Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Harare, visas, and fixing the Landy. (March 6-9)

Current Location: Harare, Zimbabwe.
Highlights: Getting visas, replacing a leaking seal, and a HUGE luxury meal.
Upcoming: Malawi via Mozambique
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S17. 49. 12 LONG: E31. 2. 3

We left The Great Zim Ruins in the afternoon and had a reasonably long drive to Harare. Because of the accident (see Emergency Diary entry a few postings back), we were delayed even longer which meant driving in the dark. After driving this stretch of road at night, I realized why its so dangerous to drive at night in some parts of Africa. The road was tarred, but just a narrow two-lane track, no lights, not cats eyes, and most of the time, no markings of any kind on the road. The sides of the road were littered with people, people walking, people riding bikes, people trying to get a ride, people staggering out of the relatively frequent "bars" (shacks that serve alcohol) that line the road. It's dark and you just can't see the people very well. Then there are the huge trucks and busses that roar along the road at incredible speeds often swerving to avoid people, or because they are too loaded and unstable. The road is also lined with crashed and burnt out shells of trucks that lost it. This was a white knuckle stretch of road! Every now and then I would see a sign "DEADLY HAZARD AHEAD" which meant either a sharp bend or a small community so at least sometimes there was warning that you had to slow right down. We did arrive in one piece without incident however although later, I might tell you some horror stories we were told by a nice couple we met.

We found a campsite called The Rocks, way cool and groovy and a major stopping place for overland trucks (those that carry people on safari). Although our main purpose for being in Harare was to get visas for Tanzania and Mozambique, it turned out to be an information gathering stop over too as we talked with the overland truck drivers and Simon and Suzanne who had just driven down from Tanzania.

Our first stop was the Tanzanian Embassy where we paid our US$50 visa fee and were pleasantly surprised when they told us the visa would be ready that afternoon as we thought it would take 3 days. While at the embassy, we met Catherine, a Canadian woman who had just arrived in Africa and was heading into Malawi too so we offered her a ride from Harare to Blantyre which would help us with the cost of petrol (about US$2.40 per gallon).

The next day we went to the Mozambique Embassy to get a transit visa as the route from Harare to Blantyre in Malawi was via the Tete bridge corridor through Mozambique. We paid our Z$400 (= US$10.50) for a single entry transit visa and spent the rest of the day exploring Harare which is actually a very interesting city. Just before dark we set off back to the The Rocks. We decided not to drive the Landy into Harare because crime is so bad, so we got a taxi into town on our first day at the cost of Z$200 (about US$5), but the rest of our journeys into town were made on the big local buses or the small local buses for the bargain price of about Z$10 (22 cents). This is an experience in itself. The large buses can carry about 120 people all crammed in. The drivers drive like maniacs and appear to ignore some of the red lights. The small buses or taxis as they are called, are small, usually very beat-up mini-vans into which they cram about 19 people (not including babies or children). It is fun however, in a scary kind of way as you really get to mingle with the local people and gain a unique insight into their everyday life.

When we got back to The Rocks that evening we got taking to Simon, an Aussie who lives in the UK and works as a policeman, and his girlfriend Suzanne who is a Brit and also a policeman in the Surrey police. Simon had driven overland trucks for 3 years, worked as a divemaster on the Island of Pemba, and was now traveling through Africa (heading south) in a Land Rover with Suzanne. Simon was full of many stories, some of which I will probably tell in a special diary entry, although they are somewhat gruesome and might not be appropriate form the web site. We also chatted with some of the overland truck drivers who were mostly Brits or Aussies and got some great up to date info on the situation with border crossings further north into Sudan and Egypt.

The next morning we took the bus in to pick up our passports form the Mozambique embassy. In a glass walled cubicle sat two women. Their job all day was to hand passports back to their owners and probably handed back 10-20 passports all day. Most of the time they were either asleep, taking, or reading the paper. Aaron went up to the cubicle and handed them his receipt so they could locate his passport in the small box of several dozen passports. After a moment, they lethargically looked up, took his receipt and found his passport. I then realized that I had made the terrible mistake of forgetting my receipt. I waited at the glass window for the women one meter away to acknowledge me ( took about 20 seconds). I then explained that I had forgotten my receipt. I got a blank somewhat irritated look in response and they replied "we need your receipt". "I am terribly sorry", I said, "I would be happy to look through the passports to find mine". "We need your receipt", they said, "you are creating extra work for us". Bear in mind that it would take about 1 minute to look though all of the passports. I apologized to them and again offered to look through them. They then asked to see Arons receipt and located my passport using the number on his receipt which was next to mine. What a mission!

The next day I decided I would fix an oil leak on the front swivel housing of the Landy. Oil had leaked onto the brake shoes and the brakes were not stopping as well as they should. Luckily one of the overland drivers, Kyle, was a Land Rover mechanic and he gave me a few pointers on how to fix the leak. So I replaced an oil seal (I had a spare), cleaned off all the oil, redressed the brake shoes and put it all together. I also decided to fit the Superwinch sponsored freewheel hubs which we had been carrying with us since South Africa. Kyle suggested I check the front diff breather to see if it was blocked so I did. It was blocked and this is probably what was causing the oil to leak out.

On our last evening we decided we would treat ourselves to a really nice meal at (Miekels?) the best hotel in Zimbabwe. We headed straight for the all you can eat buffet which was outstanding. We spent about 2 hours eating some of the most delicious food until we could hardly move. I have to thank my father for this as he "sent money" and I probably would have had pilchards from a can had I not had these extra funds.

Friday morning we were up at 5 am, packed up the roof top tent and left to pick up Catherine who was staying at a lodge the other side of town. We were lucky and managed to get some petrol the day before as Zimbabwe is in the middle of a fuel shortage because the government has not paid its fuel bill. In fact we were doubly lucky to get Z$800 instead of the allowed Z$500 after "tipping" the petrol pump attendance Z$20. We calculated that we had enough petrol to drive 650 km and it was about 615 to Blantyre! So off we set. Today we would drive through 3 countries, cross two borders, via the Tete corridor of Mozambique which still has landmines from the civil war.

PICS: Waiting in the queue for petrol, fixing the oil leak, and before and after fitting the freewheel hubs. Sorry we do not have any pictures of Harare, but we decided it was not a good idea to take in cameras and I am not sure why we didn't take any at The Rocks!

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