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Bruised and battered: Zambezi team in trouble

Apr 16, 2009

Dammn, I think we underestimated the logistical and etheric challenges involved in this expedition. Despite careful planning for months.

It took us 5 days to get up to Lake Cahora Bassa, the biggest hydroelectric scheme in Africa, a manmade lake of some 240km length. On the horrible roads up there the wheels from the boat trailer came off 4x and we replaced all ball bearings. That we even made it with the boat relatively intact is a miracle and cost us enormous energy and mental reserves.

Thanks to Tino who is an ex-army pilot with a lot of mechanical trouble-shooting experienmce we managed to get it rolling again and again against all odds.

We did manage to go through Macossa, one of the 5 corners of the satanic pentagram that Francie identified as casting a bad spell over Zimbabwe.

Imagine pulling the battered trailer with my precious boat through dry river beds and rutted dirt roads - phew. The last leg of some 480km took us more than 18 hours to drive.

How elated we were, when we had finally arrived at Songo, the town at the dam wall of Cahora Bassa and checked into our Camping site Ugezi Tiger Lodge.

The boat was tested the next day and found working well.

Now it was preparing for the big jump to Zumbo on the other side of the lake, some 240km straight line. No infrastructure, supply or rescue in between and even Zumbo only supplied by a once weekly miniferry from Songo.

People who live in the "First World"cannot imagine these conditions.

We got up very early at 4 in the morning in order to have the boat ready at 6. All seemed to go well, except we noticed that the boat was secverly overloaded with all 4 of us on board + 200litres of fuel and 300TBs, a CB and several other orgonites, food, camping gear, etc.

So 2 had to stay back and some Camping stuff unloaded.

Finally Tino and I set out, full of optimism after we had regained the speed and manouverability we would need.

Did a good gifting run along the dam wall and then continued about 40km in direction of our goal. Then suddenly one of the engines of the boat started losing power.

We checked everything, even dismantled the carburator out on the lake, to no avail.

We had to break it off, as with one engine and the heavy load we were reduced to an unacceptably low speed.

We just made it "back to base"by nightfall.

We felt utterly dejected.

Now a frantic day of fault finding started. 2 seperate people volunteered to look at the engine and helped eliminate one probable cause after the other.

It is quite amazing how people who live so far on the "edge of civilisation" are so much more wuilling to help when you're in trouble than city dwellers.

People out here count their time differently.

Finally the only thing left was to strip the engine and see what's happening inside because all othe causes were eliminated by switching parts around with the healthy engine and findfing they were working. This was done by the lodges gentle and competent mechanic Julio, to whom my heart goes out.

To cut a long story short: both pistons are burnt. We have absolutely no idea how this is possible on almost new engines, but it's a fact.

Even worse: spare parts are not available in Mozambique and even in South Africa they have to be ordered from the manufacturer in Japan which takes 2-3 weeks.

Yet we don't give up that easily. My three compadres have now embarked on the slow but safe journey on that once- weekly ferry, a ramshackle pontoon with a shade roof and two ancient diesels that crawls up and down the lake to supply scattered outposts and hunting camps with a meagre tickle of supplies (mostly booze and cigarettes) and bring some locals to far away little fishing vuillages.

It will be more than a week until I see them again, while I'll explore all possible avenues to get the boat fixed and ready for the rest of the down river journey.


Please boost the Zambezi team and support us in all possible ways.


Georg (Songo, Cahora Bassa, Mozambique)

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