Day 14: Dude… What’s that smell?

“I can’t smell anything.”

Are you sure? It’s definitely something. Smells like burning.

Having to stop on the open road to check out a problem isn’t a joyous occasion. Finding smoke emanating from the engine bay when you do makes it considerably worse.

And there we were. Just a day after crossing the border from Tanzania, we were on our first unscheduled pit stop in Mzuzu, Malawi.

Yet again

A few months ago, I could not tell a fuel tank from a radiator – but my diagnosis – a burning fan belt, proved correct. After a painful 30km crawl we made it to a local mechanic in Mzuzu.

The culprit turned out to be broken bearings in a fan belt pulley, which had stopped turning. It was causing the fan belt running over it to generate excessive friction and thus burn.

Fortunately, we found ourselves in the hands of Mwiza, owner of GM Motors Mzuzu (+265 999 373 322), who got us on our way after an unanticipated afternoon in one of Malawi’s larger northern centres on our way to Nykhata bay.

Apart from this little hiccup, and although Christine disagrees, we’re still making relatively good time in our endeavor to make it down to Cape Town for her arrival on August 29th.

Since Alph’s last post, we’ve visited the lakeside village of Matema (Tanzania) where we spent a luxurious 5 nights recovering from Kyela (Nathan – not to be taken personally), dropped in on Mushroom Farm, Livingstonia (Malawi) – where we met new friends Mick, Dawn (owners) and Toast (travel writer for Go! South Africa), Nykhata Bay and finally, Cape Maclear, on the southern point of Lake Malawi.

Interesting learnings from the past week:

Mushroom Farm Camp

  • #1. With a bit of determination, anything is possible. Mick, a fellow Australian, started Mushroom Farm 12 years ago after offhandedly deciding to push his bike up a treacherous 15km hill (which we were forced to negotiate in low range 2nd) and deciding it might be a nice spot to stay for a while. He likes the bush. A local chief granted him the land, and from there, stone by stone he has built a phenomenal cliff side campsite complete with luxuriously warm water, rooms, and bar, with zero technical engineering knowledge or experience.
  • #2. Elephants love citrus and can smell oranges and lemons from a very, very, long way a way. If there haven’t been any recent sightings, throw a couple into your mate’s tent (even better where he can’t find them) and watch as the elephants shake out the tent (when said mate is sleeping) for a night’s entertainment. Take up a good vantage point for the evening. Cheers to Bjorn (Safari guide, Northern Malawi) for the heads up.
  • #3 Always check your tent for oranges and lemons before bed

We’ll spend the next few days in Cape Maclear, before heading south from the lake through Liwonde national park on to Zomba, and then Mozambique



Kisolanza Farm, Mufindi, and Kyela

Our campsite at Kisolanza Farm

I apologize for our absence from the blogosphere the past week. Our wanderings have led us to a part of the country where Internet connection and electricity lies somewhere between spotty and non-existent.

Since my last blog post from Iringa, we’ve spent a large portion of our time at Kisolanza Farm exploring the nearby area. The beautiful setting, hot showers, spotless facilities, and fresh meat and produce available for purchase made it incredibly easy for us to keep extending our stay.

We made (attempted) a day trip to the Mufindi Escarpment after reading Lonely Planet author Tom Hall’s raving review of the place: ‘the view from Mufundi Escarpment near Iringa – it’s quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’ We wanted to decide for ourselves the validity of that statement but locating the viewpoint at the Mufindi Escarpment proved as difficult as finding one’s way into Mordor.

Mufindi Loop Road

The directions to the Mufindi Escarpment in the guidebook was simple, make a left turn from the Dar-Mbeya highway onto the Mufindi Loop, then make a second left turn 40km in onto a small road to the viewpoint. Easy Peasy. What the map did not convey is that the Mufindi Loop is 40 kilometers of punishing corrugated dirt road that takes us to a maze of narrow, winding, forking rural roads thru tea farms after tea farms.

The sight of these tea farms sprawling across the lush rolling hills of Mufindi was stunning, but navigating these unmarked roads thru them proved impossible. These roads are not marked on any map or GPS. Local farmers we asked have never heard of the viewpoint. After many hours of searching, we decided it was prudent to give up and try to find our way out with whatever little daylight is left. That night we were told by Jason, the manager of Kisolanza Farm, that it is nearly impossible to find the Mufindi Escarpment viewpoint without a guide: what a great piece of advice it would’ve been 12 hours ago.

Tea Farms at Mufindi

After Kisolanza Farm, we made our way west out of the Eastern Arc Mountain region to Mbeya in the Southern Highlands, then south from there to Kyela and Lake Nyasa. Kyela was not on our radar as a destination but Nathan, a friend of Eugene’s from Technoserve, is currently working there so we fell compelled to visit. Despite his exquisite company I cannot bring myself to forgive him for luring us to Kyela, as it is truly the armpit of Tanzania. Making matters worst was an unusual influx of visitors in Kyela at the time of our visit; acceptable accommodation (our standards are fairly modest) was non-existent (our room came with lots of mosquitoes and no bed net; we had to pitch our tent on top of the bed to protect ourselves from mosquitoes). At first light, we bid farewell to Nathan and head for the greener pastures of Matema, a beautiful beach town on the Northern shore of Lake Nyasa (i.e. Lake Malawi). After three days at this tranquil, secluded lakeshore town, we’ve yet to find the motivation to go anywhere. Looks like we will be here for a few more days.

