Our big chequered flag

The final border crossing in Africa, like many before it, was fast and simple. Despite the last border faux pas of the trip, overstaying our Namibian stamps (you can’t really blame us) we were told simply not to do it again and made our way into South Africa. At this point, no matter what, we had driven from Scotland to South Africa, home and dry. At least this is what we thought. The final leg of the trip and alas the final few days of the trip, our mechanical fortune was wearing thin.

 It hadn’t taken us long to notice that the process of changing the coil and shock on the back left had somehow caused the front left coil to snap. Yes, this actually happened. Quite bewildering how one can drive into a garage with one broken spring and drive out with a different broken spring, but of course we managed it. Our spirits were dampened but we reassured each other that you can’t drive down the world without breaking one or two things. As luck would have it we met a chap at a petrol station in Namibia who owned a Land Rover garage in Cape Town; the aptly named RoverLand. He saw us coming a mile off and presented us with his business card. Never mind, we shall drive slowly and in as straight a line as possible whilst avoiding any surfaces not covered in a healthy coat of tarmac.

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Our first night in South Africa was spent at a caravan site, the kind of place the Gents really try to avoid. After getting this far though we decided not to try to wild camp only to wind up robbed and carless at the tip of the continent. This combined with the lack of wild camping opportunities that motorways tend to present, led us to this spot near Vanrhynsdorp for the evening.  The following morning we set off in search of what we had been told is the best biltong in South Africa. On the main road south to Cape Town, impossible to miss, at a truck stop sits this purveyor of delicious dried meats. Biltong can be bought everywhere; supermarkets, malls, grocery shops, but what we had been looking for since we first sampled the stuff in Namibia was a wee hut at the side of the road where the meat was dried and hung out in the shop and sold to you in a brown paper bag without a corporate logo on it. We found this and more. We made sure to sample everything on display and when we had five or six different bags Duncan was pulled away and put into the car to finish the long road to Cape Town, to RoverLand and our great big chequered flag.  

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 Like all Scotsmen abroad we couldn’t help but constantly point out how any rolling hills or grassy field highly resembles Scotland. This seemed to happen a lot more on the drive to Cape Town; may this have had something to do with the rain? Perhaps. Despite the weather, our arrival in Cape Town was a magnificent feeling. We had been comfortable for a couple of weeks and to have finally made it after two years of planning was a remarkable sense of achievement. Our first port of call was of course the garage where we had the suspension at the front left replaced. Poor Teedie then sat at a jaunty angle as one side of her suspension was new and stiff and the other side is old and tired. If you find yourself in the area with a broken Land Rover (and many people do) then RoverLand must be recommended. From here we headed to the Lions Head and the home of the Du Plessises who very kindly had offered to put us up for a couple nights. Stubbornly and despite having wi-fi for the duration of the time spent at the garage, Duncan decided that he knew where his friend’s house was having stayed there the previous summer so an attempt was made to find the house based on memory which was in the end successful. On arrival we were greeted with a well-stocked fridge and a kind note requesting we make ourselves at home.  Those of you who follow us on facebook will be aware that this is exactly what we did. From a comfortable spot on the balcony, we poured ourselves a drink, lit up a cigar and announced to the world that The Gentlemen’s Adventure Club had arrived.

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 The next couple of days were spent in much the same way, the comfort of a real bed and the luxury of proper food. Trying all the while not to get too comfortable as the Land Rover still had to be delivered to our shipping agent in order to be put on the slow boat back to Blighty. The trouble is the chosen shipping agent is located in Durban, a 1,700km drive from Cape Town. What’s another 1,700km on a trip like this? Well the less said about those 1,700km the better.

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 The port of Durban is 2 days drive from Cape Town and it was our intention to cover distance and then immediately drop the car with the shipping agents and jump on a bus to Johannesburg. Day one of this delivery drive was uneventful, long stints in the car and short stints in Wimpys. We spent the evening camped outside a petrol station. The tent was thrown up to keep the pounding rain and howling gale at bay and we went to sleep for the night. The friendly chaps pumping gas all night made sure to wake us up in the morning to tell us that their shift was over and they were going home. Unsure of why we were being given this information, we packed up and hit the road for the last day of the trip.  Starting like any other day and continuing in this fashion until around 5pm the car began to lose power. The road was hilly and Teddie was having trouble climbing. Power was dropping rapidly and an uneducated debate was taking place in the cab. It became apparent the car was overheating so we pulled in, let her cool down, tried to avoid wondering why the car would choose now to overheat and waited. The coolant had completely evaporated so we filled it up and confident that there had been a problem and a solution, we could move on. Driving was better for a short time before the temperature gauge shot up and we were on the side of the road again, out of the car looking quite puzzled. To pour salt in the wound, a truck hit a goat a few meters in front of us and we were forced to stand idley next to our broken down vehicle watching as a severely injured goat tried to stand and get off the road, unsuccessfully. The driver of the truck stopped only to check damage to his vehicle and then moved swiftly on. After letting her cool down we drove on but did not get very far before we came grinding to a halt and she was out for the count. The engine wouldn’t start and we were good and stuck, on the last day of the trip with a bus to catch the next morning. Things could not get much worse for us. For ten or fifteen minutes we stood at the side of the road waving to passers by, trying to get them to stop and help before someone finally did. We will never drive past a stranded car again without feeling sympathetic… we probably won’t stop but we will be very sympathetic. Towed into the nearest town, not a pleasant place to be, come nightfall we were eager to get out of there. It wasn’t too far to Durban and eventually a tow truck arrived belonging to a friend of the man who stopped for us. He was willing to take us to Durban where we could camp outside a Land Rover garage in an attempt to get her fixed first thing. After some negotiation a measly little truck lifted the Land Rover in a somewhat precarious fashion and we were off. We had a lot on our mind, it was a stressful time and the morning presented many challenges. The driver of the tow truck too was concerned. He had only two pies but there were four of us in the truck, including his friend who served no obvious purpose to the operation. We both decided that the time would be best spent asleep, in a state that prevented us consciously worrying about the situation. Using the sat-nav we arrived at a Land Rover dealership that would have to do as our two truckers were not willing to drag us around Durban looking for something more suitable. Not the worst place we have slept on the trip, there was a security guard and even a loo. In the morning however whilst they did indeed have a service department it would likely be all day before we were seen,. There was an unlicensed Land Rover garage around the corner, much more our style. As it happened the good people of the unlicensed Land Rover garage in Durban had that engine running just like a song within the hour. Excuse that lack of technical detail, but; it turned out that a filter in the cylinder was completely bunged up which is the reason the fuel pump had be whining for so long, because it was struggling so hard to push fuel through. This was most likely caused by the black market fuel we had been using, not being the cleanest diesel on the market. With the piece the size of a wall plug replaced, all was well and the fuel pump even stopped her moaning. We had an hour until our bus and if we could sort shipping in time we would be laughing. Mark from Logan Freight had his driver meet us at the garage and as we waited we packed our bags and arranged the car for her voyage. We followed the driver to the yard and met Mark, signed the paperwork which was all very straight forward, sorted out the finer details and then got in his driver’s car to be taken to the bus station. From here we made our bus and for eight ours we were driven to Johannsberg, all the while discussing how eight hours on the road was fairly tame stuff.

