. . . LAND ROVER OVERLAND EXPEDITION

. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
     
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Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02
 

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath

 

Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition

 

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www.KensingtonTours.com

Walking to the Top of Sossusvlei 

 

#3 - Southern Circuit
Jeff Willner - 3 July 2001

(Sossusvlei, NAMIBIA) - Junglerunning is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to find. Driving through the south in a giant loop through; Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe was supposed to be a shakedown trial for the truck and the crew. But on our arrival in Victoria Falls, we found that the Land Rover had been delayed due to a late container ship. Foley Land Rover helped us work out a solution. We would rent a Discovery for a week, drive to Namibia, and from there take our Defender and continue the trip. "There may be some unfinished bits and pieces on the truck", they warned, "the UK shop worked frantically to finish all the customizations and load it on the container and we expected to have it for a week in Vic Falls to do final finish." I told them not to worry. They could do final finish at the end of our southern circuit. I breezily assured them that all would be fine.

Leaving town in the Disco, five of us packed in like sardines, we wound past dry brush and small scrub trees running on a decent paved road. In the countries south of Vic Falls the infrastructure gets better and better and crescendos in a symphony of first-world amenities in Cape Town (in the countries north of Vic Falls the roads crumble into pot-holed, spine jarring endurance tests). Since this was a three-week shakedown to test the truck and the team, a turn into civilization seemed most appropriate.

Three hours into the trip and we met our first obstacle. Two large tour busses full of South African youths returning from Solipse were stubbornly trying to load onto the ferry boat across the Zambezi. Imagine a full size greyhound bus trying to mount a 45 degree steel ramp onto a 20’ wide, timber decked barge. Axles we dragging, the rear bumper ground into the dirt ramp, the barge tipped precariously under the weight of the truck. "Go around, go through Zimbabwe", yelled a frustrated farmer from his Toyota pick-up, "I’ve got to get home". The various tattoed, pierced, and plugged pin heads ignored the distraction, they decided to build a ramp onto the boat from brick scattered around. Whilst it was undeniably interesting to watch the farmer try to jump the queue and be blocked by a human shield of "awesome dudes", the protracted loading of busses and double ferry trip ate up several hours. Finally arriving at the border on the other side, we were confronted by the snaking line of eighty dudes and dudettes all being processed painstakingly slow by Botswana immigration. Entertainment was one thing but we had a convoy to catch! I pretended to be tour guide and walked to the front of the line with all our passports - the farmer watched us disbelievingly from the back of the line as we pulled out of the border post. Never get on the wrong side of the mob (that’s a good rule for New York too).

As the civil war in Angola has flared up over the past two years, rebel raiders have occasionally rampaged across the Caprivi Strip - a narrow band of Namibian territory extending over 200km east between Angola and Botswana. Transiting from the Falls to Etosha game park, the best route is through the Caprivi because it is home to a very nice highway. But tourist use was off sharply due to a few rather unfortunate car jackings and shootings. Funny thing that. To funnel tourists back on the road toward Etosha and the rest of the Namibian spectacles, the government inaugurated twice-daily military escorts at 9am and 3:30pm. We had left in plenty of time to make the 3:30 convoy, but the solipse twits threw us unrecoverably behind. Despite speeding at 150kph and running a game park checkpoint, we arrived at the convoy checkpoint too late. We had to spend a night in the bush and catch the next morning’s run.

Spying a sign for a bush camp we left the road and rumbled through the winding sand track. So sorry, the camp was closed said the caretaker. Sure? He considered for a moment, well we have no food but I can open two huts and make a fire for you for $Namibian 700. Too much, we’ll only pay $N300. Done! (Jeez, he agreed too quickly. I could have done a lot better on that negotiation.) We were in the middle of nowhere with the stars carpeted above us, shivering in the early evening chill, with animal noises all around. It was a fine evening. Sitting around a little fire on plastic chairs sharing a meager dinner of baked beans, Pringles, beef jerky, and mango juice.

