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Driving from Kilimanjaro to Table Mountain

Updated on June 25, 2011

The Great Mountain to Mountain Safari Part One

 An old fuel-guzzling car with a reconditioned engine, an open African road, a passport, a moody teenager and a weak bladder – what more do you need to undertake a road trip of a lifetime? 

Somewhere in my genetic make-up, must be an explorer gene.  The desire to visit faraway places, discover new holiday destinations and experience different cultures seems to be an integral part of my psyche.  The urge to travel is too strong to resist.  Unfortunately for my children, over the years I’ve forced them to accompany me on my many adventures.  Now, with just one child left in the nest, one has to be more creative with family holidays, seeing that it’s just Siobhan and me left to carry on with our family tradition of exciting and very different holidays.  We’ve never done the normal family holiday thing, of jetting off to a luxury resort, as money has always been a little tight.  Single mother, three children, no child support – you get the picture.  With plane tickets very expensive for the duration of the 2010 Football World Cup held in South Africa, it was time to get creative.  So, I came up with the idea of driving down to Cape Town from Moshi in Tanzania.  What follows here are excerpts from the book of our trip I'm currently working on.  I forgot to mention that two days before we left, one of the parents of a child in my class approached me with a black supermarket bag.  “I’ve been worrying about your trip down, a woman and child travelling alone is not good.  So, I’ve brought you some weapons.”  Inside the bag was a tazer that looked like a mobile phone and a small box holding a pepper-spray gun.  “You’ll be safe with these,” the father said lifting his weapons out of the bag.  “When someone approaches and asks for your mobile phone, hand him this but point it at his balls and press this button.”  A huge crackling spark came out of the mobile phone look-alike.  “Guaranteed to knock the assailant flying and stop him from producing any more children.”  I nodded my head, too scared to touch a mobile phone that could send out such a dangerous spark.  He lifted up the small box and opened it.  Inside was a very realistic looking gun.  “There’s only two shots in this gun, so you have to make them count.  The bonus is that you’ll turn your assailant orange, so that he’s easy to pick out in a police line-up.”  With big eyes I nodded my thanks and carefully took the black bag with the weapons inside.  Now that I was armed to the teeth with weapons of ass destruction, I knew that I was definitely prepared for the trip.

Day One:  Moshi to Morogoro, Tanzania

A quick look at Mount Kilimanjaro with its ice caps towering behind us and we were ready to start our adventure.  My usual fuel station had a queue of cars, so I decided to start the drive and fill up somewhere along the way.  Just stopping off first at the bakery in Moshi town to pick up some freshly baked bread rolls, we were soon on our way - feeling both excited and a little apprehensive.  Once when we’d lived in Botswana, I’d driven 3000km in a long weekend visiting Zimbabwe.  I’d also taken three days to drive from Umtata in the Transkei, to Swakopmund in Nambia.  But those trips paled into insignificance when I contemplated the trip ahead.  With nobody to share the driving load with me, no convoy of cars as support vehicles behind me, it did appear to be a daunting task.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it.  Of course, I didn’t share those fears with my daughter, who was already trying to recline her seat next to me and make herself comfortable.  I had to come across as this confident adult who knew exactly what she was doing.

It seemed that every trucking company in Tanzania had heard that we were hitting the road, as they sent out every slow-moving truck in their stable to lead our way.  Overtaking is often a challenge in Tanzania, not just because of potholes and animals, but also because of the frequent changes in speed limits and traffic police looking more like they belonged to the Royal Navy, waiting in unmarked cars to nab you when you drove over the speed limit.  Then of course, there are the speeding buses heading straight towards you, who never seem to get caught for speeding, although you do come across the occasional wrecks of those that got a wobble and overturned.

About 100km from Morogoro, Siobhan started reading our Tanzanian Guide Book to try and find a suitable place to stay.  Unfortunately, it was dark when we reached Morogoro, and we were unable to find any of the hotels she’d picked.  Later on in the trip, we found out that she was reading the maps incorrectly, so we were always heading in the opposite direction to what was given on the map.