Follow my odyssey on Twitter @AlpheusChan

With all this…

On the road to Morogoro

With all this talk of us ‘getting the car ready’ and ‘leaving tomorrow,’ it came as a bit of a shock when we drove past Mlimani City Shopping Mall today that we are actually leaving Dar es Salaam and not going to there to buy that one safety pin we forgot to get.

We ultimately decided that the 8 hour drive to Iringa was a bit aggressive for our first day, so we opted for a much more manageable 3 hour trip to Morogoro. Aside from getting pulled over for going 57km/h in a 50km/h zone by overzealous policemen looking for a small gift, the first leg of our journey was exceptionally smooth.

Today’s drive, which brought us from Morogoro, thru Mikumi National Park, up into Tanzania’s Southern highlands, was simply spectacular. Driving across the vast rolling landscape with the lone baobab tree standing at a distance with families of baboons gazing at the ‘purple people eater’ while pumping Toto’s Africa out of our 3 working speakers was a surreal experience. It was one of those rare instances where the reality of my travel meets the expectations of my imagination.

The loud music blaring from Pub +255 next to our decrepit hotel in Iringa will challenge my self-proclaimed ability to sleep anywhere tonight. Hopefully I can get a restful night of sleep before exploring the forested highlands around Mufundi tomorrow, which one Lonely Planet writer claimed as ‘quite simply the best view I have ever seen.’

Follow my odyssey on Twitter @AlpheusChan

And… We’re off!

So… along with getting the car ‘safari ready,’ I’ve been itching for a few days of ‘quiet time’ to fine tune preparations and relax (just a little..) before hitting the road. Yes, a few days turned into a week. Yes, I’ve lost count of how many farewell dinners we have had (tonight’s could be the 5th or 6th). Yes, our continued presence in Dar has turned into a running joke with our friends. But yes! We are finally leaving!

The extra weekend spent in Dar was not in vain. Roger Federer won the Wimbledon final and reclaimed the No.1 ranking, and Mark Webber won the British GP. Couldn’t have asked for a better start to our safari!

Today we were fortunate enough to catch some of my esteemed colleagues at ‘TuboCha’ to say thanks and goodbye – and also to receive their well wishes this afternoon. The picture above is our team alongside our old faithful ‘Purple People Eater’.  To all of you – I wish you the very best and I hope the project has great impact in improving the livelihoods and nutrition of rural Tanzanians.

Thanks all for your well wishes and look forward to hearing from you! If you click on the speech bubble on the top right you will be able to leave us a message – please keep in touch!


Journey begins…Tomorrow

My supposed two-week stay in Dar Es Salaam is slowly approaching its one month anniversary. Since we are on Africa time, the delay of our departure should come as no surprise as one thing after the other has delayed our departure. On the onset of our planning we realized mechanical issues will likely be an issue for a 14-year-old vehicle at some point but getting off the start line was more difficult then we imagined.

Things began to go wrong on June 16th when we made a day trip to Bagamoyo – the capital of colonial German East Africa, an hour north of Dar. On our way back from Bagamoyo, a ‘tutt-tutt’ sound began to emanate from under the hood. Although we weren’t overly concerned at the time (it is easy to hallucinate strange noises with old diesel cars) we asked our mechanic to have a look as precaution since we do have a 20,000km+ road trip to make. Over the next 20 days I was given a comprehensive tour of Dar’s automotive industry.

So far, any progress we have made with the car has almost certainly been accompanied by corresponding setbacks. Here are some of the lowlights of our tour that included over 20 separate visits to different shops and mechanics:

–       Cracked piston

–       Cracked water pipe

–       Mechanic accidentally cut a different water pipe while trying to replace the broken one

–       Burst AC pipe and lost gas

–       Four visits to the roof carrier shop before our custom made roof carrier was fitted and functional

–       While trying to fix the spotlight, the electrician wired the headlights directly to the car battery so it stayed on permanently.

While the price for replacement parts are on par with the rest of the world, thankfully labour is dirt cheap (a multi-day job replacing the pistons cost $50) so the repairs were much less painful on our wallet than it would’ve been back home.

Now that the car is finally good to go and our stuff all packed, we are all set to leave tomorrow (for the 5th time this week, this time is for real) for Iringa. The itinerary page will be continually updated throughout the trip to reflect our actual itinerary.

The smart money is on Andy Murray choking in front of the home crowd at the Wimbledon Finals tonight.

Follow my odyssey on Twitter @AlpheusChan