The people who saved our trip in Zambia

After such a long time on the road, it is already amazing to read back what we have done. When traveling, even though we travel alone, we depend on people. Sometimes we meet people that impact our trip in a big way - negatively or posively. This entry is about some people who definitely belong to the last category and we are very grateful to them for helping us when we really needed it.

The first two people, Rob and Claire, were already mentioned in the previous blog. We arrived late at their farm, with our car sounding like a carnival and our dashboard looking like a lighted Christmas tree. Our tent was increasingly smelling like mushrooms and after a late dinner our gas cannister broke, meaning we would not be able to cook anymore. These friendly people invited us for coffee, when really all we wanted was to take the first flight home and their hospitality and generosity was something special. We decided to stay 2 extra nights and those 2 nights and days felt like a mini vacation. Claire also helped us with some much needed laundry loads. After 3 nights, we left for Livingstone with new energy. 

Without any new lights, but with all the sounds we drove to Livingstone. Rob had given us the number of a mechanic he trusted. Without any breakfast, we arrived at the workshop around 12pm. Luckily, Russell, the mechanic, was still in town. This meant we could quickly grab something to eat in Kubu cafe (also recommended by Rob and Claire), and would soon become our new favorite place in Livingstone. 

After lunch we met Russell, a friendly-looking South African guy. It quickly became clear that what we had hoped, just greasing the suspension a bit, was not an option. After taking off the wheels, it turned out we had to replace the ball joints and the tie rods (those attach the wheels to the steering rack, who were also supposedly replaced by the cheating mechanic in Kigali). Not a cheap fix and the car would be off the road for at least a full day.

There was no other option but to replace the parts. We did not trust any mechanic anymore, and Russell understood. He saw how serious we were about our car and he let us stay with the car the entire time. He didn't just say 'this needs to be replaced', instead he showed exactly what was broken and compared the broken parts to the new parts. He and the team did a wonderful job. 

After 1,5 day where we sat next to Gigi (we name our car Gigi, which is short for Grumpy Grandma -GG-) and the mechanics working on her, she was ready for a test drive. There was an enormous, strange sound coming from the wheels. Too bad, we needed to go for wheel alignment. As it was about 4pm, the workshops that could do wheel alignment did not want to take any new jobs. We had to wait until the next day. 

On the third day, we went for the wheel alignment early in the morning and after that it was time for another test drive. At the end of the test drive, the red 'check oil' sign went on and off and we still had a rattling sound when accelerating.  That was not good. The oil level was still good and the fix would be to drain the oil and change the oil filter. If that would not fix it, we might have to change the oil pump, another expensive fix, which was not unlikely as we had quite recently replaced the oil filter. On top of that, when Russell pulled back up to the garage, there suddenly was another squeeking sound when he turned the wheels. This would also become a whole quest to find the cause, luckily in the end it was as simple as one bolt touching another because it had been inserted the wrong way earlier on when they fixed the rack in Kasama. 

But this is when we really grew desperate. Every time we had fixed one thing, another issue would pop up. We had spent most of our time in Zambia either in workshops or worrying about our car and listening to the sounds she made. With a car that feels like it can break down any minute, Nairobi is very, very far away...

Russel saw the despair in our eyes and he probably felt the pain we had. Traveling such a long way is not nearly a vacation. It is amazing most of the times, but there is a lot of worrying and stressing. The constant stress we felt in Zambia reached its high point. Russel came to us and said 'we will fix the car, whatever it takes, and all the work we do today and maybe tomorrow, will be for free'. Honestly, that made us very emotional because that type of genuine kindness we had not felt in a long time. Especially with what happened in Rwanda, and with other experiences from Kenya and other places in the back of our head, we felt that we were becoming so distrustful and paranoid that it was affecting our mental health and overall happiness. We really don't want to be those people that doubt other people's intentions from the outset, but reality taught us that probably most people approach life this way because it is just necessary to survive.

The team at the workshop changed the oil and the oil filter. They had flushed the radiator as well. During our previous visit to a car workshop, we noticed our radiator was full of rust, as the previous owner(s) used normal water instead of specific coolant. The price the other workshop quoted to us was super high, so we didn't do it. But knowing that we were heading to the hot desert of Namibia, we had asked Russel to flush that as well. When we got our car back, it was already the end of the day again and although there were still some issues to be fixed, we could take the car to test drive it for a day and see if things would get worse. So on the fourth day in Livingstone, we took a break from the car problems and finally went for some touristic activities which normal people without car problems come to Livingstone for (see next blog).

Unfortunately, Gigi started an annoying habit where, when driving on low speed and breaking, the ABS would activate and we would skid. Russel saw the challenge and decided to take it up as well, at no costs again. It took another full day of trying different things to solve it, including replacing all brakes again but in every test drive the problem was still there. The final option Russell could think of was to  to bleed the brake system again and clean everything they could find on the ABS sensors and everything. 

The next test drive was nerve wrecking. Emma had enough of it and did not join the test drive. We decided that if this didn't work either, we would just leave with it and continue our travels. The issue was not really dangerous, mostly annoying. The test was the same as before. On a quiet road we drove slowly, and braked slowly. No ABS interference. Again, driving and braking, no ABS interference. After about 10 times, Jeroen and Russell looked at each other with hope, but also with caution not to celebrate too early. Excitement rose, as there were more stops without ABS interference. After about twenty tries, on different surfaces, it had still not happened. 

Jeroen and Russell looked at each other and cheered. They both knew that if the issue still existed, the ABS would have definitely interfered by now. There were over 20 stops without any problem. When they arrived at the workshop, the team and Emma looked worried, because it had taken quite some time to confirm the issue was really solved. So they were fearing another failed test, but after the thumbs up from inside the car, all of them cheered as well. This really felt as a victory. 

To Russell, thank you so much for your kindness. You met us at a really low point and you decided to help us, even at your own expense. Your kindness and generosity made such a huge difference for us. Your expertise also helped fix several problems we didn't know we had, so we felt safer on the road thanks to you and your team. 

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