Four Wheels Around - A Road Trip from the UK to South Africa

In February 2009 we are setting off on the trip of a lifetime from Brighton, E-Sussex, UK to South Africa. Furthermore, we are raising money for the British Red Cross along the way. This blog will cover our preparation until we leave and our adventures whilst we are on the road.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The end

I am now writing this more than 6 weeks since we returned to the UK. Our story needs to be finished and it is time for me to say goodbye to Africa.

My last entry left us leaving Swaziland and heading into South Africa for good. We made the decision not to visit Kruger but instead to visit Hluhlwe-Infolozi which is not at all far from the Swazi border. A much smaller gamepark but we had heard great reports about it and with limited time we felt we might get to see more animals due to its smaller size. We stayed at a nice backpackers place just 1.5 kms from the gate and we made an extremely unrealistic aim to get up at 6 and into the park early to try and spot the more nocturnal animals. Obviously being us this didn't go quite to plan but we were still in the park pretty early and we spotted a fantastic array of animals including, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos (x 4!) and lots of lesser known animals such as wildebeast and nyala.

It was en route to Hluhlwe Backpackers that Alex observed that the idle speed sounded out of synch on the Landy. Not another problem. He adjusted it and hoped for the best. Driving through the gamepark the acelerator suddenly sounded as though it was stuck, revving loudly and smelling horrible. We stopped the car and hoped there wasn't any lasting damage. We carried on from the park to St Lucia. St Lucia was another place we had been recommended by South Africans and also by my Mum who visited a few years previously. We decided to check it out. We found a half refurbished backpackers lodge that was nice and cheap and had a television, and we settled in for a few days. The weather was terrible, everyone we met observed at how at home we must feel as the weather was behaving in such an English fashion! Being British we braved the weather and went for long walks along the beach spying hippos, monkeys and birds.

St Lucia had a very villagy feel about it. Everyone seemed to know each other which was a bit weird. It did, owever, seem to be very safe, no electric fences of prison bars of residents gates here! The locals warned us that our only concern regarding our safety in St Lucia would be Hippos strolling up and down the high street!

The curse of the piston rings.....
It was when we were leaving St Lucia that our final disaster struck. After a few few minutes of the engine turning over she finally cranked into life and barely 200 yards along the main high street the accelerating sounded stuck again and smoke poured from the exhaust covering the entire high street. We came to a stop and oil was pouring out from the engine bay. Really not a good sign. I think we both knew at that moment that it was the end of the road for Carol the Land Rover. Alex ran back to 'Budget backpakcers' where we had been staying and a nice chap called Quentin drove down in his Toyota to tow us to the one and only garage in St Lucia. We examined the engine, the force of whatever the problem was had pushed open the oil cap allowing all the engine oil to explode out. The mechanic pinpointed the problem as a broken piston ring and informed us that it was a very BIG job! We pretty much accepted it was over then. We knew we needed a new engine and there seemed to be no point repairing the old engine when we had such a small distance to travel now and with so many other issues not even connected directly to the engine we would still have problems. We had still been contemplating what to do with the Landy when we reached Capetown and we were getting shipping quotes daily. It was prooving expensive. Another option, selling the vehicle in SA was even more problematic due to import regulations now the vehicle was a right off we had even less clue about what to do. We placed a panicked call in the direction of Paul Gowen at the RAC in the UK to discuss our options now that the car was effectively off the road!

It turned out there was a way out for us and Carol. We could surrender the landy to the South African Revenue Service. SARS. Basically, we would hand it over to them, they do what they want with it and get a free car and we get all the relevent squiggles and signatures on our carnet de passage and hopefully our deposit back in the UK. We did not want Carols final resting place to be with a mean customs department but in a way it was kind of fitting as now she would always be in Africa where she belonged. Afterall she was no good to us in the UK in working condition let alone after the engine had blown up.

It was Friday September 11th when the engine blew up in St Lucia, we were expected to be at Durban Airport by Sunday morning to pick up Alex's parents on Sunday morning. We had to think fast. We reserved a hire car from Durban arport and organised a lift in the back of a pick up truck to Durban. The guy that gave us a lift was a bit mean (he tried to charge us a small fortune to sit in the back of a bakkie on a trip he was making anyway) but eventually he got us to a back packers in Durban. As we had no time at all before the arrival of Pegrams senior we had to leave Carol behind. We left her with the mechanic and aimed to go back post Capetown to sort through our stuff and get Carol towed down to the nearest SARS office for unconditional abandonment. it out a lot of extra miles onto our journey but if we could fly back from Durban it would work out ok.

That day a lot of tears were shed, by me mainly. I felt as though our trip was over and I just wanted to go home. Neither of us could believe that the car had actually given up the ghost and that we were now just backpackers in South Africa rather than part of a special overlanding club that we had grown to love. Carol had become our home since Febuary and we were seriously attached to her.

The rest of our time in South Africa passed quite uneventfully. We travelled with Alex's parents in our speedy little hire car - a Toyota no less which just sealed the irony for us. We visited some beautiful places, gorgeous baches, game parks, mountains, and we made it to Capetown. It was great to get there but it would have been so much better and more significant if we had been with the Land Rover. Nevertheless we enjoyed our final few weeks in Africa.

We dropped the Pegrams off at Capetown airport and we set off back in the direction of St Lucia to deal with all the paperwork and say goodbye to Carol. Apart from the slightly dodgy mechanic who we left the car with at St Lucia, we suffered no crime in South Africa. Note to anyone who ever breaks down in St Lucia - don't use the mechanic Shawn - he may steal all or some of your things and pretend to be a nice guy.

We flew back fro Johannesburg in the end. A whole month after the demise of Carol. I was incredibly sad to leave Africa, but so excited to go home and see all my family and friends after 8 months on the road. 8 months in Africa changed me in many ways. My opinions have changed about a number of things and my outlook on life has changed a great deal. I miss Africa so much, I completly fell in love with the continent and anyone who is reading this and even vaguely thinking about setting off on an overland trip across Africa, what are you waiting for? Just go!

Remarkably we have both settled back into English life quite quickly and without trouble. I expected it to be a lot harder. Yes I had post trip blues for a few weeks but it has passed and now I am finally able to reflect on what we have actually done!

We drove over 17 000 miles, across 3 continents, over 8 months in a Land Rover purchased for 800 pounds!

It is a pretty remarkable feat and leaves me thinking what can we do next that will top what we have just done. To answer that I am not sure we can beat that for some time, I have certainly got the travelling bug and after just 6 weeks back home I have a serious case of itchy feet but I also think it is time I grew up, settled into a career of some sorts and returned to real life, so to speak, at least for a while anyway. So until next time...wherever we decide to go.....Goodbye!

I hope you have enjoyed our adventure! Goodbye xxx

Check out Land Rover Monthly issues sep, oct, nov and dec (out now) to follow our adventure!