'Captain's Log, The Namib, Stardate 21st Century,
Commander Bright speaking.'
I would like to thank the Pet Shop Boys and Crowded House for allowing
me to use their song titles as the heading for this rip roaring
instalment of the lesser life of the even less great Brighty.
There is a disappointment in store for all those
who are expecting more crashes, dead sheep, collectable motorbikes,
run-ins with bureaucracy etc etc. The only difference between now
and a month ago is that I'm older, wiser, more good looking and
that the wife has 6000km or so more on the odometer. We've driven
from steamy Dar es Salaam, on the coast of Tanzania to wet Malawi,
transited wet Mozambique, visited wet Zimbabwe, crossed wet Botswana
and arrived in -so far, touch wood- not as wet Namibia.
Yep, it's the rainy season. Not just any old rainy
season though. Apparently the wettest one in 50 years. Great if
you're in bed with a woman, but not if you're on a bike (called
'wife'?!) or fighting in the jungle either for that matter. The
weather made my indecision about my further route seem positively
decisive. I thought I was just outrunning a few rain clouds by heading
west. It was only 10 days later that I watched the news and saw
what havoc Hurricane (or was it ‘Tropical Cyclone’?)
Eline has been causing.
The wife has been running like a dream. The terrain
has been very changeable. Cold, warm, hot, sun, cloud, rain, flat,
straight, curves, good roads (Tanzania and Zimbabwe), potholes,
dirt, corrugations (Malawi and Mozambique) and the most boring straight
trafficless roads ever (Botswana).
I must confess one thing. Please don't tell another
soul though! I nearly ran over a 6-inch lizard the other day, but
I think I've learnt my lesson. Lizards are nice creatures and they
eat mosquitoes. I also managed not to collide with a Tanzanian policeman
who wanted to stop me for speeding (he had neither car, nor gun,
nor radio and I didn't fancy trying to stop to talk/ bribe my way
out of it, so I just didn't stop at his road block!) and a bull
elephant and two giraffes in Botswana, who are rather nice creatures
too, and also much bigger than me and the wife combined.
The last night in Dar es Salaam was spent drinking
mucho beers with Greg Frazier. For an old bloke, he can drink like
a fish. Being younger myself, the 2 days and 1200km to the border
with Malawi were quite difficult. At the frontier I got the first
taste of what was to come. The engine went from air-cooled to water-cooled
and oil temperature fell from 110 to 80 degrees C faster than you
could say 'Give Me Money' (as they say in this part of the world...)....
The heavens opened.
In Malawi, the road up to Livingstonia, a quaint
old Scottish church mission station was, shall we say, interesting.
I drove up (and down again!) without luggage in first gear nearly
all the way. Huge inclines, vicious switchbacks, monstrous mud and
excellent views. In the museum there was a lot of old junk and also
a gramophone record player with a record by the, don't laugh, 'Gay
Darkies'! Three cheers for political incorrectness, that's what
At Nkhata Bay I spent a week admiring the dramatic
sunsets over Lake Malawi. Not! Two reasons... firstly the Bay faces
east and secondly, it rained every day.
Before meeting up with Rob and Mike at Vic Falls
again, I must admit I was getting very lonely. I didn't expect to
be surrounded by millions daily, but having to fend off Africans
whose sole aim seems to be to share my wealth with them (by menace,
begging or inept trickery) or try to talk to largely Antipodeans
and British kiddies on overland trucks is not really the be all
and end all. Where are the other overlanders?
If you fancy a flutter, you might like to invest
in the Malawian economy. The bank base rate is 47% and for 6-month
deposit you'll get a fat 33%. Well at least they are publishing
Somebody described Blantyre (the largest town in
southern Malawi) as being like Milton Keynes in England. Wrong,
Milton Keynes is better! The local hotspot for the expats is, wait
for it...the overlanders' campsite, right next to the bus stand,
where they listen to loud naff music all night. We won't mention
the fact that sleep wasn't possible. By 4 am, I was p*ssed off enough
to turn the loud TV off (there wasn't anybody around and I had been
trying to sleep in my tent since midnight!) and threw the remote
control over the razor wire fence into the bus park. B*stards.
Oh yes, there are no cinemas in the whole of Malawi!
All in all, Malawi was 'nice' (what a poor adjective!) but probably
better in the dry season.
The matey at Mozambiquan immigration was a star.
