. One of them had clocked me at 57, and only after debating with him for 10 minutes did I get him to admit it was an 80 zone and not a 50 zone. Meanwhile the locals are flying past us at 90.
The ferry across the river to where my camp site was located took forever, and I really wasn’t feeling well by the time I arrived. Luckily I had 4-5 days to rest there and try to get some repairs done. I replaced the parking brake cable, found a proper turn indicator stalk and replaced it, and did some other miscellaneous repairs. I found that one cause of the noises I had been hearing was very simple, one of the mud guards on the rear brakes had come loose enough to start scraping against the brake disk. The guard was in bad enough shape that it came off in my hand, and I could see at least one of the bolts holding it in place had broken off in place, which will make it a little difficult to fix properly. Luckily, it’s not a critical part.
Finally the day arrived when the train from Zambia was due. I crossed the river back into the main area of town and checked into the hotel they were due to stay in, and that afternoon headed to the train station. Now, having traveled in Africa for seven months you might think I would have wizened up by this time, but apparently not. After negotiating my way to the train station via the local mini bus services, I found the train station mysteriously vacant. A little searching revealed a sign stating the train was now due 14 hours later, about 5am the following morning. I amused myself for the rest of the day and found a taxi driver with a connection inside the station who could tell me when it was actually going to arrive, which turned out to be after 9am.
The troops arrived and I spotted them easily, they stood out of the crowd a little bit and that made it easy. After they arranged for money exchanges, etc, we headed to the Zanzibar ferry. They were supposed to have an evening in Dar, but with their train being late we now just headed to the ferry. I had purchased my tickets a few days back, so I knew where the ticket booths were, which was good as there are lots of touts in the area trying to sell you less official tickets… I have no idea if they would have worked our not. A few hours later we were on the ferry and before the afternoon was over we were on the beach on the northern park of the island.
I’m not going to write much about the beach, it was a beach and it was great, but by definition I didn’t do very much. It was good. The only drawback was that my smartphone went missing, which I was pretty sure I had left charging in my room.
After a few days on the beach it was time for the Sauti za Busara music festival in the city. Since I had booked separately from the rest of the group I was in a different hotel, and with no phone I had no easy way to find out what was going on. It worked out better than I would have thought, as the city isn’t too large and we often talked ahead of time about plans for the next day.
The festival itself was pretty good, a mix of different music styles and some other performers such as dancers, acrobats, etc. If you’re in the area, it’s worth taking a look. Not all the music was exactly my kind of stuff, so I didn’t stay for everything, but I enjoyed it and would do it again.
Other than walking around and seeing the city, we also went on the “spice tour” where they take you to a demonstration farm that’s growing the spices Zanzibar is known for. It was interesting to see what a lot of the spices look like as plants, as often I would never have guessed.
On a more personal note, two things happened that are of note during my stay in Zanzibar.
The first thing that happened was that I tried a gin & tonic, and loved it. How have I been drinking for over a quarter century and not known this was my drink? Well, I do now.
The second thing that happened was that I shaved my head, mostly because I wanted to know what it was like. I learned a few things, including the fact that it’s really hard to do a proper job on your own without two mirrors in order to see that back of your head. I didn’t really like how I looked with a shaved head, but as both my beard and hair grew in, I found I liked how I looked after a week or so. If I can find some clippers or something I will try to keep it like that.
Sorry for the general lack of pictures, during my time in Zanzibar I was in ”vacation mode” and didn’t carry a camera most of the time…