Now my bladder is a little weird.  It seems to sense when a potential toilet is near.  We had travelled over 500km, during that time I had no desire to go to the bathroom, but the minute we stopped outside our first potential motel I had to go so badly I could hardly walk.  I think it’s a gravity thing.  The minute you get down from the car and stand next to it, urine collected inside your bladder drops to the valve, putting pressure on it to open and let it out.  So walking with my knees clamped together, I finally made it to the motel reception.  I could feel sweat beginning to form on my brow from the exertion of keeping my legs clamped tight.  Unfortunately, they were fully booked, but they did let me use their toilet.

With my eyeballs no longer floating, I was able to focus more on finding us a suitable place to stay.

Day Two:  Morogoro to Mbeya, Tanzania

We left at 7am on the dot, excited as we felt our big trip was really starting now.  The previous day had just been a warm-up as we had driven that road a few times before.  This road, however, was completely new to us, and we felt a bit like modern-day explorers heading into the unknown.  As you can tell, it doesn’t take much to get us excited. 

Sometimes in life it is hard to be an adult.  You have to make decisions all the time.  Your children seem to think you know all the answers and making these decisions is easy.  From time to time I do make wrong decisions.  Deciding not to fill up the fuel tank in Morogoro was one of my wrong decisions.

 The cool thing about driving from Morogoro to Mbeya, is that the highway goes through the Mikumi National Park.  You have 50km of amazing game viewing.  We took our time driving through the park, eyes on high alert to see who spotted game first.  Siobhan won hands down as I did have to watch the road as well.  I did, however, spot a dead hyena on the side of the road, obviously a road kill.  The trucks and buses blaze through the park at a furious pace, having no interest in viewing the game.  I imagine that quite a lot of game end up like that hyena.  We saw a herd of elephant heading through the thick bush on the side of the road, and by the time I’d pulled the car to the side of the road so Siobhan could take photos, all we could see were their bottoms moving through the vegetation.  Luckily, we soon saw herds of buffalo, different buck, zebra and a few groups of giraffe, so Siobhan’s sulking at my failure to stop quickly enough for the elephant photo soon evaporated.  Although, looking through our photos we did seem to develop a penchant for bottoms!

About 20km from the park exit, I suddenly became aware of the fact that my fuel gauge was on empty.  Visions of being stuck in the park, trampled by elephants and eaten by lions came into my mind.  Quite stupidly, I might add, because there was quite a bit of traffic going through the park.  Someone would have helped us, wouldn’t they?  But with an over-active imagination, worse-case scenarios do tend to spring to mind.  I decided not to tell Siobhan that she might have many hours of snapping animals if we ran out of fuel, and instead stopped trying to spot game and rather channelled all my energy and thoughts into willing my car to drive on the smell of an oil rag.  As the fuel light came on, a road sign appeared before us saying, ‘2km to Mikumi.’  After my initial euphoria that there was a town that we would just make it to before the fuel ran out, reality hit.  There might not necessary be a fuel station in the town.  We had passed other towns earlier without fuel stations.  Anxiety returned for the next 2km while I debated whether to keep both hands on the steering wheel or chew my nails nervously.  My fears were allayed when a fuel station loomed before us and I’m sure I even heard my car sigh with relief.

Day Three:  Mbeya to Mpika, Zambia

With few villages, no traffic and hardly any people walking on the road, it was destined to be a long day with not much to break the tedium of the road.  We entertained ourselves by making up silly rhyming songs but after an hour or so even that got stale.  The potholes suddenly littered the road like huge craters caused by aliens crashing their flying saucers.  At some points, it was like driving through a warzone, and at others the road appeared to be newly tarred.  One had to remain alert at all times as you never knew when the road would suddenly deteriorate into a minefield of potholes that you had to weave your way around.  We had just decided that lunch was not going to be an option, when we drove into a tiny village with a take-away.  We ordered fried chicken which had only just had the feathers removed, and was cooked in such a way that you couldn’t tell what part was meat and what was bone, and watched some football on their large television screen.  Definitely didn’t expect to find satellite TV in a village in the wop-wops!