He insisted that I give him US$5 to give me an entry stamp into
my passport (I had already paid for the visa in Blantyre) and when
I questioned this, he asked if I had a problem and confiscated my
passport! Needless to say the 5 greenbacks made the passport reappear
with the required stamp. I managed to fob off the blokie who wanted
to flog me road insurance, short change the customs officer and
drove round a barrier without paying the bridge toll over the Zambezi
river at Tete, so in the big scheme of things I probably broke even
The transit route through the 'Tete Corridor' was
different in a few ways. The people I did communicate with seemed
friendly. The signs in Portuguese were photogenic and the size and
location of the 'pot holes' took a while to work out. Huge things
(now filled in, of course), the size of cars (or even tanks!), on
the crests of hills and around blind corners. Normally potholes
are on straight flat roads where vehicles are travelling at speed
and their shock absorbers can do most damage. These ones were in
the best ambush spots from the time of the recently finished civil
war in this former Portuguese colony. Their other colony in Africa
was Angola; also very safe...
Oh no, it's Mrs Hazeldine
Oh no, it's Mrs Hazeldine at Jacaranda House, she's
got a shot gun and I'm wearing 7 raincoats (if you don't know what
I'm talking about, read Tom Sharpe's 'Riotous Assembly'), ahhhhhhhhh....
Oh sorry, it must have been a dream.... the Larium...
The hostel in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe could
have been just the Jacaranda House that Mr S describes. A very pleasant
place too. Apart from this, dial-a-pizzas and shops to buy things
in, Harare is a nasty crime-infested hole where everybody has to
hide behind high walls topped with razor wire. Three cheers for
Bob's kleptocracy... Not!
Mutare and Chimanimani in the Eastern Highlands,
bordering Mozambique couldn't have been more of a contrast. Dramatic
mountain scenery, friendly faces and surprise, surprise, it only
rained twice in the 3 days I was there (including 2 days walking
and camping in caves in the mountains.) There were storms around,
but I did have an enjoyable time going the opposite direction to
the clouds. Hence my movements were rather erratic. This has been
the only exercise, apart from the routine 10km daily slog round
Egyptian customs in Cairo, in the past 5 months, and I felt it.
Great driving roads: As Bob Magobe hadn’t
paid his petrol bills there were no buses or trucks on the road.
I had the whole thing to myself.
As I was suffering from 'rubble-withdrawal-reaction-syndrome',
the visit to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins was a good tonic (except the
Bob-trained army of klepto-baboons), but camping in the lake known
as the ‘Great Bulawayo Municipal Campsite Lake' was not endearing
to my mood. My thermorest sleeping mat saved the night and kept
me dry(ish) from the ankle deep water that covered every square
cm of campground.
The Victoria Falls were majestic from both the Zambian
and Zimbabwean sides. Saving US$10 by climbing over the fence on
the Zim side at midnight and seeing the permanent rainbow under
a full moon made it even better - I felt absolutely no guilt doing
this, as the dix dolleros would only have gone into the budget for
the Zim army to protect Bob's private mining interests in the Congo.
And anyway, stolen fruits always taste better.
Smoke that Thunders
When I was here in 1992 there was a drought and
barely a trickle dripped over the cliffs. This time it was definitely
a 100% humidity job. Water everywhere. Truly magic. Mosi-O-Tunya,
the Smoke that Thunders; and was it loud!
After some R and R, Rob and Mike, 2 pommies in a
Landcruiser (whom I knew from England and had bumped into in Addis
Ababa and Nairobbery) eventually arrived. At the exclusive Vic Falls
Hotel we had to pay for the drinks up front on account of our motley
Botswanan highlights include having the whole of
the Nxai Pans Game Park to ourselves (and even spotting 2 cheetahs)
and taking a flight over the Okavango Delta. The pilot flew incredibly
low and even impressed us with tight aerobatic turns over a herd
of elephants. Top stuff!
I'll leave you today with a verbatim version of a diary entry.
I don't normally do this, but I couldn't have written this better
myself... (Hang on, I did write this myself!?....)
a Tuesday in February, I'm sitting in room 2, it's 2.30pm and
it's Year 9 French. Outside it's cold, dark, wet, miserable (like
every day in Feb in nameless city in central England). The kids
are playing up and I'm about to lose my rag."
Actually, I'm in Botswana, near Maun, it's dry (quel surprise!),
hot and I'm 15 metres off the ground in the cleft of 2 branches
of a centuries old baobab tree at Baine's Baobabs in Nxai Pans Park.
The beers are being cooled by the wet cotton sock over the can in
a bucket of cold water technique (thanks Curly!): Rob’s fridge
is temporarily broken. My view pans the Pan (sorry about the pun,
or is it pan!) 5 Oryx gallop gracefully across the six inch deep
steamy water and high cirrus clouds cast intricate shadows towards
the distant horizon. Why am I here? I could be in Blighty...'
Answers on a postcard please. I'm off for an ice cold Windhoek lager....