Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Missing Mikumi... Another abandoned trip

Kruger in better days in Chobe NP, Botswana
Mikumi continues to elude us...
The easiest park to get to from Dar, and we've now missed the chance twice...  thanks to Kruger, our willing but unable car.

When we drove to Dar from Botswana, we took in the majority of the accessible national parks, and deliberately left out Mikumi, since we figured that being only 300km from Dar, it would be our weekend getaway. 

However, once we got to Dar, we had to hand our car over to one of the local fundis and he'd managed to stuff it up while servicing it.  Granted, the car is old and we'd just put it through a 6000km journey, but it was still going when we gave it to him - it wasn't when we got it back.

Nevertheless after a few more trips to the mechanic, Kruger seemed to be back up and running (albeit with a few additional noises).  So, over the Christmas holidays, while everyone else was on 2 or 3 weeks vacation, we were working, but decided to try to get away for at least New Years day and go check out Mikumi for a night.  The plan was to drive out Saturday early, and come back Sunday afternoon in time for work on Monday.  May seem like a long way to go for one night, but we wanted to check it out. 

Alas it was not to be - we managed to get 45km past Morogoro (about 40km from the gate) when the air con gave out.  We weren't sure what was happening, but the car was still going.  But not for long - 5 minutes later, after an almighty bang, the power steering gave out and the car ground to a halt.  We were stuck on the side of a lonely stretch of road (quite unusual by Tanzania's busy standards), relatively new in the country so no idea who to call, on a holiday... not good...

It took 2 hours of Dru trying to get hold of one of the guys at his work, who knew someone in Morogoro, who knew a mechanic in Morogoro, who was still in town on New Years, who had a car, who could come tow us back into Morogoro, who could look at the car...  A Toyota Corolla arrived along with a dodgy piece of rope as the towrope, but in the end it managed to tow a fully loaded 3.5l Mitsubishi Pajero :)

4 mechanics, 1 car, 12 hours to fix

We effectively spent the whole day in the sun in the backyard mechanic place talking to a guy called Croatian who was having new shocks put in his Prado, while watching them strip almost the whole front section of the car to get at the problem.  Not sure of the technical details, but a bolt that holds half the engine together had broken, because the fundi back in Dar had taken the car apart and not put it back together again properly...

They had to run around doing this and that to get it done, and were still busy at 8pm that night - about 5 guys all working on the car in the light of our torch (before they only had a cellphone light...)  Eventually we left them to it, although sceptically as the car was unlocked with all our stuff in it (we were promised that a security guard watches at night and were pleasantly suprised to find that nothing was missing the next morning) and got a lift to a hotel that I'd found in the guide book. 

Considering the circumstances, it was a pretty pleasant evening where we sat on the porch of the New Acropolis hotel, drank lots of wine to drown our sorrows and enjoyed their dinner menu...
After a good night's sleep, and a hearty breakfast, we were told that our car was fixed.  And after paying our exorbitant fee (well, it was a holiday weekend I suppose) we got the car and headed back.  And the car was able to make it the 200km back to Dar, feeling a lot better than it had for the last few weeks.

More of the engine out than in...
We were clearly concerned about taking it on another long trip, but after driving it to Bagamoyo one weekend - about 70km away - with no problems, we decided to tempt it again.  A friend of ours had just bought herself a car and wanted to test it out long distance as well by going to check out Mikumi - better to travel together, so that if something happened to one of us, we wouldn't be alone this time ;)

We were going to only do one night again, same as before - head out early on Saturday morning and back by Sunday evening.  The trip was almost over before it started through - Julie phoned on Friday night to say that there was some bad sounds on her car and that she wasn't sure about the car... But then she texted to say that she'd made arrangements for a fundi to check it out at 6am (!) and hopefully have a quick fix.  So we agreed to see what the fundi said the next morning.