 We spent the next day relaxing at the home of a family friend, completely over the panic and frustration of the previous couple of days. This sadly, is where the story comes to an end. Three months on the road from Edinburgh, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa, almost two years in the planning. Now the three of us are all back in the UK. Whilst Richard and Duncan sit in London doing what people in London do, Callum is preparing for a three month voyage at sea, across the Atlantic in time for Christmas. Though this is not the final word from us you can be sure. When it all sinks in and we are reunited in a short while, we will be sure to share our final thoughts on this great trip and discuss what the future holds for The Gentlemen’s Adventure Club.

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 We must take this opportunity now to briefly thank everyone that read this blog, everyone that put us up along the way and everyone that supported us both in planning and on the road. The entire experience was made ever more valuable by having the opportunity to share it with friends, family, other travellers and complete strangers. Thank You. 

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Namibia – “Do you smell burning?”

Namibia represented the unknown for Cal and Duncan, neither having spent much time researching the country, perhaps not wishing to tempt fate that we wouldn’t make it that far. As it was, we crossed into Namibia with open minds, after having narrowly escaped inadvertently crossing into Botswana by ferry. We were redirected to the correct border crossing which was passed with relative ease. The first section of the country took us directly through the Caprivi Strip – previously a troubled area for tourists until as recently as 2002, until Angola signed a peace accord and decided not to kidnap or kill anyone else. All the better for us. Tourism is recovering in the area and we drove after sunset through a massive game reserve which stretched hundreds of kilometres along the Caprivi. Probably because the scenery is so beautiful, and also because the country is so sparsely populated there are regular picnic stops on the highway with sheltered seating.

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Given how quiet the road was and how nice it was to eat there, we decided that instead of trying to find a campsite or backpackers, we would much prefer to sleep in one such picnic spot, with our breakfast table ready and waiting for the morning. The only mild concern we had stemmed from the regular signs warning of stampeding elephants.

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Passing out of the national park in the morning after our coffee and muesli, we headed for the town of Rundu. We stopped for lunch and to appraise the national brewer’s efforts. Top marks were awarded for the simple fact that the bottles of beer were 750ml and cost a pound each! Can’t say much fairer than that.

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Driving through Namibia was very relaxing; there are few cars on the road, and those which did occasionally pass seemed exclusively to be other overlanders, and the scenery was constantly stimulating. A mark on our map simply labelled ‘Hoba’s meteorite’ caught our attention. Deciding that we were in no hurry we took the diversion and came across the rock in question. Rock is perhaps inaccurate because it is in fact the largest naturally occurring mass of iron on the planet. The meteorite is also the oldest one of its kind in the world. The “visitor’s centre” around the meteorite was interesting. The place was clearly closed and nobody else was around, even the ticket office had been covered by metal grilles. Feeling slightly like trespassers, we stealthily crept (pointlessly, after rocking up in a loud and whining {fuel pump} Defender) past the ticket office and inspected the ancient mass of metal.

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Another cause of our fondness for Namibia is that even when the roads are unsealed, they are smooth and even gravel, rather than washboard with corrugations deep enough to be appropriate in a WW1 reinactment. We pressed on to Windhoek and found a decent backpackers which offered camping, recommended to us for the fact that it also offered a travel agency service. After settling in and ridding ourselves of the intense odour with which we’d managed to fragrance not only our clothes with but also the car, we decided to treat ourselves to a good square meal at the local hotspot, Joe’s Beerhouse. Well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Windhoek with an empty belly.  On return from Joe’s we discovered a white TDi in the car park belonging to four English chaps we had bumped into on our way out. They had driven from London but unlike ourselves; had managed to get in through Tunisia and Libya. Green with envy we insisted that they share how they managed this as tourist visas are not currently being issued. As it happens they had used a connection to obtain business visas, their business of course being tourism. We chatted in the bar for the rest of the evening regaling each other with tales of our mutual mechanical incompetence. It was fantastic to meet some like-minded travellers who had been putting up with a ‘sulphery smell’ for weeks and had not yet discovered where it was coming from.

The following day we set about organising our permits for Sossusvlei so that we could spend a couple days at the dunes before heading to South Africa. We managed to only get distracted once; at a safari shop with a large selection of colonial hats to be tried on. That evening we were sitting in the hostel bar, we were approached by a Brazilian guy we had met the night before asking if we wanted to get a braii going, we did. Once we got the fire roaring and our measly pick n’ pay burgers sizzling away we were promptly put to shame by two Germans and their 1.4kg steak. We bided our time and took care of the excess when everyone else was full up – canny Scots. The English that had been getting their battery replaced along with other essential repairs rocked up later on and we all made a plan to head out to Sesriem first thing the following morning. This of course did not happen quite as planned but at about 11am we were packed and ready to go. Interviewing for Rich’s replacement had gone well and the back seat was filled by Moe, our new Brazilian friend.  The three of us got on the road searching along the way for Biltong and Cigars, the later proving impossible to find once again.

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The road network in Namibia is fantastic, the best yet by a long way and although only the main highways are tarmac, turning onto the gravel does not slow you down (when you drive at 50mph anyway). We decided that considering we had company in the car, it might not be socially acceptable to have Harry Potter playing (we have made it to the last audio book by now, thanks Stephen Fry). A few hours later we found ourselves at Sesriem campsite on the outskirts of Sossusvlei. The sun was on its way down and we decided that instead of being stuck in the overflow camp with all the other tourists, we could drive 20 minutes inside of the gate and hide ourselves away somewhere, allowing us in the morning to be able to drive to the dunes and get there before the gate opens and before anyone else. We went for it, 2 Land Rovers driving upstream of the traffic all headed for the gates obeying the ‘get out before the sun goes down’ rule. We turned off the road onto a dry river bed and tried our hardest not to get stuck in the sand as we drove out of sight of the road and set up camp. Wisely, the English had enlisted a chef as part of their team, Dom, who cooked a delicious meal for us all, a delightful change from tuna and pasta that we had been living on until then.  Rich was once again replaced, this time by Max who decided that instead of sleeping in their Landy he would try out our penthouse set-up and went to sleep on Teedies roof.

At 5.30Am we awoke and drove with headlights of back towards to the road. The sun comes up at 6.18 (roughly) and the park gates open at 5.45. The clouds were thick but we proceeded anyway and upon reaching the end of the tarmac, we gunned it along the soft sand to the proper dunes. Freezing cold and still in thermals as the sun started to come up we left the wagons and proceed on foot to climb the dunes in a hopeless attempt to gain a vantage point. They say that 1 day in 100 is cloudy here and this time we were unlucky. The petrified trees in the pan were stunning though, and overall the landscape was still other-worldly. We were also the first of the day to summit the dune known as Big Daddy, from which you gain panoramic views over all the surrounding dunes.

