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PAUL OWEN’S AFRICAN ADVENTURE (Part 2)

(as told to Jacqui Ikin. Images: Paul Owen)

You will remember last time we left Paul, he was swerving to avoid a huge truck …… 

Let’s continue!

“There was only one thing to do, and that was head for the bush, which I duly did – straight into a culvert where I came to a grinding halt. Fortunately, I had managed to slow down to just under 40 kms/hour, but still it did not bode well! Once the truck had passed, I managed to collect myself and reversed out to inspect the damage. On the surface all looked well,  but as I drove off there was a terrible grinding sound and a ping on the dashboard and a message telling me there was a suspension problem, do not move, do not pass go, do not collect R200. Contact your closest Land Rover dealer – IMMEDIATELY. 

I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t seen a human for miles, and the temperature was already well above 30ºC. I was also stuck on the side of the road so if another juggernaut came hurtling along with no place to pass, I was ‘dead meat’. To make matters worse, I had used up all my Tanzanian shillings and only had limited airtime on my phone in anticipation of entering Burundi shortly and stocking up on airtime and local currency there.

I thought my first priority was to make my plight known to other vehicles, so in good African tradition I went 100 meters either side of the vehicle and placed my triangles as well as bunch of branches in the road knowing that the branches sent out a better message than the triangles in Africa.

By now, the air suspension had lowered the body of the car right down onto the wheels. I had two choices. To wait until someone came along, or to start walking the 16 kilometres to Kasulu to get help. However, before either choice, I thought I would start the car and see if I could at least edge it along. Low and behold the suspension raised a few centimetres above the wheels which I deemed okay to drive, and the warning light had gone off. I gingerly inched forward, accompanied by a horrible grating sound. I inspected under the vehicle as best I could but didn’t see anything bent or catching. I decided to continue. After about 150 meters the warning light came back on and the body sank back onto the wheels, rendering the car immovable or running the risk of bursting the tyres.

I waited another 15 minutes and tried again. Same story.  I calculated that it would take about an hour to do 1 kilometre, or 16 days to get to Kasulu!! I needed to get the car off the road properly before abandoning it to walk. Suddenly I see a guy coming toward me on a bicycle. Good news, there’s life out there! I wave him down and (with his no English and my no Swahili) I manage to ascertain that there’s a village not far ahead. Hmmm, not far by African standards could mean anything, but I bid him farewell and limp off again. Sure enough, not 150 meters further on there is a village and an area to pull over.

I have no idea if the village has a name, but I parked outside J J H Ntuyamale Guest House, and it’s likely that I am the first international visitor to grace their establishment. A very helpful young guy is running the place, and I manage to convey that the car is broken and that I need to somehow buy airtime so I can get help. No problem. Good old Vodacom. There are airtime shops in the most remote places! He duly leads me into the village with about 200 gabbling, laughing children in tow, as well as an assorted bunch of misfit adults shambling along.

I get airtime, but now the question is: where is there signal? Nothing is coming up on the phone. I learn that the signal is very intermittent but to be patient and it will come…… Would I like a beer and something to eat. I explain that I only have 2000 shillings left after buying airtime (about R15) and that I have food and drink in the car. No way! His treat, no payment necessary. All mimed like a Christmas variety show. Eventually at around 14h00 I get signal and am able to talk to my wife Sue explaining my plight, and requesting that she get hold of Cross Country.

Between Sue and Cross Country, they manage to locate a garage in Kigoma that should be able to help. By now I’ve had a better chance to survey the damage and can see that the front left brake calliper’s broken in half, and the whole air suspension has been damaged and punctured. The car will have to be extracted on a flatbed. Sue managed to contact someone and negotiate a price They will send a truck that afternoon and Cross Country have given clearance to go ahead. Then, change of plan. They won’t make it that afternoon, but by 08h00 the next day. A bit disappointing, but not the end of the world. It will give me chance to get to know my hosts who have insisted I stay in their home. Not entirely happy about that but, not wanting to be ungrateful, I accept.

The room is somewhat suspect to say the least, but after a restless night, I’m up early in anticipation of the arrival of the flatbed at 08h00. After much delay, and Sue calling the garage numerous times, it eventually arrives at 17h00. 

