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Break down

We awake to the braying of a donkey. Why there is a donkey here I don’t know, we aren’t near anything. A near sleepless night. In pain and exhausted we are bent double as we go through the machinations of packing up the tent and car. We drive and drive and drive forever, past sand and rocks and more rocks and then a beautiful sea of sand, hundreds of dunes cresting over one another as far as the eye can see.



Then the road hardens to rock and is as bumpy as we’ve had to date.


And then

The car stops.

Just stops. Right as we are driving.

The engine turns fine but it won’t catch. What the f*** do we do now? We are a day from the nearest village and who knows if they have a mechanic, highly unlikely as there weren’t any cars there, and if they did, we doubt the mechanic could fix this – there’s nothing obviously wrong with the engine.

We don’t panic yet, life has seemed dismal at times, but we’ve always mustered through. Rick wiggles a few wires but nothing’s really loose.

For no particular reason the engine starts again. Worrisome, when we don’t know what changed. We have a decision point. Forge ahead, perhaps it was a fluke, or turn back.

“The sensible thing to do would be to turn back”

“But we never do the sensible thing”

“Onwards it is then”




We drive a very short distance and pause at the top of a steep decline when all of a sudden 5 trucks appear clunking and grinding up the hill. This is extremely peculiar given we’ve barely seen a soul all day and no vehicles in two. Even more peculiar, ten Westerners get out halfway up, and start taking photos. Italian tourists of all things! They have drivers and fill up two of the trucks, another truck is tottering high with supplies, and the other two are flatbeds jammed packed with army guys, looking grim and fierce with their green covered faces, dark sunglasses, and AK47s. They ask ”Where’s your driver?” I point at Rick and everyone stares at us like we’re nuts. How far to the nearest town south, we ask. 3 days, is the reply. 2 if you aren’t a tourist. Oh, so 4 days for us then.

Of course we don’t do anything sensible, like ask for a phone number if we break down again, just wave the Italian tourists and their convoy on. Once they’ve all disappeared we start the car ready to battle the Sahara, but three feet on it stops again. Same problem, engine turns but it won’t catch. Ye gods, give me a break. Fortunately the sat phone works if Rick stands exactly three feet from the car facing 31.7 degrees north east and holds the phone at a 45 degree angle so he calls Rob, who we bought the car from, to see if he’d experienced a similar problem. He had not, but calls the guy who installed the security system, to see if he had any thoughts. Guy says perhaps all the jolting around confused the demobilization device. The demobilization device is supposed to work when car-nappers try and steal the bloody thing, not when we’re a days journey away from help in one direction and three days in another. I didn’t think this would be an easy vacation, but does it really have to be quite this hard?

Rick wriggles some more wires and the car starts again, still no obvious cause. So now what to do. The problem is obviously not a one-off. Just say it happens a day from now, when we’re even further from help and stays busted for good? Then we’re really screwed. On the other hand, what traveller ever wants to u-turn, to follow tracks already taken?

Sadly, sensibility wins over emotion – even a slim chance of a catastrophic breakdown so far from help is too risky. Our state of mind is not helped by the Italian tourists and their need for truckloads of military men, nor by the fact that we are still incredibly weak from whatever illness we’d contracted, probably Ebola. We retrace our steps, only slightly easier now we know the route. We are both terribly¬†glum. An unreliable vehicle changes everything. Even if the fix is as simple (simple for Rick, not me) as uninstalling the demobilization device, we don’t yet know that’s what the problem is. We won’t get to see crocodiles, although I thought that this might have been an urban myth anyway, and we don’t get to spend romantic desert nights under the setting sun, camping miles from civilization, cooking our own food, sleeping in our roof tent under the starry sky.

Oh hang on, that hasn’t been at much fun anyway.

Still, given that our plans have changed nearly a dozen times anyway, we roll with the punches. We’d read online about a relaxing little spot in St. Louis, Senegal called Zebra Bar, so that becomes our new mission. Zebra Bar, here we come!

[Hindsight note: The issue did turn out to be nothing but a case of unhooking the demobilization system, there was really nothing wrong with the car at all, so frustrating that we turned back!]

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