Archive for January, 2011

Here you go!  Christmas and New Year road trip on Picasa


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This monkey and her evil gremlin looking child tried to attack me. Stupid primates.

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We’ve come back from our trip so no, these are no longer “updates from the road”, but I did (kinda) write some blog posts on pieces of paper while we were travelling, I just never got the chance to post them.  So I’ll continue writing as if I was still on the trip. (Which I really wish I was, instead of back in Khorixas working…)

For the second update from the Christmas road trip I could write about all the fun and nice things we’ve done. I could write about the full day drives through beautiful African scenery; I could write about our delicious Christmas Eve dinner on the beach near Lake Malawi or about spending Christmas day snorkelling in the lake. I’m fairly certain though that no one really wants to hear about that stuff and that you’d all much rather hear about any mishaps and misadventures we may have had so far. Well, you’re in luck as we’ve accumulated quite a few of those thus far, so here you are:

Adventure #1 Gas shortage

After leaving Livingstone, Zambia we headed for Lake Malawi. As this is a long (1000? km+) journey we decided to break it up with a stop in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi. We spent 2 nights at a nice hostel, had some good meals and good craft shopping and got up early the 2nd day to start the drive to Cape McClear on the lake. On the day of departure we were told by the owner of the hostel that there have been gasoline shortages in the city over the past few days but that we should be able to find some on the outskirts of the city. We drove through the city, checked some gas stations and they were all indeed out of gas. No worries we thought, there are plenty of gas stations on the road leading out of the city so there must be gas at one of them. We drove past one – it was out, as was the second, and the third, and the fourth. It was time to start worrying. We certainly didn’t have enough gas in our tanks to get us to Cape McClear, actually we didn’t even have enough to get us to the next major town.

Luckily, as often happens in Africa when a bunch of white people are seen standing around looking worried/confused/lost two men came over and offered help. They knew of there being petrol in a town about 20 km down the main road then 8 km further down a side road. These guys were hoping to get there to pick up some of this petrol in order to bring it back to sell on the black market in Lilongwe. So it was a win-win situation for all: they knew where the gas was and we had an empty spot in our car. “John” (I think that was his name) hopped in our car and off we went. John didn’t speak much English so we all just sat there in silence for most of the way. This was of course the perfect atmosphere for imaging the kinds of crazy weapons and ninja skills he must surely have possessed. (Nah, not really, after 8 months in Africa without incident I blindly trust EVERYONE.)

We drove the 20 km along the main paved road to where John directed us to turn off down a dirt track. We drove and drove through lovely Malawian countryside. We passed many thatched roof houses, goats, women working in fields, children carrying water on their heads… and little else. Recall that we were on our way to a gas station. It was starting to seem unlikely that one would appear in this “middle of nowhere”. The road and scenery went on and on… and on and on… Then, all of a sudden we drove into a pretty bustling village! It just appeared out of nowhere! We drove through it and there it was – a station with gas pumps full of gasoline. We did a little victory dance, filled our cars and said goodbye to John.

Before heading back down the dirt road through the countryside we decided to stop for some snacks in the heart of the village. As is common in African villages there was quite a bit of cheap street food on offer: roasted corn on the cob, corncakes, fatcakes, and bbq’d pork (for the meateaters). Also as is common in African villages where white people suddenly show up we became surrounded by people, mainly kids, staring at us and wanting us to take photos of them. It ended up being a really cool experience – we averted the first real potential disaster of the trip and also got a glance at authentic Malawian village life.

Adventure #2 – Car trouble

All through Zambia and Malawi (to my amazement) the roads we were driving on were in excellent shape – paved, few potholes, very un-African. This all changed as soon as we crossed the border into Mozambique. Suddenly it was all dirt road, with many potholes. To make matters worse as we were driving towards our next destination it was raining heavily and there was nothing around us apart from the odd subsistence farm homestead. It was just perfect breeding ground for car damage, and absolutely the worst place for it to happen. Hmm, can you guess what happened next?