My heart sinks – it’s a closed back truck and I can see that there’s no way the vehicle is going to fit. By manage to call the garage and ask them what is going on They knew the make and weight of my vehicle. There was also no foreseeable way to get the vehicle up onto the truck. To add insult to injury, there’s now a request for extra money for the fuel and a bigger truck. I’m angry that they are trying to leverage all financial possibilities by taking advantage of my situation. Sue calls the garage and gets the extra costs, then contacts Cross Country who again given clearance to go ahead.

Many apologies later I have a sincere promise to get a proper low bed before 08h00 the next morning. What can one do but wait? The garage tells the two mechanics that accompanied the driver to stay the night, so there would be no delays in the morning. I gladly offer my room and tell my hosts that I would sleep in my rooftop. At least I know I’ll get a good night’s sleep. By this time I have got to know a few of the locals and the breakdown guys, so it looks like it’s time to party. All sorts of food and drink arrive, and my hope of an early night go out the window.

At 07h00, a bit thick headed, I pack away the tent and go and tackle the “ablution block” in anticipation of my truck. Eventually at 10h30 I get signal, make a call and am told that, although the truck left at 07h00, it was pulled over at a police roadblock and impounded for some infraction owner is trying to arrange for its release. Now I’m seriously anxious and really not wanting to spend another night out in the village….

I then get another message to say a third truck is on its way and should be with me shortly. In the interim, Sue and Cross Country have been organising some accommodation for when I get back to Kigoma! At about 16h00 the truck arrives. A flat bed, but not a low loader – which will require some serious ingenuity to get the Landy onto the back! With the help of a mud bank, some serious rebar ramps, and a lot of manpower it’s eventually hauled onto the back and strapped down. We set off for Kigoma at about 18h00 and arrive in Kigoma late that evening in one piece. The vehicle is deposited at Toyota Kigoma of all places. I arrange to come back in the morning to discuss repairs and spend an uneventful night at the Imperial Hotel.

On arriving at the garage, I find that they have already taken the front apart. They show me the damage. Both Brake callipers and the shocks are beyond repair and will have to be ordered from Dar Es Salaam. I agree, requesting a quote before anything is done so I can get it cleared with Cross Country. When I get the quote I nearly pass out. What should cost around R20,000 is being quoted at R80,000. What to do? I’m stuck and they know it. There are no other garages in Kigoma, and I am worried that the repair might not even get me home. The most sophisticated electric appliance in the shop is a kettle. Cross Country tell me that is the write off value and they will only cover me up to R30,000 as per the contract (which is understandable), and I will have to pay the rest. I have no option other than to say go ahead and order the parts. Cross Country have already obligated to pay the retrieval cost on the flatbed, the hotel bill, the food, so this one’s on me…….

After deliberating all night I decide that I’m not going to be ripped off and held to ransom, so I phone the garage and tell them to hold while I look for other options. Scrapping is not an option as the cost of repatriating the car is just too much. The only other option is to rail the car to Dar and book it into Land Rover proper. I put all the costs together and present to Cross Country and they agree it’s the way to go. Kigoma Toyota say that they have already ordered the parts and if I cancel I am in for costs.  I request a figure and they revert with R18,000. Unbelievable. 3 x transport bills for 3 trucks, cancellation of the order at 10% of the value and 8 hours work done. It had taken them just over an hour to extricate the 2 broken pieces. No pay, no release of the car. Eventually I manage to get hold of the top guy in Dar, and manage to negotiate a reduced fee for cash.

In the interim I have relocated to Jakobsen Beach and rented a cottage. I am to spend the next ten days there while I try and arrange to get the car shipped to Dar. Couldn’t have found a better place to be stuck. I had all the food from my freezer, a great room and the most beautiful spot on Lake Tanganyika. Once the car was in Dar, I flew there as I had to organise getting the car out of the rail yard and to Land Rover. Then found that parts were not available and that Kigoma Toyota had never ordered the parts. It would be 15 days to get the parts flown in from UK at huge expense. In the end I sourced them in SA and my oldest son flew to Dar for the day with them in his hand luggage. That meant another 10 days hanging around in Dar Es Salaam and only left me 7 days to get back to SA for my son’s birthday. I managed to get there in time after being away for almost 3 months to the day.

In all the time I was away I never once felt threatened. Despite a few frustrations with the unscrupulous owners of Kigoma Toyota, I found everyone I met friendly and helpful. A big thanks to Oddvar and Ingrid Jakobson in Kigoma, and all the help and understanding from Cross Country Insurance Company, especially Cal, Lyle and Shavell.

Would I do it again??  Hell yeah! In a Landy??  Hell Yeah. On my own?? Hell yeah!!

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