The 2011 Northward Bound Tanzania Expedition
Northward Bound Expeditions can be joined by people of all ages and from all walks of life. The expeditions are designed in such a way that at some point they will challenge and push each of their members to their limits so that they may learn something about themselves. Each Northward Bound Expedition travels to a different, remote region in Africa where we get involved with the local community and schools to teach and show the importance of becoming self sustainable.
The December 2011 Northward Bound Tanzania Expedition was to take us to the south of Tanzania, to a small town called Mtwara. Our goal was to work with the Mtwara Volunteer Crew on projects that they currently have running such as sustainable vegetable gardens, helping out at the local schools, support for those affected and infected with malaria and HIV, and working with the orphaned children. We accepted the challenge and in so doing we would travel through seven African countries, cover over eight thousand kilometres in 21 days and face some of the toughest terrain and challenges Africa has to offer.
The Expedition Team
Anyone can join us on our expeditions, you don’t have to be a 4×4 expert or have travelled in Africa at all! For the Northward Bound Tanzania expedition, we chose a team of thirteen people in seven 4×4 vehicles. The expedition team was made up of different people from different backgrounds and of different ages! The team was as follows:
Tim Skelton (Owner of SA Adventure and expedition team leader)
Michele De Kreek (Expedition organizer and CFO)
Christeen Vickery (Expedition Volunteer)
Sue Williams (Expedition Volunteer)
Ferdinando Speranza (Expedition Volunteer)
Jeanette Dace (Expedition Volunteer)
Julie Freese (Expedition Volunteer)
Shirley Shearer (Expedition Volunteer)
Jonathan Leeming (Expedition Volunteer)
Graham Low (Expedition Volunteer)
Dianne Low (Expedition Volunteer)
Ryan Greenall (Expedition Volunteer and back up expedition crew)
Noelle Gornall (Expedition Volunteer and back up expedition crew)
As well as the diversity of the team we had on the expedition, we also had a wide range of 4×4 vehicles that over the next 23 days would make it all possible, they are as follows:
‘Juho’ – SA Adventure’s own Land Rover Defender 110 and the convoys lead vehicle
‘Fish’ – Sue’s little Daihatsu Terios (named Fish due to its ability to ‘breathe’ under water!)
‘Two Runner’ – Ferdinando’s Toyota Fortuner (Named Two Runner as it destroyed its own front prop shaft in Malawi and had to be driven in two wheel drive the rest of the expedition!)
‘Elolo Mashodzi Shongololo’ – Jeanette’s Land Rover Defender 90 (Elolo (meaning peace, prosperity, love, laughter) -Mashodzi (the girl who wears shorts) – Shongololo (cause that’s how she crawls over obstacles in low range, diff lock)
‘Prada’ – Shirley’s Toyota Prado (Named Prada due to the fact Shirley’s hair dryer was in the boot!)
‘Tortoise’ – Graham and Dianne’s Ford Ranger (Named Tortoise due to the fact it carries its house about wherever it goes)
‘Zazu’ – Ryan’s Land Rover Discovery 2 and the convoy’s rear vehicle
The 23 day journey we all undertook to go and help some people who are less fortunate than ourselves, was physically and mentally tough, emotional and a very challenging one! I don’t quite know how to tell you our story, but what follows is an account of our experiences on the Northward Bound Tanzania Expedition.
It was the morning of the 16th of December 2011, the morning we had all anticipated for many months. A lot of preparation had been done, not only to our vehicles but raising funding and goods to be donated and used for the projects we had put together in conjunction with the Mtwara Volunteer Group for the community of Mtwara in Southern Tanzania.
The whole expedition team met on time at our meeting point and the time to depart on our epic journey had finally arrived. The SA Adventure Northward Bound Tanzania 2011 Expedition Team consisted of 13 members (five men and eight females) in 7 4×4 vehicles. Our ages ranged from 18 to late 50’s and our personality range was just as wide, with people from all walks of life joining together to be a part of this expedition. One of our Northward Bound Malawi 2010 expedition team members, Dijane Manten, had decided to join us in her landy ‘Flea’ for the first leg into Swaziland! The air was filled with excitement and we were ready to embark on this 8500km journey, through seven African countries in just 21 days.
Our first destination was Mlawula Nature Reserve in Swaziland. The drive to Swaziland through South Africa was absolutely effortless, it had not taken team member, Jonathan Leeming (a.k.a scorpion man) long to take advantage of the radio communication that we all had in our vehicles and use that as an opportunity to educate us about scorpions, their natural habitat and breeding habits etc. It was a very informative drive; he is truly passionate about the little creatures. After assisting another parties Toyota, that had got itself stuck in a very nasty mud bog during a fuel stop, we were back on the road. Soon Jonathan was over the air saying that the there was something wrong with ‘Prada’ the Prado that he and Shirley were travelling in. He told us there was a severe vibration at about 80 kilometres per hour…..… it helped when he put the hand break down!! It was sooner than we realised and we had crossed the Ngwenya border post into Swaziland and all the vehicles had received their Swaziland badge. We had reached our destination, Siphiso camp in Mlawula by 14h00!