Getting back on the road forces you to adjust your rhythm. Up early and stumble to a hot/cool/freezing shower in whichever nameless hostel/campground you happen to be in, apologize to the other occupants of the dorm room for snoring like a banshee, eat a greasy English Breakfast, fill up on diesel, and then drive off to see the most amazing sights of your life. But even the spectacular can get old after awhile and this was my third visit through the southern circuit. As we went from one spectacular sight to another, I gave the tour guide spiel, "On your left Etosha game park, one of the largest salt pans in the world with massive concentrations of wild animals that cluster around watering holes. To your right Cape Cross, a seal colony with hundreds of thousands of sleeping, grunting, swimming, nursing seals, feeding off the fish rich Benguela current that sweeps up southern Africa’s west coast. Ahead is Swakopmund, a quaint town with architecture dating back to the German colonization, wonderful bakeries and some of the world’s tallest sand dunes - please keep your arms and legs tucked in while tobogganing down the hills on your sand board at 80kph." Despite the routine, it was nice to be back. Namibia offers the best value for money in Africa, spectacular sights, animals, hospitality - it is one of my favorite countries.

Finally the big day. We arrived in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia on June 30th eager to take possession of the expedition Land Rover. Delayed by two weeks in shipping, Foley Land Rover allowed us to take it straight from the container, with the understanding that they would do a final finish back in Zambia at the end of the two weeks. Sure enough, there was a list of a dozen minor things right off, but the next day when we left I was definitely not prepared to lose the gearbox 5 min down the road! Nursing the truck slowly back to the hostel on the one gear that worked (3rd) I called long distance to Foley’s in Zambia.

"Paul, *&@#% and then with the thing and the other thing and then it didn’t work. "Riiight, that sounds like the grub screw has come loose in the gear lever housing. It’s rare, seldom ever happens, amazing bad luck to have that right at the start of the trip. Put it right and we’ll pick up the bill." Amazing. Accurate long distance troubleshooting - another reason Foley is the best Land Rover shop in Africa.

Sunrise at Sossusvlei Camp Finding competent Land Rover mechanics at any time can be a challenge, but in Africa, on a Sunday, save that good luck for a lottery ticket. Fortunately we were at a hostel with a large video library and there was a decent Chinese restaurant that delivered - 5 movies later with our brains fried we stumbled off to bed. "Dude!" "Sweet!" It took a day and a half, and some fast talking to jump to the font of the queue at the best Land Rover shop in Windhoek (there are a few things in life you should never scrimp on, an excellent lawyer, an excellent accountant, and always go with the Land Rover mechanic who is over 50 with all his fingers) but they were finally able to recover the little transmission pin and lock-seal it back into place.

By 6pm we were re-packed and being well behind schedule decided to do a night drive into the desert. Shortly after dark I added High Beam Lights to the list of things to be fixed. It is genetically impossible for me to drive slowly and fortunately the passengers didn’t mind. We slid and did four wheel drifts across the gravel roads, the desert cold seeping into the cab making us shivery. Full moon. Scrub trees stood leafless in the African winter night like white skeletons, erased, suddenly, by our dust plume. Driving at night is a nervy exercise in Africa, but doing it around narrow mountain passes with only low beams, diving deeper and deeper into the barren desert, was a test of will - the urge to stop at some safe haven is high, never mind the resort cost. But we swept on till finally, after midnight, we arrived at the Sesriem park gates. "Closed at Sunset" read the sign. That’s why we have the roof tent and interior sleeping platform! We pitched camp on the dusty shoulder of the park road, Devy, Jody, a nd Sally in the roof tent, Rob inside the truck, and me on an air mattress and tarp on the desert floor. Finally snug inside the bag, I figured I would have the most spectacular view of the desert dawn - and I would have, except that I’d put my bag directly underneath the only power line in a thousand kilometers. No matter. Four hours later I had a spectacular (though bisected) view of the sunrise washing the desert hills in pink and red.

Driving through the park the next morning was awe inspiring. Dunes rising majestically, hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet in the air, undulating in wind shaped curves far into the horizon, dwarfing us in the truck. We scrambled to the top of Sossusvlei, the largest sand dune in the world, and sat to absorb the view. Rob nodded toward the sea of sand stretching into the horizon and said quite thoughtfully, "I realize now that it would be a real challenge to walk through a desert." Thinking that he had a profound insight on distance, time, or the metaphysical aspect of combining an urban existence with nature’s desolation, I turned to him, "What do you mean?" He paused, "Lack of water", and then grinned. We tore off the dune running straight down the dune face in a welter of sand, carving huge arcs down the steep slope, German tourists climbing up exclaimed "Mein Gott! Wunderbar!" Sometimes the best moments aren’t profound at all, they’re just ridiculous fun. 

 

Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com