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Toyota joins the Timbuktu legend

2006-05-31 11:57

Setting out - the Fortuners lead the Land Cruisers

More than two months later the Toyota convoy of two new Fortuners and two Land Cruiser pickups is due to complete their trans-African journey of discovery with a homecoming on Cape Town's Table Mountain on July 26.

The entire expedition will be televised as an eight-part travel series, presented by well-known TV personality Saami Sabiti, on TV3 starting in September.

In between Timbuktu and Table Mountain the Toyota-sponsored adventure will celebrate Africa's scenic magnificence, cultural diversity and rich historical legacy, exploring an ever-changing landscape that includes vast tracts of the Sahara Desert, dramatic mountain ranges and lush equatorial rainforests that are home to some of the world's most prized wildlife species, among them chimpanzees and gorillas.

Contrasts in climate and weather promise to be no less spectacular: the Toyotas are expected to endure conditions ranging from scorching sunshine and the dry, searing Harmattan desert winds that generate million tons of blinding Saharan dust each year, to the unrelenting rains that make Mount Cameroon the second wettest place on Earth.

Cultural highlights will be equally varied and include a visit to mystical Timbuktu, the ancient Malian centre of learning that was once regarded as the most remote and inaccessible place in the world.

Today Timbuktu, or Tombouctou as it is also known, is the scene of a major restoration project endorsed by South African president Thabo Mbeki to preserve and display the centuries-old Arabic and African manuscripts that are a part of all of humanity's intellectual heritage.

Here the expedition team, which includes an SABC television crew, will not only spotlight Malian tourism highlights like the remarkable Dogon cliff villages and Djenne Mosque that is Africa's largest mud building, but gain first-hand experience of Mbeki's South African Mali Project which has the energetic support of Toyota South Africa.

Preserving history

The project is training locals in the art of preserving the precious scrolls, raising funds and providing the expertise for the rebuilding and extension of a library and museum as a repository of ancient knowledge.

The team is also anxious to promote tourism opportunities in West and Central Africa with an itinerary that hopefully will include a sighting of Gabon's famous surfing hippos and possibly elephant herds on the pristine beaches of Loango National Park.

The Timbuktu-Table Mountain team will visit Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Cabinda, DRC, Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

"It is 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," says expedition leader Geoff Dalglish.

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

"Our own team is also a microcosm of South Africa's rainbow nation with participants from all walks of life, but united by a common sense of adventure and passion for Africa."

A major highlight, he believes, will be a homecoming to Africa?s southern tip which is the birthplace of humanity and a powerful magnet that draws people from around the world to discover their roots.

"I believe that after two months on the road, mostly sleeping in the Toyota's rooftop tents, we'll be travel-weary but exhilarated, and really looking forward to the sight of Table Mountain, which ranks with Kilimanjaro and the Pyramids as one of Africa's greatest tourism icons.

"Former President Nelson Mandela summed up the awesome appeal of the mountain chain when he insisted: 'It is a sacred and special place...'

"Over centuries the mountain has stood as a symbol of human capacity for hope and freedom, whether for the Khoikhoi tribes fighting colonial domination, for Indonesian and Malaysian slaves who for generations buried their leaders and holy men on its slopes, or for 20th Century political prisoners.

"To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return."

A homecoming is planned on the Back Table of Table Mountain National Park, with the team keen to hike parts of the newly opened Hoerikwaggo Hiking Trails that are expected to expand Cape Town's appeal to thousands of local and international tourists.


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