With camp set up and all our tents pitched, the team took some time to chat and get to know each other a bit better. It is amazing when you put a group of strangers together to watch over time how relationships develop. As it was Christeens 18th birthday we celebrated by having her birthday cake after a good meal of Spaghetti Bolognese and salad. Ryan (Expedition Team member and rear convoy driver) had come up with a great concept to keep us occupied around the campfire in the evenings, the COD or ‘cock of the day’ award, which was a bright luminous yellow vest, awarded to the person who had done something silly during the day and would be worn for the entire duration of the following day by the person it was awarded to! The catch was that the shirt could not be washed! Without a doubt our first proud member of COD was Jonathan for actually thinking his hand break vibration got better and “went away” the faster he drove! The evening ended with successful scorpion hunting – 12 found within a 200m radius of us!
After giving the ‘Flea’ a push start due to a flat battery, it was time for us to bid her and driver Dijane farewell and head for our next destination LaGoa Eco Village in Quissico, Mozambique. All ready to depart, and then…. nothing…what was going on? Ahhhh Jeanette had lost the keys for ‘Elolo’ her Land Rover, and we could not go until we had found them! After a quick search and just as we were about to unpack her tent again, the keys were discovered on the Landy’s roof rack.
The drive through Mlawula Nature Reserve to the Goba border post in Mozambique is beautiful! The Lubombo Mountains are the most impressive natural feature of the reserve; they are a rhyolite ridge running from south to north along the border with Mozambique, volcanic in origin and geologically young. The perennial Mbuluzi River runs along the northern boundary of the reserve, passing through an impressive river valley in the north-east. The much smaller Mlawula stream flows through the west of the reserve. West of and parallel to the Lubombos is the basaltic Siphiso valley, a low-lying savannah area with abundant game, flanked on the west by a chain of low rhyolite ridges.
The border was quick and we had hit Mozambique, it was not long until the team wanted some coffee, so we stopped in a small town called Boane and found some. It seemed chaotic, with wedding celebrations going on in the town square, but Africa does have a way of seeming chaotic even when it‘s not. Graham and Diane had shot off to look for Graham’s medication (as they had left it at home) but no luck at the local ‘farmácia’ (Portuguese for pharmacy). We pushed onto Maputo, where traffic was horrendous. It took us two hours to get through the capital city, delaying us quite a bit and so after a quick bite to eat at a fuel station we were headed for Xai Xai to see if we could get some medication there. The Xai Xai hospital was big and seemed well equipped and clean, unfortunately the hospital did not have the medication we required and Dianne was at this point completely stressed out and very upset that she had left her husband’s medication at home, I assured her that we would find the medication elsewhere as soon as possible and that there was no reason to be upset, but right now we still had a long way to go to our destination for the evening, LaGoa Eco Village, and we must get back on the road! “Where we go one, we go all” and we would not leave a team member, even if that meant going from place to place in search of medication!
The sun was going down and we pulled off the main road and onto the dirt road to LaGoa. This made for some exciting night driving, and we assumed that we were surrounded by paradise, for as far as our lights could shine we were in a coconut palm tree forest on the edge of the mighty Indian Ocean. It was at this point I had my first ever ‘Dr Livingstone’ moment in Africa! While I was checking the GPS for the correct turning, a white Toyota Pick Up came out of the darkness, pulled up next to our Landy and the driver asked “are you Tim?” Seeing as we were a good ten kilometers from the lodge and in the middle of nowhere, I was quite shocked and responded “yes, who are you?” Turns out it was Niels Jessen, the owner of LaGoa, what a relief, he could now show us the way! When we arrived at LaGoa it was rustic to say the least. (To be honest, at first it seemed like nothing more than a patch of grass).
After we pitched our tents, Niels took us on a tour of the Eco Lodge he has built, what a wonderful place, with little nooks and crannies everywhere. The Lodge is truly Eco and lies between the Munhanze lagoon and the Indian Ocean! Niels cooked us a huge dinner and we held ‘Tribal council’ before bed, down in the fire pit area. Jeanette got COD… for losing her keys to her Landy of course! We also discovered a calabash that we would use as an ’immunity idol’ and it would be awarded to the person who had done the nicest or kindest thing throughout the day. Our new found friend was named ‘BOB’ and would live on the side of our Landy for the rest of the expedition!
The morning started on a great note, with an eco shower and some food in our bellies, we were ready to hit the road. We were now able to see the scenery we had missed the previous evening and the views were absolutely spectacular. We made good mileage on good tar roads and had reached Vilanculos by early afternoon. We topped up with fuel and made our way to Baobab Beach Camp. What an amazing camping spot! We were right on the Indian Ocean and had all the luxuries that man desires, running water, food and beverages. The ocean was out when we arrived and all the dhow boats lay tilted on their sides on the shore waiting for high tide to return them to the ocean. We decided to go for a dip once camp was set up. We had to wade out about 200m to get waist high in the Luke warm, turquoise water. We played a game of ‘catch’ in the water and then decided that a stroll on the newly formed sand bank would be in order. The boys were in their element discovering the little creatures that bury themselves in the sand.
I took Graham and Dianne into the neat little town of Vilanculos to see if by chance the local pharmacy had the cortisone medication we were so desperately seeking. Guess what… they actually had it! Okay it was the generic but beggars can’t be choosers! Graham needs this medicine as he is allergic to something in the silica that makes up sea sand, seeing as we were going to be spending some time near beaches on this expedition, it was very important we found it! With a few boxes of the precious pills in hand and a very relived looking Dianne, we met up with some members of the expedition team who had come into town to draw some cash from the ATM and on the way back we decided to stop at a street bar for one of the local beers and ended up getting a rugby ball out and having a game of ‘street rugby’ with some of the children who were hanging around. We loved every minute of it. I don’t know who had bigger smiles on their faces, the kids or the expedition team! We gave them the ball to keep and they could not believe it!
