12 borders, one epic journey


Words and pictures by Peter Pearson

From June to August last year Peter Pearson and his wife, together with another couple, undertook an overland trip to east Africa and back. Peter was driving his ’98 Isuzu KB320 DC 4×4 and his friends were in a Land Cruiser bakkie.

We had no problem at any of the 12 borders we crossed, although I suspect that our friend’s ability to speak Swahili eased our passage at certain times. Tunduma, between Zambia and Tanzania, was chaotic and the money spent hiring the services of a helper to guide us through the chaos was money well spent. On our return journey Beit Bridge was a 25-minute 
doddle – it would’ve been quicker but for a con artist who tried to persuade us that he was a customs official (despite his golf shirt and jeans) and that we had to pay $100 to get our gear through the border. Having a carnet de passage, and getting our Comesa insurance in advance, made life much easier at all borders. We were never searched, no-one looked to see how much beer and wine we were carrying, and we only had one attempt at corruption at the Suam border between Uganda and Kenya.

We were incorrectly advised to take all our funds in cash in US dollars. This was fine in Zimbabwe and at some borders, but trying to find a bank or bureau de change (we seemed to arrive everywhere on a Sunday!) was a mission. We should’ve put most of our money into our bank account and simply used the ATMs which are found in almost every town of any size.

Flatdogs at South Luangwa National Park, Moses’ camp at Sipi Falls (Uganda), Sirikwa (north of Kitali, Kenya), Figtree Camp (at Lake Bogoria, Kenya) which is very basic, Hassim’s camp on the coast near Pangani in Mozambique, the Eastern Highlands (Nyanga National Park and the Chimanimani National Park) and the Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe, and the An-Ra Guest in Richmond (Northern Cape) where we spent an unscheduled night on our way home.

Despite both vehicles being 4x4s, we very seldom had to use 4WD. Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe and a couple of other places were exceptions. We had no punctures, but had some problems with our batteries and fridges. The dreadful corrugations and the potholed tar roads took their toll on my vehicle’s 13-year-old front suspension and I had to have repairs done at Mr de Faria’s engineering works in Pemba, Mozambique. Mr de Faria and his team were stars, and did the necessary repair in one day with three men on the job, for the very reasonable cost of R1 500. The repair was so good that not only did it get us home, but the local Isuzu agents said that it was unnecessary to replace the repaired parts.

We had no problem getting petrol or diesel in any of the countries we visited, although I worked on the principle that I would fill up at the first petrol station I came across after my tank went below half. My main tank is 80 litres and I have a 50-litre auxiliary unit. The price of fuel is going up all the time so one has to ask whether it might not be more economical, but less fun, to fly to east Africa and hire a vehicle there.

We tried to camp in most places but once we got north of Zambia there seemed to be people everywhere. It was difficult to stop at the side of the road for a wee or for lunch without people descending upon us. Uganda and Kenya don’t seem to be geared for campers and the facilities are not what we are used to in SA and Namibia. If one camps outside national parks, one is near villages and the noise of people, barking dogs, radios and vehicles goes on all through the night. If one goes into national parks to escape the noise, the facilities are not much better and the cost is astronomic in rand terms. For example, in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda each couple paid US$220 to get themselves and their vehicle in for 24 hours! The camping fee must be added – for a minimum of three people even though there are only two of you! No wonder we didn’t even go to the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. Zimbabwe was much more sensible, and the entrance fee was valid for up to seven days provided one stayed overnight in the park during your visit. One could exit the park during the day and not pay again upon returning for the night.

Most useful piece of equopment
For me, a 2-litre Sta-Soft bottle. I didn’t have to leave the tent once at night to empty my bladder. Useful when you’re in lion country or braving the cold of the Zimbabwean Eastern Highlands. And the bottle still smelled of Sta-Soft three months later!

We had two wet days out of 89. However, July and August seem to be the burning season which seriously restricted our views of what should have been some stunning scenery.

The local lagers were good everywhere we went and we managed to find red and white wine (mostly South African) in every store of any significance. There are quite a few Spars and Checkers.

This really is a worthwhile destination, even though I do not like supporting some of those in power. We visited Vic Falls, Hwange, Chizarira, Matusadona and Mana Pools on our way north. My wife and I were so impressed with the people in Zimbabwe – they are friendly, helpful and cheerful – that we made a unscheduled return on our way south and spent a marvellous two weeks in the Nyanga, Chimanimani and Matopos areas. We had no security issues and would love to return. I agree with everything Patrick Cruywagen said in your November ’11 issue.

In most of the countries we visited it’s customary for women to wear skirts, so shorts for the ladies isn’t a good idea except perhaps in resorts.

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