reader’s Adventure THE PUT FOOT ADVENTURE
The 2011 Put Foot Rally, SA’s first social rally, was organised by Mountain Shak Adventures and the Bobs For Good Foundation. It was a great way to see the continent and do some good, as participants took shoes to schools around southern Africa.
Text and photography: Andy Stead
A recommended route schedule was issued (deviation at entrants’ discretion), checkpoints were arranged, accommodation provided and meals, parties and prizes promised. We were ready for our adventure. Our team consisted of myself, my daughter Tarryn, nephew Anton and good friend Ken.
The people, however, were the least of our concerns – we needed a vehicle. It didn’t have to be a 4×4 (but it would help), and we were intent on being “different”.
Then we found a 1968 Land Rover series 11a – essentially a long wheel base farm bakkie. It was cheap, strong and spares were readily available – perfect.
Comfort? Who needs it? Speed? What for? Economy? A bit of a surprise (but more on that later).
We went to pick up the vehicle in Pretoria, and it straddled the lanes all the way home because of the terrible steering – not to mention the brakes failing. Undaunted, we gave it a mechanical check-up and the team, named “The Bodyrockers”, got down to cosmetics. These included a frame for the rear, a canvas canopy (courtesy of Tarryn and her Singer) and other essential accessories.
The list of mechanical requirements, too long to mention, was supplied at quite reasonable prices by Leimer’s Land Rovers. We carried spare drive shafts, an alternator, fuel pump, coil, gasket set and tools. We felt like we were prepared for anything.
When our neighbour – a talented graffiti artist – offered to paint the Landy, we jumped at the opportunity. Thus the humble bakkie was transformed into a fearsome Rhino, ready to roam the roads of southern Africa.
At 06h00 on a cold June morning we set off from the Inanda Club with the rest of the Johannesburg contingent. We were to meet our Cape Town counterparts at Checkpoint 1 in Namibia.
As mentioned, a route was provided by the organisers but the final choice was ours, so much planning, calculations and bookings were required. We decided to go straight across Botswana, stopping in Kang for the night, and then making the first checkpoint at Etosha. We were pleased to see that some of the other entrants had adopted our spirit: a team arrived in their Datsun 120Y, and others in VW Golfs – one with FIVE occupants and all their gear! The balance of the 26 entrants were in their modern 4x4s with roof-top tents and off-road trailers/caravans, Land Cruisers and Defenders bristling with mod-cons. We scoffed at them, certain that our one-man tents, sleeping bags and absolutely no supplies was the way to go. GPS? Nah – only for sissies. We were going to do this as if it were 1968, when Land Rover ruled the off-road.
When we reached Kang (at around 21h00), however, we realised that any hope of staying with the opposition was out of the question. The Landy would only do 80km/h flat out, and flat out was the way it was driven. Nevertheless, it performed well, and seemed as though it could keep up that pace all day if required. It was clearly thirsty, but since it didn’t have a speedometer it was not possible to gauge the enormity of this until later.
With an early morning start on Day Two, we headed off for Namibia, setting up camp at Otjibamba in good time. It was, however, icy cold, so a huge fire and lots of grog before tenting up for the night was in order.
Sleep was elusive as temperatures continued to drop, and in the morning everything was frozen solid, including the Landy’s radiator. So after lots of heating up of bodies and vehicle, we set off to the first checkpoint with only minor frostbite.
Amazingly we arrived EARLY, mainly thanks to the Namibian time change (which we had forgotten about). A huge party (a taste of things to come) was held with loud music, good food and drinks all round – everything the organisers had promised. Lots of prizes were handed out (none for us I’m afraid, although we had raised a fair amount for charity). New friends were made, along with comparisons of routes and experiences.
Next morning we were off early again, to Etosha and eventually Tsumeb.
Entering Etosha, however, was a problem. Our Landy was apparently an “open” vehicle and thus not safe. We pointed out that we could seal the back, and that even their own game vehicles were open at the rear. It took a while, and a small brown envelope might have changed hands, but the boom was eventually lifted, and we were in.
The pans were great – filled with water – but the game was elusive. Did the animals flee at the sight of our four-wheel Rhino? All we saw was a leopard relaxing by the side of the road.
That night we stayed at a great campsite at Tsumeb, along with other Put Footers, and an impromptu party was held. Now, I don’t want to sound like an old man, (though I was the oldest entrant) but I had a feeling that the non-stop parties were going to wear me down … and in due course they did. The maximum entry age should be altered with consideration for the fact that energy levels decrease as you get older, particularly after spending a day in an old Landy!