Today was a rest day, and the team decided to take a dhow boat trip to the island of Magarugue which forms part of the Bazaruto Archipelago which is a group of six islands. It comprises of the islands of Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Banque, Santa Carolina (also known as Paradise Island) and Shell. What a magnificent place. The boat trip was about two hours and we saw some dolphins in the clear turquoise water! Once we got to the island we snorkeled around the reef where we saw Parrot fish, sea urchins and Garfish. Some of us went for a walk around the island while others lay in the sun and observed the beautiful surroundings. When we swam on the other side of the island we were lucky enough to catch, or shall I say hold, a sea horse, it was just swimming by. Wow! A real sea horse, not in an aquarium, I had never seen that before! When we got back to main land, Shirley had gone shopping in the market for the ingredients of our lunch, and arranged with our boat’s skipper to deliver fresh Crayfish for dinner. I got the ‘COD’ award, for being late for ‘tribal council’. Why was I late? I was cooking the team’s Crayfish!! Thanks Guys!!
Today we set off to one of my favorite places, Sakkie’s Camp on the outskirts of the Gorongosa National Park.
Along the way we stopped at a local market for some supplies for dinner! The markets are typically African, with dried fish everywhere and smell that cannot be described. I think the locals were as intrigued by us being there, because as I was filming our experience, they were filming us, on their cell phones. African priorities – The roads are bad and shops and supermarkets are few and far between, but everyone has a cell phone! Anyway after we had purchased our tomatoes and potatoes a few of us decided to take a walk through the rest of the market on the hunt for some beer. Suddenly, this little child ran out and put both her arms around my leg. Then the little one looked down and realized that the feet of the person she was hugging were white, then confirmed it by looking up at my face and then screamed her little lungs out while running back to the protection of the market stall as fast as her legs would carry her, as she realized that I was certainly not her mother! Well that was it, we were in hysterics. The little child’s face was priceless. Check out the video below.......
The market seemed to draw Sue’s attention to a mother sitting on the porch of a store feeding her child. It is hard for me to describe the emotions that one experiences when watching moments like that, in fact I can’t describe it. All I can say is it gives you goose bumps. We arrived at the camp at about 3pm and I went to go sort out the admin while the team pitched the tents. It was great to see Piet and his family again and he said we could use the pre pitched safari tents he had in the camp site! I ran back to tell the team not to worry about pitching their tents! Soon after unpacking what we needed for dinner, we realized that ‘BOB’ our immunity idol had been kidnapped and there was a note for his ransom! We were on the hunt to find the ‘kidnappers’ and we came up with great detective skills to try and find the culprits. That night, I checked my tent over and over for snakes, Piet had told us that he had lost three little Jack Russell’s to Cobra’s and Rock Pythons. Once I felt there were no snakes in the tent, I fell asleep listening to the chants of the local mad man and witchcraft in the Gorongoza valley!
We woke up quite early had breakfast and headed out towards our next destination, Quissico. During the drive, I was reminiscing of last year’s expedition, and the awesome ferry crossing we had made across the Shire River to get to Malawi! After a fuel and lunch stop in the medium size town of Caia, we crossed the Zambezi River on the newly build bridge. We could still see the old ferry that was used to cross the river in the past; I was in some way very upset that we were not on it! It was not long after when Shirley discovered that her phone was missing, she concluded that it must have been taken while at the fuel station in Caia. There was not much we could do about it and so we had to push on.
The drive into Quissico was beautiful. Coconut trees all around us, and we all sensed that we were driving to somewhere really special! What an anticlimax when we finally arrived at the ‘camp grounds’. Apparently the camp ground was no longer running and so we stayed in a parking lot of a broken down, abandoned hotel. I suppose you can’t have the best of everything when on an expedition! The locals had agreed on a price to allow us to camp there and to bring us water in buckets to bath and cook with. The sea was dark in color and seemed dirty, and the beach was full of litter! What a pitty as this could be a truly beautiful place! Our camp site was surrounded with black crows and there was an eerie feeling in the air. We decided to make the most of our stay and enjoyed playing with the Wood Borer Beetles and having some coco nuts picked straight off the palms above us!! We were going to stay here two nights but given the conditions we decided we would push on in the morning. That night the sound of the dogs barking rang out like children crying and then the Muslim prayers started at about 3am, and if that was not enough, the crows had us all awake by 4.30am!
We were packed and on the road by 5.30am, heading for Veranda Camp which is situated on a point out into the ocean called Cabaceira Pequena. Vasco Da Gama, the infamous Portuguese explorer drew fresh water supply for his ship on his voyage of discovery which set sail from Lisbon in the year 1497! But we weren’t ready to leave just yet; the ‘Campsite Manager’ had all of a sudden decided that he was now going to quadruple his price for our accommodation! After negation, we were off. In the next town we stopped for fuel and supplies. We decided we would have lunch just outside of town, where things did not feel quite so busy. When we stopped Graham and Dianne realized that one of their boxes had been pinched off the top of the ‘Tortoise’. It must have happened the night before at ‘Crow Beach’. Anyway we still had a long journey until we reached our destination and so we continued on what felt like a never ending road.
