The Road Ahead… (The Lake Turkana Road Part I)

Back at home when we were planning this trip, I would occasionally be asked which parts I was most worried about. I would reply Sudan or Northern Kenya, Somaliland having been a late spontaneous diversion. My worries were mainly based on a lack of knowledge about what things were like on the ground in these places, and the true risks of driving through them. The reason we didn’t know much about them is because there just aren’t that many people visiting these places and writing about them. As it turns out Sudan was one of the best experiences of the trip, safe and friendly, and Somaliland one of the most exhilarating (although with enough anti British sentiment to justify my concerns!). The third and final ‘scare’ was to come in Kenya…

The crossing into Kenya from Ethiopia is renowned for being remote, difficult, and dangerous. The traditional route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi runs through hundreds of kilometres of Ethiopian lowland before the lush fields give way to desert mountains. Here, in the forgotten north of Kenya lies a barren wasteland populated only by nomads, bandits, and the occasional traveller. This is the section that has really had me worrying; over a thousand kilometres, with multiple reports of robbery and murder, with two Brits and two French overlanders having been shot here in 2009. We also had in the back of our minds the knowledge that we have an old car, and over such a distance a major problem could develop which we might not be able to solve. Staying in one place to fix the car in this sort of territory didn’t sound like something we wanted to do. Unfortunately this part of the trip was entirely compulsory: there was no alternative if we wanted to continue driving south.

Planning the road ahead (Photo: RWH)

Planning the road ahead (Photo: RWH)

There were two options. First, the road through Moyale, which is the ‘official’ crossing and regarded as a risky and uninspiring route with apparently endless corrugations. These are infernal waves that arise on unsealed roads that make you feel as though your very teeth will be shaken out. If hit at their fundamental frequency (which happens all too often), the car will protest loudly, refuse you the privilege of steering, and ultimately shake its self to bits. Until recently, tagging on to an army convoy was compulsory along this route.

Second is the Lake Turkana road, which runs through the tribal lands of the famous Omo valley and down the east coast of this great lake, through the beautiful Siboloi national park and past Dr Richard Leakey’s Homo Erectus footprints. Think The Constant Gardner. Sounds far more appealing, except in reality it is more of a vague track comprised of deep sand, sharp igneous rock, and multiple river crossings which can easily rise to leave you stranded half way down if the rains hit. Fortunately we had a full 5 days before the storms were meant to arrive… There are also reports of a significant Al Qadea presence on the opposite side of the (admittedly huge) lake. This road is much less travelled, and as such it would involve a bit of a leap of faith.

As budding anthropologists and connoisseurs of human folly, we decided to opt for the latter option. Naivety played its part as we assumed that a single day of rest after our whirlwind Somaliland tour would refresh us for the coming passage. We set off after sad fare-thee-wells to our dear friend Bob*, the British cyclist we had met in the Sudan, and Colin, a French reggae saxophonist whose appearance is not unlike John Lennon, and whose hospitality we can confirm to be excellent.

The mountains retreated as we wound our way south, as did the tarmac. Good roads lasted as far as Arba Minch, a picturesque market town happily situated overlooking lakes Abaya and Chamo, and home to a significant American Airforce base. Here we forgot our worries for a few hours as we supped cold beers (the gloriously named St George) and watched the monkeys pull the outside of the Landie apart.

Contented monkey/accomplished breakfast thief (Photo: RWH)

Contented monkey/accomplished breakfast thief (Photo: RWH)

A chance meeting in Addis had put us in touch with an Australian surgeon, who had lived and worked in Ethiopia for over thirty years. We postponed our onward journey and spent an enjoyable morning accompanying him on his daily ward round, which seemed in the main to consist of abdominal examination with his walking stick, and cajoling male nurses by way of headlocks and Dutch rubs. It made me think what it would be like to spend a whole career in an isolated African hospital. Lonely, would be my first thought, quickly followed by isolating. Infrastructure just doesn’t allow easy access to the outside world here, although the internet and mobile phones are helping. As friendly and all consuming life here would be, cultural differences are so vast that it would surely be many years before one felt truly at home here. It takes a certain type of person to manage that, and looking at this man laughing and jostling with the patients, I felt a sudden rush of respect. I wondered if I could ever be that person.

