Serengeti ... against the clock

Words and pictures by Brian Jacobs. Words and pictures by Brian Jacobs.

It was a quick discussion which led to my deciding to take a round-trip to Serengeti and back in 15 days

And, once the decision had been made, I had to find a travel partner who’d be able to plan the whole affair in just the eight days prior to our departure. My first choice was Gary Swemmer from LA Sport, Pretoria East, who immediately signed on. Gary, who has much African travel under his belt, would prove to be invaluable in this endeavour.

We had a quick meeting to discuss our departure- and return dates, and the route. Visas were arranged within 48 hours. The great news was that Arctic Trucks had agreed to provide a VW Amarok Arctic Truck for the trip – one which was customised and fitted with new suspension and other Arctic Trucks’ gear. Apart from Arctic Trucks providing the Amarok, we were delighted to receive generous sponsorships from My Spar, Moreletapark, TJM, LA Sport, McCarthy Wonderboom, Alu Cab and Ideas 4 All.

We departed at 03h00 on the first day, and headed for Groblersbrug border post to cross into Botswana, where the officials on both sides were very helpful and friendly. We had a long day ahead of us, as we were aiming to reach Maramba River Lodge in Livingstone, Zambia, before 21h00 that evening. We travelled via Groblersbrug, Serule, Francistown and Nata, traversing roads in a fair to good condition. We crossed the border into Zambia at Kazungula, on the pontoon over the Zambezi River – and I have to say that the pontoon is in much need of servicing, and an upgrade! At the border post we employed runners to speed up the process; they come at a cost, but are worth it. It took us an hourand- a-half to get through. Arriving at Maramba River Lodge within earshot of the rumbling falls, we found the most beautiful campsite. Clean facilities with hot water, electricity points and beautiful lawns. I rate this campsite an eight out of ten.

After morning coffee and some rusks to prepare for the challenges ahead, we set off for our next stop: Forest Inn. We travelled through Choma, Mazabuka, Lusaka, Kabwe and Kapiri Mposhi. This wasn’t the most scenic of routes: the roads are in a very poor condition and full of heavy motor vehicles heading for Dar es Salaam.

Concentration was the order of the day, as there were broken-down and overturned trucks every few kilometres. The first-mentioned often have tree branches in place to warn of their presence. After a stressful day’s drive, we arrived at Forest Inn campsite at 19h00 – we’d driven 600 kilometres in 11 hours. While our campsite didn’t have hot water or electricity points, it did have clean toilet facilities. I rate this one as a four.

Anticipating another challenging day, we were up early to depart for the border post to Tanzania. This was a good call, as we had ahead of us an obstacle course of trucks, potholes, and speeding buses. In some places we couldn’t drive faster than 20 km/h. Because of the road works, avoiding all the potholes was impossible; and here I was impressed by the ride and handling of the Arctic Truck conversion.

We arrived at the border post at 16h00, with 700 km under our belts, but were shocked by what we saw. It looked like a giant flea-market; there were people and animals as far as the eye could see, and kilometres of buses and trucks. Gary and I once again made use of a runner to get us through this border post as quickly as possible. Even with the runner’s assistance, we were held up for two hours and had to spend R3 200 (no, that’s not a misprint) before we could depart.

In Tanzania we had our first flat tyre and had to change the wheel – it was dawn when we left for our campsite. We arrived at Karibuni Centre, a convent for women, and camped on a small piece of grass in front of their rooms. There was no hot water once again; and the only toilet facilities available were for Muslims.

We left the campsite at 06h45. Not much later, we pulled over to have the tyre repaired, but soon picked up another puncture. By now we were 220 km away from Iringa, and at this point we knew we had exhausted our sparetyre options...

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