After a while we had to make another pit stop for a bathroom break and managed to stop outside a local school ground. Seven 4×4 vehicles pulling up caused quite a stir and soon enough we had our own football match going! We had great fun! After a day filled with excitement, we arrived at Veranda camp in the dark with the help of Swahili (a local that showed us the way). It turned out that Veranda Camp is now actually a five star lodge and at $500 US dollars a night, there was no ways the team was getting to stay here! Sorry Guys! The lodge manager turned us in the direction of the actual camp site which was about 2km’s away! The camp was called Currusca and was nestled in the sand dunes; it had everything we needed including a place to do some much needed clothes washing! We set up camp, ate dinner and all looked forward to the rest day we would be having tomorrow!
Today we spent the day in what truly is, a phenomenal place; we swam in the sea and explored this pinnacle of land that juts out into the ocean. The sea is crystal clear and we were able to find some sea urchins in the sea weed. The locals were selling shells and necklaces along the shore line. Some of the team went for a drive to Ilha da Mozambique, which is a nearby island and you must cross the sea via a very long bridge to get to it! Others went for a walk and swam in the sea. It was a much needed break from travelling and gave me a chance to sit with Michele, Noelle and Ryan, my expedition support team, in the bar and discuss the progress and upcoming legs of the expedition over a few beers! Later on back at the campsite ‘BOB’ had re-appeared with a note attached, introducing us to ‘Bobetta’ and ‘coconut’ (his wife and child, whom he had apparently been to fetch and that’s why he was missing for a few days!)
Today we are headed further north to our last destination in Mozambique for a while, Hassan’s Camp, which is situated on Ponte Pangane about 100km’s north of Pemba. We all got a little sunburned yesterday and Ryan was not enjoying any sunlight on his blistering back and shoulders! We stopped and played a game of football with the locals in a rural village called Mucojo just before we reached our camp. When we arrived at Hassan’s, it was almost a bitter sweet moment because you are surrounded by what looks like absolute paradise and there is only poverty that occupies it. The beaches are beautiful but they smell due to the locals using the sea as not only their washing machines and baths, but toilets too! There is a harsh reality that hits you when you witness Africa at its core. It is that raw state that keeps me wanting more! We were greeted by Hassan the proprietor of our beautiful campsite on the beach. He was a very friendly chap, and set about organizing us fresh water for the shower and toilets, he also offered to cook our dinner for us. As with most of the other places we had stayed at there was no running water but at least there was a toilet to sit on, even if you had to flush it with water from a bucket, and we had a working shower.
Christmas day and Santa’s little helper had come around decorating all our vehicles last night. It felt very strange to be in a predominantly Muslim area with Christmas decorations on the Landy, so some of us removed them as we did not want to offend anyone! We hit the road heading for Mtwara, Tanzania as our next stop. The tar road ran out today near a village called Nova Zambezia and I reminded myself of the enormity of what we were doing and why we were doing it. One goal, no matter what challenge lay ahead of us, we had to achieve what we had set out to!
After travelling about 200km on the worst ‘road’ you can imagine, it was once tar, but now just a potholed track with occasional tar, we were happy to reach the T-junction that would take us directly to Mtwara. However, at the junction, we confirmed with a policeman and a truck driver with Tanzanian number plates, whether or not we could go that way. ‘No’ was the direct answer, we could not proceed along the route we had planned, the pontoon ferry that would take us across the Rovuma River and into Tanzania had been sunk by a hippo a few months before, and we would now have to go the other way around across the Unity Bridge, which was about a 700km detour. With no time to waste, we now had to push like crazy if we had any chance of reaching Tanzania today.
The main truck road was tough terrain and hard to believe that it was the only route between Tanzania and Mozambique. When we came across the same truck driver we met earlier stuck down to his chassis in thick mud, we accepted our fate-we would not make the border or the crossing into Tanzania today. I have a saying I like to use often, ‘The Swiss invented the clock, but Africa owns the time.’ This was one of those times you just have to accept what is going on around you and make the best out of the experience. We did our best for a few hours to try and get the stuck truck out of the mud by digging and winching, but it would not budge.
Team member, Jonathan, who is the author of Scorpions of Southern Africa, took this opportunity to search for some scorpions and came up trumps with a couple of fine specimens! The views were spectacular along the ‘mud’ road through the Niassa Hunting Block towards the border, but unfortunately our focus was more on pulling each other out of the mud and not getting our vehicles stuck. By night fall the convoy made a joyful Christmas tree of white and red light moving through the African bush. We got to the Negomano border post at about 8pm and the Mozambiquean Soldiers allowed us to camp in an enclosed area near the customs office. I negotiated our camping / safety fee, 50 US dollars and a cup of hot coffee for the soldiers! Some of the team had never camped at a border post before and were naturally a little nervous, but once they realized they were safe, a Christmas dinner of a great beef stew was enjoyed by all.
This morning I woke up to the sound of Noelle coughing, she really was not well and was taking medication to try and control her nausea. After packing up our border camp, we waited for the customs officials to arrive. In the mean time, our new soldier friends had invited us to come and take photos of the ‘Unity Bridge’ that stretches across into Tanzania. It is very rare in Africa that a soldier or policeman will allow you to take pictures of bridges, border posts etc, ‘they must like us,’ I thought to myself. I was chatting to one of them in broken Portuguese, and he told me that a week before a woman and child had been taken by a crocodile while getting water from the river about 100 meters from where we were standing. With that the customs officials arrived and it was time to get our passports stamped.