We were five days drive down the Omo valley, and approaching the border town of Omorate when I jumped down from the Landie to get some phone credit from the village store. This haphazard assembly of wood and sacking toted the village’s only light bulb, which swung cheerfully from its bare wires, sparking occasionally, as if to remind the observer of the exotic nature of its power source. I retrieved the credit from through the metal grating (a security device preventing you from swiping the three Coke bottles or twelve bars of soap that populated the store’s sorry shelves) and turned back, only to find my way blocked. Under that grubby light I could just make out traditional tartan and a kaleidoscope of beads tumbling over bare breasts. My gaze shifted upwards to note the drooping ear lobes and prominent lip ring of a Morsi tribeswoman.  She swept past me, producing her HTC smartphone from the depths of her garb and brandishing it at the shop attendant who picked up another card just like the one I held in my white, western hand, and pushed it through the grate. I returned to the car, feeling all at once like I was a very long way from home, clutching my ten year old Nokia and thinking it odd to hold such a 21st century errand in common with such a lady.

We were invited to spend an evening with a family from the Hamer tribe, who are famed for their traditional lifestyle and muddy dreadlocks. Luckily the son of our hosts was able to guide us to the village; we picked our way through kilometres of bush, avoiding mud holes and camel thorn. Motor vehicles just aren’t a feature here, so we had to make up our own way to the village. We were warmly welcomed into the settlement, a rough collection of traditional huts ring-fenced by viciously barbed wooden fences (everything in Africa has spikes). Our first glimpse of host family was of a dozen naked children of varying sizes playing amongst the goats, and the two wives of the head of the family sitting either side of the threshold, one nursing, one threading beads. We spent a memorable evening cooking and working out ways to communicate.

Omo Valley and Lake Turkana (2)

Hamar wife nursing the latest arrival into the family (Photo: RWH)

Our conversations drifted lazily. We discussed the health giving properties of drinking cow blood (particularly good mixed with milk, apparently), and the recent losses and gains of each tribe. The merits of each breed of goat were explained, as were the turns of fortune that were heralded in the stars. Our chatter continued, until the head of the family, a wizened, wispy man asked us what we thought of the men who could kill from the sky. We approached the subject from as many different directions as we could, given the limited vocabulary of our translator, before we realised he was talking about the drones that frequently flew nearby from the Arba Minch base to Somalia. It struck us how strange a worry this was for the chap to have, given how many other more apparent troubles he had to worry about; the state of the crops, the arrival of the rains, or the threat of neighbouring tribes. We imagined him sitting at the door of his mud hut at night, watching the lights of the drones overhead, and wondered at how else the outside world affects even this apparently isolated tribe. We tried as best we could to explain the intentions of these men from across the sea who possessed this secret of flight. His blind, amber eyes fixed on us in turn as we spoke, but here under the African sky the motives and justifications seemed peculiar and distant, and we struggled to convey the ethos of the Americans to this man, a true elder.

Dario indulging curiosity (Photo: RWH)

Dario indulging curiosity (Photo: RWH)

We awoke with the sun, as it rent apart the sky in spectacular crimson. The boys were already gone with the goats to the watering hole. The wives were digging the vegetables. It was time to turn south, towards Kenya, and trouble.

*It is only in the last few days that we have heard from Bob. Given that he left Addis on the 3rd March, we were getting pretty worried. All we know is that he has made it safely through to Nairobi. You will soon be able to read about his experience here.

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Guest Post: Megan’s Ethiopian Experience

It was a slightly drunken promise but none the less it was an invitation to Africa. Taking advantage of an absent boss, stretching one weeks leave into two and just enough time to get jabbed, insured and booted. I was off to Ethiopia to meet the ramshackle doctors on their travels.

When I met them in Gondar it was the height of Timkat and the Festival of St Michael and they, along with the rest of the Ethiopians, were relishing the fact they could booze; a month or so in Sudan had apparently left them pretty thirsty. So minus a rucksack and two days late I was hugged by a mightily moustached Rich, a hung-over Baz who’d just found his recently pickpocketed passport and an in-and-out of consciousness Dan, sweating away in a tiny tent while affectionately being injected at regular intervals. We were camping in a grove where lovebirds chattered above, the sound of the festival was everywhere and all we had was water from the well…

What an introduction, the Ethiopian Orthodox epiphany, where clerics and priests paraded, carrying enormous brass crosses, walking on carpets that are laid out in front of them and rolled up behind them as they passed. Where the girls tried to out do each other with amazing hair styles; three domes, big ‘fros or braids like tiaras over their foreheads, and where sewing white buttons on your shirt, skirts and hat seems to be a status symbol of sorts. Everyone was in the streets, floats depicting bible stories and groups chanting, clapping, singing and stick waving, bounding up the street in what to me seemed like unimaginable heat.

Beautiful umbrellas, coffee that stretched your eyeballs, goats running riot, amazing birdlife and the beginning of a fried donut diet had started and all with people who’d left the UK months before. As an outsider from the core trio the Land Rover had become their home and as with any English or Welsh man it certainly was their castle. For me it was a holiday, two weeks to see, taste and walk things never seen before but for the Drs it was life, daily life in a different place every day, with always a bigger task at hand, not merely exploring but surviving and progressing towards Cape Town.

