Road trip to South Africa - Daily Nation

A lesson on commitment, passion and discipline

Tuesday January 29 2013


As is typical of long road trips, once the initial exuberance wore off and reality set in, a crew of three remained — Kamau Ndung’u (Head of Software, Synergy-Pro Limited), Michael Githaiga (Chairman, Synergy-Pro Limited) and Dan Obanyi (Principal Architect, Boundless Studios).

Their general plan (boys-only road trips tend to be very short on detail) was to be in Port Elizabeth (PE) by December 8, 2012 for some dose of rugby madness; the only specifics being that, once in South Africa, they would use the Garden Route — a scenic road that would see them go via Durban and drive the entire Eastern Cape to PE — and on the way back stop over at Livingstone to bungee-jump over the Zambezi.

They could get away with this type of ad-hoc planning because, of the 10 countries in their draft itinerary, which changed every night they sat for a planning drink, only Mozambique and South Africa require visas for Kenyan citizens.

It was agreed that they should leave by November 28 at the latest to ensure they were in SA in time for the rugby rage, with some contingency if they had any incidents slowing them down en-route.

But on that November 28, none of the crew had their visas, one of the crew did not have a driving license, the car’s Logbook was with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for a change-of-colour permission, and the vehicle was still in the garage. Here is how they eventually rolled down south... and back:

Race to Port Elizabeth

Day One | December 1, 2012

Distance to PE: 5,754km

Rugby starts in: 7 Days

Day 1 Objective: Reach Morogoro in Southern Tanzania: 824km

Our cavalier attitude towards the trip has put us in a very awkward position. To make it to PE in time for the rugby, we have to cover an average of 822km a day.

We finally set off on December 1 2012 at 0045HRS. There is no significance to the timing other than the fact that we chose to throw an impromptu send-off party at Blues Restaurant in Hurlingham, then go to Nakumatt later for late-night shopping. Despite the bravado, we only make it to Emali (124km). Small step by man, giant leap for mankind (not quite).

On road trips, poor motels sometimes make good sense as mobilising in the morning is easy, and so on this trip we will sleep on the cheap.

The next day we make it to the border in good time for an early crossing. There is a small delay as we search for the vehicle’s chassis number, which is covered in grime. WD40 does the trick and the Customs agent is satisfied. We are in Morogoro by 2200HRS and find a brilliant little B&B. Not a bad start.

Today’s Log: Nairobi (Kenya) — Oloitokitok | Tarekea Border Crossing — Morogoro (Tanzania): 824km

Day Two | December 2, 2012

Distance to PE: 4,931km

Rugby starts in: 6 days

Today’s Objective: Cross the Zambia border and try for Mpika: 1,114km.

Road trip discipline is holding up and all crew are up and ready for breakfast at 0700HRS. The car is loaded and warming up in the parking.

Small problem though; the receptionist says we owe on some beers we had last night, and payment is acceptable in Tanzania shillings only. Problem is, today is Sunday; we only have US dollars and Kenya shillings. The ATMs are down. What a bother!

Finally, the receptionist agrees to change the Kenya shillings at her own profit and we are finally off. It’s a dash for the border, which closes at 1800HRS. Interesting fact: All countries in Southern Africa are an hour behind. So if we make it to the Tanzania side at 1800HRS, it will be 1700HRS on the Zambia side.

Wishful thinking, as Tanzania’s legendary traffic cops put an end to such notions with numerous speed traps, including one where a speed cop gleefully points out to us that we were moving at 54KPH on a 50KPH stretch. Then we run into major road construction works after Iringa, with holdups averaging 15 minutes.

There is no way we are going to make it to the border, so will just take it easy and stay in Mbeya. We should be able to make up for the lost time tomorrow though.

At Mbeya, we find ourselves a nice B&B and also load up on the roof tanks (extra 80 litres should be good for at least an extra 700km.

We had kept them empty until Mbeya to avoid the unnecessary weight). Not a bad drive altogether, but making Mpika would have really put us back in the game.

Today’s Log: Morogoro (Tanzania)— Mbeya (Tanzania): 636km.

Day Three | December 3, 2012

Distance to PE: 4,295 Km

Rugby starts in: 5 days

Today’s Objective: Lusaka by nightfall: 1,124km.

Once again up early and done breakfast by 0730HRS for the short drive to the border — 100km, give or take. Should sound easy... until we count not less than 10 traffic stops to the border.

First time ever to hear a traffic policeman ask for a yellow fever certificate. No luck on their side. We have full documentation and all required accessories and are reluctantly let go at all the stops.

We are in high spirits and shifts are agreed upon for this stretch, but Murphy must have been a border control agent. The border officials do not share our vision of reaching PE and, for almost six hours, shuttle our papers between bureaucratic desk jockeys well-versed in the art of delay.

The money changers are also maddening (four currencies are actively traded at this border: Kenya Shilling, Tanzania Shilling, Zambian Kwacha, and US Dollar). You have to closely monitor as they will just as quickly snatch stuff from the car as they are ready to trick you into convoluted inter-currency computations.

We arrive at Mpika at around 1900HRS and find yet another great B&B (we found a simple trick to get these — ask the attendant when fuelling, they kind of feel obliged to give you good info.) We are now quite concerned as we are behind schedule by 527km. Not good.