Out of Mozambique and into Tanzania! We were greeted with big smiles at the small Masuguru border post on the Tanzanian side of the Unity Bridge. ‘Jambo’ (hello in Swahili) was the greeting all round. The border officials were very friendly but its funny how things work in Africa, there were three offices we had to go to, one for the passports, one for customs and one for the Temporary Import Permits for the vehicles. Each of these offices had two of the latest laptops, printers etc, however all the paper work was hand written in triplicate taking about 2 hours, the new laptops were being used to play World Rally Championship 2011 and Pub Snooker video games! The day was hot, about 43 degrees and we wanted to stop for a cold drink, however ‘Prada’ the Prado had a different plan. About 200m after the border post she decided to have a ‘Prada’ moment and not start. After checking various options and trying to jump start her with no luck, I noticed one of the battery cells was out of water, we topped it up, and the engine roared back into life! Thank goodness!
Back on the road again and we found an awesome looking bar and stopped to mingle and have a Coke. Some children were playing football nearby and it was not long before we had replaced their homemade plastic bag football for the real thing, the youngsters went mad; they loved it…so did we. With the teams spirit back on a high we hit the road and this time we would only stop once we reach the Mtwara Volunteers. When we arrived at the Mtwara Volunteers Group, Mahmoud and his team gave us a warm welcome of fresh coconuts to drink. The team was most relieved to have reached our destination and that they had facilities for us to shower. They really welcomed us and had prepared a goat stew with fresh fruit for dessert. I sat with Mahmoud and discussed the plan of what we would be doing in the community in the morning, he had prepared a list of things and we both agreed it would be best if we split the team into two groups so we could maximize what we could do with the time we had! Before bed most of us sat mesmerized by the camp fire realizing that although a day late we had done what we had set out to do!
The team awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and a breakfast of sausage, eggs, chips and toast. Ryan and I had decided to drive the 30km’s to the border we were told we could not cross two days earlier, to check things out for ourselves. We reached the Tanzanian customs office and ran into a local guy called Severin; he had been studying in Perth, Australia and therefore spoke excellent English. He asked us if we were looking to cross the Rovuma River into Mozambique. We replied yes. He said it can be done, leave it to him and he will arrange everything for us and that we should be there the next day at 6am. We negotiated the ‘fee’ for our crossing and made sure he understood that we were seven vehicles and thirteen people, his response was, ‘leave it to us, we are professionals, we do this all the time.’ This is why I love Africa…..nothing is impossible here!
By the time Ryan and I had returned to the volunteers group, the team had divided themselves up as discussed. Most people in the Mtwara region have very little, but it is evident that they are trying to help themselves as much as possible. This really pleases me and it is these types of communities that I love to be involved with. The one group would be visiting the local pastor, the orphanage and the hospital, while the rest of us would be handing out clothes to the local community, planting the vegetable gardens and painting the black boards at the local secondary school. After the preparation of all the goods we had collected, in the 40 degree heat, the teams set off to do their respective chosen activities.
We planted the vegetable garden in a field that had been prepared for us before we arrived, some young boys helped us and they saw how easy it was to plant with the ‘Reel Gardening’ seeds strips we had brought. We also taught them how to rotate and maintain the garden so that it would become sustainable food for them in the future. We then went to paint the schools black boards, what a rewarding experience. The school has 75 children in each class and the teachers rotate, to save time, so the children would receive maths, science, geography etc in the same classroom. We met back up with the other team at about 3pm, the hospital visit had stunned a few team members, and you could see the shock all over their faces. They had also been at the hospital at the same time a young mother was giving birth to her triplets! The orphanage also proved to be an emotional experience. Each child at the orphanage was given a present of stationary, activity and colouring in books and some rugby and soccer balls.
Mahmoud then took the whole team to meet his uncle where we were welcomed with open arms and given beer and tea! On the way back to our campsite we drove through the old slave buildings on the seafront, it was a weird feeling to be there! Mahmoud informed me that the local radio station was after an interview with me and that the whole community of Mtwara was waiting to hear about the ‘Mad White People’ that had driven here all the way from South Africa to come and help them! I really did not want to do it but I did it anyway! Mahmoud then slaughtered and prepared a goat for our evening braai, with freshly roasted cashew nuts for starters!
We knew that we were going to be in for quite an eventful day. We were going back into Mozambique the way we had originally planned to come into Tanzania, across the Rovuma River at the De Namoto border post to avoid another two day detour. We bid farewell to Mahmoud and the rest of the volunteer group at 5.30am and got to the Tanzanian border post by 6.15am. It was a long winded stamp out due to a lot of red tape I had to talk my way around with the Tanzanian customs official. The Tanzanian Ports Authorities had deemed the Ruvuma River ‘Ferry’ crossing unsafe, so I had to use our letter of good will, given to me by the Tanzanian High Commission in Pretoria before we left on the expedition, as leverage. I also had to write a 2 page disclaimer relieving the customs official of any responsibility should anything go pair shaped on the river, I’m also sure that the twenty US dollars I donated to his children’s ‘school fees’ helped a bit too! Passports stamped we headed down to the river where we met our ‘Fixer’ Severin. True to his word he was waiting with his team of ‘professionals’ and his means of transport to get our 4×4’s across the Rovuma.