A trip through the Caprivi to a wonderful campsite close to Popa Falls was on the cards for the next day. The site was right next to the river, which demanded early morning fishing for tiger. It was cold, but bearable. A word of advice, however – don’t try to thread your hooks with gloves on!
A bit later we reached the second checkpoint at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, where we had an extremely good meal (and another party). We then crossed the Kazungula via the ferry and entered Zambia, with Livingstone our destination for the night. My advice for border crossings? Masses of patience, great diplomacy and lots of savings – everything carries a cost.
After two good nights there and a couple of shoe drops, it was ever onwards to Lusaka. The shoe drops were great, and the schools were so welcoming and appreciative, it made the whole trip worthwhile.
In Lusaka we stayed with an old friend, who had invited the chairman of the Land Rover Club over to suss out our Rhino, so we made a few minor repairs and adjustments. We could do nothing about the huge crack that had developed in the exhaust manifold, so had to continue without being able to speak much. Besides this, however, he proclaimed the Landy in fine trim.
The next stop was Chipata, where we prepared for Malawi, having been told there was absolutely no fuel there! A trip into the market was thus necessary for extra sunflower oil drums, and then onwards to Lilongwe.
We stopped at Senga Bay Checkpoint 4, and we were still going strong. This was our northernmost point, and the Landy was still trucking!
With the lake behind us, another noisy party commenced – what more could one ask? It was at this stage that we decided that pushing an ageing Landy to the max was a bit much. We also took a real shine to the lake, so when everyone else moved on we stayed to enjoy the wonders of Lake Malawi, trips to islands, fishing, parking off on the beach and snorkelling.
After recovering some of our vim and vigour, we set off for Mozambique. We went via Tete, driving into darkness with no sign of accommodation or fuel. Eventually, we found a hotel (for want of a better word) in Catandica.
When we arrived in Vilanculos the main party had already left for the next checkpoint in Inhambane. We, however, were really taken with Vilanculos, so we found a campsite on the beach and stayed there for two nights.
By now we were well and truly out of the rally side of things. The local market was lovely, with lots of seafood and beer.
The Landy’s fuel tank did start to leak, but we were able to repair it with a bar of “green” soap. Our only two incidents of crime took place here, with our catering bag and my wallet going to the local redevelopment programme.
We then pushed on towards Inhambane, but decided at the last minute to continue past it to Xai Xai. Miraculously I found the campsite I had stayed at circa 1968, and it was just the same! Nothing had been maintained or repaired since, but it had a good restaurant and was on the beach.
It was when we pulled out of Xai Xai that I realised that the Landy was not happy. It was struggling with the hills – I mean struggling more than usual – and sounding decidedly off colour. We had to keep cranking the idling up, and it simply didn’t sound the same – and we had gotten very used to the sound, I can tell you!
The lack of power got progressively worse, and by the time we reached Maputo I thought we would have to dump and hitch. That revolting stretch just before you get into town was a real nightmare traffic-wise, as the Landy stalled every time we stopped and then battled to start again. Finally we got through, in part thanks to Tarryn directing traffic at a major intersection! Any hopes of completing the rally in Swaziland were now well and truly put to rest, and we decided to go through Komatipoort and head straight home.
We eventually made the border, paradoxically picking up a speeding fine for doing 85km/h in a 60 zone, in a Landy that was by now only capable of doing about 40km/h (there was no use arguing – they had taken my driving licence).
We were happy to be back in the good old RSA, and ever homeward albeit at very slow speeds. We had a wonderful overnight stop at Elands Valley, where we were given a chalet for less than the cost of camping.
The next day we continued, and seriously battled climbing out of Waterval Boven, but did finally make it home under our own steam.
In the end, was it good – was it worth it – was it a true adventure? The simple answer was that it was. It was made so by doing it the hard way, using something out of the ordinary as a vehicle and having a great team.
We went places and experienced Africa in the true sense of the word. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will always treasure.
And the Landy? Well, as you may have guessed, it had badly burnt exhaust valves (the seats had regressed into the head) and very worn guides. It wasn’t a big job, as it turned out, and the old Rhino is now resting and awaiting either another adventure or a new owner – or both!
Oh, and by the way, we averaged around 5km to the litre, so our fuel bill was just short of R20 000. Yes, you read right – R20 000!