From Arusha we drive via Mto Wa Mbu to the Ol Doinyo Lengai. This tip we got from our "Huddle"-hosts Elisabeth and Augustin (more about "Huddle" see the infobox below). Just before reaching the famous Ngorongoro crater, we turn right and drive through an impressive landscape - Africa as pictured in children's books - and incidentally in the open grassland see hundreds of zebras, but also many giraffes, gazelles, ostriches and wildebeest.
It's a dream! ... Wouldn't there be this strange noise coming from the rear left part of the Land Rover which seems to be getting louder and louder. Mischa tries to find out where that noise comes from several times but can't detect the problem. But as driving is not really different to what it was before, we just continue ... a Land Rover is never really broken but also never really completely in order!
The Ol Doinyo Lengai, the holy mountain of the Massai, is majestically towering up from the surrounding landscape. In its crater according to Massai-tradition, "Engai", the god of the Massai, lives.
Approaching the volcano, we discover that its slopes are rutted by lava streams. Apart from grass and shrubbery, there is no other vegetation on the mountain due to its ongoing activity. The Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only remaining active volcanoe in the east-African rift valley and last erupted in 2008.
Near Engare Sero we find a good campsite. While Juliane is checking us in, Mischa again checks the underside of the Land Rover again ... and discovers that the upper keep of the double shockers is broken, one of the three bolts is loose and one missing completely. Finally, we have discovered the source of the strange sounds. "Why didn't I see this before!?"
All this must have happened during the last 100km which were rather an adventurous track, especially when we had to cross lava streams and rivers. The rather uncommon rainfalls during the last few days and weeks have caused washouts which, too, contributed to this adventure-oiste.
Well, so fitting the "halftime" - half of our (planned) Transafrican adventure is over exactly today - we have the first "problem" on our Land Rover on this trip which stops the immediate progress of our travel. But even this is no real problem, because the local people use this piste as well and for sure we are not special with our car issue. By the way, here people use considerably more Land Rovers than Landcruisers ... quite uncommon for Africa! We ask the locals and get a clear reply, "Landcruisers break down constantly and both the suspension and the engine don't stand the bad road conditions here!" We also see many new Land Rovers just like ours powered by the "PUMA"-engine (Td4/TDCi) which in Europe are viewed as not being fit for overlanding or Africa.
The manager of the campsite calls the local car mechanic ("fundi") right after checking us in. Within 45 minutes, the "fundi" is in our camp, takes out the broken part including the shock absorbers, drives home, welds, comes back and in the dusk, adjusts and again attaches the shock absorber keep. As by now it is far too dark, Mischa persuades him to stop working and come back the next morning to finish his work. Next morning our "Nyati" is ready to go back on the road again. For US$ 30 the "fundi" drove the route village-campsite three times, welded, took out and re-fitted the shock absorbers and checked all three other wheels incl. the suspension ... and has earned good money for a village-fundi! But this is no problem at all! Win-win is what we would call it!
Halftime! Half of our sabbatical is "already" over, or "only"!? This depends a lot on the perspective! ...
Definitely, we think that this is a good point in time to make up an interim balance. What are our thoughts on over half a year traveling facing the half-full glass of our onward journey?
For years we had planned this trip. It was our most favourite hobby, maybe even the only one our everyday working life (and our way of dealing with it) has permitted. But plans are only rough guidelines and should not be taken too earnest to still be able to enjoy freedom to the limit. So, we tried to be as flexible as possible and half a year before setting off, even changed the continent to be travelled from South America to Africa.
Many detours on the route to Africa we had planned. We wanted to go via Turkey (Oh, how much Juliane had looked forward to visiting Istanbul!), Georgia and Iran, but then, we changed plans while traveling, because of the political situation, but more so because at the beginning of our trip, we needed less challenges and more relaxed time spent together as a family. The kids had to understand that this would not be a short summer holiday ... more exciting countries would come in Africa anyway!
So we were content not spending too many kilometres on the road and staying at the beach or in the mountains instead. Signals that this was needed were quite common: e.g. at the beginning of the trip the girls threw up in the car several times which we did not know from our previous travels. Of course, this always led to a lot of work cleaning up the car afterwards and also to bad mood with children and parents. "This way we can't go through Africa for a complete year!" ... So we had to change to even lower gears to make ourselves ready for crossing the Sahara desert and everything else that would be waiting for us after that ... inside and outside!
Looking back, this was very important because the leg Cairo-Nairobi was very exhausting for all of us: even though it was exciting and enriching from a cultural and personal perspective, there was absolutely no room for relaxation!