I don’t think I will be able to describe accurately to you the ‘ferry’ we were about to put our vehicles on, but I will give it my best shot. At first, I think everyone in the team must have been petrified at the sight of seeing three small wooden fishing boats with some planks on top, tied together with not rope, but string and a small 15 horsepower outboard motor lashed onto the back. The ‘ferry’ was only big enough to take one vehicle at a time and so as the leader of the expedition I needed to lead by example and our Landy ‘Juho’ was loaded onto the boats and started her 2km journey across the mighty Rovuma River towards Mozambique. At the point of our crossing we were only about 500 meters from the ocean and the river was tidal, we managed to get ‘Juho’ and ‘Tortoise’ across before the tide went out and exposed sandbanks in the river. This prevented us from moving any vehicles across for about 4 hours. What could we do? Nothing! TIA (This is Africa) we just had to wait for the tide to come back in again!
During our long wait for the tide, we prepared the landing bank on the Mozambique side to make off loading the other vehicles much easier, played football with the locals and took lots of photos. While waiting, I also decided to drive the 4km’s to the Mozambiquean border post to see if I could save any time by getting everyone’s passports stamped. The road was very bad as no vehicles travel it and literally 100 meters from the river I got stuck in a mud hole down to the chassis. With that I had twenty or thirty ‘helpers’ ready to push me out, but as usual they all wanted a 100 dollars and I tried to explain to them that they had all just been given a brand new football each by our expedition team and that they should help me out and not want anything for it. They were not interested and by this time I was actually sick of hearing the words ‘give me money.’ I decided to winch ‘Juho’ out. The problem was that there was no tree to connect the winch cable too! Plan B, I walked back to the river where some of the other team members were waiting and got Sue’s Terrios ‘Fish’.
My plan was to get the ‘Fish’ in front of the landy and use her as an anchor point to attach the winch cable to, ‘but what if she gets stuck in the mudhole aswell?’ I asked myself. ‘Better use a lot of momentum to get her across,’ so I did and ‘Fish’ made it over and became the anchor and freed ‘Juho’ from the thick stinking mud! I finally made it to the border and the officials told me we would be using their accommodation that evening courtesy of the Mozambiquean Government. So what was supposed to be a four hour river crossing turned into a fourteen hour one, with the last vehicle, Ryan and Noelle’s ‘Zazu,’ reaching the Mozambiquean side by 9.30pm.
Africa threw us yet another curve ball that glorious evening-the boat owners had got together over a few beers and decided that they had under charged us for their ‘professional’ skills to get us across; they now wanted double what we had first agreed on. After much haggling from both sides and me beating their strongest man in an arm wrestling match, I agreed to meet them halfway on the price and threw in my tee-shirt aswell! While I was ‘arm wrestling,’ the rest of the team were waiting for me on the other side of the by now infamous mud hole. An old lady had come out of her hut nearby and brought the team a big bowl of hot water to wash their feet in; I could tell the team was extremely humbled by this kind and selfless gesture. Moments later they were scared by her shouting in Portuguese to off to the side of them… only to discover when turning on the 4×4’s headlights that there was an elephant about 50 meters in front of them! The team was ready to head to the border and the adrenaline and excitement of the day was still flowing.
The 4km’s to the border took about 30 minutes! When we arrived the customs official I had spoken to earlier in the day had arranged a soldier to stand guard for us, he was a young enthusiastic chap and very excited to meet us. He played us Bryan Adam’s songs from his Blackberry phone while simultaneously waving his loaded AK47 in our faces. I think this made some of the team slightly nervous, personally I loved it, to me that is true Africa, and so Michele gave him a cup of coffee to calm him down a bit. Check out the video below for some of the action from that day......
We were packed up and through the border back into Mozambique by 7.30 am, it was not long until Graham and Dianne were stuck in some mud, but not to worry ‘Fish’ to the rescue. Then we had to travel back down our much loved pothole filled ‘road’ to get to our stop for the night, Mission Camp. The road was long and we were travelling slowly so although the kilometers were few, the hours were on Africa. We swopped out drivers a few times and Michele ended up driving with Noelle for the last bit of our journey. When we arrived at mission camp at about 7pm, I decided that we would not be able to stay there for the night (it was really bad) so we pushed on until we came across a bright light. The bright light was a radio station, where no one could understand what we were trying to say because of the language barrier. While the convoy was waiting for me to return, a policeman came from the opposite side of the road and kindly offered us a camping spot on their police station grounds, which we said yes to without hesitation! There are no ablutions at borders and police stations, never mind having an official camping area, with a fence. After dinner we called it a night. Michele could not sleep a wink; the bellowing sound of some dogs crying again, the torches that flashed in the darkness, the reality was we were in northern Mozambique, surrounded by nothing.
We left our police station camp this morning at 5.30am heading for the Mandimba border post between Mozambique and Malawi. We only had 500km’s to do, but the first 100km of those were on dirt tracks, I can’t call them roads because, they weren’t. It was very picturesque scenery, I was waiting for a leopard to jump out at any time, it was definitely prime leopard country. When we eventually reached tarmac it was bordering on 11am, we were behind schedule and still needed to stop for fuel and fresh supplies. After a fuel stop, I confirmed that the border closed at 6pm and we would have to make good time if we wanted to reach it before it closed. Soon enough the tar had disappeared again and we were back on the dirt, travelling as fast as we could go.
