May 12: 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.
We 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.
So, 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 road.
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.
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.