Friday, August 28, 2009


In Africa, going on a trip by car is no simple matter. Even so, we decided to do nearly a thousand kilometres in five days. The car is a Toyota Prado, with four-wheel drive and whatnot. My "and whatnot" accidentally characterises rather accurately our knowledge of the car and its insides: we don't even know how to use the four-wheel drive thing yet. We went anyway.

We bought some tools and car appliances which might come in handy: screwdrivers, triangles, a funnel... We borrowed a jack which for some reason Spanish people call gato - "cat". We put some air into the spare wheel. We put some air into the regular wheels. We bought sixty litres of gas to take with us. We set off.

The roads are diffcult most of the time. Either there is no asphalt (in the dry season the amounts of dust are incredible) or it is full of holes and you have to jump from one side of the road to the other. Or both. There isn't very much traffic but there are extremely many grumiere trucks (see picture on the right) which trasport huge tree trunks. Most of them were quite nice to us and we had polite car conversations:

Us: Honk honk? ("Can we pass?")
Truck: Honk honk. ("Yes, go.")
Us: Honk honk! ("Thank you!")
Truck: Honk honk! ("You're welcome!")

Others would drive in the middle of the road so that nobody could overtake.

The trip was quite all right (though very tiring for Jandro, as I don't drive) and it was only the night before our departure that we noticed something strange. An indicator in the car lit up and we found ourselves facing a dreadfully orange "T-BELT" sign. After figuring out what on Earth a T-BELT might be (transmission belt or whatever, we thought), we got a bit nervous. 400 kilometres ahead of us and the car says we should change the transmission belt NOW. Oh my.

We went to the guy responsible for our lodgings and asked if there were any mechanics in the Lope village. "I will call". He called. No luck, user unavailable. "We will go to the mechanic's house." Ok, let's. From a beautiful woman who opened the mechanic's door we found out that he was travelling but he would come back the next day. If we were willing to wait. We weren't. We called another person. The guy agreed to see us but couldn't promise anything.

"The transmission belt looks fine," we found out (we had changed it about a month ago!). "Maybe it's a little loose, I can fix it, just give me some tools." We took out our sad little set of tools which of course proved to be useless. The man offered to take us to his friend who had the tools. All four of us went to the village bar/shop where the tool guy was expected to appear. We waited for half an hour and had some sodas, watching the village life while the village life was watching us. The man came and said he wouldn't give our "mechanic" his tools, as the problem was not the transmission belt but something else and we could talk to him about it if we want to. He was very unfriendly. The "mechanic" tried to persuade him but was unsuccessful.

By that time the situation was as follows: our landlord, who was still tagging along, couldn't fix the problem and had no tools; the "mechanic" could fix the problem but had no tools; we couldn't fix anything and to top it all off had no tools; and the guy who had the tools wouldn't help. Seems hopeless but we didn't have many options. Our guy told us we shouldn't let the other man touch our car because he just wanted our money. Relucantly, we agreed and just drove him home. He told us we should be able to get to Libreville. And he wouldn't accept money from us claming he hadn't done anything. Good guy, in the end.

What scared us most was that the car would break in the middle of nowhere. There is no road assistance in Africa and if you get stuck in a place you might be stuck there for days. Nothing of the kind happened, though, and we safely reached Libreville the next day. The car did start making funny noises after around 100 kilometres and it turned out the air filter had a substantial hole. There was nobody we could call so we just put some masking tape round it. It worked. We're the official car fixers from now on.


  1. vaia aventura... quê é "masking tape?" chicle mascado? :P