Sleeping on wooden boards in the back of the Landy, seeing the African Cup on the big screen – Ethiopia drew with Zambia! Visiting Gondar’s castle and experiencing some awesome Ethiopian shoulder dancing – a pretty tricky dance move that feels a lot like a parading cockerel – and then off, heading towards the mountains!

The Simien Mountains, worn by rivers the drops are enormous, huge plateaus between Jurassic looking mountains with level square summits unlike our European pointy peaks. Eagles flew overhead as we happily picked up our scout complete with AKA and trundled an hour and a half in the wrong direction. I will let Rich explain the intricacies of the punctures but needless to say with a woman on board the Landy started to sink, repeatedly, destroying many inner tubes and one tyre in spectacular fashion.

Following a long day in the mountains, where five of us had been squashed in the land rover (3 in the party cabin, drives, navs and DJ), we had a bit of poetry, some warm beer and more stories of Bob’s bicycle travels. Joining up with the Swiss in the mountains for a starlit camp, peanut rice, guitar and harmonica twiddling and while our scout bundled himself under a bush for the night we had the luxury of a camp and early rise to watch the sun come over the valley.

Sunrise over the Simiens (Photo: Megan Adams)

Sunrise over the Simiens (Photo: Megan Adams)

It gets pretty chilly in the mountains, and during a bit of an adventure Baz, myself and Rob ended up at 3800 meters with no coats, money or blankets for the night. Jaw dropingly beautiful we were on a ridge of mountains overlooking Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s highest peak, amongst talkative ravens, campfire food we couldn’t afford and a sunset highlighting the harvest on the plateau below. Raiding the Swiss’ 4×4 we whiled the evening away listening to interesting techno and exploiting their car heating and

meeting some other Cornish adventurers.

One advantage of travelling in a land rover and sporting excessive facial hair is that word of the Drs travels seemed to be preceding them, specifically through Chris an ex-pat who hadn’t left Africa for the last 5 years. Setting up accommodation, slap-up meals and interesting people to meet along the way Chris paved the way for 3 nights free accommodation on the chilled out shores of Lake Tana in Bahir Dar. More wheel fixing, puncher repairing, an amazing market and trip out onto the lake with pelicans nonchalantly rising over our boat, we saw incredibly beautifully painted monasteri

es, updated to include gun wielding prophets and fire enveloped devils.

Rambling Streets (Photo: Megan Adams)

Rambling Streets (Photo: Megan Adams)

I turned the ripe old age of 27 and it was time for a singsong, bringing the Perraners to Ethiopia with shanties by candlelight and a spot of gin with malaria fighting tonic.

I won’t hog all the stories as we travelled onwards on a whistle stop tour to one of Ethiopia’s ‘must see highlights’ Lalibela. A few more bedbugs, stale bread and expedition marmalade helped us along our way as we viewed the largest rock hewn church in the world. Not wanting to build upwards Lalibela is famous for its churches carved down into the rock, so their roofs are at ground level and you descend in through Indiana Jones style tunnels, steps and nifty alleyways. It was hot, it was dusty and they’d just put the price up to European standards but you can’t really say no to the enormous St George’s cross church hewn into a hill and the cave like rooms where services were going on; humming with people, chanting, drums and frankincense.

Despite our haste, we were still miles from Addis Ababa. They were having none of me travelling back to the capital without them so two days solid driving ensued through beautiful plains with African cattle, round huts and seas of green teff following along the rivers. We even crept away from civilisation for a sneaky hillside camp, lit only by one head-torch to avoid discovery, it was the most incredible starlit night I have ever seen, from the southern cross to the plough and the sharpest camel thorns I’ve ever had the misfortune to stand on.

Then on to Addis and a cosmopolitan change, for the first hot shower of the fortnight and a bit more Italian inspired cuisine. The Orthodox Ethiopians have a lot of fasting, apparently to calm the high spirited highlanders and while no meat or fish twice a week was a bonus for vegi me, some may agree when choosing between spaghetti or traditional injera (fermented flour pancake), there may have been some advantages of the Italian invasions in the past.

So enough of my ramblings, back in the UK for over a month the memory of the Landy and the bruises she inflicted seems too far away. Amazing, green, bouncy, dusty, hot, birdy, surrounding, bloody inquisitive, pen-demanding Ethiopia!