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Running straight down the face of the dune took about a minute, climbing it took many more! Still, we rewarded ourselves with eggs, sausage and coffee back at the cars. And all before 9am! All that remained was to have a little snooze in the sun and let Amira, the pet tortoise, out for a stretch.

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After getting very sweaty during the climb we decided a shower was in order and headed back to the campsite. On the drive back Duncan became paranoid about a faint smell of burning, the source of which we couldn’t find. Probably best to ignore it, we thought. We showered and changed and relaxed a bit more in the sun before getting back on the road south, leaving our Brazilian friend strumming his guitar in the afternoon sun. Thankfully, we’d set the English off ahead of us to scout out a good camping spot, and when we caught up with them they’d already got the fire blazing.

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The following evening, driving out of Keetmanshoop, we went round a roundabout and heard a distinct twang from the undercarriage. We glanced at each other with worried expressions. As fate would have it, after all the terrible terrain she’s endured, it was on that roundabout that we snapped the spring in the suspension. Instantly deflated, Duncan reeled off every swear word in his vocabulary before discussing the implications in a reasonable manner. We went to the nearest picnic stop, which punctuate the roads at regular intervals, and set up for the night. Clearly we could go no further without addressing the issue, so it was decided that we would go into town in the morning seek assistance. We were directed to Steinfeld garage about 50km outside of town and down a dirt road. This not being the ideal surface to limp down, we tore down the road at a dangerous 15mph, seeming to arrive at the garage some days later. The garage was in the most implausible location, it genuinely looked like the valley in which Bud has set his caravan in Kill Bill Vol.2. Quickly Mr Johann Strauss informed us that the job was totally doable, and he’d get to it when he’d finished with his other client. We were left to peruse the makeshift garage with its impressive collection of rusty clutter at our leisure. It was awesome: there were at least 20 old land rovers at varying stages of decay. Some looked as though they had been cherry picked for useful parts, others undergoing renovation and some were just in for a health check.

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Hours later we were repaired and ready to go with a new shock (the old counterpart had caused the spring to break due to lack of any shock absorption) and a new spring. The only snag was that we had to go back to town, get money to pay Mr Strauss and drop off his post whilst we were at it. We almost got roped into doing Mrs Strauss’ weekly shop but thankfully she was stocked up. Once we’d paid and were ready to finally resume the journey we’d paused for 24 hours, we set off through the beautiful hills swarming with kudu. There was an unhealthy noise coming from somewhere near the front axels but, as usual, we decided it would be best to ignore that and not think about it. We had some rain that night and set up the tent, we needed to rest up because South Africa, our final stop, was beckoning.

The Breaking of the Fellowship

Zambia was to be Rich’s last country before separating from the gents and striking for home. Unfortunately for him, his mammoth hangover was determined to rub salt in the wound. We crossed the border with no difficulty and started off on the road to Lusaka. A thoroughly substandard supper in the town of Chipata was not, one would imagine, what Rich’s doctor would have ordered. Despite the perennially cheery tone of the guidebook which could, we’re sure, extoll the virtues of a steaming turd if it were pushed, the food was not a charming local delicacy so much as a pile of porridge and a very salty dead fish. It doesn’t tax the imagination to conjure an image of Rich’s disappointed face. Feeling thoroughly average, we pushed on with the intent of reaching Lusaka the following afternoon, and camped at a police checkpoint which seemed about the only viable roadside camp. All seemed well, and we were all grateful for the rest, until a mother goat abandoned her young lamb, which proceeded to bleat, loudly, from 4am until sunrise. Rousing ourselves out of morning dreams of goat stew, and feeling that we’d probabaly squeezed out as much rest as was possible given the conditions, we set off once more.

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We had decided in advance that a few days of R+R were probably in order before Rich left us, so we found ourselves a nice backpackers in Lusaka with a well-stocked bar, some competent chefs and a fairly decent attempt at a swimming pool. The next couple of days and nights were luxuriously spent by our standards; eating well, sitting by the pool, putting our respective affairs in order and, strangely, not driving at all. Turns out we’re not actually that good at being idle. It came to our last night and we stuffed ourselves with 2 meals each, felt pretty pleased and did a very good spot of people watching. Thanks must go to the USA for churning out so many nutters and sending a gaggle of 20 of them to Zambia for our entertainment.

Leaving Rich in the morning did not, as seems only fitting, go as smoothly as we hoped. After having driven him into the bus station through the barrier clearly marked “Exit only. No entry.” We smiled and waved good-naturedly at all the Zambian men gesturing aggressively at us and pointing at the sign. No sooner had we parked and turned off the engine than a man told us we had to pay a fine for our rule breaking. Naturally we refused to pay, which resulted in a race between Duncan and a bus station official, the latter in a hurry to clamp the car, the former in a hurry to drive away. Half an hour later we were laughing with them about how we all looked much older than our 22 years and they even offered to set us up with some nice Zambian ladies and plots of land. Unfortunately, we explained, there was no time for all that. And so it was that with 15 Zambians crowding round the car remarking how “strong” she was, we gave Rich a manly gentleman’s hug and bid him farewell. Emotional at the loss of our companion, but pretty chuffed with all the spare room in the back, we set off to meet up with one of the schools which had received some of the kit we had donated to the charity Tag Rugby Trust.
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Once again, we can’t really claim to have nailed this one. Hoping to see the kids in action, donning the sports gear we donated, we were disappointed to learn that they were in fact on exam leave. Resultantly, we had to content ourselves with a tour of the school and some photos of the children in the Durham University rugby kit. As Cal noted though, we can’t just turn up unannounced and hope it all goes to plan every time. Duncan still pulled on the palatinate shirt and ticked the photo box.
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Next on the agenda for the day was to get close to the town of Livingstone so as to see Victoria Falls early the next day before crossing the border to Namibia. This, we managed to achieve with relative ease, the roads being good tarmac the entire way. We decided about 30km outside of Livingstone to find a camp, usually a painstaking task but after taking the first turn off the road and into a field which actually looked and indeed proved to be an ideal camp spot, all things considered. With only two of us we decided to sleep length ways on the roof rack which allowed our feet not to hang off the edge; however it did sacrifice the kebab roof rack pillow. Awoken during the night by a steady stream of cattle flowing through the field all with nice big bells around their necks, the next morning, slightly tired, we made tracks to Livingstone and beyond. In an attempt to see Vic Falls we drove straight to the Zimbabwean border luckily finding an entrance to the Falls on our side where we were able to park up and proceed on foot. There were many monkeys here, very exciting. They promptly emptied our bin and feasted upon sweet corn, kidney beans and what dregs they could get from a carton of mango juice.
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We of course made the most of our entrance fee by taking every path available to us one of which leading down to what’s known as the ‘boiling pot’ where the white water entering the second gorge has carved a deep pool by the rocks.

