african Adventure

No matter how well you prepare, and how careful you are, things sometimes go wrong. Linda Harris tells us about a 50-day trip where pieces of their vehicle and trailer seemed to fall off daily

Text and photographs: Linda Harris

During our many trips into the bush, and on some shocking roads, it has been rare for us to suffer even a flat tyre. But looking back on this latest trip, we seem to have left a trail of broken bits of motor vehicle in our wake.

Nevertheless, somehow we always managed to keep going … and have a wonderful time.

The first bit of damage was only one day into our trip when I directed my husband, Keith, straight into a creosoted pole. It was extremely embarrassing but, although Keith was furious, he was very forgiving. Mind you, I was crawlingly apologetic!

We spent our first three days on a houseboat on Lake Jozini, which is highly recommended! From there, we travelled via the Ezulweni 4×4 route through Diepgezet and the rollercoaster Saddleback Pass to Barberton.

Then, on through the Kruger National Park. We managed to get a flat tyre at the Babalala picnic site, but the third “broken bit” really made me smile. I had suffered many narky comments from Keith about my “directing skills” (or lack thereof) but got sweet revenge by smugly saying nothing when Keith collected a pole and chain – quite forcibly – while manoeuvring the car around a campsite in Tshipise.

Our next stop was the old Vhemba Dongola Nature Reserve near Pontdrift, which has been renamed Mapunguwe Reserve and is starting to do quite well again. After that we moved on via Francistown to Kazungula.

A few nights later we had worked our way across to Lusaka, after some terrible roads with potholes up to a foot deep. We had covered over 4000km in 35 days, and just as we pulled into the Eureka campsite, Keith found that the wheel bearing on our right trailer wheel was broken. He had to remove the wheel, so that night we slept in the trailer while it was propped up on a rock, a piece of wood and two of my thick books!

“Heaven forbid we should book into a chalet here so that he can work on this in comfort!” I wrote in my journal.

When the trailer was all fixed up, we set off to Kafue National Park in Northern Zambia and – believe it or not – when we went to get our leaking left trailer tyre filled with air, the assistant, somehow, managed to burst the tyre!

The next day we entered the park itself at Kafue Hook gate, having met an adventurous and altogether delightful young couple, Chantelle and Jamie, who had driven down from England.

We decided to stay at the beautiful Kafwala Camp, set on an exquisite set of rapids on the Kafue River. While our car was behaving itself at the moment, we were about to have a few other incidents that would keep us on our toes…

That evening, as we were all sitting around the fire, sharing fresh bream from the rapids, we heard a lion roar.

“There’s a lion”, Chantelle said.

“Yes, but don’t worry, they always sound closer than they are,” we said.

“No!”, she said, pointing. “THERE’S a lion!”

And sure enough, there it was, not more than six metres from us. A youngish male, with a mane, came wandering down a slope to the river, had a good drink and then looked up at us, totally unfazed by either us or our fire.

Jamie and Chantelle scrambled for their rooftop tent and were up the ladder in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. The lion, however, was between Keith and me and our tent, but we took a chance and walked slowly to the car, still holding our plates of supper. We watched as he lazily roamed around our camp before disappearing into the bit of bush where, not 15 minutes before, I had gone to have a pee! Still, that was great fun.

Not so much fun was when Keith got stung in the palm of his left hand by what must have been a particularly vicious scorpion, moments before the lion entered the scene.

He had picked up a piece of wood in the fire to move it farther in, and the scorpion must have been moving towards the end of the wood to get away from the heat, and was obviously very irate!

Keith was in such pain! His heart was racing and kept beating very fast for the rest of that night. I spent most of the night awake with my hand on his chest, but he recovered well, except for the pain and almost total loss of mobility in that hand.

The next day his hand was somewhat swollen, but he could feel the “pins and needles” moving farther and farther up his arm. He was as brave as he usually is, but I could see he was suffering.

That morning we left, driving down to Kalala Camp, near a place called Itezhe Thezi. Pronounced Itesh Tesh, it is a tiny town next to the dam wall just outside the border of the Kafue National Park.

We’d hit some bad roads this trip, but there is no word for this road other than “shitty”! Patches of old tar, some gravel, some sand and lots and lots of potholes! The edges of the tar bits are razor sharp and you cannot keep any kind of regular speed because – even when there is a short stretch of gravel – the potholes are so many that you have to wind your way around and through them!

It wasn’t even an exciting road, just very, very uncomfortable and frustrating, and the tsetse flies were absolutely vicious! However, we arrived at the dam wall and Itezhi Tehzi at 3:15pm, having taken nearly four hours to do the 120km.

Then the best broken bit yet! The main leaf spring on our trailer broke just as we drove out of reception on our way to the campsite! Lucky for us it wasn’t on that dreadful road: all our problems occurred in places of reasonable civilization and not out in the bundu.

We were now faced with trying to fix the trailer spring thing, with only three good hands between us and certainly only one mechanical brain.
80% of the job was done in 10 minutes, but the last bolt took five different local helpers, one bobbejaan spanner and one 8-inch shifting spanner (which eventually also gave up the ghost), and five hours. Several other types of spanners and lengths of pipes lived and died at the nut, until someone finally arrived with two 24mm ring spanners that, with extension pipes and much perspiration, eventually got both ends of the nut off!

Keith then drove back across the dam to Itezhi Tehzi, where a hairdresser/welder fixed the broken spring. This entrepreneurial business was a tiny porch outside a lean-to with a mirror and chair for the hairdressing, and a patch of levelled ground for the welding shop. The guy wore no goggles or mask, but made a perfect weld, which Keith said should see us through for a while, although it probably buggered up the temper of the spring.

Problem solved, we decided to just chill out for a few days and wait for Keith’s hand to recover fully. There was nobody else there and it was a very beautiful place.

When we left, we were hoping for just two things; that the spring held out and that as navigator, I got our route right.