Tan­za­nia Landy Club

Are Land Rover club week­ends the same the world over? Jour­nal­ist Robb Pritchard re­cently trav­elled to Tan­za­nia and had the op­por­tu­nity to spend the day with the newly formed Arusha Land Rover Club… and it turned out to be a far from or­di­nary off-road driv

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Scenic over land­ing

THE Arusha Land Rover club was founded in Novem­ber last year. Landy en­thu­si­ast Yus­suf Kha­try founded the club for lo­cal Land Rover en­thu­si­asts and tour guides to get to­gether and ex­plore some re­mote parts of the stun­ning coun­try­side around Arusha and the foothills of nearby Mount Kil­i­man­jaro.

Cur­rently there are 26 mem­bers with 90s and 110s. Yus­suf ’s 1998 110 pick-up was in the work­shop be­ing put back to­gether again af­ter bar­rel rolling down a hill... on the last trip out.

I hoped that this time, the only dra­matic thing was go­ing to be the land­scape. He picked me up in a friend’s 110 with a fake UN aerial on the front bumper and a bank of speak­ers be­hind to play a mu­sic CD filled with ob­scure 1980’s pop mu­sic.

‘Africa time’ also ap­plies to Tan­za­nia, I dis­cov­ered. The 7:30am call time soon rolled on to 8am. Fi­nally, at 8:30, fel­low club mem­ber Yasir pulled up in his 90 from 1998 with some in­ter­est­ing and well-made home­made im­prove­ments such as the air scoop in the bon­net for ex­tra cool­ing, as well as hand­crafted alu­minium head­light sur­rounds.

They were done so well you’d have to be re­ally sharp to spot that they’re not orig­i­nal parts. Im­port­ing parts to Eastern Africa is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive so most cars are pretty much stan­dard and any mod­i­fi­ca­tions done are likely to be lo­cally made.

An­other mem­ber, Ian, was in a tray-back, also from 1998, with a full com­ple­ment of un­der­body guards. Fi­nally, Ab­dal­lah ar­rived in his 2001 110 sta­tion wagon.

None of these were leisure ve­hi­cles, they were all hard­work­ing work­horses that spend prac­ti­cally ev­ery day off-road.

Yasir runs Fly­catcher Sa­faris and uses his mount to drive through the Serengeti check­ing the main­te­nance of his lux­ury camps. Ian has his own lux­ury lodge only ac­ces­si­ble by 4×4 and Ad­bal­lah runs all sorts of be­spoke sa­faris from two-week multi­na­tional park game drives, to tak­ing BBC film crews deep into the wilder­ness in search of rare and elu­sive species to make doc­u­men­taries about.

Yus­suf runs Al­pha Burg­ers which doesn’t re­quire a Land Rover but he’s of­ten a scout for the East African Sa­fari rally, look­ing for routes for 180km­long stages, so his 110 gets a de­cent amount of use, too. When it’s on its wheels, that is.

Driv­ing in con­voy, ran­dom stops for gro­ceries and ex­tra pic­nic items was all rather fa­mil­iar. But this is Tan­za­nia, the heart of Africa, and the first thing we saw as the tar­mac ended was a hefty lump of ele­phant dung in the mid­dle of the road. We weren’t in a na­tional park or a re­serve so it was a wild ele­phant that had left its mark.

Ac­cord­ing to Yussu, the dung was fresh, the ele­phant had passed by here just a few hours be­fore.

Through the aca­cia trees, evolved into high, flat canopies to keep their leaves away from gi­raffes, the road wound up through the hills passing small farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties, which doesn’t sound too much dif­fer­ent to be­ing out green­lan­ing in Wales, ex­cept the farm­ers here were Maa­sai.

Tall, el­e­gant shaven-headed peo­ple in their che­quered, red shawls called a shuka tended small corn­fields and herded goats and don­keys at the side of the road graz­ing on the verges. Ap­par­ently they wear red

be­cause it’s a colour that lion and other wild an­i­mals are scared of.