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This is underneath the bridge from which tourists can plummet towards the croc infested Zambezi with an elasticated rope attached to their ankles, not for us. We discovered just how unfit we had become when we then walked back up to where the falls start, panting and dehydrated carrying broken flip-flops. The locals originally named these falls ‘the smoke that thunders’ and it certainly lives up to its reputation.
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We spent a couple hours admiring the view, one of the natural wonders of the world, from various different angles deciding around midday to get a move on. We continued along the main road for a couple hours rocking up at a border post only to be told that it was the border into Botswana. Although tempted, we instead continued further along the road an additional 2 hours or so until we reached our third border post of the day and finally the correct one: Namibia, our penultimate country.

Maladies in Malawi

Malawi, we had decided, was to be the holiday of the trip; an opportunity for the gents to relax and possibly even replenish the tan that had been rapidly depleting since we left the baking heat of the desert and lowland areas of North Africa. On arrival at the Tanzania – Malawi border near Mbeya we were more than happy to give exercise to the numerous money exchange men who eagerly ran alongside the car as we approached the customs control point, negotiating rates and fighting with each other for our business. The legitimacy of their operation was questionable even before we rolled up at customs but when they promptly turned around so as not be spotted by any officials their invitation to exchange money in their ‘office’ became suspect. This was perhaps the most official looking border control that we had visited on the continent, indicated by the lack of fixers and con-men outside. We joined the line for immigration and quickly received our stamps, followed by similar efficiency at customs with the Carnet. As usual the chap whose job it was to check the engine/chassis number and perform a search on the car came outside, promptly decided it was too much effort and returned to the office satisfied that we probably weren’t up to no good. When we left the office we met a rather official looking Bureau De Change man complete with ID card and confidence to be standing outside the customs building. He informed us that they had a genuine office round the corner where we could change what little Tanzanian money we had left into Malawian currency at the proper rate. It may come as no surprise that we had very little idea what the exchange rate actually was before this. On the Malawian side with similar ease we were done with the entire process in around an hour so went through the gates and on to the lake.

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Of course we wasted no time in achieving our holiday ambitions; the first entry into Tracks4Africa was Chitimba Bay, a beautiful beach on the lakeside recommended by most visitors to this part of the country. We decided first that we might try and find a quiet place on the lake for a quick dip and a spot of bilharzia by taking one of the tracks off the highway and seeing where it ended up. Of course we took a route that led us directly into a ploughed field which we tried with diligence and perseverance to drive across at a rough speed of 4 mph. It didn’t take long to conclude that our futile attempt would probably leave us stuck in a muddy field being shouted at by an angry farmer so we turned around and started the bumpy ride back to the track, all the while being chased by two women with rather annoyed looks on their faces who, if they had really wanted to catch us, would have only had to move at any pace faster than a slow walk. To the laughter of the local children, with our tails thoroughly between our legs we got back on the highway and decided that our original, much more sensible choice of going to an actual beach would be wise.

A smell had been emanating from the car for a couple of days that we had all been trying rather hard to ignore. Quite similar to egg, not necessarily in a bad way though; more in a cooked and edible kind of way. Not at all unpleasant at first but it still was hard to imagine it was a healthy smell for a Land Rover to emit. By the time we reached Chitimba Bay we realised that it was in fact a campsite, quite a beautiful campsite on the sandy beach of the lake and with proper facilities and a bar to boot, it was certainly achieving the TGAC stamp of approval. The smell now was turning rotten and we decided it most likely was coming from the battery compartment under the passenger seat. On close inspection of the battery and with our infinite mechanical wisdom coming into play again, we all agreed ‘yup, that’s f**ked’ and headed to the bar.

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It was around lunch time when we tried the local beer, decided it wasn’t strong enough and started to order Special Brew instead. We must be forgiven now as our memories of the ensuing events are slightly hazy. This campsite it seems is very popular with overland trucks of the type that take a group of 20 or so tourists on trips from ‘Cape Town to Nairobi’ or any number of routes in between. This was our first encounter with these trucks, three of which had made port there for the night. Moving villages, they leap from campsite to campsite erecting their own tents each night and producing three square meals a day. In true camper fashion we mixed with locals and tourists alike and treated both groups to our deteriorating quality of conversation as the day turned to night and so on. We awoke in the morning feeling more than slightly worse for wear, the combination of having drunk very little in the last couple months and the decision to drink Special Brew of course did not bode well for fresh faces. Rich spent most of the morning talking to God in the big white telephone or lying in the shade under the car, trying vainly to sleep and ignore his grumpy hung-over body. Eventually working up the courage to get a move on, we knew that the town of Mzuzu, a short drive away, would be first port of call for replacing Teedie’s smelly battery. On arrival in this town the realisation that although there were a couple battery shops, they would be closed on account of it being Sunday slightly hindered our efforts. We pulled into a supermarket car park and were greeted by an energetic local man claiming to have visited Montrose in Scotland in his role as a Scout leader in Malawi and informing us that his name was ‘Pumpkin’. Keen to assist us in any way that he could, we asked him if he knew anywhere we might be able to acquire a replacement. The second of many jobs that pumpkin would claim to have on this day was as an electrician. Well with options relatively thin on the ground we let Pumpkin jump aboard and take us to his workshop (a street corner). Joined by his brother, the duo proceeded to pull out the battery and examine what they thought was a crack in the casing and a severe shortage of acid in each of the cells. Pumpkin decided that he would top up the acid and patch the crack and that this would be sufficient enough to get us to where we could buy a proper replacement. That would have to do for us and so with Rich, still feeling miserable, left to supervise Pumpkin and his reprobates do god knows what to our battery, Duncan and Cal headed to the supermarket only to return half an hour later with 6 onions having completely forgotten what they had gone there for in the first place.

On completion of the job, Pumpkin was getting stuck into a bottle of Special Brew himself, proclaiming that this would wash out the battery acid he had in his mouth. Rather than question why exactly he had battery acid in his mouth, we simply let him get on with it and in no time it was ready for a test run. In all of the scout leading-electrician-artist’s wisdom, the chosen route for said test run was through a bustling market nearby, of course it was. To his credit though the smell was no longer present so on we went to Nkhata Bay and Big Blue campsite, the next stop on the gent’s holiday. Big Blue lets off a rather odd vibe, as Duncan put it “it’s like people used to live here, and then they all just left”. Nobody seemed to be around which offered a sharp contrast from the 80 or so people at the campsite the night before. Whilst Duncan and Cal got to work rinsing the free Wi-Fi, Rich wallowed in what was now apparent to be a bout of food poising rather than the killer hangover we had all presumed it to be. Being perfectly honest, it’s a miracle that none of us had gotten ill before this point considering our usual order at cafes and street venders is “meat and chips”, ‘meat’ mind you, little further information is readily available. Backpackers did start to appear as time went on and the place began to feel less like a ghost town.