Megan Adams

Honesty and Integrity (of doors)

Rudely awakened by the burning sun, we pressed on. We watched the kilometres slide past, the landscape intermittently punctuated by ancient pyramids. Even with a solid road it took three full days to cross the desert, North to South. We arrived into central Khartoum almost unexpectedly. In the dead of night the suburbs gave way to the deserted streets, ramshackle buildings, and clouds of swirling rubbish of the city centre. We were exhausted and underfed, which are sensations never conducive to a positive state of mind. We went to bed with our hackles up, worrying about our car on the street outside.

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Ancient pyramids rise out of the Sudanese desert. (Photo: RWH)

Until now our experiences in Sudan had been universally positive. In fact, we had relaxed more in this country than any other since Greece. More than once we had been lax. On the first such occasion, a member of the team who shall remain nameless (Rich) managed to leave the ‘People’s Folder’ containing three passports, carnet de passage, US dollars, immigration documents, and generally everything we hold dear in a market stall in northern Sudan. On the second such occasion, a member of the team who shall remain nameless (Rich) managed to leave the ‘People’s Toolbox’ by the car on a busy street. On all such occasions we had had our missing items returned to us within hours, or frantically retraced our steps only to find our precious belongings in the grinning hands of the stall owner, with offers of tea and chewing tobacco (generous, but sadly a futile offer in the case of the latter!). Our arrival to Khartoum in such a state sowed the seeds of doubt in our minds, and we wondered if all the doubtful looks and raised eyebrows when we mentioned Sudan in conversation at home had been justified.

We were pleasantly surprised when we awoke in the morning. Bustling and colourful, the streets had transformed into a melee of trade and commerce which felt positively relaxed after the ruckus of central Cairo. We breathed a sigh of relief and went about our business feeling safe and welcomed. We were up and on a mission: car repairs. After a small fiasco where our GPS entertained the belief that it resided in Mali, we made our way to the industrial car area. Here shacks baring the emblems of every car manufacturer imaginable tripped over each other into the compacted earth street. Cannibalised skeletons lined the roads, their stripped chasses serving as benches for overall clad mechanics methodically putting the world to rights over chai. A donkey passed, pulling a cart piled high with modern plastic car body panels, the cart its self supported by a Land Rover Series II axle with hand-made wooden wheels. Nothing is wasted in this country.

After much well-meaning small talk, we found Abdullah, an angle grinder enthusiast with hands made of elephant hide, who happened to also have talents in the area of bodywork reconstruction. Explaining to him the concept of repairing significant portions of our rotten bulkhead required two rounds of incredulously sweet tea, three separate interpreters, much pointing, and most of the morning. It requires a hearty amount of trust, desperation, or perhaps stupidity to let an overly zealous Sudanese man with a blowtorch anywhere near your belov’d Land Rover, even if it does look like a rusty shack. We sat in the sun for two nail-biting days, watching Abdullah slowly reconstruct the wounds he had inflicted on the car, affirming the faith that we had placed in him as he did so.

Landy Patching (Photo: RWH)

Landy Patching (Photo: RWH)

Our doors were giving up the ghost, and even our complex system of plywood, brackets, and bolts was struggling to hold them together. We found an old Land Rover in the back of a garage who had sadly passed on, and with Abdullah’s help negotiated the salvage of her two back doors. Rust doesn’t exist as a concept here, and they were solid. A further days work saw them hanging proudly on our steed, brightly discordant but gloriously unyielding to rain or rascal.

We were invited to stay with three young employees of the French Embassy in Khartoum. Manicured gardens and tasteful buildings lined the streets of the expat district, and we felt uncouth as we growled our way towards their house in our newly piebald monster. We were ushered into a cool, spacious flat with soft accents and a hint of perfumes long forgotten. We had stepped into a world of saussison, rich chocolate, and Pastice. Conversation was animated, company excellent, and accommodation luxurious. We couldn’t believe our luck.

The expatriate scene in Khartoum turned out to be a close-knit international community. Given Sudan’s political instability, the majority are young workers without families. Alcohol is strictly illegal in Sudan, with the disobedient facing fourty lashes* as punishment. However, a strange agreement exists where embassies arrange regular imports of liqueur for their employees while the authorities look the other way. These two factors results in a strange and vibrant social scene which harks back to the era of American prohibition. The gatherings are highly lubricated, all the more fun because they are forbidden.

Despite the fact we have managed to talk our way across two of the hardest borders of our trip with only half a vehicle identification plate and no chassis number, our apprehension grows that at some point we may encounter a competent border guard. As such, we spent a memorable morning hunting out the shadier car mechanics in Khartoum and trying to persuade them to engrave our car. We were surprised at their absolute refusal. Residents seem to be terrified of the government’s retribution here, giving the country a very safe yet slightly stifled feel. After much hushed discussion we recruited a local chap and set off in a tuk tuk in search of our own equipment. We eventually found a set of roman stamps imported from Germany. We would have to do it ourselves, and soon, before Ethiopia.

