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Roaming Kiwi

Chassis Shenanigans and Dark Magic

Well.  After a few more thousand km of abuse, the temporary arc weld repair performed on our chassis rail and shock turret in Tanzania gave way again, just as we were crossing the Malawi/Zambia border.  Our Plan A was to head cross country to the South Luangawa Park then on down to Lusaka, a slightly bouncy trip that clearly wasn’t going to happen.  Plan B…  an 800km straight run to Lusaka, tail between legs. Fortunately there is a crazy mock Norman castle (now a quirky hotel complete with a well stocked bar) only a few km from the border, built by an “eccentric” British colonial administrator in the late 40’s.  Crossing the receptionist’s palm with kwacha enabled us to camp in the carpark.

Now safely parked up and away from the throngs of locals looking for entertainment (nothing is more interesting than a dirty Mzungu with a broken truck), and after poking my head into the wheelarch to inspect the damage in a low-pressure environment, a few seconds deliberation was enough to ascertain beers would be required in order to devise a cunning enough plan to get us to Lusaka.

After a bit of headscratching and the application of beer to the problem, I decided that a judiciously placed ratchet strap would probably do the job, if we were REALLY careful and checked the strap for tightness and integrity every few hundred km.  Digging around in the truck unearthed an old strap, which I successfully looped around the shock turret, then fed under the chassis rail, around the power steering box, away from everything radiating heat to end up attached to our steering bash plate.  This was then ratcheted up tight enough to nearly give me a hernia.  The result..  the crack in the chassis was forced almost closed, and the next day we would find the creaking of stressed metal was reduced to the point where the stereo could mask it.


The drive was particularly painful – 800km is a long way to do in one hit when turning left results in the feeling that you are about to lose a wheel.

Speaking of wheels… we then had our first ever blowout about 150km from Lusaka.  Right outside a village too.  Obviously within seconds we were surrounded by 30 locals (Margaret counted) all looking for entertainment as well as to enquire if the Mzungus might possibly have anything for them (sweets, pens, books, money “Mzungu you give me my money” etc).  All par for the course in much of Africa, but VERY annoying when you are racing the light to try and get to Lusaka.  To complicate the task of tyre changing whilst trying to ensure the locals didn’t strip the truck, we then discovered that our bottle jack had cooked (it lives in the engine bay) and leaked out all its oil.


So… we broke out the big guns and deployed our Air Jack.  When Margaret clambered up onto the roof to unleash the beast there was a hushed silence in the assembled crowd.  What sort of dark magic is this?  Mzungus using a plastic bag to lift (and hold) a 3+ ton Land Rover?  As the compressor fired up and the truck began to lift I could feel the reverence and awe radiating from our grateful audience.  Anyway, tyre changed and crowd entertained, we continued to Lusaka.

Conveniently enough a few days before these events I had been communicating with Dan Wyllie (welder extraordinaire in Lusaka) as we had discovered we also had a break in one of our rear spring mounts.  Not nearly as bad as the front, but a break nonetheless.  Dan had also agreed to have a look at the three broken pillars in our roof…  I had arranged to bring the truck to him on the Monday (it was now the Friday).  I dropped him a line and explained we were now powered by ratchet strap, and was told to bring it in so he could have a look at the damage.  This was done, and the lovely man said “7:30 am tomorrow”.  This would be the Saturday.  Dan and his team spent the entire day grinding, welding, painting, oil changing, greasing, identifying that we had seized brake calipers and fixing, locating parts etc.  Legend. 12+ hours, on a Saturday.  And at an unbelievable price.  Top quality work too.  A followup to sort another few small cracks in other places that were spotted too late to sort on Saturday was done on Monday morning, and we are back on the road.  Anyone needing major automotive surgery in Zambia (or surrounding countries if you are drivable) don’t think twice – contact Dan (he is on iOverlander).  He doesn’t support the All Blacks, but nobody is perfect.  Also huge thanks to our friends the Backroad Vagrants for pointing us in Dan’s direction… travel safe!

A few days ago we awoke to the dripping sound of leaking coolant…  the seal at one end of our fuel cooler had failed.  Fortunately I both carry spare O rings for this and we were camping on a farm where the farmer had some old inner tune I could use to “pack out” the slightly too large hose clamp I needed to use to reseal the unit…  worked perfectly, I wil get obtain the correct diameter clamp when the shops open tomorrow.

fuel cooler

This morning I finally got to use our funky Antigravity battery to jumpstart a vehicle – and no, it wasn’t the Taniwha…  A Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun to the Europeans) in our campsite in Livingstone.  Started instantly – most impressive.


Nice to test this stuff out on someone else’s car, in zero stress conditions…


How the &%£! did he do that?!?!

It’s been an action packed few months for Man vs LandRover. Loads of routine stuff sorted out in Nairobi at Jungle Junction – rocker gasket, service etc (huge thanks to Chris and spannerman John).