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In the morning with Rich still suffering we opted to spend some time looking into shipping and flights as the end of the journey drew ever closer. It was not until about 5pm that we decided to get a move on and head to Lilongwe to efficiently pick up a new battery and head to the residence of a friend of Duncan’s for the night. All packed up and ready to go, the obvious happened: nothing. This was bad. Clearly the battery was completely dead although others in Mzuzu had told us that our problem could be the alternator overcharging the battery and causing it to fail. Fearing that we would have to get a bus to Mzuzu or Lilongwe in order to get a new battery, which would take up precious time and even more precious money, we first went to speak to the lass in reception; a fellow countryman of ours from Ayrshire doing research in the area for her post-graduate degree. Our first intention was to round up a local with a car to attempt a jump-start and to our luck she knew of someone who could come to our aid. Two chaps rocked up at the camp about an hour later carrying a car battery between them, not really what we were expecting but ok. They hooked up their battery to ours via jump leads as we looked on slightly bewildered as to what this was supposed to be achieving and very unsurprised when Teedie failed to show any signs of coming back to life. The second attempt was to hook up their battery as the primary, start the engine and then switch the batteries over, thus charging ours from the engine. This, whilst more likely to work, seemed sketchy to say the least and we were quite happy it was them that would be replacing the battery on the running engine rather than us. All praise to them though as Teedie bounced back from the dead and, having put the original battery back in, all seemed to be ok. Although now we can’t leave the engine off for more than 10 hours without risking a flat battery. Whilst the engine was on we decided not to risk it and headed straight for the battery shop in Mzuzu to urban-camp for the night until it opened in the morning. By far the worst camp spot on the trip, we acted like we weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary and set about business as usual on the roof of the car, sharing the street for the night with the homeless and the drunk. Laying there knowing that if we were going to be robbed on this trip, high chance it was going to be this night, we drifted off to sleep only to be rudely awoken during the night by car horns, call to prayer and the homeless man next to us sweeping the pavement and rearranging the desks he was using as a shelter.

We awoke to a street full of people as is to be expected and quickly began our tasks. The car started which was the first hurdle but the batteries on offer in both of the local shops, whilst would have worked, were out of our budget and we knew that in Lilongwe we would be presented with more options and surely, with the battery currently working, we could get there. It was a 6 hour drive and with the smell back to full force we plugged in a garage found on Tracks4Africa and headed straight for it. We arrived to discover that it was a Kwik-fit and fully kitted out like any British garage. We spoke to the man who seemed overly confident they could get us a cheap yet fully functional battery for our Landy and having lived in the UK was more than happy to deal with us. A quick check on the battery diagnosed that the alternator was not overcharging which was music to our ears. We managed to get a battery for the little money we had and were even entitled to the 25% off ‘discount because of Essex girls’.

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Our love of capital cities is not quite there so we got out sharpish to the farm home of a friend of Duncan; Garry. Garry kindly took us in and for two days provided us with food, water and a welcome roof over our heads. The first time the gents have willingly slept in a bed on the entire trip. Gary showed us around the tobacco farm and Rich was able to recover from his illness in comfort, although not the comfort he was expecting on this so called ‘holiday’. We left Garry’s on the 1st of August and made the short journey to the Border to cross into Zambia and begin heading West to Lusaka where Rich is to depart the team and begin his solo mission down Zimbabwe to South Africa in order to catch a flight home so as not to lose his job before he even starts.

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Highway to the Danger Zone

From the Maasai, the fastest way to get into Tanzania is through Isebania but this drops you in on the west of the country where there are fewer ‘attractions’ and a poorer road network. Given that our 7 days in Kenya were about to run out and we had to get out as fast as possible, this was the route we had to opt for. In all honesty, we were expecting another Ethiopian experience; non-stop driving with little to look at and a sense of urgency to reach the next country where we knew there were things we wanted to see and do. In some respects it was like this but there was one crucial difference between our route through Tanzania and our route through Ethiopia; bandits.

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For those considering driving from Kenya to Tanzania, the border post at Isebania is the first we’d ever come across that had a bar. So, you can imagine why we decided to camp there for the night! There were plenty of shysters attempting to take money off you for fictional parking tickets, ‘local council fees’ and other such nonsense. Pay no attention to them. You don’t need a fixer because everybody speaks English by the time you get as far south as Kenya and the customs and immigration buildings are right next to each other. One thing, if you don’t already have it, that you will need is COMESA; the car insurance policy for the region and the office for that is on the left hand side of the road, a few hundred metres outside the border compound. Do not be convinced by people trying to sell purely Tanzanian insurance (a circular yellow sticker which says ‘Tanzania’ on it but makes no mention of COMESA) as it is not valid for Malawi, Zambia etc. Lastly, when you buy COMESA, double check that the cost written on your policy is the same as the one on the receipt in the booklet of receipts. They tried to charge us 100,000 shillings when we could see that on the receipt they’d written 40,000. Trying to pull a fast one on TGAC? We don’t think so.

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We didn’t take that many photos in Tanzania because it was really quite similar to Kenya, except that there were far more people balancing all manner of items on their heads, we saw our first baobab tree (we think) and there were some pretty big rocks.

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From Isebania we made it to Mwanza, did our usual ‘buy one drink in the lobby of a nice hotel and then sit there and rinse their internet for a few hours, not really adding to the decor’ and had our first taste of the what must surely be the national dish: chips and egg or goat chunks. Well worth a try mind you. Another couple of hours drive outside Mwanza and we found a perfect little camp spot, just off the road and hidden in a forest of tall scrub.

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The next day was when the road really gave out. Tarmac deteriorated to rough washboard which was always clouded in a haze of dust from the lorries that came barrelling in the opposite direction, always seeming to want to play chicken and sometimes even veering towards us. It was tiring driving which reminded us of the Moyale-Marsabit road and we were all fairly beat by the afternoon.

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We stopped for dinner just past Tabora in an idyllic spot; hidden from the road by the surrounding forest and with just enough of a sandy clearing to make a small fire to boil up some coffee on. We were simultaneously so broken and content with bellies full of pasta and coffee that we ended up having a little snooze on the roof in our sleeping bags. As it turned out, not for too long though. Darkness had only shrouded round us for an hour or so before, through our semi-conscious slumber, we heard a 4×4 creeping around in the nearby forest. The rumbling engine gradually got closer and closer and, next thing we knew, headlights were shining right at us and an unmarked white pick-up truck pulled up alongside and then stopped. Eight men in plain clothes carrying machine guns jumped out.

