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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tanzania: The Vehicle

(This is the second post about our self-drive trip to Tanzania. The next post will be about the roads.)

Once we finally arrived in Tanzania, Mark and I were excited to see what the African counterpart of our truck and camper would look like.

Based just outside of Arusha in northern Tanzania, Paul and Erika Sweet of Shaw Safaris outfit Land Rovers with everything you need to camp and travel through the country. They offered us an itinerary of the multitude of parks there, and even made reservations for us to stay in "special" campsites out in the bush. We would still be driving and camping on our own, but we had their guidance to keep us from wandering aimlessly around Tanzania wondering where all the animals were.

Here's a look at the vehicle and it's contents:

In the back compartment there was a cooler and boxes containing food, pots, pans, plates/cups/bowls/flatware, utensils, cleaning supplies, water for washing, tools for basic road repairs and even a hand pump shower for cleaning up after long dusty days on the road.
Here's the rig fully unloaded for dinner. The table tucked up in the rack over the back door between the car and the tent.

The roof top tent unfolded into a nice penthouse suite.
I think Mark liked this job.
The tent doubled for shade on the sunny days.
The "picnic box" with all the plates, mugs, cups etc.

Our one burner stove, complete with tea kettle.

Each vehicle is equipped with a cell phone with a dual sim card (to double the chances of having service.) One of the biggest surprises for us was the cell phone coverage in Tanzania; with few exceptions, we had coverage in most of the areas we traveled. If we ran into trouble or had a question, there were pre-programmed numbers loaded into the phone that we could call night or day.

The interior was stripped down to the essentials. There was a radio but it was unnecessary; you couldn't have heard it anyway between the diesel engine and the pounding on the corrugated roads. The seats were surprisingly comfortable, which was a good thing having spent at least 7 hours a day sitting on them. Note the orange thing on the seat: a highly important item, it was a waterproof toilet paper holder we took to calling Lou Rawls (after the English phrase for toilet paper, loo rolls)
There was also a GPS mounted on the dash that helped guide us. This proved to be a saving grace, as the printed maps we had were not always up to date. We found roads there tend to get re-routed, added or sometimes disappear altogether after the rainy season. The roads themselves are sometimes only tracks across the savannah which might be the main route, or they could be a safari driver's off road exploration that peters out to nothing after a few kilometers. It was an education to say the least.

For security, there were two locking compartments hidden in the vehicle. We stored our passports, extra cash and other important papers in these for safe keeping.

The lone self-drive vehicle in a picnic area parking lot full of tour group vehicles, Tarangire National Park.
Since we were to be traveling through some remote places, the car was equipped with a high-lift jack, regular jack, tire repair kit and air compressor in case of a flat (or two—it also came with two spare tires.) The roads are rough, to say the least, and we saw multiple safari tour vehicles at the side of the road changing flat tires, their clients fanning themselves impatiently inside. We also had an accessory battery that ran the fridge, and served as a backup to the main. We had a box full of extra fluids (brake, steering, oil) and even a spare generator and air filter, along with a very complete set of tools to work on the vehicle. We also had along some recovery items to help pull ourselves out of mud/sand/ditches or anything else we may have gotten ourselves into.

All these things were extra insurance in a country where you might be able to make a phone call, but help would be perhaps a day or more away. We were fortunate not to have any major problems thanks to brand new tires and cautious driving.

Shaw supplied us with a starter food box, which was really helpful. It contained enough food for a couple days of meals plus basics that we probably would have forgotten to buy: salt, pepper, coffee, tea, milk, sugar, oil and spices. They also supplied a 10L bottle of drinking water to start us off. Drinking water was very important as the local water would have made us sick and, although we were there during the southern hemisphere's winter, it was still pretty warm during the day. There was a 52 liter refrigerator in the back as well, which plugged into the car's electrical. It was nice to have a cold drink at the end of a long day on the dusty road.

Last but not least, Shaw supplies coverage with Flying Doctors for emergency evacuation in case of serious injury. This was the most important factor in getting our mother's permission to go on this trip. (We would have gone anyway, but I think it made them feel better about it.)
Back after two weeks, the car (and us) dirtier but no worse for wear.

Mark got so fond of the car he named it "Plucky" as in, "this plucky little car can drive over/through/around anything!" It powered through some incredibly rough roads that would have torn our US truck/camper rig to pieces. Mark actually teared up when we had to leave it to go home; given time, I think he would have tried to arrange a shipping container and haul it back with us (much to the chagrin of Paul, the owner/outfitter/chief mechanic.)

It was the perfect vehicle for Tanzania's rough roads and varied terrain. Although Mark might be in mourning now, it was best to leave Plucky there. We just might need it again when we go back to explore more of the stunning parks in Tanzania.

"Plucky" waits for us near Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano near Lake Natron in northern Tanzania.
(If you are interested in doing this yourself and want more information about what Shaw has to offer, feel free to email them at:

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