About an hour later, in the middle of nowhere, Siobhan decided that she had to pee.  Waiting until the next town was not an option; it was an emergency.  As I was sitting down, gravity didn’t come into play with me and I was still okay.  “Try and hold it in, “ I suggested kindly with a smile.  Siobhan just glared and her eyes welled with tears.  “Well, what would you like me to do about it?”  I asked, with a little more irritation than I should have.

“Stop the car now.  I’ll just go in the grass.”  And she did.  Luckily, no vehicles or people appeared on the horizon. 

So, if you travel this way make a note, there are no toilets between the border and Mpika.

Day Four:  Mpika to Lusaka

The next big town we were supposed to stop off at was Serenje.  There is reportedly a fuel station there, but road signs are not a priority in Zambia, and the turn-off must have been there somewhere, but we missed it.  Next thing we knew, we were in Mkushi, having completely by-passed Serenje without even noticing its existence.  Mkushi is about 370km from Mpika.  About the only sign of another vehicle we spotted on the highway was an overturned truck.  The road was deserted, as if everybody had disappeared like those nuclear-war movies they had a few years back.  One thing they do in both Zambia and in Tanzania, is put broken tree branches in the road to slow down traffic when there is a truck stuck on the road.  I’m not sure why we need the road triangles if we can just use a machete to chop down tree branches which do the same thing.

On the way to Kabwe, the next big town 60km south of Kapiri Mposhi and about 130km north of Lusaka, Siobhan decided to spit out of the window.  Unfortunately, when a car is moving, spit can do strange things, and it was blown right back into her face.  I struggled not to laugh as teenagers do not always find spit running down the side of their face very funny.  But the moral of the story is and the life lesson Siobhan learnt was, “DO NOT SPIT OUT OF THE WINDOW OF A SPEEDING CAR.”

Day Five:  Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambia

After the most comfortable night’s sleep ever, on pillows of the exact right softness, under a sumptuous duvet, we felt refreshed and ready to continue with our adventure.  However, the Protea Safari Lodge had another surprise for us.  A breakfast unlike any other breakfast we’d ever happened upon before.  It didn’t worry the Protea that we were the only guests; they laid out a breakfast buffet fit for a gathering of twenty heads of state.  Fresh fruit, cheeses, cold meats, cereals, Danish pastries, muffins, croissants, a variety of breads, toast, juices and if that wasn’t enough, they asked how we wanted our eggs and what we’d like with them.  Siobhan was in seventh heaven.  At last she had the eggs she’d been waiting for since Mbeya!  I really cannot recommend this hotel highly enough; the excellent service, luxury, attention-to-detail, there is no way you can fault the Protea Safari Lodge.  Forget about the money.  Indulge yourselves.  We did.

Zambia was proving to be an absolute delight.  The people all spoke English, were friendly and helpful, Lusaka was very clean and modern.  Even the cows you saw on the side of the road were twice as fat as the ones back in Tanzania.  I think, that Zambia is a secret treasure.  They have the same game in large parks that cost a fraction of what you are charged in Tanzania or South Africa; beautiful scenery, lovely waterfalls and bush walks.  Zambia has the potential to become a top tourist destination.

The highway from Lusaka heading south to Livingstone was in mint condition with few if any potholes.  The road was much busier than up north and there were large towns where one could stop to refuel should the need arise.  Finding a toilet though, was a bit of a challenge.  Siobhan had a desperate need, and my need though not quite as desperate, was starting to go that way.  We pulled into Town and drove down to the large Shoprite Centre, convinced there’d be a toilet there.  All those glasses of juice from breakfast and filter coffees were starting to take their toll.  Alas, we encountered our first unfriendly person.  The toilets at the Shoprite Centre were not for customers, even if they had a desperate need.  “That’s okay then,” I said with false cheer clamping my legs together, “We’re not customers.  We have no intention of buying anything from your Shoprite.”