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Cal had read about some other overlanders passing through Tanzania who, when driving along a dark road one night, had stumbled upon a pick-up truck full of gun-carrying men parked up ahead. They stopped and tried to get a better view of what the men might be up to but at that moment the pick-up started up and began turning around to head towards them. They jumped back in their car and skedaddled but the pick-up full of men gave chase. It didn’t sound as if the men were just keen to wish them bon-voyage. Similarly, eight machine-gun toting men in an unmarked car who had spent the best part of twenty minutes trying to find us? We didn’t favour our chances. It was a shake-down for sure. They came up to the car and demanded to see our passports so we handed them over, smiling and attempting to start up a conversation. Five minutes went by in which they rifled through the pages and checked all of our visas. This was a roundabout way of doing a highjacking, we thought. Always the pessimists though, it turned out that they were in fact the police. They asked us where we were going and we told them that we were heading along the Sikonge-Kitunda-Rungwa road.
“Is the road good?”
“No, very bumpy.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Yes, very dangerous.”
“Why, bandits?”
“Yes, bandits.”
“Where are the bandits?”
“From Sikonge to Rungwa.”
Just our luck. The entire night of driving would put us at risk of being carjacked. The policemen were keen to escort us back to the nearest town because they said it was too dangerous to stay where we were. The bandits hid in the forests along the roadside, exactly what we considered to be our ‘idyllic camp spots’. They told us that there had been numerous different cars held up and robbed at gun point just the night before and asked us if we were sure we wanted to stay where we were and if we had a gun.
“No, no gun but we can fight”, said Richard jokingly pointing to Cal’s bicep.
The policemen just laughed.
After they’d gone though we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to stay in that particular spot, given that everybody in the vicinity would now know we were there, unarmed and an easy-picking. We trundled along the washboard through the darkness, stopping and warily eyeing every parked car on the road before gunning it past them at full pelt so they couldn’t stop us even if they tried. It was quite a tense hour or so before we arrived at the next town and were stopped again by the police who said it would be safest if we just camped in the police station car park. Well, that was just fine by us.

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In the morning they drove in convoy with us for a few hours, until we were out of the worst of the danger. It was very kind of them. Just goes to show, don’t always mistrust men in the night carrying machine guns… Although, as a general rule, it probably is a good idea to mistrust them.

The rest of that day was like a rally stage, the road was mostly smooth but dipped and dived all over the place, throwing the car from one banking to the next. Cal and Richard, who were driving, were having an absolute ball of a time but Duncan, who was in the back, was having considerably less fun (especially when one particularly sharp roll threw his entire torso out the window). We wanted to make it to Mbeya that night so that we could cross the border into Malawi early the next morning but the last stretch, from Makongolosi onwards, was truly painstaking. It was a mountain pass. On the way up it was rare for us to get above 15mph and on the way down the car bounced and jarred as if it had square wheels. The most frustrating thing was that, for the entire descent, we could see the lights of the city. They just never seemed to get any closer. Thankfully, the views were quite stunning.

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Exhausted but close enough to the border, we pulled off the road at the first opportunity that looked relatively secluded and flopped out on the roof to sleep. It was only in the morning that we realised ‘secluded’ it was not. We had literally camped in somebody’s front garden. Poor Tanzanians; waking up to three grubby Scots, yawning like lions and looking once again like some military task force, decked out in black thermals from head to toe (thanks Sunspel). What a sight.

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Oh, and unfortunately a lot of the good work done repairing the car in Sirikoi was undone by the rough mountain descent. Sorry about that Julius.

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Free Camping in the Maasai Mara

After the tiring and fairly arduous journey down through Ethiopia we all found it very comforting when we were directed by an official border guard through the process of entering Kenya, without any input from frantic fixers jostling with one another to secure our custom. The immediate friendliness and calm of everybody on the Kenyan side was enhanced by the familiar use of English, and the conversation we had with the immigration officer was fun because it did not require the usual accompaniment of sign language and careful, exaggerated enunciation of every syllable. It was at this point that we were given the idea of trying to make it to the Maasai Mara in order to witness the annual wildebeest migration. With new ideas in our heads, and a cheerful mood brought on by the cleanliness and efficiency of the border crossing, we set off on the much more sensible left hand side of the road. We stopped briefly to attach the troublesome shock absorber to the rear left suspension knowing that the road was supposed to be pretty rough from Moyale to Marsabit. This devilish road fully lived up to its reputation; initially we made good progress over softer sand which allowed us to skirt round the washboard, but later in the day the needle on the speedo hovered tantalisingly around the 10mph mark.

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Knowing that the light would fade quickly, we stopped off the side of the road to have supper and some tea before attacking the later leg of the journey under a full moon (which was so bright it was casting shadows). The progress from this point was truly torturous; we were forced to drive slowly and endure constant washboard which made our bones rattle. Still, we got some really encouraging feedback from the checkpoint guards on the way, one of whom chuckled to himself as his response to our asking if the road was safe to drive on at night. The other was off his face on some unknown drug, so naturally he waved us on and wished us well. Traffic coming north had been stopped two days before due to the violence between tribes in neighbouring villages on the road and for years it has been advised not to travel at night. It was time, we’re sure you would agree, to take security matters into our own hands. Billy Connolly suggested that the success of British Colonialism was due to the initial deployment of Scotsmen, blaring bagpipe music as they marched into the new colonial territory and thus scaring the indigenous population out of their skins, probably taking us for madmen. Thinking this was pretty sound logic, guess what we did? Local villagers will have witnessed a brightly lit Land Rover bumping its way along the road with Highland Cathedral screaming out from inside. It must have worked, because we made it to (and through) Marsabit, eventually camping in the middle of a track winding up a hill surrounded by thick bushes. We overslept a bit and probably didn’t set off until 9am after hastily shovelling some cereal into our mouths, our bleary eyes still adjusting to the light.

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Again the road was frustratingly slow, and the washboard induced vibrations rattled the wing nuts off the roof rack and forced us to attend to that pesky shock absorber again. As Cal happily noted though, most overland trips tend to be plagued by some recurring problem, and if ours is to be a shock absorber which can be sorted out even with our questionable mechanical knowledge then we won’t be complaining too loudly. We knew that at some point the poor road surface would give way to the newly laid Chinese highways, and sure enough, and to our intense relief, around 2pm we rolled onto the black carpet which stretched out to the horizon. The scenery was quintessentially African and we even saw monkeys hanging around the roadside. Feeling that we had battled our way through the worst roads in Northern Kenya, we decided to treat ourselves to a hearty lunch in a café, accompanied by a Tusker. Unfortunately, the locals decided to treat themselves to a healthy round of fleecing the tourists. We departed with slight resentment, having been forced to part with a farcical amount of money, which may even have been a local record for the biggest and most blatant attempt at daylight robbery since the trend of actual daylight robbery subsided in Kenya.
A couple of hours later, Tracks4Africa directed us off the highway and in to Lewa Conservancy. Having a loose connection to the owner of Sirikoi Lodge within Lewa, we were hoping to camp for a night or two in the game reserve, though we’d organised nothing and weren’t really sure what sort of reception we were going to receive. A good friend of TGAC in London, who has been staying at Sirikoi for a number of years, was kind enough to ask the owners if a “beaten and limping defender” rocked up with three fairly rough looking Scotsmen on board then “please take pity on them and perhaps offer them a shower”. Feeling something like Frank Abignail Jr, we rolled up into the plush surroundings at Sirikoi, doubtless upsetting the game and guests alike with our repugnant aroma and dishevelled appearance. Reflective of the kind of clientele Sirikoi aims to attract, we were not! The manager introduced himself as Johnny and surveyed us at a safe distance with more than a little barely-disguised suspicion, and we don’t blame him. Attempting to explain our story that we had been in touch with the owner and she said it would be fine for us to stay wasn’t aided by her and her husband’s absence. Ten minutes later with the help of a few emails in our inbox and a bit of name dropping, satisfied that we weren’t merely some smelly chancers looking to take him for a ride, Johnny very kindly organised for us to “camp” in a “tent” about a kilometre from the main lodge. Safe to say this was the nicest camping spot and the best presented tent any of us had come across before. Johnny and the Maasai tribesman (whose name we really don’t want to misspell but phonetically was something like Sebeeyay) gave us a hot shower in this tent and organised some beers and supper to be sent up to us. Johnny didn’t quite grasp how overwhelming this was for us and probably got sick of us saying “thank you” every 10 seconds. We slept in a huge double bed (Sebeeyay thought we were on some kind of three-way, homosexual safari break) and awoke early to a thermos full of hot, black coffee with an invitation to the main lodge whenever we were ready. Sitting outside the tent with mugs of hot coffee to balance the bracing morning air and taking in the savannah was instantly infectious. We all reflected how lucky we were, but at this point we didn’t know quite how lucky.