Africa! So many things people had criticized before we set off. Traveling to Africa with children!? "Politically immature!", "You will travel through failed states only!", "Irresponsible!" ... For us, Africa so far is far better than her reputation! Only very rarely - maybe even less than in Europe - we experienced uncomfortable encounters. Never have we been threatened by anybody so far and nowhere did we have to pay a bribe. Ok, every now and then there is a policeman asking, "Do you have something that makes an officer happy?" ... We always offer our broadest smiles, they reply in the same way and off we go! Especially the Muslims in Egypt and Sudan (the words of people from our home-village, "Don't go to the Mussulmen, they are all fanatics and criminaly!" still ring in our ears) and their hospitality were simply impressive!
In contrast to that great hospitality, in Sudan catholic Europeans twice sent us away when arriving at their "tented camps" in the darkness of a late evening when we asked to be allowed to set up our camp in their fenced compound. They sent us off into the dunes ... in the middle of the night ... traveling with young children! A thing Muslims would never have done and never did do so during our trip!
Apart from really impressive landscapes and exciting cultures, it is especially the people of Africa that fascinate us, because in spite of ineffable everyday difficulties ranging from corruption to malaria, unemployment and lack of money they are nearly consistently friendly, happy with a positive attitude towards life and an immense ingenuity to find solutions out of nothing. But also, we notice the negative influence some NGOs and tourism have on the people.
On our route we initially wanted to go from Nairobi to Uganda and then on to Rwanda before continuing to Tanzania. Health issues made us turn around and recover in Nairobi with the help of modern medicine.
Also the topic "health" was something that kept us, friends and relatives busy before we set off to Africa. Finally, everything that affected us on this trip so far apart from "Botflies" were illnesses quite common in Europe: Sóley had tonsilitis in Egypt, all of us a gastro-intestinal virus (Juliane for eight days, Sóley two times, once in Greece and once in Ethiopia) and a common cold which in Juliane's case developed into a beginning pneumonia!
The hospitals we went to were all in all quite OK, in Nairobi even above the central-European standard, in Ethiopia and Greece rather ill-equipped.
The anti-malarials we take as a prophylaxis daily seem to be without side effects, maybe they lead to a slight proclivity to diorrhea and in Juliane's case might cause slight problems with the immune system. Maybe!
For Anouk after the Botflies the trip was "over", she wanted to go home! We called in the family powow and together decided to set sails for the beach, to Tanzania, and to spend more time together with other families with children of the same age as ours. This flexibility has paid off after only very few days and Anouk enjoys traveling again.
Only that she would love to be able to take all new friends with her on our onward journey. This travel is a hard training for her concerning saying farewell from unexpectedly cordial people.
All of us learn a lot anyway, especially Sóley and Anouk; maybe not all the things we had planned beforehand, but not less precious concepts and skills.
The amounts of English our two daughters now have are really remarkable. While Sóley freely peppers German sentences with English words and chatters on everybody around her, Anouk by now speaks a relatively fluent English. For a long time she had quietly listened to the adults and obviously recognized words from her bilingual audiobooks. Since Ethiopia she actively speaks English with her friends and during the last few weeks even developed a slight French accent because we spent a lot of great time with three French families. Especially for Mischa as a teacher this incidental acquisition of a foreign language really is impressive. In the right setting, teachers in the commonly perceived sense are completely unnecessary! "Learning by doing" in real life situations and real contexts with people around whom one can ask for advice and help when needed are so much more effective than traditional classroom lessons without any connection to the children's experience realm. Grammar is intuitively perceived, autonomy is encouraged and success comes completely on its own when people understand in communication situations.
Sóley has become more relaxed and open and has come closer to Mischa whom before traveling she did not really accept. Also, both kids have grown together and the whole family-coherence has become more and more intensive. ... Never ever have we experienced family and family bonds as strongly as during this trip.
All the people we met on this trip so far have also positively supported the development of our children. You don't meet many other "overland-families", but with the few that are traveling in Africa at the moment, it is quite easy to arrange to meet up with the help of modern media to arrange a meeting (e.g. with the help of a Facebook group for Overland Families co-founded by us ), to travel together for a while ... sometimes this works out well, e.g. with "the French". But sometimes one has to realise that it doesn't "fit" and that it is better to go separate ways. Still, we don't meet as many other overlanders as we had expected.
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A great help in discovering and feeling at home in a new country, a new culture are the many wonderful people that invite you to their homes, native inhabitants or expats alike.
Some meetings and visits had been planned for a long time, some come about quite spontaneously, just because you meet by chance, such as our meeting with Ian, the manager of the Land Rover garage in Arusha, where we had to have our Land Rover repaired.
In this sense, by the way, our Land Rover is a good way of meeting new people as Land Rover owners are just like one large family. We for example had a great time with Konstantinos and Erato in Athens or the "Bundu Rovers" in Kenya.
