A few weeks back Alex asked if I’d be interested in being a guest writer for Dirt Road Trip. Obviously, I said yes. I thought, great, this should be fairly easy. All I have to do is write about myself, my rig(s), Zimbo, and how or when I first got into overlanding. But as I thought about it more and more the greater level of difficulty it became for me to write, to flow, to let ‘er rip! When did I really fall in love with overlanding? Well, I think I finally found the answer.
You see, as I’ve gotten older I have discovered that my adventure spirit comes from those who came before me, namely my father. As a young boy growing up in Peru, during the terror campaigns of the Shining Path, wherever the US Embassy said was off limits is exactly where my father wanted to explore. We traversed gut wrenching switchbacks through the Andes mountains, camped alongside river bends while hearing gun shots ripping through villages, and most memorably, jumping out of the back of a Toyota pick-up because there was no way in hell I was riding across an active land slide. So once I graduated from the vulnerabilities of being in my father’s care, I soon began creating my own adventures, which continue to push the limits.
Admittedly, while in high school and college, I was a VW GTI kind-of-guy. When I got my first “real job” after college I purchased a Nissan 350Z (traded in a ’91 Ford Ranger). But after my first assignment in Equatorial Guinea (the only Spanish speaking country in Africa), I was reminded that fourby’s are the only way to go. Quickly after my assignment in Malabo I was shipped off to Afghanistan. I’ll save the details of living in Kabul and Jalalabad as I’m sure you’ve heard enough of it already from friends, family and the news. After Afghanistan I was assigned to my dream post. Zimbabwe! I had always wanted to live and work in Southern Africa.
While living in Zimbabwe I purchased a ’97 Mitsubishi Pajero Turbo Diesel. I loved the look and feel of riding in that vehicle. It always felt like I was on a safari, no matter where I was or where I was going. The only trouble was, it was a complete lemon. Nevertheless, the Pajero took me to some great sites, including Mana Pools, Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls, and Mozambique to name a few. The Pajero also gave me one of the scariest moments of my life.
On the second day of a two week overland to northern Mozambique from Harare, Zimbabwe, the Pajero broke down in the middle of nowhere. The repairs set me and my then fiancé back by a good 4 hours of driving. Before I left Zimbabwe all of my work colleagues and friends had told me, “Vince, whatever you do, don’t drive at night”. On this particular day, nightfall was around 4 hours away and we still had a good 6-8 hours of driving. After consulting with my then fiancé we decided to hit the road instead of finding a make-shift hotel where we had broken down. The thing about driving in Africa, and most developing continents or countries around the world, is you never know what’s going to happen.
The day was December 23rd, 2011. We had driven another 3-4 hours from where we had broken down and the sun was already setting. I discovered that I did not have sufficient local currency to fill the Pajero’s gas tank and we were about 120 kilometers from our final destination of Nampula, Mozambique. I pulled over at the next gas station, looked at my then fiancé and tried to convince her it would be best if we stayed put and completed the remaining 120 kilometers in the morning. We had already been on the road for 12 hours. However, she insisted we keep going. So I convinced the Portuguese speaking gas attendant to put a little extra in the tank free of charge and we were on our way. At this time it was about 7:30-8:00 pm. My high beams were on and I was doing about 5-10 kilometers below the maximum speed of 100 kilometers, when all of a sudden, as I came around a bend, there was a gentleman walking aimlessly in the middle of my lane. In a split second three options flashed through my brain: 1) I can hit the guy dead on and instantly kill him and seriously injure me and my then fiancé; 2) I can try to avoid the guy entirely and risk flipping the car and possibly killing me and my then fiancé but sparing the life of the guy; or, 3) I can minimize the impact to him and us. I chose the last option. But unfortunately, the guy didn’t survive. He was killed on the spot.
For 2 hours me and my then fiancé drove in panic, in the middle of the night, trying to figure out what our best move was. I didn’t stop to check on the guy I hit. If I had, a crowd would have formed and I would have likely been beaten to death, and who knows what would have happened to my then fiancé. Luckily we made it to the hotel safe and sound, despite driving through 3 police check points. Needless to say, my life flashed before my eyes as I had no idea what events would transpire after that night, especially in a country, and a continent, where the rule of law can be arbitrarily applied. Sparing all of the details of the following days, me and my then fiancé continued on with our “vacation”, but it would end in us splitting apart a couple of months later. And, oh, the lawyer who helped me through all of this, once everything was said and done, pulled me aside and said, “You made the best decision of your life by not stopping. You would have been killed”.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of my guest entries. They promise to be more uplifting and inspiring!