Today’s Log: Mbeya (Tanzania)—Tunduma/Nakonde Border Crossing—Mpika (Zambia): 481km.

Day Four | December 4, 2012

Distance to PE: 3,814 Km

Rugby starts in: 4 days

Today’s Objective: Must reach Harare: 1,113km.

We cannot afford any more mishaps. The B&B packs breakfast for us and we are up at 0400HRS. Today we mean business.

But, just when it looks like we are going to get a break from the delays, the Land Rover’s brakes fail 100km from Lusaka. We have actually done good time as we are in Lusaka by 1400HRS. We can’t risk moving without brakes though and find a jua kali mechanic who, get this, once worked in Kenya!

The vacuum pump is gone, so we have to get a new one and have it fixed. It’s getting quite frustrating. Find another B&B in Lusaka and mull over a bottle of Grants (road trip gift from Blues Restaurant) on our predicament. Not looking good. Our deficit is now 706km.

Today’s Log: Mpika (Zambia) — Lusaka (Zambia): 643km.

Day Five | December 5, 2012

Distance to PE: 3,171km

Rugby starts in: 3 days

Today’s Objective: Must reach Masvingo (Zimbabwe): 784km.

It’s make-or-break time; any other mishap and we will be watching rugby on a big screen in the middle of nowhere. Problem is, we have a border to cross. Mercifully, the border control is straightforward.

The Customs agents are incredulous on the drinks we had stocked up on for a three-man road trip. Today looks like our luck is up and, after breezing through Harare, arrive in Masvingo at around 2000HRS.

But, while the road has been good to us, our streak of superb B&B’s runs out. After scouring the town, we can only find a really dodgy dive. It will help focus our minds during our dinner-time route-planning. Our deficit is now 744km. Can’t complain. It could be a whole lot worse.

Today’s Log: Lusaka (Zambia) — Masvingo (Zimbabwe): 784km.

Day Six | December 6, 2012

Distance to PE: 2,387km

Rugby starts in: 2 days

Today’s Objective: Johannesburg (RSA): 831km

We made a dinner pact last night. We will make PE, and in furtherance of that thought we agreed to hit the road by 0300HRS — not a hard decision, considering the boarding conditions. And we actually hit the road at 0300HRS (crew discipline at its best).

We are not expecting trouble at the SA border (it’s a developed country, right?). We manage to get to the border crossing on the Limpopo River by 0800HRS, then all hell breaks loose. The Beitsbridge border crossing is simply chaotic. Avoid it if you can.

The paperwork takes less than 20 minutes and it is difficult to account for the almost five hours we are stuck here, being shuffled from queue to queue by indifferent and unnecessarily aggressive border officials.

Our planning is now in disarray and crew morale down after all the efforts of the previous nights. A short distance from the crossing we find a South African policeman who not only has no interest in adding to our misery but asks for some Kenya rugby memorabilia — cap, shirt, anything — for his kids. Apparently, our Sevens Rugby is well regarded.

We make a firm decision. Forget Jo’burg. We’ll drive right through Jo’burg and on to Durban today. Tomorrow we hit PE. We arrive in Durban at about 0300HRS.

Today’s Log: Masvingo—Jo’burg—Durban in one day. A massive 1,404km in one move. Deficit now only 162km!

Day Seven | December 7, 2012

Distance to PE: 983 Kms
Rugby starts in: 1 day

Today’s Objective: Port Elizabeth, 983km.

Problem is, we can’t find accommodation in Durban. After three hours of futile hovering, we decide to move on. We have been on the road for 27 hours straight. Some distance outside Durban, we all agree we might be pushing ourselves too far, so we stop at a small sea-side B&B.

The Indian couple running the place not only give us a great rate for a three-hour stop-over, but also make us a delightful curry which is extensively discussed all the way to PE.

Suitably fortified, we are on the road again and the concern is no longer hitting PE (983km is very much within striking distance without a border crossing), but accommodation, especially after last night’s experience in Durban and in anticipation of the rugby tourists.

So we setup a mobile contact centre: as one person drives, the other is browsing the Web for accommodation while the other makes the calls. The nearest accommodation we can get is Grahamstown, 170km or so from PE, which is good enough.

Vehicles on the Eastern Cape must either be fitted with periscopic devices or the drivers are blessed with a supernatural ability to see around hairpin bends. Whatever the case, the speed limits cannot be based on the metric system.

There is quite a bit of road construction going on along the Eastern Cape and we miss a turn and end up in Bathurst rather than Grahamstown. It’s now 0200HRS, and we are out, so we decide to take up whatever accommodation we can find for the night. We are 167km from PE. Nothing can go wrong. Or so we think.

Today’s Log: Durban (RSA) — Bathurst (RSA) — 816km.

Day Eight | December 8, 2012

Distance to PE: 167km

Rugby starts in: Today

Today’s Objective: Port Elizabeth, 167km.

We are up early, determined not to miss any of the Kenya games. But something’s not right. The vehicle has been broken into and most of our stuff is gone. Three laptops, the in-house bar, clothes, money... the works.

After a lengthy moment of stunned silence, we look at our options. A security of