Still, in spite of modern media and communication methods, you can't plan everything even though Facebook and our travel blog are a great way of inforcing that. It is so very exiting whom you meet on the road just by chance, even though not all those encounters are positive! One negative experience were a group of older German overlanders who were downright racist and loudly discussed about and judged "mixed couples" ("When exactly does a white man take a "Bimbo-woman" and when is it the other way round?" or "Don't invite her to Germany, we already have enough of "them" at home!") ... still these people have traveled through Africa for years and years. Strange, very strange! And a shame, as all of us are ambassadors for our countries, cultures and the idea of overlanding!
While traveling and experiencing all the positive and enriching encounters, it becomes more and more clear to us that it is exactly the inter-personal exchange which is the most important part of traveling for us, more important than sightseeing, ticking certain touristy hotspots, wild animals, national parks et cetera.
But the many exciting encounters can also distray you from relaxing: quite often we sit around a campfire or table and talk with new friends burning the midnight oil while not reserving enough attention on the kids ... or on ourselves! For the kids this is no problem when there are other children around to play with. But still it is quite alarming that Juliane did not manage to set up the slackline or even read a book which is not a guidebook or children's book so far. Yes, even while traveling, one has to make sure not to go back in unhealthy everyday structures similar to those of the everyday work day back at home! The daily life on the road, especially with young children, can keep in top of you just as the daily working-life at home if you don't take care. So, we decide for the second part of our Transafrican adventure to reserve some more time for us as a couple and for each other, of course without neglecting our children at the same time. Generally, they should profit from that as well when the parents are more relaxed. This might be a model for the time when we are back home again
Home ... This inevitably leads to the question on what is going to be "after" the trip. Will we be able to go back to our "normal" lives? Into a life governed by clocks and watches and demands from the workplace? How will we be able to keep the joy of living, which we have in spite of all challenges this travel has included so far ... and make the transfer to our every day lives? What would it be like to drop out completely? How would we be able to make enough money on the road? How would we educate our daughters for their future, a future that could be just like our way of living, but still could follow completely different ideas? Continuously traveling could also become "normal" after a while ... a new "job"!
Would emigrating be a solution and start a new life in Africa or somewhere else? So far - apart from Australia - we can only imagine doing that in Kenya, maybe also in Tanzamia ... In this context, we are really excited about traveling to Namibia, Botswana, Swasiland and South Africa ...
Money. Another one of the more uncomfortable topics! A good and relaxed way of dealing with money matters we had to learn while saving up for our sabbatical during the last few years anyway.
Even though countries like Ethiopia have turned out to be more expensive than expected because free camping simply is impossible there, we are quite surprised that we have managed to live on a daily budget of roundabout 100€ just as planned beforehand (daily average: 100,72€ incl. shipping the car to Africa) in spite of many paid accomodations. Really an eye-opener was that we only spent 8,71€ per day on diesel.
Roundabout half of the daily budget we spent on "life", meaning food, entry fees et cetera, which reconciles us with the basic idea that this travel should mainly be high-quality time spent together as a family. Yes, this plan seems to be proving to be successful! Also, in this context, it is good to know that a large portion of the money we have spent ends up with the "normal" people on the road in the countries visited as we buy most of our food et cetera in small shops, street stalls and on the market.
After these reflections - but also complete without them - would we do it again? The answer is a clear and definite "Yes!". And to go further: we will do it again!
On our way from the "holy mountain of the Massai" back to Arusha, the engine of our Land Rover suddenly stops several times when we wait at gates or at police checkpoints and when we try to overtake the engine doesn't seem to have enough power. Finally, about 2 km before reaching the Land Rover garage in Arusha in the middle of the evening rush hour the engine stops completely.
But, in Africa just like in Europe it is possible to get a towing truck within 45 minutes, have your car towed to a garage and have the problem diagnosed: bad fuel, "bad" in the sense of "too much water in the fuel "! It turns out that when we had fuelled up in Arusha before setting of for Ol Doinyo Lengai, we fuelled up with about 50 % water and 50% diesel (i.e. 40 litres of water! ... one third of our tank!), because obviously the tank of the gas station had rain water leaking into it (and we had a lot of rain in Arusha!). So, we have to take out both fuel tanks and drain and clean them completely. Luckily, there doesn't seem to be further damage to the engine ... also, because the computer chip stopped the engine before (it is not so bad after all to have a chipped engine!). Within only one day we are helped by professionals and even privately, we are "rescued" by our French internet friends and by the manager of the garage, who without further ado invites us to stay at his place until our car is ready to go back on the road again and thus provides an interesting insight into the "expat-world" of Arusha!
Still, our "halftime" was a bit complicated car-wise!