Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The tough keep going: Chartwell 2 Chartwell Pt.2

In the previous issue we shared the first part of the AUTOBARN CHARTWELL TO CHARTWELL (C2C) mission from South Africa to the United Kingdom. We pick up the story in Uganda.

After crossing through Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Rwanda, this intrepid group of explorers were well on their way to completing their epic trip to the ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill in the United Kingdom (that is, of course, from Chartwell in South Africa). They still had a long way to go to get to Chartwell House in the UK, though.

Uganda

Crossing over from Rwanda to Uganda was a relatively hassle-free experience and the group met up at the sailing club in Entebbe. They spent a few days in the city as three of the vehicles needed servicing and repairs. A kind-hearted workshop owner allowed the guys to use his facilities, staff and equipment to carry out the repairs while the girls relaxed at the Protea Hotel.

Some of the parts required had to be sourced from South Africa, but once these were received it was full steam ahead to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The journey through Kampala went well and the whole team were reunited at the Nile River Explorers where they spent the morning catching up in Jinja. The following day was spent swimming, catching up and making plans for the next stage of the journey.

Kenya

The fearless adventurers spent their first two nights in Kenya in a beautiful cottage in the mountains near the town of Koru. The area is incredibly green and lush, and it is hard to believe you are in Africa and not in Europe.

The drive through the Rift Valley was unforgettable. The vegetation changed dramatically to semi-desert, quite similar to the Karoo, with lots of sheep and goats. The road was very rocky and Rocinante, the Land Rover Forward Control Series 2B, suffered a puncture. It was a bad gash but luckily, they managed to plug it and continue onwards to Series Safari Camp in the Lolldaiga Hills Reserve, very close to Mount Kenya. After a spectacular sunrise the next morning, they were fortunate to see the tip of the mountain peeking out from above the clouds.

Arriving at Kentrout Camp near Nanyuki for their next overnight stop, the group was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were the only overlanders in the camp. After leaving the camp, they headed towards Lake Turkana, where they would be spending the night wild camping in a riverbed in a remote area between South Horr and Lake Turkana. While the road had been rough, the scenery was harsh but spectacular – rugged volcanic mountains, desert terrain dotted with camels, herd boys in colourful traditional clothing and the occasional ostrich. This was by far the most uninhabited and pristine area they had visited on the trip thus far.

Of course, this is also the location of the Lake Turkana Wind Farm, consisting of 360 turbines which were erected over a period of one year. They produce 310MW, roughly 17 percent of the country’s total supply. Interestingly, the farm is run by Hendrik Bosman, who hails from Vereeniging. He gave the group a warm welcome, helped with diesel and filled their water tanks. They spent the night in the town of Loiyangalani and upon leaving the next morning, two of the vehicles developed mechanical issues. Back to the windfarm then, where it was discovered that a new radiator would have to be flown in for one of the vehicles. Henk was on hand again and provided a sumptuous meal in the desert.

The travel weary group were allowed to camp next to a borehole at the wind farm. It was windy but also incredible, with sightings of an Egyptian vulture, a Yellow-winged bat and jackals drinking from the water pool at the base of the borehole. Making the experience even more special were a few visits from the Nomadic Turkana tribe.

The radiator arrived and with little time to spare as the group had hoped to reach the Ethiopian border the following day, was quickly installed. The group encountered an askari (as the soldiers in the region are known) in the late afternoon while they were scouting in the bush for a camping spot. He did not speak a word of English but whispered sounds and had the most expressive sign language. He informed them that the spot they were considering was not safe for camping and that they should continue further down the road. Once a suitable camping spot had been found, dinner was prepared, and after a double helping of Steve’s gourmet rice and sausage hot pot, their new friend settled down into the sand with a log as a pillow, covered himself with his kaross and promptly went to sleep.

They woke up, had coffee together and their askari graciously allowed them to take some photographs of him. There was more intense sign language communication from him, which they deduced meant that Ally’s beautiful face was causing great emotions in his heart, but he really needed to go home to his family. The second part of what he was trying to explain was a little less clear. They were either in danger of some local tribe killing and roasting them on the fire, or he wanted to go and kill an animal and roast it on the fire for them. They decided that both options were probably best avoided and said their farewells.

