Saturday, 3 July 2010

The rot sets in...


It started out as any other normal day… as normal as it gets out here. Already tired and grouchy due to the night with ants, I wasn’t amused when our “fixed” truck broke down after 30 minutes. We stopped for an hour, having lost power and rolled downhill and stopped partly in a ditch, then set off revving hard. Soon after this we reached a queue of trucks snaking up the hill. We powered past them as fast as our dying truck could manage…a right ripping speed of about 20 km an hour, and onwards towards a huge lorry that was stuck in the middle of the road and blocking our view. The road was in really bad condition and full of clay. With the heavy rains that morning the road had become a wheel spinning quagmire of a car trap. We made it level with the other truck before we ground to a halt and started to slide back into it. There must have been around a hundred locals standing around and clambering up around the sides of the mud. With remarkable speed and efficiency a group of local guys gathered and produced a rope. They attached this to the front of the truck while we all clambered off into the mud. At this point I still didn’t really believe I was going to see what I was going to see.
Watching twenty men and all the guys off our truck pull/push the 45 ton truck uphill through the slippery mud really had to be seen to believed. I struggled to watch as Nick had decided to position himself right next to the sideways slipping, mud slinging back wheel, with only his flipflops for traction. Many people were barefoot. How someone didn’t lose their footing and end up under the truck I don’t know.
Incredibly they made it the 50m to the top where we gave the helpers the spare cash we had available (about $80) and they erupted into huge cheers. We then gave a lift to a local guy whose car was stuck, into the next town where he was going for a job interview. It was only then that we found out from him that the very same men who helped us get up the hill, had been out the night before damaging the road to make it impossible for vehicles to pass unaided. Doing this whenever it rains is how they make their living. Annoying, but enterprising. I was still grateful nonetheless. A tour group had had to camp there the week before, waiting for the ground to dry out.
Our journey continued up into the mountains. With the breakdowns, mud challenge, and slow hill climbing pace, it was decided that we wouldn’t stop for lunch and would grab snacks on route. We crossed the border into Tanzania with the truck making new noises of distress every kilometer. It was late and we had 70 km to go. We made it 10 km further before the pipe to the compressor snapped and we lost all brake pressure. John, Gordon and Dan stayed out in the rain for an hour trying to fix the pipe with duct tape, cable ties and wire. Having a steep winding decent on dark wet roads ahead of us nobody was really to keen to test this repair job. We made it 10m before it blew. The rain was torrential, there was nowhere to set up camp and we prepared sandwiches in our seats for dinner. Work continued on the bus and at 10.30 we were told it was fixed enough to get us to the next town. There was then a long discussion between all on board as to the merits of talking the hill with the fix verses the sleeping on the bus where we were. Surely it’d be easier to deal with in daylight hopefully without rain. We were eventually convinced that it was ‘reasonably’ safedue to the accumulating pressure tank (in non mechanical speak this means…not quite instant death when the pipe bursts going down a hill). The whole idea terrified me, but I actually slept the whole journey and woke when we bounced into the hotel carpark at midnight, the pipe having burst 30 metres up the road. Our expensive hotel upgrade cost us $30 and not having to put the tent up and down in the rain was worth every penny.

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