Going the distance

Words by Jess Fogarty. Pictures by Jess Fogarty and Colin Mileman Words by Jess Fogarty. Pictures by Jess Fogarty and Colin Mileman

Six countries, 8 000 km and 19 days with new General Grabber MTs.

The sun’s just set and we have an early start scheduled for the morning. A slight edge of panic spreads though the camp as everyone searches for a set of missing car keys. Young Kievit has mislaid the keys to his Hilux, and – as it’s a sponsored vehicle – the spares are all the way back at General Tyre HQ in Port Elizabeth; a very long way from our current location. The men had been feeling adventurous earlier, and swam in the crocodile– and hippo infested Kariba Dam. Are the keys at the bottom of the dam? Kievit is sent snorkelling. Everyone watches, waiting to see whether he finds the keys and/or gets eaten. Disappointment on both fronts...

Just as the situation is becoming even more dire, and Kievit is looking paler and paler, Colin Mileman crawls out of his tent, chuckling. As it turns out, Kievit simply mistook Colin’s tent for his own, and threw the keys inside, which then slipped under the mattress. A simple mistake.

This year’s General Tyre 4x4 African Adventure covered six countries in 19 days, in ten vehicles; some 8 000 kilometres through Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The expedition’s aim was to test the all-new General Grabber MT (mud-terrain) tyres, along with the already proven Grabber AT (all-terrain) tyres, through a variety of challenging terrain.

I flew into Livingstone, Zambia, to join the second leg of the trip – the group had plotted their route via the airport to pick me up. I hopped off the plane in great excitement, but there was no sign of a welcoming committee. Half an hour later, I was the only person at the airport who didn’t work there. I had been on one of the two flights arriving that day, and once all the Chinese tourists with their matching camo gear and giant cameras had climbed onto the buses, and the locals – each flying with several small screaming children – had dispersed, I sat there stoksiel-alleen.

As I was the only mlungu in an empty airport, people kept coming up to me to ask if I was all right; had I been forgotten by my tour group? But as soon as I mentioned that my party was using the Kazungula ferry, they immediately understood my situation. Luckily I knew that this crossing, between Botswana and Zambia, often runs late. But after six and a half hours, I started to doubt myself. Had I got the date wrong? Just as I was considering finding a place to stay for the night, I looked up to see the convoy rolling in: ten 4x4s, all decaled and mud stained. The only thing missing was a slow-mo sequence with suitable musical back-track.

Gishma, Corporate Communications Manager of Continental Tyres, leapt out to welcome me. It wasn’t clear which of us was more excited to see the other. Thus far she’d been the only woman driver, driving alone for long stretches, and here I was, her companion for the next week. I hopped into the Ford Ranger and we headed off to the campsite, fifteen minutes away.

Early the next morning it was time to visit the falls; an amazing sight and experience which more than made up for the shaky start to my adventure. The route we took to Mumbwa – via Choma – was anything but direct, but we had to stop in that town to pick up the mayor, Cliff Tandabantu, who was to be our personal tour guide. We went into the hills via the abandoned Masuku mine near Choma, then drove along forgotten roads, enjoying great views and passing many tiny villages and homesteads littered along the way, until we reached Mumbwa. The day was tiring and took much longer than we’d expected – possibly because the recce party consisted of just two vehicles, so our 10-vehicle convoy was bound to make slower progress.

The group consisted of 30 people, eight of whom were young kids. In such a large group of people, the kids were very shy, and as most of each day was spent in the vehicles there wasn’t a great deal of time for making friends. But, as the days passed, mates were made and the shyness disappeared. The young ones made for great porters and drink-fetchers, which made them especially excited; they enjoyed being trusted with such important tasks. This, the second annual General Tyre 4x4 African Adventure, also included a strong community focus, and we stopped at two corporate social responsibility projects in Zambia. The first was a remote school set in the hills near Mumbwa Coal Mine.

This school consisted of one mud-and-thatch classroom with a few tables and chairs. It was located on top of a hill, seven hours’ drive from the nearest town and two hours’ walk from the nearest village. The principal himself walks three hours to school and three hours back. To our astonishment, one child we had passed on the road half an hour earlier was waiting at the school on our arrival. Clearly the kids know some shortcuts!

Continental Tyres had donated funds as well as food, stationery, and rugby and soccer balls. This led to an eventful afternoon of soccer, played on the overgrown field next to the school – the local kids with their impressive ball skills putting our young men to shame. Everyone loved the experience and we left later that afternoon with big smiles, some minor grass burns and sweaty faces. Although we travelled plenty of distance on this trip, there was some time for R&R. Minds and bodies were refreshed by rest days on the shores of both the Kariba Dam and Lake Malawi. While at Kariba, we spent one day on the beautiful Chikanka Island, after jumping on the early morning ferry.

The island was beautiful and tiny; you could walk its shore in a matter of minutes. It boasted a restaurant-cumbar- cum-kitchen-cum-lounge, and four simple chalets overlooking the water. It was the perfect location for a great day spent in the pool, looking onto the dam, chilling out. Later, we found a pack of cards and started a game of five-card stud. Without anything to gamble with we used pebbles and bottle tops as poker chips – the more you drank, the more ‘money’ you had to gamble with. A dangerous concept, in hindsight... The next day we set off for the dam wall. The dam was so full that the sluice gates had been opened – an awesome spectacle, and the high-powered rush of water made the entire wall vibrate and rumble. After standing in awe for a while, we hit the road again; this time for the Malambu Middle School near Monze.

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