Ethiopia

It was an extremely frustrating day as the group had spent almost eight hours at the border and two of the vehicles had mechanical problems. They searched and found the closest hotel and decided to call it a night. The first order of business the next morning was to find a mechanic. Fortunately, there was a good workshop in Moyale – which was the town they found themselves in – and the issues with the vehicles could be properly sorted out. This would take a few days, but the festive hotel with its bright colours lifted their mood. There was a constant flow of platters of food and tiny cups of strong coffee to keep them happy while they waited for the repairs to be done before moving on to the town of Yabelo.

The convoy arrived safely in Addis Ababa. For the first 300km Ethiopia was exactly as they had imagined; dry and arid with craggy mountains and vast open spaces dotted with traditional huts. It then changed dramatically into lush green rolling hills with big lakes and vast areas of cultivated land. Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. The legend goes that Kaldi, a goat herd, noticed that his goats were getting particularly wild and frisky after eating a certain type of berry. Curious, he took it to a local monastery to ask the monks what they thought it could be. The monks declared the fruit to be the work of the devil and hurled them into the fire. When the aroma of roasting coffee reached their noses, however, they had a change of heart and decided that anything that smelled that good couldn’t possibly be evil.

They removed the roasted fruits from the fire and put them in a pot of hot water to preserve them. Upon tasting the resulting brew, the monks discovered that it helped them to stay up much later at night for their devotions, and so coffee was born!

Coffee is a major player in Ethiopian culture with coffee ceremonies being performed daily as a gesture of respect and friendship. Fresh grass and flowers are spread on the floor and incense is burned to purify the air. The beans are roasted and ground and the coffee is brewed in a clay pot called a jebena. Tiny cups of incredibly strong coffee are then poured.

Driving north from Addis Ababa, 2 700m above sea level, surrounded by green fields and hills, made the group feel as if they were already in the UK. They passed through the incredible valley that the Blue Nile runs through, the descent and ascent taking a few hours, with a couple of cooling down stops for the vehicles on the uphill. A boat trip on Lake Tana, the biggest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile, was up next. They stayed at the Goha hotel in Gondor where they had to share accommodation with the local army, who would have breakfast in the morning and then go out and fight for the day before returning in the evening as the next shift took over the fighting.

Sudan

The border crossing was done without any hassles and the group arrived safely in Khartoum. The Sudanese people are incredibly kind, friendly and welcoming, and the countryside is flat, green, hot and full of mealie fields… a bit like driving through the Free State! The first night in Sudan saw the group camping in a relatively flat and wide-open sandy area – only to be stuck in a wet mushy bog within minutes after a rainstorm! So, the evening was spent sitting in Rocinante and drinking Rick’s whiskey as they waited for the rain to subside. The next day was spent in Khartoum, which is very run down. Fortunately, their registration as foreign tourists was done, so early the next day they headed north again – towards Wadi Halfa and the Egyptian border.

It was a long haul through the desert and because the vehicles were so old, their maximum speed was only about 70km/h in this heat. There was no aircon, only vents in the dash, which is like having a hairdryer constantly blowing in your face, sucking all the moisture out of you. Cell phones were too hot to charge, fridges couldn’t stay cold, and their drinking water was the temperature of a hot bath. It seemed that it was too hot for even the goats, camels and donkeys that are usually so prolific. The roadside was littered with mounds of bones and desiccated skin. To their right they could see the green strip of lush bush and trees that surround the Nile. Tantalizingly close, but the road goes straight through the desert. The team remained in good spirits, though. They were living the adventure, after all… who else in their circle of friends can say they have camped in this desert?

To beat the heat, the group set off early the next day, and arrived in Wadi Halfa sweaty, dirty and tired after two nights of rough camping in the desert. What a great relief to find a hotel with aircon! After a good night’s sleep and a warm shower, they were ready to tackle the Egyptian border.

Egypt

Although very time consuming, the border crossing presented no serious problems. The group caught the ferry across Lake Nasser and spent the night in Abu Simbel The following day was spent visiting Abu Simbel Temples. These were built by Rameses II, who ruled Egypt from 1290 to 1224 BC. Incredibly, in 1960, 51 nations collaborated through UNESCO to relocate the two temples to a new site as they were being threatened by the rising waters of Lake Nasser. The temples were cut into 7 700 blocks of approximately 2m x 3m, averaging 30 tons each, and the entire salvage process took more than two years.