As we pulled into our last stop in Mozambique, I hit a massive pothole with the right front wheel. ‘Juho’ our Landy started to make a very bad knocking sound from the said front wheel as we travelled down the potholed road towards a fuel station, so while the rest of the convoy was filling up, I diagnosed the problem to be a smashed front shock absorber turret, the pot hole I hit had completely sheared the four nuts holding it to the chassis! I knew there was no way to fix it with new nuts, and I quickly decided it needed to be welded into place. Now I just need a welding machine! Graham came over and said he had seen a guy welding on the outskirts of town as we drove in. Michele and I rushed off to find him, he was just round the corner, I grabbed his welder and quickly had the repair done, stuffed 200 Meticas in his hand and we were back at the fuel station before the rest of the convoy had filled up with fuel. That’s why I love Africa, she throws you a challenge but look hard enough and she will give you a solution too! Then we were off.
I was rushing the expedition team over the radio, it felt like an episode of the amazing race, for every 10km we drove, ‘Brenda’ our GPS was adding on a minute to our arrival time at the border, which meant we would reach the border at 6:01pm, so through rain and potholes we soldiered on. We got to the Mozambiquean Customs office at 6:05pm; they initially were not going to let us through because apparently they had stamped us out instead of in to Mozambique at the De Namoto border the previous day! After much discussion, we were officially stamped out of Mozambique, a big sigh of relief… Then we arrived at the Malawian side hoping to get through as I had promised the team pizza’s at Fat Monkeys on the shores of Lake Malawi.
By this time it was dark and after about an hour of discussion and negotiation with the customs official, he decided that he would be able to let us through but we needed to pay his ‘overtime fee’. I decided in my head that we would stay the night at the border post even though most of the team were feeling intimidated and a little out of their comfort zones. I knew the road that lay ahead to Cape McClear and although tar, it was a very twisty and dangerous road, through the mountains, to be traveling on in the rain at night! This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make as the leader on this expedition, but looking back now, it was the right one.
Some of the expedition team still don’t know that I made the decision to sleep at the border post that night. It became a case of sleeping in the vehicles, or what some of us decided to do was sleep on our stretchers outside the customs office on the porch. The atmosphere among the officials had initially been quite hostile and I know it took its toll on the team, but with our little camp set up, we had many laughs and the men took shifts in being our guards throughout the night. One thing I must mention is by this point, no showers for 3 days, no ablutions, little food and probably a bit dehydrated, I think we had reached a level of insanity, so at the time, all the girls finding a spot in the lights from our headlights and then turning them off on the count of 3 to have a wee, had become normal to us… the squadron squat we called it!
We were obviously first in the queue at passport control the next morning and we were greeted by some strange looks from the officials, 13 whities camped out at their border! All stamped in and we crossed the border and hit Malawi really early and could not have been more relieved to be heading towards a natural body of water. We stopped to draw money in Mangochi and then on the way to Cape McClear, stopped at the ‘Toys R Us’ road side curio stall. The team loved the hand crafted Land Rovers, boats and jewelry and so, trading shirts, as well as money, it was not a problem to pick up some roadside bargains and help support the local community.
We then made our way into Cape Maclear, made a run for Lake Malawi for a quick dip, just to feel semi human, and then had a bacon and egg breakfast at our friend Allan’s place, Mgoza Lodge. Bellies full and feeling revitalized we pitched up camp. The team spent the afternoon, swimming, relaxing, repairing minor items on vehicles and generally just packing things nicely again. We then went for our burger dinner, the burgers took 2hours, but TIA and we were very happy to eat them when they finally arrived, it was also New Years Eve and everywhere was packed. Most of the team never made it past midnight to welcome in 2012, but Michele and I stayed awake and watched the reflection of the fireworks in the lake, listening to the celebrations going on along its shore line.
Today was a rest day at the lake, the team could spend it however they wished, so each to their own. Nando had asked me to listen to a funny noise his Toyota was making, so he and I went for a test drive, it was difficult to hear the noise, and I suggested we keep an eye on it and if it got any worse we would inspect it at a later date. The Toyota had other ideas, about 10km’s from camp she decided to tell us exactly what was wrong, with an almighty bang! We stopped and looked underneath, the front prop shaft yoke had completely snapped in two! Nando looked very worried but I got underneath, removed the damaged prop shaft, put the center diff lock on so that it could now be driven in two wheel drive, this is how the doomed Toyota got her nick name ‘Two Runner’ and this is how she stayed for the rest of the expedition, because finding a Toyota Fortuner front prop shaft in Africa is like trying to find a tar road in northern Mozambique, they just don’t exist!
That afternoon we arranged for a boat trip to the island to snorkel and see the Fish Eagles, through Ketson a local youngster we had met the year before. It was Jeanette’s birthday, so we chilled some champagne bottles for us to enjoy as sundowners on the island, as well as bring in the New Year. After snorkeling and admiring the surroundings on the island, some little children came up to us out of nowhere, very nicely dressed, to wish us a happy new year. You wonder how they got there and what they are doing there. When the boat returned, we went to view the fish eagles, one of the eagles names is Cherie, “Cherie, Cherie” we called, but she had been over fed for the day and did not want to come out of her tree and get the fish we were so kindly offering her. Dinner was another 2 hour wait for pizza at Fat Monkey’s. We also spotted the youngsters we had run into in Vilanculos and I caught up with them to see how their respective travel had gone.
An early start to break camp before the rain began, and I have to say, Mother Nature played her part, holding back the rain just long enough for the last peg of the last tent to be pulled out the ground. On the way out of Cape McClear, a final stop was made for some pre- ordered curios and we were on the way to the Chipata border post, Zambia. The roads in Malawi are good tar and we made good time into the capital Lilongwe where we stopped at the Spar shop for some supplies. This was the first real shop we had seen in a long time and as the rain fell outside the whole expedition team went shopping! Dianne had a half full trolly and was proceeding to the tills when bang! The whole ceiling of the shop came down about a meter from where she stood! There was obviously a leak in the roof and the weight of the water had caused the ceiling to crash down, had it landed on her I’m sure it would inflicted some major injuries.
