It's always a good feeling to find like-minded people out there. People who love adventures, telling stories, and talking shop. We found just that type of relationship with the guys at The Gentlemen's Adventure Club (TGAC), who took an epic journey from Scotland down to South Africa in a Land Rover Defender 110. Our kind of guys, for sure. We're happy to be a part of it, even if it's just to help tell the story. As we all know, putting an adventure into words is a pretty tough endeavor. "You had to be there" is an old adage that certainly fits when explaining an adventure or expedition, and absolutely when trying to tell the story of one that spans a couple continents and many countries. That said, here's the story from our friends at TGAC.
Six months after returning from our African adventure and we still haven’t found a kebab as good as the ones we ate in the little town of Arsuz near the Syrian border, whilst we waited for the seemingly mythical ferry to take us to Egypt. Neither have we found negotiating busy London roads as stressful or thrilling as weaving our way through traffic in Cairo with a malfunctioning satnav. In fact, we’ve not really managed to recapture any of the excitement of life on the road. For example, since moving to London none of us has seen even one of the Big Five, we haven’t been held at gun point by the police, and we haven’t negotiated any border crossings into a recently divided country ravaged by civil war.
Back in June 2013 we were gathering in Turkey to set off on the adventure. Cal had driven the Landy out there with his girlfriend and Dunc and Rich had managed to stay just about sober enough not to be turned away at the check-in desk for the flight out to Turkey. Excited and happy to be reunited for the start of the trip in earnest, the three of us decided that a good manner in which to kick things off would be to don our Indianas (hats) and go in search of a big Turkish feast. Being new to the game and slightly delirious at the reality of our situation, we were probably fleeced for our meal but we were so content and pleased with ourselves that it mattered little. Using some of the gear generously provided by our sponsors, we slipped into our thermals and bedded down for the night next to a petrol station at the side of the road. Not quite the camping one might imagine on our trans-African adventure, but there was plenty of that to come.
The next day we set off for Iskenderun, the port town from which we would be getting the ferry to Egypt. Rich and Dunc were excited to get behind the wheel, feel how the car was driving with all the kit on board and hear from Cal about how things had gone in Europe, the people they’d met and the story so far. After 3 years of university, it felt great to know that we were all free, with nothing but the 3 month road to Cape Town stretching before us.
We spent a week relaxing on a beach which we had entirely to ourselves, swimming in the sea, cooking food together and testing every bit of kit we possibly could. It was remarkable how easy it was to spend the day reading, making coffee, sunning our peely-wally, Scottish, sun-starved skin and, of course, satisfying our minor addiction to the local kebabs. Before long though, we had to snap back into adventure mode as we were told to get ourselves down to the port tout-de-suite – the ferry taking us to deepest darkest Africa was ready to depart. Before long on the ferry we had befriended a couple of Swiss newlyweds on their Honeymoon drive down to Cape Town, with a 3 month stop on the Red Sea for the kite surfing season. Luckily for us Gianni and Fabi had a rather well stocked larder compared with our less luxurious supplies based around chopped tomatoes, tuna and rice. Besides their friendly and fun personalities, we reasoned, this made them ideal candidates for the role of travel companions.
Surrounded by Syrian bullet-damaged cars, pilgrims on their way to Mecca, other tourists and lots of dodgy characters, we were eventually released into Egypt proper, after having spent 2 days with customs in Port Said at the mouth of the Suez Canal. First stop was Cairo, and this, in a lot of ways, was when the adventure became much more real. Seeing the pyramids in the distance as we hopelessly weaved in and out of traffic in Cairo produced a moment of realisation which will stay with us. That realisation was astonishment; where we were and what we were doing was the product of almost two years of preparation. It felt awesome.
Waving goodbye to Gianni and Fabi, whom we’d become very fond of, we donned the Indianas once more and set off into the desert…
Driving through the White and Black deserts we saw some incredibly beautiful things. There is next to nobody around on some stretches, and often a few wandering camels would be the only signs of life. The wind-blown rock formations in the Black Desert and the mud-brick citadel built next to an oasis created a sense of serenity and peacefulness which was abruptly disturbed by the news, delivered to us by one of the desert checkpoint guards, that we were in bandit country and would not be able to continue driving that night. What followed in bed on the roof that evening were a series of probably quite ridiculous conversations, centred around how we would beat up the armed bandits and teach them that nobody messes with the boys from TGAC! We slept with a spade in between our sleeping bags.
From Egypt we crossed into Sudan by land, making us the only officially recorded private group of civilians to cross that border by land since at least the 1950’s. Sudan was a gem of a country filled with uncommonly nice people and some incredibly picturesque desert. The driving there was ridiculously fun, we made the most of it but our Teedy (the car) was the worse for wear coming out the other side. Patched up, we pointed Teedy towards Ethiopia; a transition which confused the body and the mind as we climbed to great altitude, felt our first rain in a month and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by people, everywhere. And we mean everywhere.