In Amboseli Park, we managed to pop one of our rear shock absorbers – then had real trouble sourcing replacements (+2 lift…). Eventually “Selim the Parts Guy” got involved, and within a few hours presented us with a pair of shiny new Bilstein’s. Needless to say, ride quality has drastically improved… Around the same time it became apparent that one of the radiator mounts was busted, an easy fix fortunately.

One niggling issue that has been driving me mad for some time has been an intermittent problem with the auto box stick having difficulty selecting gear – this came to a head a few weeks back with the box dropping into limp mode (3rd gear only) – the classic flashing M&S lights issue we have had before, in Finland. That episode led to a new XYZ switch, but they cost a fortune… so I removed the XYZ (painful), drilled it open, and found corroded tracks (it’s a rotary switch). After cleaning it out, reassembling and many hours of alignment faffing, the autobox gearchanges are silky smooth, and a few thousand km down the road the issue has not reoccurred.

The big one… we drove a horrible stretch of road leaving Rwanda, managed to get the truck a bit airborne, and upon landing tore one of the front spring mounts clean off the chassis, as well as cracking some welds in the roof. To be clear, we hadn’t realised the damage was done until a few days later (it must have been hanging on by a thread of steel, and there was no change in handling or “stance”). We were about 50km from our planned campsite (Lake Shore Lodge, on Tanganyika) when the steering became incredibly heavy, and I had a nasty feeling that we had lost our Power Steering. It turned out that this was the shock turret slowly making its way up through the engine bay, and was now in contact with parts of the steering system. In the village 5km from the lodge, the metal finally parted, the shock turret popped the bonnet upwards at a jaunty angle, and the driver’s side wheel ended up firmly in its arch.

We limped up to the lodge, and as fate would have it we met the owners who were more than happy to help us out – workshop, staff, welder, cold beers… all put at our disposal. Top job too, and at an incredibly reasonable rate. Chris, Frankie, Pruva – you guys are amazing. Not sure about bare feet in the workshop, but I can’t dispute the quality of the work!

If anyone gets the opportunity to stay here, don’t think twice. And the food is sublime. Eleanor will blog all about it. So the chassis is back in one piece (replacement spring mount is being provided by the lovely Marsha from SpannerMonkeys in the UK, will get the chassis chopped and welded again in Windhoek), the pillars have been welded (B’s have held nicely, A needs a bit more TLC down the road) and the bonnet is pretty much back in shape.  How the shock turret managed to miss everything vital on it’s tour of the engine bay remains a mystery.  That’s it for now…

Prester John must be rolling in his grave.

So… a bit of a guest blog from me in the Roaming category – I feel that Eleanor can’t really do justice to just what an appalling place Ethiopia truly is. As Margaret tells the kids, I need to make a positive sandwich – so here goes!

Positive: Ethiopia is stunningly beautiful. We met a handful of lovely people. Diesel is cheap (albeit 500ppm sulphur, so a tad smokey). 500ppm diesel gets about 15% more MPG.

Negative: Where do I start…


Ethiopia has been utterly ruined by NGO’s.  Bob Geldorf needs to be punched in the face.  Never have we been in a place that so utterly embodies the NGO disease of self perpetuating, money squandering, hand-out not hand-up madness as Ethiopia. Every foreigner is viewed as an ATM, it’s merciless. And deeply unpleasant. We even got spat on when no handouts were forthcoming (surprisingly we didn’t get stoned by kids – it’s a real issue here).  It is distressing to see fleets of white, NGO branded Landcruisers parked up outside flash hotels, spotlessly clean, whilst their drivers enjoy a few cold ones at the bar.  I will never again pledge any money whatsoever to large charities – small is beautiful.  We have seen this all over Africa, just never on the scale of Ethiopia.

Driving.  NGO’s, take note. If you must flash the cash, spend it on driving lessons for the general population. Take the madness of India, the aggression of Egypt and Morrocco, and spice things up a bit with a few hundred thousand khat-addled truck/bus/taxi/rickshaw drivers and you might get an inkling of just how bad they are. For the uninitiated, Khat is a “mildly” narcotic leaf commonly chewed in this part of Africa. It reputedly allows truck drivers to stay awake for many days on end.

People and Animals. On the road. I’m not sure which shows more intelligence. It’s a miracle we only flattened a goat (and a vulture!). There are dead horses, donkeys, goats, dogs, chickens plus other assorted beasties every few metres.  We didn’t see any dead people, but I’m sure there would have been a few in the ditches. Quite seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Customs people at the border. Anally retentive bastards. Stupid. You can’t find the engine number in the cab. Haven’t been so invasively probed since my alien abduction.

Local police. If a farmer is stupid enough to let his livestock roam on the road (they all do) then it is his fault if they get flattened. Farmers – don’t call the cops, get people detained then demand compensation. IT IS YOUR FAULT.

Positive: Ethiopia has fantastic beer.  Really, really good.

In short, don’t visit. Don’t support NGO’s who continue to damage the place. If you must visit, fly in to Addis (don’t drive) then head to Lalibela (avoid Gondar, it’s overrated) for the cool churches.  Drink beer (St George is superb). Leave.


Man vs Land Rover – flesh wounds

So… as anyone reading Eleanor’s posts will already know, it’s been an action packed few weeks in the Man vs Land Rover department. Apologies for the unusually long tale. If reading on Facebook, click the link for pics (if interested of course).

Suspension… £$£@@!! Suspension.  I got sick of crawling around in 40 degree heat replacing the factory air bags at the rear. It’s a hellish job in the sand.

We blew two bags in two days, the toys left the cot and we legged it to Windhoek to rip them out and replace with the toughest coils available here, Ironman +40mm jobbies. Huge thanks to Stefan at 4×4 and More for moving heaven and earth to overnight the parts from Joburg.

I fitted the coils in the campsite and we headed north to try them out (break the truck again). We found sand.  Lots and lots of it, deep. We HATE deep sand. The Khadum National Park is not for the fainthearted, or those with soft suspension… We bottomed out approximately once every 30 seconds, at 10kph, and it was a horrible driving experience. As we couldn’t drive at the correct speed for the conditions, we had to do some digging. The kids were amused. After escaping the clutches of the sand we found an awesome campsite on the Okavango (Ndurokoro, the owner, Leon, is a true gent) and I proceeded to try and source some helper springs (airbags that fit inside the coils to stiffen up the ride and restore height) in Zambia. No luck. Zambia has many weeks of customs hell. Back on the line to Stefan, no worries, back to Windhoek we go, via Swakopmund so HMV can do a Parkrun. (I walked it, a month after busting my knee – result). Stefan and team fitted the bags, serviced the truck, found a nasty loose nut in the steering I hadn’t noticed… didn’t even stop for lunch. Superb service. Pumped up to 2.5 bar we have restored ride height, and offroad is much nicer on the bum. Cheers Stefan!


Power. I hate electrics with a passion.  For many months I have been chasing an intermittent issue with our batteries discharging, charging slowly, lights blowing, general gremlins. I am on first name terms with my multimeter. After a relaxing 800km drive from Windhoek back to the Okavango I decided to get to the bottom of things, and discovered the negative terminal on the crank battery was tightly bolted, but the cable running into it i pulled out with two fingers. Queue an enormous amount of bad language (this issue has plagued us since before Morocco). We now have multiple grounds.

Bonnet latch.  I think I wrote about this previously. The bush mechanic fix at Puros failed. I have now broken in again, and jimmied up a paracord solution… tied around the mechanism, routed out the grille by the winch so a simple tug on the cord pops the bonnet. Simple and works.

Fuel tank… this is a scary one. Working on assumptions here, but I think the regular bottoming out in Khadum eventually stressed out the front mounts for our longrange tank enough to tear the metal of the mudguard mount (where ot was attached). Mud and crap covered this, so I didn’t notice it when airing up and down in the Plains National Park here in Zambia. It separated. I spotted this after exiting the park, resulting in a reroute through Lusaka so I could unpack (actually, strip the vehicle so I could get some bolts through the wheelarch). 4 bolts through good steel, I think we are now sorted.

Exhaust. Khadum, again… all the bottoming out tore an exhaust hanger. Nobody has the part. I’ve “fixed” it with cable ties and swearing. Maybe i’ll find one in Tanzania.

Drinking water pump. Failed. Damn annoying. Replaced.


Boot latch. This one really annoyed the kids. After a stupidly long day (after spotting out broken fuel tank) we got to a rubbish camp next to a police checkpoint only to discover the %£$^! boot won’t open. No dinner. Just cheese from the front fridge. And beer. Queue pissed off children. Their toilet was also in there… Anyway, next day we made it to Lusaka and Margaret and I started tearing the car apart to fix the issue.  Not easy… we have a security cage, and it works well. Eventually we managed to remove enough stuff via the kids seats that we could squeeze Margaret in with screwdrivers, wedge open the door card and pop the lock. Needless to say, we have cut a hole, fixed the problem, and have also jimmied up another paracord “get out of jail/feed the kids” solution, cunningly hidden away behind the numberplate. Naturally it only works with the car unlocked…

Africa is hard on vehicles. Until next time…

Van Zyl’s Pass Video

Hi all – as you may have already read, Eleanor wasn’t a huge fan of Van Zyl’s Pass in Kaokoland.  I was.  🙂  See video below for a taster of what it’s like.  Roofrack mounted camera doesn’t really do it justice, but you can see the horizon lurch around somewhat.  I had Margaret hanging off the tree sliders twice (I seriously thought we were about to roll on 2 occasions – felt the car start to go, corected by steering into it in conjunction with Margaret hanging off like a yachtie, unfortunately neither of the close calls are in the video).