Soon after we were at the Chipata border post with Zambia, the crossing was slow and took about two hours to get everyone across, by 1pm we were in Zambia and needed to make good ground to reach our destination, Pioneer camp in Lusaka. It just so happened that while we had stopped for a minute on the side of the road to regroup the convoy, a peace core volunteer called Chris, travelling to Namibia approached us for a ride. That was it; he was part of the team for the next 2 days. Michele had contacted Pioneer camp, asking them to prepare food for us as our expected time of arrival was 9pm and the team would be tired and hungry by then. Michele was not feeling well the whole day and as we were in the window period for the first signs of Malaria to be showing, I was a little worried.
We stayed at Pioneer Camp and it seemed to be one of the best we had visited yet, we were all grateful to have running water and a shower. Michele was up a few times in the night and was running a fever. I decided to do a Malaria test, but it came up negative. So there was not much we could really do, but push on to the town of Livingstone. After a few ‘weak’ moments along the roadside, the team started getting ill one by one, all with the same symptoms. We decided we would go straight to the pharmacy in Livingstone and get enough medication for the whole expedition team. What a good decision that was, because over the next three days, we all seemed to go down with the mysterious illness in succession. Once we reached our camp site, ‘sick bay’ was formed and while some of us slept, the others stepped up to the plate on team chores ensuring that bellies were fed. At this point, the team had gelled and everyone just did what they had to, to help the others through.
The team seemed to be feeling stronger today; people were still not well but nowhere near as bad as yesterday. Although we were not supposed to stay an extra day in Livingstone, I decided, given the current state of the team, we all needed some time out. So we enjoyed the Victoria Falls and watched some crazy people do the bungee (two days after a young Australian girl nearly died when her Bungi cord snapped). Everybody had some time to explore and buy curios in their own time, which was wonderful.
We left the David Livingstone Camp early this morning and headed for the Kazungula border post between Zambia and Botswana. You need to go across the 400 meter wide Zambezi River at this point to get into Botswana; however there was no messing around with fishing boats here. The Kazungula Ferry is one of the largest ferries in south-central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tones. The service is provided by two motorized pontoons and gets you across the river in about five minutes! Things at the customs office seemed chaotic, no one seemed to know what we were supposed to do, we were getting instructions from various sources, all saying different things. It took us about an hour and we were on the ferry, crossing the great Zambezi for the last time on our expedition. The ferry service itself was very efficient and to be honest I have never had such a smooth ferry crossing in Africa. Once we had crossed the border we had a one track mind…Kubu Island.
The road from Kasane to Nata was littered with herds of elephants, and we must have seen more than a hundred of the gentle giants as we sped by on the beautiful tar road. It was on this beautiful tar road that my stomach succumbed to the terrible bug that had surged its way through the rest of the team. To say the least it was an interesting drive trying to stop for frequent toilet stops with all the elephants on the side of the road. I’m sure they understood! So despite the heat and tummy problems, we motored along the road until we reached the turn off to Kubu Island just past Nata.
The dirt road across the Mighty Makgadikgadi Pans was very dry and it was the easiest drive in to Kubu I have ever had. Kubu Island is a remarkable place, it is a dry granite rock island located in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park area of Botswana. The name Kubu means hippopotamus in Tswana. There is something so spiritually grounding about it. We all enjoyed the sunset and Ryan braai’ed us some delicious Botswana beef steaks. Just before bed, Julie and Jeanette gave us a very entertaining show by playing shadow kung-fu, where it was their shadows created by the moonlight that were actually having the fight…who needs a TV?
This morning’s drive out from the island and across the pans was as dry as ever and it made for an easy crossing. We were off the pans by 9.30am and back on tar. As we pushed on to our fuel stop at Letlakane, the energy and adrenaline I felt throughout the ‘safari’ (Safari means journey in Swahili) was leaving my body and I could not help but feel like the worst was over and we were now on the home stretch. At the fuel stop some of the team members decided that this would be the end of the expedition for them and they would push on to Johannesburg that day. After bidding our farewells, the rest of us, went onto Kwanokeng Lodge, which is at the Martin’s Drift border post. We enjoyed a few drinks on the deck overlooking the Limpopo River, while the monkeys decided it was a good idea to throw Nala berries at us. We ended the day with a swim in the pool, and a great buffet dinner.
Our epic journey has come to an end and we crossed the border back into South Africa, although we missed our target to complete the Expedition in 21 days, over 8500km of chaos, intrigue, excitement, frustration and determination had kept the expedition team trundling on. We had done it! What an experience, what a ‘safari!’
I would like to thank each and every one of my expedition team members for what you guys did for a community that you had never been to and for people you had never met, trust me they appreciate what you did more than you will ever know.
I know that sometimes it was tough going and I thank you for your support when I needed to make those tough ‘I am the leader’ decisions, and that sometimes you did not understand why I was making them. I hope you all learned something from me, I definitely learnt a lot from you guys!
I would also like to thank all the sponsors, companies and individuals that gave us equipment, goods and time. Without you it would have not been possible to complete the SA Adventure Northward Bound Tanzania 2011 Expedition.
Remember, your life’s a big adventure, get out and live it!