Thursday, 10 June 2010

The back way to Iringa

My adventures continue, with Mama B and the littlies abandoned in Arusha. As planned, I picked up a friend and headed south on Sunday morning. We decided that rather than taking the main road to Iringa, via Dodoma (dirt after a couple of hours, bir direct), or via the coast (paved all the way, but longer) which can be done in a day and a half, we'd take the back way and make a trip of it, trying to fill in some of the gaps in the Tanzania bird atlas dataset. So, after 30mins of traffic and slow driving in town, we hit the bush headed pretty much due south from Arusha. We'd got no set itinerary, but planned three nights in the bush on the way down, with enough food and out tents to be self-sufficient.

The first bit of our route was on a fairly good and well travelled section, passing the site we'd camped a few weeks ago, but then we hit new territory for me and our first stop for birds was in the plains about 3 hours south of Arusha, where the wildebeest from Tarangire have been busy breeding and enjoying the flowers during the wet season - great to be driving through fantastic country with zebra, wildebeest and gazelles.

After this first stop we chose smaller and smaller tracks to try and get to some of the least visited portions of the country, stopping every now and again to record the birds (and especially at the boundary between two different atlas squares to maximise the value of our stops!). The road took us through more plains (and drier ones too)

and thick bush
where there we no signs of other cars - wonderful country. We came across dusty towns every now and again where we could ask for directions and half-way through Monday we suddenly hit a major transition from the dry Acacia savannah's of the north, to the huge expanses of Miombo woodland to the south - amazingly the change from one major biome to another took place over no more than 100m up one side of a hill, and down the other. And within a few minutes we were seeing new birds - the highlight for me was a racket-tailed roller which was quite stunning. And camping in the Miombo was lovely too.

Our plan for the third day of the drive was to hit the main road to Dodoma, wizz along there (on a tarmac road - wow!) into the city to pick up some more fuel, then wizz south and find a camping spot somewhere about 60kms short of Iringa in a different Acacia type forest. All went well (bar the inevitable two sets of traffic police stopping us on the main road - where do you think you're going with all that stuff in the back? Camping? To look at birds? A likely story...) and Dodoma is a strange capital city and we were back on dirt roads again. Pushing south we had to stop at a barrier at the big hydro-electric dam that powers most of Tanzania and after registering our trip with the police (they time you between the two barriers to check you've not stopped and done naughty things like photgraph anything...) got back in, turned the key and fizz-bang, nothing. Ooops. Still, start-motor problems? We've had them before, so after bump starting backwards down the hill, we motored on and remembered not to cut the engine as we passed the other barrier and on we went - the plan was to get to the rift escarpment for the night anyway, so we'd be fine bump-starting in the morning. Except then the engine cut, as though we'd filled up with dodgy fuel. Happily, a rare truk turned up at that point and the driver and crew (usually very good mechanics) came and looked things over and concluded that somehow the battery had overcharged and we'd fried all the electrics - including the fuel cut-off bits which are, surprisingly, electric too. Ooops. Still, a bit of manual pumping of the fuel and another push and we were off- as long as we didn't hit the brakes and kept the revs up high the fuel kept coming and we kept moving. So we estimated we had about an hour of light left and one three hours to Iringa, and mostly up hill, so off we went... Interesting trying to keep your foot on the accelerator all the time... nd as it got dark we pulled out the torches and I let P drive whilst I hung out the window with the torches to light the way as much as possible - on the bendy roads up the escarpment. Happily we only had one truck and one bus coming the other way, and the guy at the police barrier at the top of the escarpment was so totally amazed at what we were trying to do ("a small problem with the battery, sorry...") that he waved us through. ANd all went well, until about 10kms from our destination, when the engine died. And afterpushing and pushing, we decided it wasn't going to work and had to call our friends for a tow... So eventually, we arrived in Iringa - early, and in some style! Yesterday I managed to get the car fixed - it turns out the regulator on the alternator had fried, probably on the first long run we did into and out of Dodoma, and overcharged the battery which then proceded to fry everything. Great! But not too expensive to fix, except a new battery. And I'm up and running again now - and the whole of Iringa already knows the story!

Ah well, all part of the adventure. I'm going to have to take it for a bit of a run sometime in the next day or two to check that all is really well, before I head into the bush again on Sunday... Mind you, I also need to fix myself, N and I having picked up a bug yesterday that had us up and down all night. Joy - my first Tanzanian tummy thing. At least it's not making me feel too bad at the same time!

NB, couldn't get the pictures in the right place at all. Sorry!

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