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We were invited to have lunch on the deck with the genuine guests, and the food was incredible. Duncan, for one, suffered from internal battles between politeness and enthusiasm for the wonderful spread on offer. The enthusiasm prevailed. We were introduced to the guests, who were all very interested in our trip and wanted to have a good look around Teedie, asking us questions about the countries we’d been through and where the adventure was to take us next. We also met Johnny’s wife Penny, they manage the operation together and also raise their mischievous two year old son, Fin, who turned out to be quite a character with very sophisticated tastes. Hospitality, in the extreme, was the underlying theme of these few days. Johnny wasted no time in sending Teedie off to the specialist Land Rover mechanic they had on site. Julius was only too happy to service the car. And the carpenter mended the broken food drawer. And they also gave us a new, sturdier wooden base to go above the drawer. And all that was after we went to the private airstrip to wash off the diesel which had soaked into all the wood. Johnny then took us out on a game drive. In fact it was the first of quite a few game drives. We were lucky enough to see 4 of the big 5 during our stay, excepting only the notoriously elusive leopard. Still, we aren’t complaining. On our first drive we saw a cheetah tearing chunks out of the impala it had recently killed and enjoyed a beer whilst watching a very African sunset. That evening was filled by a 3 course supper and more than a couple of drinks. Everyone had a good time, it would have been pretty much impossible not to though. After most of the guests retired for the evening, we stayed up with Pat and Pam, our new friends from New York, doing Matt Damon impressions long into the wee hours…

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The best thing about safari is that there is never a lull, and sure enough we were up before the sun to go on game drive. Breakfast afterwards was one of the best meals we’ve eaten, tasting bacon for the first time again was like being reunited with an old friend. Except you eat that friend.
We repacked the car that afternoon, supervised, in a way, by Penny who found our style of operating a bit testing. Buzzing busily around us, she essentially encouraged us to get the f**k on with it. Only after restocking our food cupboard with much needed supplies though.

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Determined to see the lions hunting, we went out on game drive again with Penny, Johnny and their son Fin, for whom it was a formative experience. We tracked down the lion and were attempting to predict their movements in order to stealthily gain a good vantage point. This was made difficult for Penny and Johnny by Fin’s daring and persistent attempts to secure a grasp of his Daddy’s beer, or failing that, his desire to escape the confines of the car and be at one with the animals. These attempts were accompanied by delighted screams and chuckles from Fin, exasperation from Mummy and Daddy as they attempted to muffle the noises escaping from Fin’s mouth whilst simultaneously prising his fingers from the beer bottle, and paroxysms of silent laughter from the Gents.

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Back at the lodge, we orchestrated an impromptu graduation ceremony, given that none of us were around on our actual graduation days. We had Chip, one of the guests, to act as the Director, Chip’s wife and another guest to act as an audience, Johnny to act as the announcer and a couple of the local Maasai chaps to act as those people whose hands you shake as you walk across the stage but whose position or role you have no idea of. Usually they hand out certificates or prizes but being without, they instead handed out what we really wanted: ice cold Tuskers.

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The ceremony was partly for fun and partly for our families back home. Somewhere on the list of ‘great-things-for-broken-overlanding-Scotsmen-at-Sirikoi’ is fast internet and we shamelessly got our online affairs in order, uploading a video of the graduation ceremony whilst we were at it. Skype was used by all to update our ‘special someones’ that, despite our best efforts on the bandit roads, we had not encountered any trouble. Well, not unless you counted Johnny attempting to play chicken with an elephant or Richard getting cooties from a giraffe.

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Our last evening at Sirikoi was spent, as we were beginning to get used to, in the lap of luxury. However, there was a lot of big talk about going cold-turkey on the good life and getting up with the sun the next morning, skipping breakfast and hitting the road as soon as possible so that we could break the back of the journey to the border with Tanzania via “the Mara”. Needless to say, in the cold light of dawn we realised that it was really a much better idea to stay until around lunch time and only venture back to the road on stomachs full of sausages, bacon, eggs, coffee and pancakes with imprints of the big 5 on them. Whatever had we been thinking? In all seriousness though, Sirikoi was a real piece of paradise and every one of us vowed to return at the earliest opportunity. Writing our ‘thanks’ on this site to Sue and Willy for allowing us to stay, Johnny and Penny for effectively looking after us and Andy for getting our feet in the door, really doesn’t do justice to how we all feel but hopefully it can express a little bit of our gratitude. Thanks. Like, a lot.

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From Lewa Downs we stocked up on biscuits in Nanyuki, got a bit held up in Nairobi, cut out along the escarpment on the way out of town, turned left, dropped down and quickly found ourselves in the plains leading to the Maasai Mara. It was after dark by the time we got to the gates of the conservation park but they wouldn’t let us in because you’re not allowed to drive in there with headlights on. So, we turned around and went off in search of a good hiding place well off the road to spend the night. From our sleeping bags on the roof we saw a journey of giraffes silhouetted against the moonlit sky less than 40 yards away.
“Man, this is just like Jurassic Park” said Richard.
“… You know everybody dies in that right?” replied Cal.
We drifted off to sleep with that cheery thought fresh in our minds.

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Once we’d parted with our combined worldly wealth and entered the Mara the next morning, the likeness to Jurassic Park really became apparent. We were completely surrounded by creatures we had no idea about and most of which we couldn’t name. Everything from small-looking antelope/impala/gazelle/springbok/blesbok to large-looking antelope/impala/gazelle/springbok/blesbok simply became known as “deer” to us. We did, however, manage to identify zebra so we gave ourselves a pat on the back for that.