Just about ev­ery one of them waved. In Bri­tain, no one out walk­ing has ever waved at me while I was out off-road­ing. Un­less it was meant as a threat.

Some­thing else that was slightly dif­fer­ent... Yus­suf told me that the sweep­ing, un­du­lat­ing track we were on was re­cently a stage of the East African Clas­sic rally that saw some gor­geous clas­sic cars at­tack­ing it at break­neck speed. And from the ’60s to the early 2000s, it was also used as part of the orig­i­nal Sa­fari rally. Tak­ing shots of the three cars ahead know­ing such for­eign yet fa­mil­iar ral­ly­ing his­tory had taken part here was a great feel­ing.

The rolling hills even­tu­ally opened up to re­veal a wide, flat and vivid green val­ley far be­low. Not just any val­ley though. The plan for the day was to ex­plore some dirt tracks in the fa­mous Rift Val­ley, a land for­ma­tion that came into ex­is­tence mil­lions of years ago when tec­tonic plates ripped them­selves apart.

It’s also re­garded as the cra­dle of hu­man­ity, the place homo sapi­ens first stood up­right.

To get down there was a se­ries of tight, rock-strewn hair­pins that Yus­suf said had seen a lot of ral­ly­ing ac­tion over the years, but to­day it was just a dozen young Maa­sai walk­ing down the hill that caught our at­ten­tion. All dressed in the same sky blue robes and adorned with the same neck­laces of glis­ten­ing beads, they were ob­vi­ously dressed for some cel­e­bra­tion or rit­ual.

The rather sus­pi­cious guy in a suit, and scar pat­terns cut into his face, who was lead­ing them didn’t want to talk to me though, but Yus­suf had the per­sonal skills to ut­terly trans­form his per­son­al­ity. Ac­tu­ally, he handed a lit­tle cash out of the win­dow. That helped.

Full of smiles he told us that they were all head­ing down from their vil­lage to sing in a vil­lage choir. Yes, they’d be more than happy to take their pho­tos with us... if his palm was greased with a few thou­sand more shillings.

Not for busi­ness, of course. Just a do­na­tion. We got the Land Rovers lined up and the Maa­sai came to line up in front. But in­stead of just stand­ing and smil­ing they all started jump­ing up and down, which is a tra­di­tional mat­ing dance. It was a to­tally sur­real and spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence!

Down on the floor of the val­ley we pulled up un­der the shade of a huge aca­cia tree. Pic­nics are usual on Land Rover week­ends, but not of­ten with ze­bra foot­prints in the dirt. Yusuf pointed up the bare twigs hang­ing down un­der the canopy above us. The only

thing that could reach up so far was a gi­raffe.

Yasir’s ’90’s bon­net was trans­formed into a pic­nic ta­ble and a ver­i­ta­ble feast was laid out. No cheese and pickle sand­wiches with twiglets here, though. Early in the morn­ing, Yus­suf had stopped at a restau­rant to pick up a proper Tan­za­nian meal of bar­be­cued beef, pota­toes and a kind of lentil stew. And there was a flask of amaz­ing cof­fee that got emp­tied far too quickly.

Yus­suf knew where the big road went but wanted to find a route across coun­try. Alas, no one had a func­tion­ing GPS or even a map.

The bush ei­ther side of the road was strewn with rocks and cov­ered in prickly bushes and had never seen a 4×4 so af­ter a few kilo­me­tres I sug­gested that in­stead we go visit one of the mud and straw Maa­sai vil­lages dot­ted here and there on the high ground.

We pulled up 100 me­tres away for Yus­suf to ex­plain to the oth­ers what the plan was but while he was do­ing it, the whole vil­lage came out to stare at us. The tall re­gal-look­ing chief greeted us and gave me a com­pli­cated hip-hop style hand­shake be­fore invit­ing us to have a wan­der around the en­clo­sure that was sur­rounded by a pal­isade of spiky bushes to pro­tect against wild an­i­mals. It felt like tak­ing a step back a few thou­sand years.