*Interestingly the original Aramaic words for ‘fourty’ and ‘many’ were the same, leaving this particular punishment open to interpretation.

The Road to Khartoum

It was with nervous excitement that we made our way from the village of Wadi Halfa, Sudan’s northern frontier town to the port, although we had come to the conclusion that this was a rather grand title for what was in fact a single jetty and crumbling customs building. Wedged into the back of a tuk tuk we watched Africa’s biggest man-made expanse of water consume the visible horizon as we approached. I tried to imagine what the ancient kingdom of Nubia, long drowned by Nasser and his controversial Aswan dam, would have looked like. Suddenly I understood the sadness of these people. Their heyday more than two millennia past, the Nubians were more recently divided by the arbitrarily drawn international border of Egypt and Sudan, and then drowned by Egypt’s developmental progress. The strength of identity both sides of the border had surprised us, and reminded me of my home and the fight to maintain the Welsh culture and language.

Thankfully the soft sand only causes a brief hitch in the desert! (Photo: RWH)

Thankfully the soft sand only causes a brief hitch in the desert! (Photo: RWH)

In the distance we could see the two cars perched atop a rusty barge, barely visible under a huge mound of assorted goods covering every inch of the deck. My Swiss companion and I perspired our way down the jetty after much prevarication and tea drinking in the customs building. We slowly cooked in the early morning sun while the mountain of fragile wares covering our cars was unloaded by a squadron of unconcerned jumper-wearing locals. Eventually we were called upon to unload our cars. There was much frantic gesticulation and as we teetered our cars precariously down narrow metal ramps several meters above the water. A score of Arabs yelling passionate directions and waving limbs only served to make things worse. Wheel by wheel, we crept to safety. The rotten concrete of the jetty moved an impossibly large amount as the barge was slammed against it by the chop, yet it felt solid and secure to us.

Departure was a joy. We had read many accounts of the treacherous and difficult road through the 1,000 km of Nubian desert to Khartoum. There were historical reports of travellers perishing having strayed miles off the supposed route and becoming stranded in soft sand. We were almost disappointed to find a perfect strip of newly laid tarmac leading us south, another African highway transformed thanks to the Chinese. We soon consoled ourselves however, remembering the challenges of desert driving, and how they are wonderfully satisfying to tackle when optional. Driving in convoy with the Swiss for the first time, we drifted past terracotta dunes, gravel plateaus, jagged hills, and towering stacks of jet black rock. Steering was an intermittent occupation for the driver, required only to avoid the odd donkey and cart. Occasional puffs of diesel smoke on the horizon gave testament to the seekers of the rich resources of the desert, where gold, gypsum, and a whole host of other treasures lie in abundance.  Suddenly the laying of a thousand miles of asphalt seemed a cheap way of acquiring extensive mining rights in this resource rich desert.

The temperature climbed with the sun. Windows agape, air conditioning a concept of the distant future, we forced the Landy on through the wall of heat. We thanked our fortune as we watched the mercury climb to balmy thirty seven that we were here in winter. Occasionally a green line appeared on the horizon, and we knew the road had drifted close to the nurturing moisture of the Nile. The longest river in the world, this huge body of water provides an artery of life blood to thousands of miles of barren moon-scape.

Through the mirage we saw a hunched figure drawing nearer. Emaciated, caked in dust, we recognised Rob, our friend from the Aswan-Wadi Halfa ferry, sitting head in hand in the midday heat. Made of true Lancashire grit, this 23 year old man had cycled his Grandfather’s bicycle from Rotterdam to his current location, 600km shy of Khartoum. Two days ride and 200km away from the nearest town, he was battling a worsening knee injury and dwindling supplies.

Exhaustion bites in the midday sun; Rob Lowe, British cyclist struggles on in the Nubian desert. (Photo: RWH)

Exhaustion bites in the midday sun; Rob Lowe, British cyclist struggles on in the Nubian desert. (Photo: RWH)

We hopped out water in hand and held an impromptu orthopaedic consultation in the shade of the car. It sounded to us as though rest was going to be needed before he could continue riding. His eyes flashed defiantly as we suggested he jump in the Landy with us until Khartoum. We prized his bike from his reluctant hands as he begrudgingly caved to our persuasions. We consoled him with promises of food and camaraderie as we emptied the car onto the road in an effort to repack. Rob’s bike Alan, named after his original owner, was absorbed by the roof rack and we were on our way, our ranks bolstered.