We were up and ready to go the next morning, but were waiting for news from Julie.  It was just before 7 when she rang and said that we should go without her and her 2 friends - although the mechanic had arrived on time, it was taking alot longer than anticipated.  So we started heading out just after 7am.  About 10 minutes later though, she phone and said that the noise had disappeared and where were we... we met up at the main road our of Dar and started off on our journey to see whose car would last the longest ;)

Turns out we lost the competition... 
Everything was going really well until almost the same place our aircon had gone out a couple months previously...  Suddenly the aircon stopped working and we knew what that meant... We didn't try to carry on, but pulled over immediately.  Knowing what to look for, Dru popped the bonnet and confirmed - yes, the same bolt had broken, stopping all the pulleys and basically fatally wounding our car. 

Julie and them had been driving ahead, so quick call to them and they were back.  We knew that the car wasn't going to be going anywhere, so told them to go ahead to Mikumi, while we got the guys to tow us back to Morogoro.  Knowing what was lying ahead, there was no point in them missing out on the national park for time spent watching a mechanic take the car apart ;)

First need to pushstart the car that's going to tow us...
Not a good sign!
This time things were a bit smoother, since we knew who to call ;) Although the one mechanic wasn't in Morogoro, the other guy soon arrived with a Volkswagen mini car (looked a bit tougher that the car that had towed us last time - we were wrong).  In the meantime, Dru and I had discussed it and decided not to have the car fixed in Morogoro. 

Although they'd done a pretty good job last time, it had given way again, and was obviously getting weaker - so we couldn't be sure it wouldn't break down on the way back to Dar.  Let's rather get the car back to Dar and then have the mechanics look at it there - better than being stranded in Chalinze or something...  So Dru had discussed it with the mechanic and the plan was to load the car onto a truck and drive it back to Dar this afternoon.  Easier said than done... we first had to get the car to Morogoro as the truck was there (couldn't figure out why the truck couldn't just come directly to us...)

I guess they knew how heavy the car was, because this time they brought a steel pole as a tow rope.  But it's never a good sign, when you have to pushstart the car that's going to do the towing ;)  The Volksie bus needed a bit of coaxing to get going...  Finally Kruger was strapped to the VW and we were headed off - albeit in the wrong direction - we needed to find a clearing to turn the car around.  After finding a spot, disconnecting the car, pushstarting the VW again and reconnecting, we were back on the road. 

But not for long... the VW was taking alot of strain and more and more smoke coming out especially on the uphills... suddenly there was way too much smoke!  And the driver had to pull the car onto the side of the road with the smoke billowing out!  So much for that... After a lot of chatter in kiSwahili, all the guys moved off the road to the shade of the trees.  For a culture that likes to talk, they're pretty stingy with their information if you don't speak the language and we had no idea what was going on.  But we've learnt to accept that and assumed that they had made a plan so stood around in the shade as well...

Pushing the car into position for the tow
About 15 minutes later a bakkie drove past and one of the guys ran out onto the road waving his arms.  He eventually turned around and our car was attached to the Hilux surf for the next towing session back to Morogoro and the awaiting truck - or so we thought.  We finally got to Morogoro without further incident and drove to the mechanic's workplace.  We couldn't see a truck but figured out that it must be round the back or something. 

So the Hilux and us stopped and everyone got out and again, more chatting... After a few minutes of this, we eventually asked what the problem was.  No problem, they said - let's go.  Where's the truck?  No, we're going to tow you with the Hilux the 200km back to Dar... No ways!
Apparently the truck wasn't there yet, and was going to be about an hour.  But an hour in Africa, could be 4 hours, and we knew that once the truck arrived they would want to load it then, and then start the 4 hour journey back to Dar in the dark.  So we vetoed the plan.  Instead, we decided that they would tow the car to the same hotel we'd stayed at the previous time, and then bright and early the following day the truck would come and we'd load and drive to Dar in light ;)  Ok, no problem.

So that's what we did - they dropped the car off at the New Acropolis (again there was accommodation available) and left with the promise that they'd be there at 8 in the morning with the truck...

It was still only early afternoon and we had nothing to do, so had lunch and asked the waitress about sight seeing options.  About an hour later a guy turned up on a bicycle, apparently from one of the local tour companies and gave us various options.  Unfortunately all start in the morning and there was nothing close by to see, so we took his brochure (which he first had to ride back to get) and decided that we would chill out for the afternoon instead. 