Goats and chick­ens milled around the wonky-walled huts and I could see ab­so­lutely noth­ing of the mod­ern world at all. The dif­fer­ence be­tween their lives and ours was even more pro­nounced in­side the mud huts.

There are only a cou­ple of fist-sized breather holes in the wall so the in­te­rior is pitch black. An open fire­place is in the mid­dle of the floor but there’s no chim­ney, the smoke just fil­ters up through the grass roof.

Af­ter a few pho­tos and some bot­tles of wa­ter and bis­cuits handed over for their time, we headed back down to the main track on the val­ley floor. Maa­sai ob­vi­ously have an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of their lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment where their an­ces­tors have lived for thou­sands of years but they are pretty use­less at giv­ing di­rec­tions to peo­ple driv­ing cars and we spent a few hours head­ing off in what turned out to be completely the wrong di­rec­tion.

I wasn’t com­plain­ing though, as who wouldn’t want an im­promptu tour of the Rift Val­ley on tracks that have prob­a­bly had the likes of rally leg­ends like Me­hta, Walder­gaard

and Kankun­nen blast­ing down them in years gone by?

I’d seen plenty of gi­raffe in Africa but see­ing one in the wild is much more spe­cial than one in a game re­serve. Yus­suf missed them but I man­aged to get a shot out of the win­dow be­fore they de­cided they didn’t like Land Rovers and wan­dered off into the bush.

When we fi­nally got to the tar­mac road a few kilo­me­tres away from the bor­der with Kenya, we pulled into a fuel sta­tion. Yus­suf paid for 20 litres and we were away again, just half an hour’s drive to home. Or so we thought.

No real Land Rover story is com­plete with­out a break­down, though, and a few kilo­me­tres later we pulled over to the side of the road with no power. Yus­suf thought it was the pump, I sus­pected it was dirty diesel in the tank block­ing the fil­ter.

We were both wrong. We tried to crawl on but when the fuel warn­ing light came on we re­alised what had hap­pened. The cheeky lit­tle bug­ger at the fill­ing sta­tion had taken the money but hadn’t put any fuel in.

Yus­suf, as in­cred­u­lous as I was, went in among the kiosks at the side of the road to look for some­one with some spare diesel slosh­ing around some­where and as soon as it went in, the idling re­turned to nor­mal. Prob­lem solved. Yus­suf tried to ar­gue that tech­ni­cally it wasn’t a break­down as no parts had to be fixed or re­placed. I said that we were at the side of the road with the hood up so it counts.

For Yus­suf and the rest of the club, it was pretty much just a jaunt around their lo­cal neigh­bour­hood, look­ing at views they’d grown up with. For me, this was ac­tu­ally one of the coolest days I’ve ever had in a Land Rover.

I hope the Arusha club goes from strength to strength. If you’re ever in Arusha, stop in at the Land Rover Club HQ at the Al­pha Choice restau­rant to say hello be­cause one thing that seems to be the same the world over is that Land Rover clubs are full of great peo­ple.

Right: Tan­za­nia has some fan­tas­tic routes and roads to ex­plore.

From top: The beau­ti­ful wildlife and scenery of Tan­za­nia is well known. Some of the coun­try’s Maa­sai per­form a danc­ing rit­ual in front of the De­fend­ers. What is a Land Rover trip with­out a break­down? In this case, though, the Landy was in­no­cent....

Be­low: A con­voy of Land Rover De­fend­ers makes its way across the Tan­za­nian land­scape. Hav­ing this sort of scenery on your doorstep is quite a priv­i­lege. Far right, top: The club cur­rently has 26 mem­bers who drive a wide va­ri­ety of De­fend­ers. Founder...

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