Julita Lambrechts is a driven businesswoman, well known and loved in South African music circles. During the pandemic she wanted to make a difference, no matter how small… And so, her journey to bring hope began.
If anyone had ever told me that I would be writing an article for a 4×4 magazine about a trip I was going to take through Africa, I would have laughed out loud. I don’t even know how to change a flat tyre, let alone drive a 4×4! And anyway, I’m in the South African music industry, looking after the intellectual property of artists and organising big music festivals. The closest I have come to 4×4-ing is racing from point A to point B on a four-wheeler during my festivals and functions… And yet, here I am, doing exactly that!
During the pandemic, our music industry came to an abrupt standstill. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and wondered how I could help my fellow South Africans. The world was trapped in an oppressive fear that it was the end of life as we knew it, the end of days so to speak. There was a severe drought in South Africa and Namibia and things looked bad. However, as an eternal optimist fear is not my master! I’m that person who, if I knew everything was going to end tomorrow, would plant a tree today. I refuse to by dragged down by pessimism and I always have a lot of hope for the future.
So, I decided that the change needed to start with me… I was going to bring hope to people who were scared, people who had no hope for the future. People who were tired of struggling every day. But as I was taught – standing around won’t finish the job… So, I got in my car (a small Hyundai i20) and drove 6 600km through South Africa and visited farmers in the drought-stricken areas. I just hung out with them and brought hope. I didn’t know them, but we became friends. And something interesting happened – everywhere I went, it started raining! As if the hope that was sown influenced nature. I came home and two months later, I felt I had to do the same in Namibia. I covered 11 200km on the roads of Namibia, again in my faithful little Hyundai i20, and did not even get one flat tyre on those gravel roads. Suddenly it started raining in Namibia – even the desert blossomed. Something happens in an atmosphere filled with hope. I experienced it first-hand!
Is that it?
I returned home to the beautiful Kleinmond in the Western Cape and thought that was that – my journey of hope was complete. But after four months at home, I felt that this journey of mine was not over. I drove to Cape Agulhas one morning, where a large map of Africa is depicted on the ground at the lighthouse. I started walking over that map and something happened in my heart. My heart longed for Africa, and I knew – I had to go to Africa. A lot of planning and a crazy four months later, I started my journey. I first heard the word “overlander” when I went to the AA for an international driver’s license. There I learned about things like a Carnet de Passage and travel insurance. I approached Tracks4Africa for advice with routes and realised that this journey I wanted to embark on was not like South Africa or Namibia. The first thing everyone asked was what vehicle I had and when I answered a Hyundai i20, I could see the shock in their eyes. The more I talked to those in the know about routes, the more I realised that I definitely did not have the right car.
When I tackle something, I see it through to the end. I gave myself four months to prepare, which meant that I had to start the journey in January 2022. I planned everything as far as I could, which if I think back now, was actually not much. I didn’t really have a plan – where I would sleep and exactly how anything would work was still a bit of mystery. I just had this deep desire in my heart to meet the people of Africa and drive from Cape Town to Alexandria (ocean to ocean) to bring hope. I wanted to tell everyone that we do not live on the “dark continent”. We live in the continent of LIGHT!! Our continent is so beautiful and has so much to offer! How can it be “dark Africa”? At the end of December 2021, a man from Onrus called me and said: “Julita, I have heard about the journey that you are embarking on. The Lord said I must give you my Toyota Prado.” I was quite taken aback. When I saw the Prado, I burst into tears. I knew this was exactly what I needed and that I would now travel in style! And of course, it’s a top 4×4! I would be able to drive through rivers!
Of course, that then brought its own challenges. Within three weeks I had to sort out all the paperwork with police clearances and so on. I underwent 4×4 training of two hours – I wanted to understand the basics and know what a diff lock is and how to use it. After that session it made sense and then I just had to know which buttons to press! I would pick up the rest along the way – because on a trip through Africa I would most probably have to apply it practically somewhere.
Wait, am I camping?
