Thursday, 29 July 2010

Driving on Black Soil

mI have read and commented on a post by Denis Wilson after which he suggested that I might have a tale to tell.  Indeed I have but it is a bit too long to tell as a comment.  Plus it needs some photos.  So here goes.

The tale actually takes place in Tanzania, not the Darling River Run.  It started with us arriving at Mikumi National Park (about 3 hours drive West of Dar es Salaam) on Christmas Eve 2001

We passed a pleasant afternoon cruising around the Park looking at the game.  Then we had a very nice evening meal at our accommodation and retired for the night. listening to the rain beat down on our tent (actually a luxurious canvas walled apartment).  The next morning we hired a guide who took us around the park pointing out when to go fast through mud and when to engage 4WD in our Nissan Patrol.  We drove through a large herd of buffalo, which was a tad worrying.  However the presence of patches of black cotton soil was the main reason for concern.  An excellent day despite the amount of water around.

At the evening meal much fuss was being made of a young Swedish couple and their small children.

The next day we planned to take a final spin around the Park and then head further West to Iringa, and spend the night there.  We set off and went along nicely until I decided that a narrow track looked too boggy so turned round and retraced our tracks.  Bad idea.  We got halfway across a patch of black cotton soil and sank.  This was about 10am.  Being idiots we didn't have a shovel or a rope but just tried to gather some vegetation to stack under the wheels.  The only effect of this was to graze my hands and embed some black cotton soil therein (it had stopped festering within a few days).  We were stuffed, but in an area where lions, buffalo and elephants could be expected.  So we sat in the car and waited.
 After an hour a couple of locals turned up.  They didn't have a rope either but said they'd report us to the Park HQ when they got there.  After another hour another two locals turned up without a rope and after another hour two more ropeless folk arrived.   We then had a 2 hour wait for the next rope-free car to arrive (we are now at about 3pm and looking forward to a night in the Park).  About 3:30pm a Rav4 load of Danes turned up: they:
  • made room for Frances and headed off towards the HQ; and 
  • checked every car they crossed with if they had a rope.

One did and was despatched to pull me out.  Which was accomplished PDQ.  As I headed off towards the HQ a troopie full of black persons appeared: they were the park staff come to extract me.  Oh well, they'd tried so some funds (aka baksheesh) were passed over.

Getting to the HQ, Frances had been talking to the Park manager - a nice lady built (as Alexander McCall Smith would say) 'on traditional lines' and it emerged there was a cheap hotel in Mikumi village.  The manager lived in the village so we offered her a lift and decided to stay at the pub - the Genesis.  We had a couple of beers and a buffalo goulash (shouting the manager a couple of G and Ts).

In the course of this she told us about the Swedish family who people had been talking to at the lodge.  They had gone out on Christmas Eve and got bogged a bit further down the road  from where we had turned back.  Despite the search efforts of the Park staff the family spent the night before Christmas stuck in the car in the pouring rain with no food.  In the morning the father decided he had to walk as the babies were getting stressed: Park staff found him walking through the herd of Buffalo, 5km from the car.  Damn lucky!

I think we stayed at the Genesis about 4 more times.  Not a great hotel - the totally non-absorbent nylon towels were a talking point - but quite cheap and the buffalo goulash was excellent.  They also had a fundi (tradesman) who washed all the mud off the car and out of the wheel arches!

We fast forward to Christmas 2002.  We (and our daughter and her partner) were at Saadani NP which was right on the coast about 100km North of DSM.  It was some 60km off the bitumen, of which the last 10km were across a black cotton soil plain.  On Christmas Day there was a huge thunderstorm and, on Boxing Day when we were about to leave, we asked the manager of the lodge we were staying in about the condition of the road out.  He asked a couple of his drivers and got the response "barabara kufuta".  He grimaced and said "Its not good" (we subsequently found that the response meant "The road is erased.").  He sent the guys out in front of us and told us to follow them which we did.  As we had narrower tyres and a less powerful motor we got bogged a couple of times but they just applied a snatch strap and off we went.
When we got through the black soil they shook hands, accepted a little baksheesh and we went about our business.  After about another 10 km the road was blocked by a fallen tree (blown down in the storm).  Fortunately a mzee (old bloke) turned up with a panga (machete) and cleared a path for us. More baksheesh.

Then we got to an area of road works in red soils which I didn't reckon I could get through (as it had been completely ploughed up by the construction traffic) so headed up the side of the road into someone's shamba (smallholding).  Unfortunately they had some mango trees right on the edge of the embankment above the road so I had to reverse.  This resulted in the car sliding sideways down the (very steep) embankment scaring the everything out of us.  As we sat there working out what to do some lads turned up and said "Drive down there and we will push you through the mud".  Which we did and they did and more baksheesh.

After a tad over 3 hours we got back to the bitumen and then only had 700km to go to our next accommodation at Lake Manyara.  Due to all the mud jammed into the wheels etc we couldn't, initially, go over 80kph due the wheel shake.  However, centrifugal force did a good job of balancing the mud and we soon back up to TZ normal speed (about 130kph).

Our daughter reckoned Africa was a bit tough for her taste!

1 comment:

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Martin
Great story, and you were right, it deserved its own "post" anyway.
Lots of Baksheesh required, it seems.