The next stop was Aswan, but one of the vehicles overheated along the way and limped into town. The local police advised that it would not be possible to get the vehicle fixed in Aswan and a flatbed tow truck was arranged to take it to Cairo.

They arrived safely in Cairo after a 1 000km trek through the desert. They had befriended by a very kind policeman at one of the checkpoints and he organised permission and a police escort for them to travel the desert highway, which is normally closed to tourists.

The desert scenery is quite spectacular. At one point the convoy was travelling through a very unstable looking canyon where large sections had crumbled to form huge avalanches. It was a bit nerve wracking! Their new friend had also set them up in a beautiful, airconditioned apartment as the hotels are quite expensive. The next day was set aside for sightseeing before moving on to Alexandria, from where they would finalise the plans for shipping the vehicles to Greece.

So often when you visit an iconic landmark the reality doesn’t quite live up to the image you had created in your mind. Not so for the pyramids of Giza. Their size and construction are absolutely overwhelming. The group went inside the burial chamber of the pyramid of Khufu, the largest of the Giza pyramids with a height of approximately 147m. It was extremely hot and humid inside and definitely not for anybody who is claustrophobic.

Alexandria

Alexandria was crazy! The group arrived early on a Friday evening to a scene that was something like Hillbrow crossed with the Durban beachfront on New Years Eve – thousands of people, two circuses, a fireworks display, gridlocked roads and all the hotels fully booked.

It was the first time they had encountered full hotels on this trip and after about three hours of searching, they finally managed to find accommodation in the dodgier part of town. However, they spent the next hour or so trying to chase off some thuggish street kids who kept trying to break into the vehicles. As a result, the weary travellers only got to bed way past midnight. The next day was spent sorting out the paperwork involved in shipping the vehicles to Greece and they were safely delivered to the port warehouse from where they would be loaded when the ship came in. The group made their way back to Cairo, from where they flew to Greece to await the arrival of the Landies so that the trip could be resumed.

Greece

After arriving safely in Athens and checking into an Airbnb, it was off to the beach for a swim, where Tree was badly stung by a jelly fish. The attention from the pretty female lifeguard seemed to lull the pain though, and he insisted that they walk from beach to beach so he could get some more sympathy from the lifeguards along the way. The group decided to rent a boat and captain and do some sightseeing of the islands while they waited for the vehicles to arrive by ship. Unfortunately, they received the news that the ship that was supposed to be carrying the Landies was carrying military equipment and as such, could not take civilian items. They would have to wait for another ship.

When the vehicles finally arrived, they had been thoroughly ransacked during the shipping process and most of the tools, clothes, cooking utensils, torches and such had been stolen. On the bright side, they could spend their first night camping in Europe!

Albania

Once again, the group’s preconceived perceptions of a country were completely disproved by the reality. For some reason they had the idea that Albania was not a safe place to travel to, but it turned out to be an absolutely amazing place.

The scenery is quite incredible, with massive mountains, clean rivers and a beautiful coastline. The people are very friendly, but their driving style would make Gauteng taxi drivers nervous! Interestingly, there are regular bars – yes, the kind that serve alcohol – at the service stations, not the coffee bars that South Africans know. But then again, with all the crazy driving taking place, one would probably need a little something to calm the nerves! The country is steeped in history and the group stayed in the town of Gjirokaster, which dates back to the 1300s. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is a huge castle on top of the hill which overlooks the town. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a history buff.

France

After meandering through Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Austria, the convoy reached France. It was cold and very expensive, and the group was relieved to find a reasonably priced hotel. They also learnt a valuable lesson: do not believe the photos you see on the website!

United Kingdom

The remaining members of the group took the ferry from France to Dover. The excitement over finally being in the UK was somewhat overshadowed by the realisation that the journey was coming to an end. They drove to Chartwell House in convoy and were met by friends and family who welcomed them. They had done it! There were a few hiccups along the way, but their epic adventure was a great success.

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