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A journey's end

2006-08-04 15:31

Timbuktu challenge complete

The numbers say it all - four 4x4 Toyotas, 12 countries, 62 days, a combined mileage of 64 160km and zero mechanical problems.

That's the good news story of the pioneering Timbuktu-Table Mountain Expedition which celebrated its homecoming in grand style on Cape Town's Table Mountain at the end of a remarkable trans-African odyssey that threw up every imaginable challenge.

The crew of nine South African adventurers - travelling in two Toyota Fortuners and two Land Cruiser pickups - encountered every imaginable road condition against dramatic African landscapes varying from sweltering Saharan desert to equatorial rainforests, with temperatures peaking at 50° on the way to Timbuktu and plummeting to zero as they returned to a South Africa shivering in an icy cold snap.

Challenges included navigating a deep sand route normally only traversed by camels after getting hopelessly lost near the mystical Malian town of Timbuktu, escaping from a blockade of angry truckers protesting against toll fees on an appalling dirt road, travelling through bandit country in Cameroon with heavily armed police and army escort, and braving some of Africa's most atrocious roads and tracks.

"We knew the expedition would be a gigantic adventure and tried to plan for every eventuality," expedition leader Geoff Dalglish said.

"What astounded us all was the effortlessness with which the Toyotas, and especially the new South African-built Fortuners, coped with scorching conditions and roads that had no right to be called as such," he said.

"One of our greatest fears was being mired in the quagmire that some tracks become in the rainy season in Congo, DRC, Cameroon, Gabon and Angola but Sahara sandstorms and choking dust clouds proved the bigger threat, reducing visibility to a couple of car lengths at times," Dalglish added.

"Because the Fortuner was brand new on the market and not yet available in any of the countries we were travelling through, we carried spares like shock absorbers and radiator hoses, but never needed them, with no mechanical problems whatsoever," he said.

"Obviously we expected the Land Cruisers to live up to their unrivalled reputation for toughness and reliability and were never disappointed," Dalglish said.

What the team did have to contend with was some aftermarket accessories that broke and required re-welding from the continuous pounding, and three mysterious blow-outs on good tar roads early in the expedition.

As a safety precaution, the tyres, which were Kevlar-reinforced Paris-Dakar competition versions, were discarded and replaced with normal all-terrain tyres that performed faultlessly.

The tally at the end of the trip was one tyre punctured by a large nail and another removed as a precaution after it had been penetrated by a number of needle-sharp thorns on an off-road section through the Sahara.

Technician Colin Brown said the cars had enjoyed routine maintenance and servicing at major Toyota centres along the route, while he had regularly cleaned the air filters and performed spanner checks to ensure that nuts and bolts remained tight.

Former Camel trophy hero Johan Goosen, who was responsible for the GPS mapping and navigation, admitted sheepishly at the finish on Table Mountain that the small dent in the fender of his Fortuner (nicknamed Goose) was the only body damage sustained and was the result of a rock hurled at a troop of invading baboons.

No less embarrassing was a minor bumper bashing between the two Land Cruisers while trying to overtake a logging truck on a narrow track in heavy dust in Cameroon, but the damage was confined to a slightly dented rear canopy with the bumpers and bullbars harmlessly absorbing most of the impact.

Expedition leader Dalglish said, "Angola was one of the most pleasant surprises despite the need never to stray off the road in certain high-risk landmine areas, with our makeshift bush and beach camps providing wonderful views of starry night skies after so many weeks characterised by dust where blue skies and stars were a rarity."

"Possibly the greatest challenge was for all the team to get along while exhausted and suffering the stresses of long hours on the road almost every day. But they rose to the challenge magnificently," he said.

"There was also the need at times to negotiate a minefield of bureaucracy that makes the west side of Africa less tourist-friendly than the more travelled eastern side," Dalglish added.

But team member Adelle Horler was quick to point out, "The expedition became known as the South African Friendship Safari and almost everywhere along the way we were met by kindness and friendly officials. Again and again the sentiment was echoed: 'You are very welcome', and 'Please enjoy your visit'.

"Where we did encounter obstacles, such as at the Congo and DRC borders, we were assisted by South African officials who were a huge credit to their embassies and high commissions, enthusiastically supporting what they saw as an important international tourism initiative," said Horler.

"It was a remarkable opportunity for a group of South Africans to meet people from places and cultures so different to our own, celebrating the continent's incredible diversity," said Dalglish.

"Hopefully it will lead to more contact between our various countries, also encouraging responsible 4x4 overlanders to expand their horizons," he said.

The verdict of the team, which included resident doctor Pankil Patel and paramedic Hugh Price-Hughes, is that there are wonderful tourism opportunities which could create much-needed employment, among them visits to wildlife parks like Loango National Park in Gabon, which is famous for its surfing hippos and buffaloes and elephants on the beach.

"For some of us it was a life-changing opportunity and we are blessed to have been part of the adventure, owing a huge debt of thanks to sponsors Toyota South Africa, 4x4 MegaWorld and African Outback Products (vehicle and camping accessories), Pertec International (satellite phones), Garmin (GPS's), African Stuff (satellite location systems), Datashuttle (data storage devices) and Toshiba (computers)."

Would the team willingly attempt the expedition again? "Tomorrow! But with more time to savour some of the amazing places along the way."

The Toyota-sponsored expedition is being televised as an eight-part travel series, presented by well-known TV personality Saami Sabiti, and his wife Melony, on SABC3 starting in September.

Visit www.toyota.co.za and the Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log for updates and photos at http://blogspace.mweb.co.za


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