I’d never gone camping in my life – I couldn’t even make a fire! I play the piano – not with fire! But one learns and I have never been ashamed to ask for advice! When I got a call from an unknown woman who said she wanted to put a rooftop tent on my car, I first had to Google what a rooftop tent was! Wow, I suddenly realised: “Julita, you’re going camping!” I packed the Prado – everything neatly in crates as the online forums showed me, put brand-new Sailun tyres on the car, stuffed all the paperwork into a file and departed on 22 January 2022. My first destination, Botswana, was calling! I quickly realised that my crate system was not as practical as I had hoped. In Namibia I got rid of most of the crates and in Zambia some more stuff was removed. In Malawi I found a nice system that worked for me and from there, everything went smoothly. Later, when I ended up in the Serengeti, I knew my system was working – by that time I was camping like an old hand!
Early on this journey, I realised that there was a community of which I had absolutely no knowledge. A group of people with their own culture and rules. A group of people called overlanders. A group of people who cross our continent and are always on hand with help and advice on everything – from campsites to road maps and anything in between! I quickly realised that I was not set up like them at all. These guys have built-in shelves and drawers – it’s quite the operation! I had none of these things. I had a nice bar fridge (also a gift – I didn’t even think of it), so I wasn’t that far behind… Or so I thought. But as I started posting photos on social media, I realised that I was actually doing everything wrong. Overlanders plan months and even years in advance and their vehicles are equipped with all sorts of contraptions to make things as easy as possible on the long haul.
I have a lot of those gear and gadgets too, but mine are loose in the car or in plastic containers. Many people started following me on social media and started tagging their friends to point out my system’s flaws and limitations. The experienced overlanders probably thought I was a joke, but here’s the thing: how many people dream of embarking on such a trip ONE DAY? One day when that ride is perfectly kitted out, and everything will go smoothly. That one day that, for many people, never comes…
I am doing this NOW and learn something new every day. I am living my dream. It’s not easy to pitch my rooftop tent. I’m a lone woman and it’s a struggle. But now I always make sure that I camp in a place where there is a man or two closeby to help… Then my rooftop tent and camp setup feel like a billion-star hotel! What I have learnt so far is this: do not dream of one day when you have enough money or when you have the right vehicle to embark on you dream journey. Look at what you have and work with it. And do it nów! One does not need as many things as the people have told me.
Also, Africa is not as behind as everyone says. I don’t even have a jerry can in my vehicle and so far, I haven’t been stranded without fuel. If you want to drive around in a desert alone for weeks, take extra fuel with you – but even in the Serengeti there is a filling station! There are thousands of motorcycles all over Africa. Even in the smallest town you get them. So, everyone uses fuel. And if you really get stuck, one of the friendly locals in any of the countries will help you, and before long they will bring fuel in cans, with a big smile on their faces!
What I am very grateful for is that I took two extra 265/60 R18 Sailun A/T spare tyres with me. I needed them. At the time of writing this article, I had already covered 15 000km in the Prado and in Dar es Salaam I was able to have it serviced at Toyota’s workshop. And guess who is the manager there? A South African with whom I could speak Afrikaans. Good advice I got was to carry a full set of tools for my vehicle with me. Everywhere – even in the smallest villages – there are mechanics, but they do not necessarily have all the right tools. So, you just make sure you have the right tools – I promise you: someone will be able to help you!
The Prado handles sand, mud, rocks, water, and everything in-between well. I have traversed these different terrains and where needed, I simply put my vehicle in 4×4 without any worries – and some of the roads are terrible. In Zambia, for example, I drove eight hours to cover 212km. It was a terrible road, but what an experience!
I am very sorry to disappoint all the 4×4 groot menere. I didn’t make any modifications to the vehicle because I didn’t know I had to. My Prado is a dream vehicle. I went up and down mountain passes, through rivers, over thrilling gravel and dirt roads… This vehicle doesn’t shy away from anything! I went through thick sand tracks with my 4×4 function activated and it gave me no trouble whatsoever. In mud – even in the rainy season in Africa – the Prado makes any road look like a filly! And then it’s comfortable too! I spend an average of six to eight hours a day behind the wheel and have never had a sore back!
This type of adventure may not be for everyone and yes: I have made many mistakes (and will surely make a few hundred more!). However, I say again: this continent of ours is beautiful and waiting to be discovered – by ordinary people like you and I. Don’t wait until you have the right equipment or enough money. If you dream of discovering Africa, work with what you have. Money and all the other things will follow – believe me! People will tell you that it’s dangerous to travel without planning everything to the T, but for me, routine is a much bigger danger. So, get in your car and start travelling!
Follow Julita’s journey on her social media platforms: @JulitaExplores