The realisation that this journey would encompass New Year sent us looking for supplies in Dongola, a market town shielded from the heat of the desert by the cooling embrace of the Nile. We negotiated our way through the forest of cardboard-roofed market stalls, first wondering at the cost of bread, then perplexed at an apparent run on the price of the tomato. An investment of £1 at the Lord Hotel paid dividends in sleep, and we set off early in light of this windfall. On a particularly remote stretch of road we set a bearing and bounced and slid our way into the wilderness. Overloaded, top-heavy, inappropriately shod with comically small tyres, the Landy powered on defiantly. We were moved with pride.

Eagle-eyed, Bass led us towards a caravan of wild camels in the distance. We followed their path to a small oasis of stunted trees, impossible in their stereotypical perfectness. Safe in our desert bowl, we made an extravagant camp. Logs were set ablaze, blankets unrolled, cauldrons filled. We lost Dan for a time; he was found burrowing in the back of the car with a screwdriver. He emerged triumphant, having produced the last of our single malt from the recesses of our subwoofer, safe there against the inquisition of the customs officials. We made merry and under the brightest of stars, welcomed in the New Year.

New Year's Eve Camp

New Year’s Eve Camp (Photo: RWH)

We wish you all the best in 2013!

Overland Equipment & Vehicle Preperation

Knowledge

You don’t need to be a mechanic to go overlanding! However you do need to be vaguely familiar with you vehicle. The most important things are preparation and maintenance.

–          Do as much of the vehicle preparation yourself as you can. This way you will learn about your vehicle, as well as what tools you’re going to need

–          I would recommend finding a friend/institution to teach you about your vehicle, if you’re not au fait with it already. We spent a few days with Dave in Devon (www.bushmechanics.co.uk). We gained knowledge, confidence, and a good friend.

–          See below for maintenance schedule

Spares

The age old debate about weight vs. probability of use. Lists below assume a transcontinental trip of approx 20,000 miles, and are tailored to Land Rover Defenders.

Essential

X3-6 20L metal jerry cans, tailored to desired range. Do not transport on the roof if petrol/harardous offroading!

X2 paper air filters. Quickly destroyed in the desert. Consider a washable filter such as K&N if planning lots of desert driving.

X4 fuel filters

X3 oil filters for engine services

4L engine oil on board at any time

4L gear oil (EP90) on board at any time

2L DOT4 Brake/Clutch fluid on board at any time

2L Dexron III gearbox oil on board at any time

~3m of spare electrical wire

Loads of electrical connectors/crimps

Loads of fuses of different ratings

Headlight/starter motor relay. Can’t start the car without one!

Side light, indicator, brake bulbs. Can be a pain at a border if noticed to have a light out.

X2 sets spare car keys. Recommend wiring one to a hidden location under the car.

Chewing gum. Good for shoring up holes in a fuel tank.

Exhaust putty – wrap the tub in a plastic bag to avoid it drying out

Tyre inner tube

Tyre valves – if running tubeless tyres, a valve failure can be a pain.

 

 

At your discretion

Spare fan belt – can use tights/elastic in extremis!

Gasket glue – can use cardboard instead

Wheel baring kit

 

 

 

Tools

Try and do as much vehicle preparation as you can so that you get an idea for what tools you need.

Pliers

Screwdrivers (remember a big flat head for those rear brake hubs!)

Spanners – work out which sizes you need, always worth throwing in an adjustable one too

Wire cutters

Hammers – lump, nylon, and tack hammers are all useful

Chisel

Grease gun – ideally one that you can refill from a tub, unless you want to carry all your cartridges with you!

3/8” socket set

1/2″ socket set

Tyre pump. Up to you if you want a faithful foot pump or a 12v pump (liable to melt and suck in dust in the desert). Consider an air compressor if lowering tyre pressures frequently

 

Offroading Essentials

Hi Lift Jack

Sand ladders/waffle boards. Consider x4 if doing serious/solo offroad.

 

Optional Tools

Tyre levers. Tyre repair places of varying professional standards available throughout the developing world (in varying quality!), but it’s nice to feel independent

Puncture repair kit. No point having levers without this!

 

Books

Haynes!

Parts Manual

Africa Overland

Land Rover Defender Buying Guide

This is specifically aimed for those buying Land Rover Defenders, but certain points are applicable to other vehicles. It is skewed towards those buying a Defender for an overland expedition, but is applicable to all potential buyers.