We decided to sit on the porch and play cards, except neither us nor the hotel had any playing cards.  No problem - we would walk down (we were basically in the centre of town) and buy a pack.  About an hour later and numerous requests, we finally found a place that sells "karata" and wound our way back to the hotel.  The next few hours were spent playing a complex game of cards (that I sucked at) and then having dinner in time for an early night to be ready for moving day ;)

Impressively, the truck arrived at 8am - not so impressively it didn't have any petrol ;)  So after getting an advance, headed off to get the diesel to make it to Dar.  Next problem - this isn't actually a tow truck... it's like a cattle truck that they use to transport goods between Dar and Morogoro.  So it has no ramp... so the next dilemma is how to get the car onto the truck.  Again after a long conversation we had no idea about, the car was attached to the truck and we were off again...
Truck backed up against a bank waiting for the car to be loaded
And this was the plan - head out to some outskirts of the town, find a hill that has been cut like a loading berth.  Back the truck up against the hill and then slowly slide the car onto the truck from the top of the hill :)  We'd actually seen this kind of loading happening in Dar one day, so we quickly figured out what the plan was to be and not all that surprised by it. 
It was halfway on before everyone
realised the car was too high to get in
The problem came in with the roofrack.  It makes the car quite high and unfortunately the truck has bars all around (it really is just like a cattle truck) and the car couldn't fit in as it was too tall.  Of course this was only figured out when the front wheels of Kruger were already on the truck - no ways they were going to be able to push the car back up the hill ;)
New plan - take the roofrack off and load the car...
worry about the rack later ;)
By now we had attracted a pretty big crowd, who all had their say and after alot of talk (again) they decided that the roofrack and tent would need to come off.  After some spanners appearing from somewhere, the roofrack was off, and the car was loaded onto the truck.  The plan had been to just pack the roofrack into the back of the truck, but it was too big, so after a bit more conversation, they put the rack back onto the roof and bolted it down. 
Car's on, let's figure out what to do with the roofrack now...
From there they moved a big truck tyre over the car and into the front so that it acted as a buffer between the truck and the car.  And put 2 stones behind the car to stop it rolling off - a pointless gesture as we saw later - the stones were nowhere near the back of the car by the end of the journey ;)

And finally, roofrack back onto car - bit of a mission
That all sorted, it was time to say goodbye to the mechanics, hello to our driver and his assistant, climb into the truck and head off back to Dar...

The drive took shorter than I expected it to, think it took us just over 4 hours.  Considering that we had a good driver (no reckless driving thank goodness!)  and had to stop at every single traffic police roadblock (they stop ALL the trucks) to "pay our respects", we still managed pretty good time and eventually stopped for lunch at one of the local restaurants in Mbezi for a good meal of pilau. 

In all of this, Dru had been trying to figure out how to get the car off the truck. I told him not to worry - the driver seemed resourceful enough to make a plan ;) And in truth, there was no plan...  We got to near our house, and then started to scout for a good offloading ramp.  We found one just up the road from home and backed the truck up against the bank.  
More organised - unloading the car took about 10 min
It was actually easier to sort it out even with less guys.  Since everyone knew the sequence, the driver's assistant unbolted the roof, then Dru, the assistant, and some guy that had been walking past selling fat cakes unloaded it.  The car was pushed out and onto the road.  Then they (and now including 2 bemused Masai security guards) loaded and bolted the roofrack back onto the car, attached the tow rope to the car and truck and towed home.  A bit of pushing and shoving and it was parked back into our parking spot.  All of that probably took about 30 minutes ;)  Hamna shida :)

So we've essentially missed 2 trips to Mikumi, had to contend with a car who now has one wheel FIRMLY stuck in the grave, and have the challenge of finding a mechanic that can actually fix a car in Dar es Salaam.  But we've also seen more of Morogoro than we ever thought we would, experienced an thoroughly entertaining drive in a truck and seen firsthand how these guys can make a plan no matter what obstacle is thrown down.  You don't need the state of the art stuff to get something done - It may not be the most effective, but it works eventually!

PS - As for the technical details, I found out later it was the crankshaft that broke - pretty much a death sentence for poor old Kruger... 3 more tries at fixing it with always the same result - and finally Kruger let out his last breath...

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