Right, some bar that holds the front right wheel in place popped out (in Matt’s car) and the car no longer went straight. (It all happened slowly so there was no extra damage or anything, but the car certainly couldn’t keep going.) After jacking up the car and staring at the innards of the wheel for some time Matt figured out that a nut had popped off the bolt that keeps the wheel in place. If we could just find the bolt we’d be saved! By this point a group of villagers had gathered around us, after all we were a group of white people standing around looking panicked/scared/wet. Off we, and they, went on a hunt for the missing nut. The kids scoured the puddles but Ant was the one to almost save the day when he came back with a metal nut in his hand.

Unfortunately the nut didn’t fit. We had one more bit of hope though: in Julia’s “car repair kit” were packed some plastic garden zip ties. She suggested Matt somehow try using those to fix the car. Well to everyone’s chagrin this actually worked! The car was going straight again and made it all the way to the nearest town along 90km of dirt road, full of potholes, in the rain, on plastic garden zip ties!

We were obviously thrilled to have made it to Cuamba, a town we could stay in. We checked into a decrepid hotel, had a half decent meal and went to bed hoping that Matt would be able to find a mechanic that would quickly fix the wheel (we weren’t about to attempt 500km on plastic zip ties) so that we could head to the coast for New Year’s eve.

In the morning, again to our chagrin, Matt did manage to find a mechanic that fixed the right wheel in a pretty short span of time. We packed up the cars and started driving out of Cuamba…

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. I’ll just give you a brief summary of what happens next, or else you’ll be here a while (and you’ve already been here a while… assuming you’re still here… you’re probably not, oh well I’m going to keep typing anyway). In summary what happened next was:
– On the drive out of town the left front wheel starts making noises.
– We happen to be just past the “mechanic” that fixed the right wheel so Matt drives in to see if the noise can be fixed. (I use the term mechanic very loosely – see photos below.)
– “Mechanics” take left wheel off car, disassemble other car parts, bang car parts with hammers, speak Portuguese, bang hammers harder, look confused, scratch heads, speak more Portugese, don’t speak any English…
– We sit in mechanic shop for about 3hrs.
– One of us gets diarrhea (see next story).
– We decide that we are certainly not leaving Cuamba today and check into a nicer hotel.

(After a few days Matt did manage to get the car fixed, but it sadly continued having problems for the rest of the trip. It made it back to Namibia in the end but was the cause of many grievances and headaches throughout the trip.)

Adventure #3 – Diarrhea!

We never figured out what it was but something in Cuamba made us sick. Four out of seven of us ended up with diarrhea.

Worst off was Mr. S. (I’m not divulging his identity as he wasn’t supposed to be in Mozambique at the time. Should anyone find out his identity he might be sent home by the volunteer organization he’s with. I don’t want to be responsible for that). Poor Mr. S. All through the hours we spent at the bush mechanic he was writhing in pain. By late afternoon he was pale as a ghost, shaking uncontrollably and probably mere hours away from death. We decided that he better go see a doctor. So Matt and I took him to the Cuamba hospital as that was the only medical facility in town.

I’ll spare you the details of what the hospital was like, but if you want to then go ahead and picture what you probably imagine an African hospital to look like (I’m sure you’ve seen lots of exaggerated footage on television). Then add in a lot more flies, make it smell disgusting, and cover every visible surface with disgusting grime. That’s what it was like. Matt and I kept trying not to breathe for fear of picking up some deadly airborne disease but we couldn’t keep that up for very long. Anyhoo long story short we spent about 5 hrs there with Mr. S. before being told that he’d have to spend the night there. Poor dude.

Hospital where Mr. S. spent the night

When we got back to the hotel we found Ms. L. and Ant looking miserable. They too had fevers and diarrhea. The next day Mr. S. came back from the hospital but was definitely not well enough to travel. So we spent all day hanging around our hotel rooms, which at this point were starting to resemble a hospital ward (but much much cleaner).

The morning of day 4 in %&#@ing Cuamba we were finally able to hit the road. We decided that with 1 dodgy car and 4 dodgy stomachs (yes the evening before yours truly had joined the “shits club”) it was a bad idea to head another 500 km away from home towards the Mozambiquan coast. Instead we decided to head back to Malawi and spend New Year’s eve there.

We made it, had a good time, but we sure did go through a lot of toilet paper!

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