Text and photography: Christine Theron
Taking full advantage of our pensioner status, Bill and I planned a four-month trip into Africa – something we’d longed to do since we were, well, young.
Our vehicle? A standard 4×4 Hilux. The only add-ons were Old Man Emu shocks, a long-range fuel tank and a fancy aluminium canopy.
The cupboards and roof-rack were a DIY job, performed at our farm in KwaZulu-Natal.
What made our trip so interesting was that we strayed from our itinerary from day one. Hitting the road by 7am on D-day, after planning to leave at 2pm, set the stage for 120 days of spontaneous travelling and deciding where to go as we went along. If something sounded interesting, we would drop our vague plans and set off in a new direction.
The first serious change of plan came when we arrived at the Shire River on our way to Malawi. The ferry that was supposed to transport us over the river was happily docked due to windy conditions. After a frantic look at our map we discovered another road leading to Malange – only about 100km out of the way.
In our humble – and quite inexperienced – opinion, this was surely better than waiting for heaven knows how long for the wind to settle down.
The terribly corrugated road wreaked havoc on our thought-to-be state of the art canopy. When we made it to the Malange border post in pouring rain, we were just in time to discover that the back doors had been shaken off their hinges, just three days into the trip.
Accepting there was not much we could do about it, we took a hot shower and dosed off at the Malange Golf Club. Up with the birds, we drove through Malawi via Lilongwe. It was a tedious stretch with countless roadblocks manned by what I would call not the most pleasant cops.
Demanding chocolates and cold drinks and just about everything else we had, our offer of lukewarm bottled water didn’t go down very well. As a result we were fined R300 for not having red reflective tape on the back of the vehicle. This apparently brand-new law saw many a motorist – including locals – being robbed of hard-earned cash.
We headed for Matema on Lake Malawi to take a break from driving and to bolt the backdoors together. Navigating another bone-jarring, corrugated and very dusty road from Taduma to Nyakanazi via Sumbawanga, we saw real rural Africa.
Poor, dusty villages, everything covered in red dust with the rattle of the canopy doors adding a miserable melody to the scenery. When we stopped to give a very hungry looking dog a bone from our previous night’s supper, some kind guy pointed at our doors.
They were open.
The sight was enough to make anyone burst into tears. Everything we owned was covered in fine red dust: the kitchen surface, the bedding, the whole lot.
The intention was to bushcamp that night, but that was now impossible. So we made another change of plan after consulting our map. Biharamuloo was our refuge. For the amazing price of R33 per person we had a clean room, hot shower, breakfast and lots of water to clean the shambles.
This was the start of a never-ending battle to keep the doors shut. We tried ski rope, then chain, then wire and eventually resorted to buying 25m of square tubing and made a couple of brackets and bolted them across the doors. This was not so user-friendly in retrospect, so we had to go hungry for a few days, fearing that we wouldn’t get the doors closed again.