At some stage or another, we all need a helping hand. Moments when we are incapable of helping ourselves without the aid of others. Times like, while lying with a broken back on a mountainside (as I have), hanging unconscious on a cliff while a rope strangles you (like a friend of mine has) or running out of fuel in a place even Tracks4Africa has not yet mapped.
In my personal experience, long expeditions like Suzuki Africa Sky High, situated in exotic lands, on remote, poor quality roads and aimed at adventure, concentrate the frequency of these moments. While we feel a lot more confident with our SmartGrid sat phone and International SOS just a phone call away, sometimes you just need a helping hand.
Though we haven’t talked much about it, the last month and a half of Suzuki Africa Sky High has presented Tarryn and I with more helpless moments than the four expedition months before put together. Fortunately, these situations have also introduced us to more good Samaritans and helping hands than we could ever have hoped for.
Like most true problems, our month of misadventures started with a “bang”! It followed with a “clunk, clunk, scrape and stop.” We were in the middle of the Serengeti and justifiably, based on the saturation of dangerous animals, not overly keen on getting out of our Suzuki Jimny, Badger. However, we had no choice.
The shock mounting bracket had snapped off the axel causing our Tough Dog shock to hit ground then the stabiliser, bending both. We were not surprised. We had covered over 12 000km on crazy African roads, the worst of which was the last 300km of Serengeti’s car-eating corrugations. Moreover with our whole life and adventure cupboard in Badger, we were seriously overloaded. After removing the shock we managed to keep going, but within 20km the compromised bar gave way, leaving us stranded.
Our new friends Wessel and Judy, Martin from Explore Africa Adventures and Sagit, the manager of local balloon safari operation, Aloft – a complete stranger – stepped into this moment of need as saviours. As if a mirage, Sagit arrived in a cloud of dust while I was still under the car and offered his workshop free of charge to weld the damaged bar.
Before we knew it, we stood alone with two proffered cold Castle Lagers, cold water and snacks while everyone else took off. Wessel and Judy headed one way to weld the stabiliser at the offered workshop, Martin drove to camp to organise a backup lift and Sagit left in the opposite direction promising to return in an hour to check in.
We sat, back to back under a leafless acacia tree, with pepper spray and Masai machete for lion protection and the International SOS umbrella for sun protection, making a pot of coffee in the middle of the Serengeti. Tarryn was absorbed in her book apparently completely unconcerned for her safety. ‘Not worried about Lions?’ I asked. ‘The grass is too long for us to see them so there is no point worring,’ she replied in a matter of fact manner.
Thankfully, within no time our friends arrived with our repaired stabiliser and two very enthusiastic welders who insisted on finishing the repair to Badger. To our astonishment, en dusty minutes later after Sagit returned to inspect his welders work, we were back on the road.
It may be hard to believe but our miracles were only just beginning. A day and a half later, after crawling over 250km back down the same corrugated roads that caused the calamity, we reached Karatu and emailed our sponsors Suzuki SA, Opposite Lock and Wizerd asking for support.
Within an hour all parties involved had responded with a game plan. Suzuki would send a new stabiliser and some additional maintenance spares to get us home safely, Opposite Lock would send a new shock and Wizerd would provide the necessary instructions on how to fit the shock. We were blown away by everyone’s eagerness to help. ‘Sure they were our sponsors but this was above and beyond,’ we thought. In response to our repeated thanks, Suzuki said simply, ‘we are not just helping you because of the sponsorship, we would do the same for any of our clients.’
A week later everything we needed, including some spare zips from Front Runner, arrived in Dar es Salaam with Stew Brogden, the local importer of Opposite Lock and Front Runner equipment. Along with his wife Marion, Stew proved to be the biggest helping hand received from anyone not involved directly in our expedition to date.
After climbing Kilimanjaro our plan was to head to Dar to refit the shock and stabiliser in a day or so before checking out Zanzibar. Fate had other ideas.
In our absence Badger had mysteriously developed a croaky misfire, which was very unlike his usually bullet proof constitution. Hardly phased I figured the most likely cause was dirty spark plugs, thanks to countless tanks of dubious quality African petrol, however, sparkly new Suzuki genuine plugs didn’t help. We phoned the Wizerd, Monty for advice. The prediction was dire. The old plugs looked corroded, coolant was disappearing and there was a misfire, ‘it sounds like a blown head gasket,’ Monty replied. ‘Oh bugger.’
The crazy thing is that despite the apparently pessimistic situation, as always, things worked out. Stew, who we had never met, kindly arranged a truck to transport us and Badger to Dar and offered us a place to stay for as long as required. As with all experiences in Africa, the promised truck became its own adventure. Another story for another time.
A night’s sleep on dusty couches behind a hotel and a 14-hour drive spent sitting on the trucker’s bed later, we arrived in Dar. With a home cooked meal, warm shower and comfortable bed waiting for us, we could not have been more grateful to anyone than we were to Stew and Marion in that moment.
While we checked Badger at Stews workshop and fitted the new Tough Dog shock that Opposite Lock provided, Suzuki SA arranged for us to drop Badger at Suzuki Tanzania for the necessary repair. Needing to thaw out after the time on Africa’s five highest mountains, we headed to the tropical paradise of Zanzibar.
Monty had been right, the head gasket was blown. However, strangely enough the mysterious misfire was a symptom of a loose electrical connection and an independent problem. This knowledge almost certainly confirmed my suspicion that the gasket had actually blown way back in Botswana in the first week of our trip when we crossed the flooded Makgadikgadi pans. Not only had Badger never overheated since, but the coolant had been disappearing since that day. Crazily enough this had meant that we had driven probably around 11 000km with a blown gasket, providing more evidence of the hidden toughness of our petite Suzuki Jimny.
Thanks to excellent support from Suzuki SA, Badger was fixed a couple of weeks later and we were back on the road. Stew and Marion welcomed us in their house for over two weeks, treating us like family. We left Dar es Salaam in a daze with a knowledge that miracles really can come true.
The truth is that no matter how hardcore you think you or your car are, if you tackle Africa for long enough, something will happen. Life here might be tough, but the driving conditions are far tougher. There is only so many knocks, dodgy litres of fuel and dusty kilometres any car can handle. More than 90% of the overlanders we have met on extended trips here in Africa have been in the workshop once, most of them far more. Only when these situations occur do you find out the true nature of the people and companies you have associated with and you better hope you picked well. Thankfully, we could not be happier with our choices.
Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane