This Time Zimbabwe

It was Day 11: 010May 12, 2014

Our first night in Zimbabwe would be in a “tented camp” at Matopos National Park  046but before that we had to cross the border at Beitbridge into Zimbabwe. We were warned this  would be a very difficult border crossing. The rally organizers had arranged for us to be met by the Zimbabwe Tourist Authorities on the Zimbabwe side and we were only to answer to them. The crossing was long and tense. No photos here, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is a big border crossing with lots of trucks jamming the parking lot, pedestrians, beggars and con-men offering help-like to watch over your car while you completed the paper work. It was hard to know which was more important, protecting whatever you had with you, which had to include passports and car papers, or to protect whatever you left in the car. All in all it meant long slow lines and constant vigilance. Much more difficult for the open cars than for us. Just one more time we were glad to have our innocuous little Beetle. We all got  through except for our Australian friends who had been left behind with their broken Jag. 025They would cross on their own at 2:00 am , two days later.

Lesson learned. Don’t drive Zimbabwe on your own and never at night. Our friends had now a rental SUV-new and white. It stood out and they were tourists traveling which meant they had money. Zimbabwe has lots of people who look like officials that are not. I’m not sure if this entered into the picture at the border, but it did later. This border crossing is sort of in the middle of nowhere and someone slashed their tire and then followed them on the two lane road leading away from the border. 044We saw mule drawn carts and overloaded buses but in general not much traffic.

Fortunately J &G are experienced travelers and as soon as they were aware of the flat tire, Greg did not stop to change it  but drove back to the police station, riding on the rim and ruining both the tire and the rim. The police said, “Oh, they didn’t shoot the tire, just slashed it?”

Later on the road, they approached one of the many traffic police checks. We all had this experience, but this was not a real police check and when Greg realized it, he ran the check and sped away. Not a good way to be introduced to a new country.

Zimbabwe is not South Africa. The police checks are everywhere and I did not talk to one racer who was not stopped least once. This included us. These stops are set up in the road, usually with barrels that you have to zig-zag through, stopping if they flag you over. We saw the check in the road ahead of us and made two mistakes. We were on our own at this point, none of our cars in sight. We were ready to change drivers. There was a good place to pull over just before the check point. This was our first mistake. Stopping before the check elicited undo attention from the police. As we changed places, I wanted to photograph images along the road. second mistake, don’t take photos in sight of the police 077even of houses or animals.

As we pulled back onto the road and into the check, one of the officers pulled me over and demanded our (international) driver’s licenses. Then another asked me to step out of the car. He wanted to see my camera (by the way, we were told not to declare a camera at the border-just more paper work.) He asked what I was photographing and then told me I didn’t have permission. He said I would have to go to court. I said, okay, give me a court date. This didn’t satisfy him. I think this was the point that I was suppsed to ask what “fine” can I pay (on the spot) to avoid going to court, but I didn’t ask. Finally he took my camera and walked away. I followed him and we finally agreed, after much discussion that I would delete the photos. This had taken up so much time that by now several of our rally cars were at the check point and I think when he realized we were part of a group, he was glad to send me on  my way. An interesting point is that most of these traffic police do not have radios or cars so I really don’t know what they can do if you refuse and simply drive on. I didn’t try it, but others said they did.  In the end, it didn’t cost us anything but time. Most ralliest paid between $20 and $40 US (depending on how many officers it needed to be divided among) and didn’t receive a receipt. Go figure.

049We ended the day at our “luxury tent” site. I think this was a bit of British humor, but get this. We had dinner under a candle-lit tent with white linen table cloths, silver cutlery, china and a good selection of wine which was appreciated since we had such a long, slow day that we had  skipped lunch.062We even had a turn-down service that included very fine chocolates on our pillows and one more surprise. Ed climbed into bed first to discover something warm and fussy at the foot. His first thought was what had climbed in while we were at dinner? He knew it wasn’t me. Our hosts had placed hot water bottles at our feet. This almost made up for getting up in the middle of a very cold night and making my way -by unzipping our tent-to our “en suite” 051toilet. It did have tenting around it, but the roof was stars. I didn’t want to even think what might be sharing my space.

P.S. Neither of us used the shower in the morning. 050Our next stop would be the Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904, in Edwardian style, with its old world charm. That seemed well worth driving without a cold shower.

Janet, Ed and Stewball

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Trouble in Beetle Land

May 31: 002On an earlier post (Driving at Night in Zululand) I had bragged that Stewball was doing fine. Our only problems had been a tire puncture and a hood latch to tighten. Well, that all came to an end.

Day 9: Fuel pump failure. 005We left our most wonderful stop at Sabi Sands just north of the Kruger National Park. We had a day off there and on the safari drives saw and photographed more African animals up close in their own environment than we ever imagined. 049(That’s a blog of its own.) Now about half way through the day, just after fueling, we pulled out into the road and the car stopped. We coasted to the side of the road and Ed began to explore the cause. Shortly Greg and Liz from Australia, in their 1980 Holden, stopped to help.  Coming to the aid of anyone in distress, is part of rallying. We all do it and we had our chance to help others along the way. Diagnosis: failed fuel pump. No problem,  we were carrying a spare. In less than 1/2 hour later, having made new friends, we were back on the road. Sometimes you do have the right spare part.

Day 12: Gear shift linkage failure: 049We had spent the night before in a tent in the Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe. Not an experience we want to repeat but definitely worth writing about. We were now headed to Victoria Falls and a day off. 016Jan was driving. Driving in Zimbabwe is tense (more on that later). It was late in the day and she first thought she was just tired and anxious but she was having problems changing gears. She kept saying, “What am I doing wrong? I can’t find the gear and I’m  not doing anything different from what I always do.” Finally she asked me to drive. It was immediately obvious that the gear shift lever had developed so much free-play that I could barely drive. If this was an internal transmission problem this might put us out of the rally all together. By the time we hit the city, I had no reverse and finding the low gears was a repeated challenge, just as I had to deal with stop signs and turns. We have great backup by the rally mechanics. Andy came the rescue. He is one of the best and ingenious mechanics I have ever known. All the drivers depend on him. I think he can make anything out of nearly nothing for these old cars. Fortunately for us, the problem was external, it was the gear shift linkage and Andy fabricated a bushing from a br003onze sleeve and plastic. We were good to go when the rally started up on the 14th day.

Day 14: Total failure of service brakes. We crossed the border into Botswana. No problem  there, then the brakes seemed soft. First I added brake fluid. Yes, I carried some. But then they failed completely. I drove the rest of the day using the hand-brake. Fortunately, the V-Dub has great hand-brakes that work off the back drive wheels. It’s a bit tricky, but safe if you’re careful. Fortunately this day was  on mostly flat roads. Turned out the brake failure was my fault. On the return from Alaska, the trucker placed the tie-down over the brake line. When I repaired it, I routed the hydraulic tube too close to the shock absorber and it had rubbed through causing all the brake fluid to run out. 024

Andy to the rescue again. He fabricated a part, replaced the tube and we were good to go. From this point on, we had no further problems. Unlike some of the other cars. Four cars were unable to finish the rally and one had dropped out for most of two days getting the front axle welded.

Day 26: Driving to the warehouse. Stewball was difficult to start and running rough. I think it may be the automatic choke. He needs a good rest, lots of TLC and a complete going over by our VW service expert. He deserves it. This rally alone has covered over 5,000  miles and the gravel and dirt roads throughout Namibia have taken their toll 003

and I admit, I did the very minimum of maintenance. I only changed the oil-bath air cleaner once. 

025The engine is VERY dirty and is the inside and out of the car. 032He can rest on his ocean voyage and when we pick him up from the port in Savannah, we will drive directly to Bob Hicks, VW service in Durham.

Ed, Jan and Stewball

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Bond of Brothers- and Sisters

May 29, 2014: 024We’re back in North Carolina and I feel empty inside. For me, it started three days before we flew home from Cape Town, parting from this group of men and women  that we shared so much hardship and beauty with. 026

Among the participants, there was a very competitive group who wanted to win, but there was not one person who would not stop beside the long rough road to help a car in distress. And there was distress. By the end, five cars had dropped out for more  than a day and four were unable to finish. There were tire and wheel problems, 027

a broken front axle, 071engine failures, running out of fuel and more. Some of the bonds that were created will never be broken. Bonds that only come from shared hardships. People from all over the world.

We have been home less than 24 hours and already the e-mails have begun describing emptiness and depression. This morning for the first time there was no alarm clock, no start time. I kept looking at my watch but there was no reason, no concern with fuel supplies, tire condition, oil level. Empty, empty, empty.

Many of these people rally together often. But I may not. Eighty is approaching and already Jan is picking up more of the slack, especially at the end of long days. One participant, a year younger than me said it was his last one. I have not quite said that. Not quite.

021We will not see some of these people again. But some we will. We will be in Paris for September and October, and we are planning contacts. My eyes are wet.


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Driving at Night in Zulu Land

May 12:001 Don’t watch the movie Zulu if you might be driving alone at night in Swaziland. We were warned and we didn’t intend for it to happen. It is to be a long day, 342 miles. Our rally organizers warned us to get to the hotel in Mbabane, the capitol of Swaziland before dark because ‘lighting is very bad in Swaziland.” Meaning what?

Fate conspired against us from the beginning. The rally cars were lined up at the first fuel stop. We were the third car in and the last car out. I am polite. Then our hood latch wouldn’t latch and, not wanting it to blow open and over the top of our car, I had to tie it down. More delay.

023We had started the day in South Africa and it was election day, which increased the number of  children, adults, cows and sheep to be in the middle of the road. The border crossing into Swaziland went as expected. Lines on both sides of the border, but no real problems, just delays.

Some relevant stats on my driving at night here: My eyes are 79 years old, my car 48, horsepower 50, mountains up to 6000 feet and the car loaded heavily with repair parts and luggage.

002So, now we are in Swaziland, slowly climbing mountains in the setting sun. Thinking we were the last car, we see friends Jenny and Greg from Australia beside the road in their broken Jag. (which they found on the internet and purchased in South Africa for the rally, pretty gutsy!) They wave us past meaning they can fix their problem. Now it is dark. Very dark. The Jag pulls in behind us. They do not pass so I think they are trying to help the old folks out. We stop at a fuel station and they pull in behind us. Jenny runs over, rally book in hand. “Where the hell are we?” she asks. Their rally computer has quit and the rally instructions totally depend on it. So they follow us. The blind leading the halt.

They finally get their smart phone to substitute for their computer and kindly take the lead. We are entering the large capital city and I am totally worn out and the headlights of the oncoming cars are blinding me and make it difficult to see the pedestrians in the road025.

The Jag and the VW make it in very late. Dinner has been postponed since so many cars were late. We don’t wait to eat but order room service and go straight to bed.

For me, this was the most exhausting day and I am very glad to have help from our good friends. This is what rallying is about, just like sailing. Stewball continues to be more reliable than I am. But it’s not fast climbing mountains. All of the rally cars are taking a beating from the rough roads and high speeds.  022

There are many repairs to be done at night. Our VW is earning the reputation for reliability. One tire puncture, one hood latch to tighten. For an engine that has been around the world, crossed the US four times and driven from NY to the Arctic Circle, I don’t think I could ask for better.

Keep your fingers crossed, I shouldn’t brag quite yet.


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Catching up

Day 10:043 May 11: Mother’s Day in the U.S. and here I am in South Africa very far away from my kids and grandkids. In fact we are at the Mapungubwe Game Reserve. On the drive in, I photographed a zebra and a giraffe. But this paled compared to the photos I took on the Safari drives in Sabi Sands 049Game Reserve. It is hard to describe the experience of seeing lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and leopards, just to name a few, in their own environment, just living out their lives. I will never forget it. Then there are the birds, too many unusual ones to name here and I admit I’m not a bird person. My primary interest is the big animals and we have seen many.019

We have seen so much of Africa and so far that only includes South Africa and one day in Swaziland. I will continue to post, but internet and time have been the problems. We have stayed at places that have either poor connections or none at all, like tonight. I will copy and post this as soon as possible but that might be in Victoria Falls since tomorrow night we spend in “luxury tents” in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe and that doesn’t sound like an internet destination.

The geography here is as varied as the people. We have driven through lush farmland, nearly desert like plains, mountains and towns, both large and small. One thing seems clear, there are still a lot of poor people in South Africa and it appears to be along racial lines. Still much to be done in this regard.

006We thought the main problem for us driving these countries would be getting used to driving on the left side of the road. Actually we acclimated to that quite easily. The real problem turns out to be the number of people who walk the roads. There are buses of sorts in some areas, but mostly there is an informal pick-up service in which cars and pick-up trucks stop and people just climb on. These are black Africans. We have not seen any white Africans walking in the roads. Women carry almost anything on their heads, including tubs of laundry, firewood and suitcases. The most interesting one was a woman carrying a hatchet on her head. Many have children strapped on their backs. 052

To note, I have never seen a man doing this work. We spend a lot of time dodging pedestrians, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys on the main roads and in towns. Then there are the more exotic animals. 052Today we were stopped by a group of baboons. Twice monkeys scampered across the road in front of our car. In Kruger Park, with it’s magnificent Mopane trees, 006 we had to stop for elephants. It is driving that keeps you alert. Our greatest concern are the children. They are curious about our old cars and run directly into the road to wave and simply follow the cars. It is scary.

The roads and distance has taken their tolls on the cars. Shocks, hoses, clutches have been problem for various cars. One of the old Porsches ran into a ditch rounding a corner too fast. Only minor damage done. Just yesterday Ed with the help of a fellow ralliest, had to put in a new fuel pump on the side of the road. The jag has some major oil pressure problem and did not make it in last night. We have been told they have to pull the engine to fix the problem. We all hope they catch up by tonight since tomorrow we cross the border to Zimbabwe and know this is a difficult border crossing. This rally has never gone into Zimbabwe so that is a new experience for all.

These are just my thoughts tonight. More later,

Jan, Ed and Stewball

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Stewball Takes a Hit

May 6, 2014: 003We have driven Stewball around the world, then from NY to Alaska and the only damage we have taken was from the road; a broken headlight, broken windshield and lots of paint dings from gravel but never from another car. That is until yesterday. One of the competitors, who shall remain nameless since he was highly embarrassed, but who drives a 1950 burgundy Jeepster ran into us while backing  his car into the slot beside us. Damage was slight, paint mostly and a little bend in the fender. Nothing that will slow us down. 046

Then this morning, we discovered a flat tire. Actually at dinner last night one of the racers said it looked a little low. We checked this morning and it was totally flat. So before breakfast, Ed-with my help of course changed it. We carry two tires mounted on rims so we are good to go.

So much I haven’t told you. Yesterday, day 4 more cars had trouble. The Dodge lost his clutch, The Jeep had a flat tire and damaged rim, The second Jeep had a broken tail pipe and the Holden had major engine trouble-sorry I don’t know the details. All this makes the group more solid. Everyone helps everyone and that’s what makes it interesting.

006Our scenery has changed dramatically making the day-while a long one-385 miles- most interesting. We are seeing more of Africa now. Women walking along the road with children strapped to their back in colorful scarfs, small towns and varying road conditions. When the signs say “Potholes” you need to believe it. Our gravel roads are often rugged with ruts, potholes and lots of loose gravel. 018

We have a short run today to Cathedral Peak. We are told it will be spectacular and I’m sure it will be. I will close with the photo of a Baboon who sat just outside our hotel. 052

From the road,

Janet, Ed and Stewball



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Two Days On the Road

May 4, 2014: 029We have finished our second day on the road. Lots of impressions of driving in South Africa. The highways are wonderful, very clean with NO billboards, smooth and well signed. The traffic is light on the roads we have driven and drivers are polite. The shoulders are wide and drivers pull part way onto the shoulder to let you pass. We are learning to do this too. Round-abouts still cause me a problem and we prefer left turns since we are driving on the left side of the road and can’t get used to which way we need to look for oncoming traffic. It is getting better.

018The scenery since we left Cape Town has been dramatic in its changes. On day one we drove through the wine country and along the coast and stopped at Oubaii right on the Indian Ocean. I didn’t see any whales. Yesterday we headed away from the coast and crossed the Swartberg Pass with incredible views but very bad surface, no guard rails and  a narrow roadway. The surface is gravel with many pot-holes and washed out places. Fortunately, it is very lightly traveled and we only had a few oncoming vehicles who I am sure thought we were crazy attempting this in vintage cars.

019We were low on gas so when we pulled over to take photos, Ed filled from the spare gas can we carry. It turned out we would have made it to the gas station, but it decreased the tension knowing fuel would not be a problem. Had we run out, there were many places we could not have pulled off to fill.

Cars took a beating on this route. The 56 Chevy lost it brake fluid and didn’t get in until after dark. The 26 Crosley is boiling its water out of the radiator and they don’t seem to be able to track down the problem. They did limp in and worked on the car until after midnight. We will see how today goes. The 66 jag had the gear shift fall apart just as they were backing into the parking space. They did get fixed by dinner time. I’m sure there were other casualties, but these are the ones I know about.

We spent the night in Beaufort West. Our hotel was fine but the property is all gated and locked and we were told NOT to walk into town. One couple tried and were met on the street and were told to turn back. It was not safe to walk after dark. Sort of a scary feeling.

007Yesterday I photographed an ostrich just standing in the wild near the road as though he had been told “tourist coming, look sharp.” We passed a herd of bushbuck but not at a time that we could stop to take a photo, so no picture.

Today we travel to Cradock which sounds like a most interesting stop. More on that tomorrow.

Janet, Ed and Stewball.

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