Top tips:

–          Buy early, ideally 6-12 months before your trip. This gives you loads of time to get to know your vehicle and iron out any problems

–          Have a read of the basic anatomy of a Defender before you go and look at one. Better still, get someone to show you around one that you’re not intending to buy

–          Make a list of things to look at and tick them off as you go along

–          Go and look at a couple of vehicles before going to see ‘the one’ – the advert that sounds like it’s the perfect car

Vehicle Identification & Paperwork

Check the DVLA Vehicle Registration Document (V5) details are correct. Compare the chassis number on the V5 with the vehicle its self. On Defenders, you can find the vehicle identification number (VIN)/’chassis number’ in two places: on the VIN plate, located on top of the brake master cylinder at the rear left of the engine compartment on RHD models, and stamped into the chassis on the driver’s side. Look at the chassis under the front wheel arch; it should be in front of the wheel and behind the towing eye. You may need to use a wire brush!

Also check the engine number on the V5 matches the vehicle. This number should be punched in to the engine block.

Ask about service history. These are often non-existent on old Land Rovers as many owners service themselves. Engine oil and filters should be changed every 6,000 miles, differential and gearbox oils and brake fluid changed every 20,000 miles. When was the timing belt last changed? Have the universal joints been replaced on the drive shafts? Does it have the original brake/clutch lines? When were the brake pads last replaced? A good service history/working knowledge of the car implies it’s been well taken care of.

Outside Inspection

–          Is the car level? Sounds obvious, but unladen, it shouldn’t tilt to one side!

–          Look for any leaks on the tarmac under the car (oil drips etc)

Engine Compartment

–          Start from COLD

–          Does it idle OK?

–          Is the engine block very clean? If it looks as though it has been wiped clean recently, it may an attempt to conceal an oil leak

–          Oil leaks, sprays, drips

–          Air filter. Take it out and have a look. If it’s full of oil, this implies the engine is running at too high a pressure, suggesting work piston rings or other major issue. If it’s dirty and clogged, it’s a good indicator that the car hasn’t been looked after.

–          Inspect all the pipes in there – radiator pipes, oil pipes, fuel lines, fuel injector lines, intercooler pipes. Check for leaks.

–          Check the oil level. If it’s low, again this implies the car hasn’t been looked after.

Gearbox

–          Check for smooth gear selection

Transfer Box

–          Test both the High and Low Ranges. Do they select easily, do they jump out gear at all?

–          Check for correct selection of the differential lock

–          Make sure the diff lock light works on the dash board

Clutch

–          With the car stationary, put the clutch in and select 5th gear. Bring the clutch up slowly. It should stall the car. If now, it implies the clutch is slipping.

Handbrake

–          Test the handbrake on a hill

Steering

–          Look for play in the steering wheel

–          Turn the wheel to the extremities – listen for any new squeaking. This implies the steering pump is on the blink

–          Veering on driving implies poor tracking/laxity in the track rods

Brakes

–          Inspect the brake lines as already mentioned

–          Does the pedal feel spongy? Implies old brake fluid or master cylinder fault.

–          Have a look at the condition of the brake disks

Underneath the car

–          Lubricant leaks – from plugs, gaskets, brake or clutch lines, or oil seals (big job).

–          Chrome swivel balls – rust, oil seals

–          Play in steering mechanisms – pull hard on the track rods looking for any play

–          Lubricated drive shaft? Well greased universal joints implies a well looked after car

–          Check for play in the universal joints. To do this, put the car on the flat and chock a wheel, put the car out of gear and take off the handbrake. Use a flat headed screwdriver or similar to rotate the UJs. There shouldn’t be any play/give in the joints.

–          Condition of brake lines and clutch line, including flexible brake hoses (one at the back, two at the front)

–          Chassis. Classically rusts on Land Rovers! Have a really good look at the front cross member, outriggers, and inside edge of the rear cross member. Use a brush and don’t be afraid to scrub away dirt! Tap with a hammer on any suspicious areas.

–          Exhaust. Make sure it isn’t loose, look for leaks (puffs of smoke on starting the engine)

Bodywork & Chassis

Land Rovers rust. Despite their aluminium body panels, the framework is steel, as is the chassis and the bulkhead (the large vertical divider between engine and passage compartments). They classically rust through the bulkhead or on the chassis cross members (horizontal bits connecting the left and right main parts). Any serious rust/holes require major welding, which is going to cost an absolute minimum of £100, much more if serious. Galvanised chasses are amazing if you can find them, but bear in mind they won’t have a chassis number which is a problem for African borders!

–          Bulkhead. Remove carpets, look under the bonnet, check for paint bubbling

–          Chassis. Inspect rear cross member, tap along with a hammer. Look the whole way along either side, especially in the wheel arches.

–          Doors. Big security issue. I would recommend removing the door cards and inspecting the internal framework. Replacing a door costs £100 or more each.