 “It doesn’t matter if you’re a customer or not.  They are only for staff.  Find yourselves another toilet,” the woman added nastily.

We crab-walked to the car in a strange scuttling gait, while we tried to keep our bladders from overflowing.  By now I could hardly see out of my eyes as they were swimming in a sea of urine.  “I have to go, I have to go,” Siobhan kept repeating and I had to admit I was feeling the same way.   I spotted a very shifty looking bar, and we decided to try there.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I cursed that unfriendly woman at Shoprite who wouldn’t share her toilet.  Some shady characters at the bar directed us to some derelict stalls next to the building.  Smelly urine-splattered squatter toilets, but we were so desperate we hardly noticed.  As we were leaving, one of the shady characters shouted that we had to pay them money for using their toilets, but we just turned a deaf ear and walked even faster towards the car.

The rest of the trip went without incident; the three road blocks we went through were all friendly and I thought we’d easily make Livingstone before nightfall.  Unfortunately, about 50km from Livingstone, the road changed from being a modern highway to a nightmare, which slowed us down considerably.  Extensive roadworks were under way and we went through four different gravel road detours, where you could travel only between 20 and 30km an hour behind slow-moving trucks with dust blurring your vision.  The parts of the highway between the detours were pure hell, with huge potholes making progress very slow.  I think in one of the potholes I knocked something from my exhaust, as my car lacked power afterwards and sounded a little more like a tractor than a car.  My hazard lights were on permanently now, which was okay because all the other cars and trucks also had their hazard lights on as vision was so difficult in all the dust that was churned up on the dirt roads.

Day Six:  Livingstone to Francistown, Botswana

The Victoria Falls are definitely one of nature’s miracles and an absolute spectacle.  They are just as good from the Zambian side as they were on the Zimbabwean side all those years ago.  You pay $5 for the car, and entry to the park is $20 per person.  Not wanting to travel in wet clothes, we paid the small fee to hire raincoats, which was just as well.  The spray from the falls was unbelievable.  We saw David Livingstone’s statue there, with a football pushed under his foot.  Further evidence that we were getting closer to the Football World Cup. 

Siobhan of course, was completely fearless and hung over the edge of the railings.  Being not so good with heights myself, I tried to stay away from the edge.  Much to my chagrin, there was a small footbridge that stretched across the Zambezi Gorge.  Of course Siobhan wanted to cross it, and of course she expected me to accompany her.  Facing your fear is never easy, and without looking at the spectacular falls I managed to get across.  My heart was beating in my ears and I thought I was going to throw up.  I’m definitely not a candidate for bungee jumping!

  It stands to reason, that if you go across the bridge, you have to walk over it to get back to the other side.  I stood at the bridge and I knew that I couldn’t do it again.  There was no way in hell I could walk on a narrow slippery wooden bridge covered in green slime, that was suspended in the air so high above a gorge.  I couldn’t do it.  No matter how much Siobhan cajoled me, my feet just wouldn’t move.  Eventually, I knew that I just had to do it.  The only other way back to my car was if the SWAT team dropped down from a helicopter and lifted me up and carried me across, and realistically, that was not going to happen.  I closed my eyes and hobbled across, gingerly putting down one foot in front of the other.  About ten metres from the end I stopped.  I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t step forward, I couldn’t go backwards.  I could feel a sob catch in my throat and I couldn’t believe I was going to start crying.  I’d rather face a herd of charging elephant than walk across that bridge.  “Mom, you have to, there are people coming up behind us.  You’re blocking the bridge!”  Siobhan was starting to sound anxious.  My fear was no longer funny to her.  I took a deep breath and clamped my eyes shut, Siobhan holding me from behind as we slowly made our way to the end of the bridge.  I’ll definitely visit the Victoria Falls again, but never will I set foot on that slippery footbridge.  My heart won’t take it.