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Despite keeping our eyes peeled for the larger, more exciting, more dangerous game, we just about drove straight past the first lot of elephant we came across, only a stone’s throw from the path. Then, engrossed by this herd, it took us a while to even notice that we were actually being charged by a young bull from the other side, he had his ears spread and his nose in the air and was rampaging through the grass towards us. Before we’d had time to worry though, the young bull finished his charge at a clump of long dry grass which he threw proudly into the air so that it fell down on top of his head, much like a dog who has found a lost chew-toy. Somehow it wasn’t so scary after that.

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The remainder of the day was spent off-roading, playing zoo-quest and pondering in amazement that we’d actually been let loose in a game park with all the wild animals we could dream of. We went stalking a sleeping giraffe, climbed along dead tree trunks to get close to hippos and then panicked when they made sudden ominous noises, tried to get in amongst herds of wildebeest and actually replaced the animals in becoming the attraction when vans of Chinese tourists went past. We are TGAC you must remember; it’s a risk of the job.

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By far the most dangerous activity we got up to though was sleeping. To be more precise, free-camping in the open bush in the middle of the Maasai Mara which is known for its abundance of lion prides. With literally no cash left, there was no way we could afford to stay in an organised and secure camp site so we found some high ground with a good surrounding of bushes to shield us from the sight of any park rangers who might find us and move us on. We took every precaution we could think of to minimise the risk of becoming midnight snacks for lions and leopards. Unfortunately, the only precaution we could think of was to take our rubbish bag from the back of the car and move it a tree a few metres away. Thinking back on it, we’re not quite sure how this was supposed to help. In any case, we fell asleep with the whole cacophony of the local wildlife for a lullaby. Every ten minutes or so a twig would snap or a bird would sing and one of us would whisper, “Did you hear that? I think it was a lion”. Duncan was actually woken in the middle of the night by a low rumbling which continued after Cal’s snoring (a similar noise) was extinguished. In the morning he told us with complete conviction that he’d heard lions nearby in the middle of the night and it wasn’t until some rangers informed us that yes, a pride of lions lived just across the clearing, that we fully appreciated how close we’d been sleeping to Simba & Co. Before we left, we noticed that the rubbish bag had been pulled down from the tree and its contents had been strewn across the ground. Very comforting.

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On the second day we had just as much fun as on the first, especially with the off-roading, but we only had a 24-hour pass for the park so we had to really rally to get out in time. This was not much helped by the thousands of wildebeest who decided that the middle of the road was the perfect place for a siesta, far preferable to the tall, soft, mattress-like grass on either side.

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That evening we rolled up to the border with Tanzania in the town of Isebania and, sadly, put an end to our time in Kenya. It was an unbelievable week; a refreshing change from Ethiopia, a much needed chance to recharge our batteries and a welcome glimpse of what the future TGAC safari park could be like. We will be back.

Escape from Ethiopia

You know how when you’re driving from Edinburgh to Glasgow you have to go through that section of naff nothingness? Well, on our way from Sudan to Keenyah, Ethiopia was that section. Initially we’d planned to get through it as fast as possible but since 23 of the first 27 days of the trip were spent waiting, we were so behind schedule that we had to get through it even faster than that.

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Most border towns are a dump but Metema really excelled itself. The road through it was slightly raised and off its banks the thick litter-strewn mud ran down towards a string of rickety little open-fronted wooden shacks. You had to move slowly because the road itself was filled with people moving in both directions across the border so there was no escape from the all the people shouting at the car; a mixture of beggars, touts, vanilla locals and prospective fixers. It was a depressing place. The air was clammy, it smelled unpleasantly and you could just tell it was a melting pot for all things unhealthy: a lot of people had unfortunate conditions like malformed limbs or blindness and it seemed like everywhere you looked there were despairing animals with broken legs. All the more reason we were glad that this border crossing didn’t take the best part of a fortnight.

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Refreshingly, soon afterwards the landscape shook off this muck and turned into a stunning mountain vista, blanketed with greenery and apparently devoid of people. We climbed up through the passes and dropped down into the valleys over and over again and it soon became so cold that we had to crack out the Barbours and put a pot of coffee on the stove.

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It was here that we had our first taste of what was to come. People. Ethiopian people. Everywhere we looked. After the blissful serenity of the desert, it was a pleasant shock at first to have a little crowd gather to see what we were up to but ‘pleasant shock’ quickly turned to ‘outright horror’ when the ‘little crowd’ turned to ‘heaving mob’. Mostly they would just press in on us and watch everything we did but we had to be careful when there were too many to keep an eye on as they tried to steal cooking knives. Accusing a mob of knife-wielding Ethiopians of thievery wasn’t exactly at the top of our ‘to-do’ list.

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Our plan was to stick to what felt like the only tarmac road in the country and get out of there as fast as possible. On the first day we made it from Metema to Blue Nile Falls, just past Bahir Dar, and camped by a hyrdro-power station (the only place that seemed not to be crowded with people). The majority of the next day was spent there, trying to sort things out online and nothing interesting happened other than when Duncan reversed into some blind men which, somewhat understandably, they didn’t appreciate. We left in the evening and drove through the night and all through the next day, only stopping for a couple of hours to crawl onto the roof for a nap, not even caring that it was raining on us as we slept. We blitzed through the non-descript streets of Addis Ababa and paused for avocado smoothies in Shashemene before hitting the road again, making it all the way to Mega (or ‘mega-sh*te’ as Cal aptly pointed out). Another couple of hours the next morning and we were at Moyale, the exit border town.

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It was a shame because the scenery was mostly beautiful but there were simply too many people, about 100 million compared to Kenya’s 40 million and Sudan’s two or three. Driving at night was like watching certain clips of ‘The Walking Dead’ on a loop: the road stretched off to the horizon and was filled, the entire way, with hundreds and hundreds of people just milling around slowly. Most advice says never to drive at night there and we could see why. On-coming traffic always had their high-beams on so you couldn’t see a thing until they were passed, at which point the road ahead would suddenly be filled with skittish animals or groups of motionless people. The worst was when they were trying to sell you something. They would come rushing out of the darkness and stand in the middle of the road, brandishing pineapples at you and flashing a torch in your eyes, often sprinting alongside the car for as long as they could, screaming and waving. Once we had about seven or eight men all stuck to the back of the car for a while, trying to push bushels of leaves on us. What on earth would we want with a bushel of leaves anyway? Couldn’t they see we were in a car, not on a camel? It runs on diesel my good friend, not leaves.

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Similarly stressful was the state of the road. It was like a violent version of one of these iPhone games that everybody plays, where you have to tilt the phone to swerve and avoid the obstacles. Our obstacles were just pot holes and other deteriorations in the road but instead of a ‘retry?’ option when we hit them we just got a spine-jarring crunch. We knew it was ‘game-over’ when we dropped off what was essentially a small cliff in the road and landed with such a crash that our brand new rear shock split clean in two. We’d only installed it a day earlier! Needless to say, it was our least favourite country up to that point.

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