Wheels

–          Tyres are expensive. Five new BFGoodrich Allterrains cost ~£625! Factor this in to the total price – if the car’s going to need new tyres immediately, it’s a considerable amount on top of the asking price

–          Ideally you should jack up each wheel individually and check for vertical and horizontal play in the wheel baring

 

Electrics

Any Land Rover over 10 years old is at risk of electrical problems. They’re renowned for being very simple circuits (pre TD5) that often fail.

–          Check all the lights.

–          Dashboard dials

–          Diff lock light

 

MOT

Potentially costly little things can be worth looking out for if the MOT is about to expire!

–          Seat belts. Do they retract independently?

Test Drive

–          Vibration – can be expensive and difficult to find and correct!

–          Temperature – make sure your test drive is long enough to weed out any overheating issues.

–          Wheel hub temperature. A hub that is hotter than the rest can imply a failing baring.

–          Have another look under the car after it has stood for a while post test drive. With the lubricants warm, a leak might be more obvious.

Choosing Your Overlanding Vehicle

Vehicle selection for overlanding is the biggest decision you will make, bar your route, as it will affect your life every day of your trip. The options are described below.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Hugely widespread in every European/African country, a Toyota 4×4 will be strong, reliable and good value. Expertise and spares are widely available, even in the back of beyond. Go for the 70 series, they’re the offroad workhorses, although can be difficult to find in the UK.

Land Rover

Former King of Africa, Land Rovers are still mighty beasts, with a strong cult following. In general, in the UK expect to pay between about 120-150% of the price of an equivalent age Land Cruiser, and to get less features (no air con, basic interior, no CD player etc).  Realistic options are the Defender or Discovery. If you’re overlanding in a Series III or older, I want to hear from you!

Defender

Land Rover’s replacements for the Series III were the 90 and 110 models, which they rebranded as Defenders in 1991. The 90 and 110 refer to the length of the chassis in inches, so 90 is the short wheel base and 110 the long wheel base (130 also available, collectors items!). I would recommend the 110 for overlanding, as there’s much more space and you sleep in the back stretched out if you’re 6’2” or less!

For overlanding, look for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines (1990-1997ish). These are 2.5L four cylinder engine blocks, with a reputation as the best engines LR ever made. They’re simple, will run off poor quality fuel, and have minimal electrics – all positives in developing countries. The turbo and intercooler give them more power than the earlier diesel engines. I would avoid the TD5 or later, as they have too many electronics on board.

Discovery

Out of my area of expertise; buy a diesel (simpler and a more widely available fuel), aim for the 200TDi or 300TDi engines.

Other 4×4

Nissan Patrol, Toyota Hilux, Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Shogun are all options, but less common. As such expertise and spares are less available. Mercedes UniMogs are for the well endowed/family overlanders.

Novelty

Many people overland in weird and wonderful vehicles. Do it! It’s very possible, so long as you have time on your side and infinite patience to wait for spare parts/tows! Possibilities include tuk tuks, Citroen 2CVs, VW Beetles…

 

Other considerations

Location of Purchase

If planning a one-way overland expedition, there’s always the option of starting at the far end and driving back home. Bear in mind that this may require you to spend a long while at the far end organising purchase of vehicle, tools, spares, and documents!

Diesel vs Petrol?

Buy a diesel if you’re going off the beaten track. Diesel is more widely available, the engines are simpler and easier to fix, and they’re often more economical. Diesel is also much safer to handle/transport.

Alloy Wheels

These look great, but once bent they are good for nothing. Better to opt for steel wheels, which can be bashed back into shape! Consider 6.5’ Land Rover steel rims rather than the standard 5.5’, they will let you mount 245 width tyres and above.

Wheel Spacers

Often fitted in tandem with alloy wheels, these allow bigger tyres but also put greater strain on the wheel barings and steering mechanism. Your call.

 

(Essential) Add Ons

Roof rack – a must have. The bigger the better in my opinion, as it gives you the flexibility to chuck everything on the roof. Expensive to buy separately, so aim for a car with one already fitted.

Roof tent – expensive, luxurious, convenient. Depends upon your budget. Allows safe and quick assembly of camp, but takes up a lot of roof rack space. A cheap alternative is to line a roof rack with plywood and pitch a bog standard tent on top.

Spare wheels x2 – punctures are common off the beaten track!

Snorkel – ideal for the wet seasons, and for the desert (reduced dust)

Split charge relay and second battery – great to run a 240v inverter, for charging phones, cameras, laptops etc

Winch – electric winches are expensive and require the correct bumpers. It depends how extreme the offroading you’re planning is, but most people use their winches infrequently if at all on overland trips. A decent hand winch is a good compromise. Alternatively, a slightly more labour intensive winch can be rigged using your hi lift jack.