From green, lush Ethiopia onwards into Kenya. We had earmarked this stretch of road – from Moyale to Marsabit – as one of the hotspots for bandits and danger. We chose to face danger head on, driving through the night and blaring out a mixture of Scottish bagpipe music and ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ to ward off any would-be assailants. We’re not sure that this is exactly recommended in the guidebook, per se, but it certainly worked for us! We arrived at the luxurious, pristine Sirikoi Lodge in Lewa Downs, unwashed, unshaven and unannounced. We’re sure you can imagine the look on the manager’s face when we explained we’d be staying for a week…
After an unrivalled week of decadence, comfort and whisky-fueled fun, we were once more off on the whacky races. Happily, it turned out we’d timed our trip perfectly to witness the wildebeest migration from the Serengeti into the Mara. In true TGAC style, and choosing not to notice the rules which prohibited free camping, we did just that. A sleepless night was spent listening in awe to the lion pride roaring at us from 100m away under a large Baobab.
Tanzania flew by, and we slightly regretted that we weren’t able to spend more time getting to know the country. However, in some ways it was the most adrenaline-filled part of our whole journey; half-way down the country and on the road through the virtually empty and undeveloped central-west, we were mistaken for bandits and approached by a pick-up full of armed policemen. After the misunderstanding had been resolved, we were escorted by the police to their station where we were housed/imprisoned for the night. Dangerous bandits, it was explained to us, had been intercepting commercial vehicles on the road and stealing all the loot. The police insisted on driving us out of what they aptly, and slightly comically, dubbed “the danger zone”. Feeling pretty fortunate, we sped onwards to Malawi.
After nursing Rich back to health from his week-long bout of tropical disease (mammoth hangover), and getting some well-deserved recuperation at TGAC fan-member Gary Saunders’ house in Lilongwe, we were ready to press on to Zambia. This point in the trip was symbolic in that Zambia marked the breaking of the fellowship; Rich had to fly back to London to start work. Feeling the need to spoil ourselves and celebrate the happy 2 months we had spent together, we lived in the lap of luxury in Lusaka. You’ll be glad to read that, despite feasting on burgers and sipping on beers by the pool at a hostel, we resolutely decided to sleep on the roof of the car in the compound rather than climbing into soft beds. Parting ways with Rich was an emotional experience. TGAC don’t express emotions easily however, so we shook hands, concentrated on the pattern of our sandals and then Cal and Dunc put on a Harry Potter Audiobook and headed for the Caprivi Strip. Nae tears.
Caprivi was beautiful, empty, teeming with game and, though we accidentally almost crossed into Botswana instead of Namibia, we arrived at the Namibian border feeling relaxed and cheerful. Sad though it was, we very much felt at the beginning of the end. As the roads became more reliable and the buildings taller, we pulled into the very Western-feeling city of Windhoek, where we met our next set of travel companions. There was another Defender in the car park which we naturally gravitated towards, this turned out to be 4 English guys doing the same trip as us and with a similar timescale for the rest of the journey. We spent the rest of our time in Namibia with them, free camping in the famous Sossussvlei, eating the food prepared by one of the English boys who turned out to be a chef, and being serenaded by the Brazilian hitchhiker we picked up. Namibia left its mark on us. Nowhere else on our trip did we get the chance to enjoy the land and the road with so little interruption from other people. The other great thing about Namibia is how cheap the beer is, how plentiful the biltong is and how well that combination goes together.
We managed to break the shocks and suspension coils several times in Namibia. We’ve refrained from filling this tale with details of our various quick-fixes and mechanical incompetence because, though it can be interesting, it’s never much more than a distraction. Rolling into South Africa felt oddly like making it home after a long journey. Cal and Dunc treated themselves to many celebratory beers and cigars upon arrival in Cape Town, on a grey evening in early August. After a commemorative photo against the backdrop of Table Bay, we sat back and congratulated ourselves on our somewhat miraculous arrival at the end of a wonderful journey.
As we mentioned at the start, since moving to London we haven’t quite managed to do any of the adventurous things we did whilst we were away. What we have done is long for the feeling of a little too much sun, a few lucky escapes and a couple more stories to tell when we’re old and frail. In short, we’ve been dreaming up the next adventure...
Learn more about The Gentlemen's Adventure Club on their site, here. Until next time, gentlemen. We'll be happy to go on adventure with you anytime, anywhere. We're also happy to just help tell the story or provide some OE gear for your next trip.