Day Seven:  Francistown to Zeerust, South Africa

All my worrying and anxious moments were for nought, as the South African side just stamped our passports and Customs just stamped our exit pass.  The guy in charge there was lolling back in his chair talking to another policeman about the football.  Nobody asked to see my car’s papers which I had ready, the Carnet or even picked up the fact that the car was foreign-registered.  It was an anti-climax to end all anti-climaxes!  However, at the exit gate there were policemen who checked the vehicle - the first vehicle check we’d encountered at any of the border posts we’d travelled through on the trip.  They examined the jerry can to see that it wasn’t carrying explosives and immediately pounced on the packet of pirate DVDs we’d bought in Iringa in Tanzania, which they wanted to confiscate.  I begged and pleaded, Siobhan made her eyes go all watery, and when the police officer didn’t see any movie he particularly wanted to watch, he let us keep them but gave us a warning not to buy pirate DVDs in future.  Luckily, the pirate DVDs had distracted him from searching the car any further and discovering the tazer gun we had, as I’m not sure if that is legal in South Africa!  The whole border crossing, both the Botswana and South African sides together, had taken us a total of 30 minutes!

Siobhan quickly put the DVD packet into the suitcase and we high-fived each other as we headed in the direction of Zeerust.  Our celebrations were a bit early, as 10km from the border post we were stopped by policemen at a road block.  They asked to look in our bags and suitcases, but wanted to see our passports first.  I knew if they looked in our suitcase they’d find the packet of DVDs Siobhan had hidden in there.  Luckily, the officer was so fascinated with all the stamps in our passport, that we managed to distract him and chat about travel and all the places we’d visited, that he forgot to look in our bags.  He wished us a safe trip and waved us on.  Our hazard lights started up again, and just outside Zeerust a traffic cop pulled us over.  I prayed that I wasn’t being stopped for speeding or any other problem with the car, as all I wanted now was to find a place to stay for the night.  The traffic cop had only stopped us because he was concerned we had a problem with the car as the hazard lights were on.  I explained that there must be a short or something and that we would get it sorted by an auto-electrician the next day.  He wished us a safe trip and told us to take care.

Day Eight:  Zeerust to Hopetown, South Africa

It was pitch dark, Missy’s brights already on when we drove into Hopetown.  Although there were quite a few signs for different guesthouses, when we knocked on doors or rang bells there was no reply.  It seemed either there was a big party on in town which everybody had gone to leaving the streets deserted, or guesthouse owners didn’t really want the business.  We drove until we found a restaurant/pub and asked them about accommodation in the town.  The bartender explained that the only hotel had recently closed down and directed us to another guesthouse.  Once again, no reply and no answer when I called the cell number displayed on a sign on the gate.  This was getting ridiculous, and it was starting to look as if we’d have to keep on driving to Britstown, which is not what I wanted to do.  As we were driving out of the town past the prison to get back up to the highway, we passed another sign for a guesthouse which we had missed when we’d driven into town.  “Last try,” I mumbled, “Can’t believe people in this town don’t want our business.” 

Words can’t describe the relief we felt when at last someone answered our knock.  The Hopetown Guesthouse was probably not the cheapest, but it was tastefully decorated with a small kitchen with tea and coffee supplied, and ample warm bedding for the freezing cold winter Hopetown nights.  Apparently the morning before we arrived they’d had a black frost which killed many of the plants in the garden.  The only disconcerting part about the room was the design which I felt was a little flawed.  There was a shoulder-high brick wall which separated the toilet area from the bedroom, which meant that a person in the bedroom could clearly hear all private bathroom noises, and when you stood up in the bathroom, the person in the bedroom could see your head.  This might not bother some people, but I did find it a bit off-putting.

Day Nine:  Hopetown to Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Tears formed in my eyes when I could see Table Mountain in the distance from the Du Toitskloof Mountain Pass.  I love that mountain so much.  The temperature was much colder than it had been when we'd started our journey in Tanzania.  I could see that we'd have to get our warm winter woollies out of storage.

My son and nephews were waiting for us on the sidewalk, waving the South African flag.  A month long holiday in the Cape, and we'd be jumping in the car and heading back up to Kilimanjaro.  All in all, our down trip had taken nine days, used 787.55 litres of petrol to travel 5625km through four countries!





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