Tan­za­nia Ma­nia

Are Land Rover clubs the same the world over? We travel to East Africa to find out

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story and pic­tures: Robb Pritchard

Afew weeks ago I was in Tan­za­nia and had the op­por­tu­nity to spend the day with the re­cently-formed Arusha Land Rover club. Not wish­ing to pass the op­por­tu­nity up, I’m glad I ac­cepted as it turned out to be one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary off-road drives of my life.

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. Just over six months later there are 26 mem­bers, and I was to meet four of them, in­clud­ing the club’s main man.

Yus­suf’s 1998 De­fender 110 pick-up was in the work­shop be­ing put back to­gether again af­ter bar­rel-rolling down a hill on the last trip out. Hope­fully this time the only dra­matic thing is go­ing to be the land­scape, I think to my­self as I wait for him to pick me up.

An hour later than the pro­posed start (time means some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent to Tan­za­ni­ans) Yasir pulled up in a friend’s De­fender 90 with some in­ter­est­ing home-made im­prove­ments such as the air scoop in the bon­net for ex­tra cool­ing and 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 stan­dard and any mod­i­fi­ca­tions done are likely to be lo­cally-made.

Ian was in a nice tray-back, also from the same year, with a full com­ple­ment of un­der­body guards and another 30 min­utes later Ab­dal­lah ar­rived in his 2001 110 Sta­tion Wagon. None of th­ese were leisure ve­hi­cles, they were all hard­work­ing work­horses that spend prac­ti­cally every day of­froad. Yasir runs Fly­catcher Sa­faris, and uses his De­fender to drive through the Serengeti, check­ing the main­te­nance of his lux­ury camps. Ian has his own lux­ury lodge, only ac­ces­si­ble by 4x4 and Ad­bal­lah runs all sorts of be­spoke sa­faris from two week long multi­na­tional park game drives to tak­ing BBC film crews deep into the wilder­ness. Yus­suf runs Al­pha Burgers, which doesn’t re­quire a Land Rover for busi­ness use but he’s of­ten a scout for the East African Sa­fari Rally look­ing for routes, so his 110 gets a good amount of use, too. When it’s on its wheels!

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 Yus­suf, who could tell from how much it had dried, it had passed 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. Maa­sai farm­ers, tall, el­e­gant shaven-headed peo­ple in che­quered red shawls called shukas, tend small corn fields and herd goats and don­keys at the side of the road graz­ing on the verges. They wear red be­cause it’s a colour that sup­pos­edly scares off wild an­i­mals like lions.

The sweep­ing, un­du­lat­ing track that we are on was re­cently a stage of the East African Clas­sic Rally that saw some clas­sic cars at­tack­ing it at break­neck speed. From the 1960s 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 place here was a great feel­ing.

The rolling hills even­tu­ally opened up to re­veal a wide, flat and very fer­tile 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 gi­ant gash in the sur­face of the Earth 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 there was just a dozen young Maa­sai walk­ing down the hill that caught our at­ten­tion. All dressed in the same sky blue robes and neck­laces of glis­ten­ing beads they were head­ing down from their vil­lage to sing in a choir. Af­ter Yus­suf greases their palms with a few thou­sand shillings, the Maa­sai line up along the Land Rovers

“Pic­nics are usual on Land Rover week­ends, but not of­ten with ze­bra foot­prints in the dirt”

for a photo. 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. Yasir’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 len­til stew.

Yus­suf wanted to find a route across coun­try but 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 that had never seen a 4x4, so af­ter a few kilo­me­tres I sug­gested that we visit one of the mud and straw Maa­sai vil­lages dot­ted on the high ground. We pulled up 100 me­tres away and the whole vil­lage came out to stare at us.

The tall, re­gal-look­ing chief came out to greet 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. Baby goats and chick­ens milled around the wonky­walled 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.

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 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’d seen plenty of gi­raffes 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 won­dered 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 soon we were away again, just half an hour drive to home. Or so we thought.

A few min­utes 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. When the fuel warn­ing light came on we re­alised what had hap­pened. The cheeky at­ten­dant at the sta­tion had taken the money but hadn’t put any fuel in! Yus­suf found some­one with some spare diesel and as soon as it went in the idling re­turned to nor­mal.

For Yus­suf and the rest of the club it was just a jaunt around their lo­cal neigh­bour­hood, but for me it was one of the coolest days I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Arusha stop by their club HQ at the Al­pha Choice restau­rant to say hello be­cause one thing that seems to be the same the world over: Land Rover clubs are full of great peo­ple!

Above: Maa­sai all dressed in blue robes head­ing to a vil­lage choir stop for the club to take a photo

Above: The dirt tracks in the Rift Val­ley, formed when tec­tonic plates tore them­selves apart, are fa­mous for host­ing the orig­i­nal Sa­fari Rally

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