Land Rover Lemon to Lemonade
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
My good friend Jacob from the Western Cape, ZA had rewarded me by selling me his old Land Rover Defender Pickup his Dad used in Botswana for many years. Now this particular Land Rover was no showroom gem. In fact, it was a weather beaten, dented, but mechanically useable machine. The list of improvements the old Land Rover needed was painfully long. I did manage to replace leaf springs and critical engine parts before venturing out on cross-border trips. The tyres and frontend bull bar were in fine shape. The interior was spartan and funky to say the very least. Instead of painting the exterior or even pretending for a second that this old truck was a thing of beauty, I decided to just improve the seat cushions and redo the truck bed. This truck was no ordinary bakkie. I mounted a riser rack for the RTT (rooftop tent) and also installed a new National Luna Weekender 12V refrigerator (similar to the SnoMaster product). The insurance and registration were all updated so that there would be no border issues as to ownership. For navigation I was still using a 2-year-old Garmin loaded with Tracks4Africa digital maps. To make a long story short, our routing up from Botswana via Kenya and Uganda required more time than was originally planned. As they say, never confuse a Land Rover for a mode of transportation.
After 3 weeks on the road, we arrived at the Cyanika border and crossed into Rwanda. My daily mechanical inspections had, up to that moment, revealed a series of minor items that were resolved with bush repairs. After driving less 40 kilometers into Rwanda on the RN4 I noticed evidence of a small puddle of fluids under the vehicle. As it turned out, my gearbox main oil seal was not doing what it was designed to do. I also noticed a leak near the transfer case. A bush repair was not in the cards even if I had the replacement parts. My assessment was that I could drive the vehicle another 50 kilometers, and so I did. After the initial 50 kilometers I impulsively decided to swing for the fence, and I drove the Land Rover (slowly) into the Capital City of Kigali. We found an economical hotel in the Capital and the next day located the services of a mechanic who astonishingly enough also drove an old Land Rover. His labor estimate was 150,000 Rwf and the parts people in Johannesburg added a bit more on to the repair cost not including shipping and Customs Duty. The parts would require two weeks for clearance and delivery and the mechanic promised he could complete the repairs within three days. Not content to stay in the big city, I made arrangements with a local Customs Broker to handle the entire parts delivery process. That in itself took up the better part of a day negotiating all the steps including payment and receipts.
Rather than wait in Kigali we poured over our maps and likeable options over dinner. It was decided that we should rent a car and motor out to explore the Congo Nile Trail. This destination was reputed to be a very special part of the Western Province in Rwanda. I looked forward to this side trip because it would require actual walking and hiking. Admittedly a slower mode of travel, but all the more enjoyable. We were not disappointed. The scenery was spectacular. Rwanda is by far one of the most picturesque and attractive Countries in East Africa. We explored many scenic trails, tea and coffee plantations and took our time capturing what we hoped would be iconic images of the rolling hills and mountains in the distance. We dallied at two of the small towns located near the Lake. We enjoyed an inexpensive boat ride on Lake Kivu. I was stunned to learn that our Captain could not swim, but he wore a floatation device as did all of his passengers. Our total time for this adventure was four days, after which we entered the Nyungwe Forest National Park. The Nyungwe Forest National Park is a very large mountainous rainforest. What a thoroughly delightful place it was. Besides the endless variety of interesting plants and trees, there were entertaining primates and plentiful bird life. We spent another three days in the area attempting not to miss any highlights, but this preserve is so huge we undoubtedly missed more than a few. We used a couple of hotels on the lake’s shore, but we also managed to set up our trail tents on private farms. While hiking the trail the elevations were very high, approaching two thousand meters according to my Garmin watch. The one quality that this Congo Nile Trail provided besides the alluring scenery is a peaceful environment. Solitude and contemplative fascination were abundant. The return drive back to Kigali was relaxing despite being stopped for short periods at Police roadblocks. Our Customs Broker did pitch-up to clear the Land Rover parts, and the mechanic completed his repairs as was promised. Spending the extra money for repairs and devoting the time on this side trip to travel the Congo Nile Trail was kismet at its finest. Lemons to lemonade as they say.