Text: Danie Botha
Photographs: Jannie Herbst, Magda Terblanche, Antoinette Rossouw
A Toyota Fortuner 3.0D4-D, with tour leader and 4×4 legend Francois Rossouw behind the wheel, was making good time in Angola’s soft desert sand.
A convoy of 27 four-wheel-drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes followed in the Toyota’s tracks. But the driver of the vehicle directly behind the Fortuner was battling.
Battling the nerves, fighting the steering wheel, and struggling to stay in the spoor of the tour leader’s vehicle. Antoinette Rossouw (no relation to Francois) was battling to keep up. As soon as she sped up, her 4×4 – with a much narrower wheel track than the Toyota – would climb out of the spoor and start swaying from side to side. Antoinette and her travel companion, Magda Terblanche, weren’t happy. Stressed, yes, and certainly not cheerful.
Just as Antoinette grabbed at the mike of the two-way radio to ask Francois to slow down, an irritated voice came over the speaker, loud and clear in the small 4×4’s cabin:
“Meisietjies, can you pick up the pace? You need to stay closer to Francois.”
It was the driver of the vehicle behind the two women. Not surprisingly, this only served to increase the tension in the small Daihatsu Terios 1.5 4×4 automatic.
But wait, we’re getting ahead of the story. Let’s first rewind the clock by two years. That’s when lawyer Antoinette Rossouw retired. She was driving a flashy Peugeot 306 cabriolet at the time.
With lots of time on her hands, Antoinette realised that she could finally go and see all those places she still wanted to see. Like Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, and Namibia, where she was born.
And although she liked her cabriolet very much, it just wouldn’t be any good on a dirt road, never mind 4×4 roads. And rooftop tents for cabrios? No go.
So she started looking at 4x4s.
“My dad used to go hunting in the veld in Namibia in his 1953 Buick two-wheel-drive sedan, and never had a problem. So I’ve always considered the big 4x4s with locking this, electronic that and high-lifting whatevers as a bit of a waste. How many times would I really need all those fancy things?”
So a friend pointed her in the direction of Daihatsu, and the Terios 4×4 in particular.
“I went to have a look, and liked it. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought it. The price was right too, and I chose the automatic version,” Antoinette told us.
Okay, so she had the 4×4, albeit a pocket-sized 4×4.
In October 2008 she joined friends in their vehicle on a Francois Rossouw RSG 4×4 tour to the West Coast. It was her first real 4×4 tour experience, and she was sold. Lock, stock and barrel.
“When I heard that Francois was heading to Angola in May this year, I immediately phoned him. The question was not whether I wanted to go, but rather if my Daihatsu could go!”
Francois told her that if it had been the manual version, he would not have allowed the vehicle on the trip. In the soft dunes the group was to encounter, the manual version’s clutch would not stand the abuse it would have to take to get up and over the big sandy dunes.
But Antoinette’s automatic four-speed with its torque converter does not suffer from the same problem, so it was all systems go. However, packing space could be a problem, he warned.
“Okay, so my place on the tour was booked, and my vehicle received the all-clear. But I still needed someone to go with me, to share the experience. So I asked Magda, a neighbour and friend from Melkbosstrand.”
For Magda Terblanche, a retired teacher, the offer came just at the right time.
“I didn’t even think about it. I just said ‘Yes!’ I have been through some tough times, and an adventure like this sounded like a great opportunity to get new perspective on life. However, we had a few – shall we say, logistical issues – to sort out first,” said Magda.
These included the fact that neither Antoinette nor Magda owned one single piece of camping equipment. And they had no real camping experience.
So they started phoning friends and relatives, and soon gathered the essential paraphernalia. Since neither of them had ever actually pitched a tent, they practised over weekends, on the lawn in front of Antoinette’s seaside home.
“As we amassed the inflatable mattresses, camping chairs and all the other gear, we soon realised that Francois’s warning about lack of space rang true: getting all the gear into the Terios was going to present its own challenge. A fridge/freezer was on our list, but there was simply no space.”
But Magda had a plan. A good one, as it turned out.
She took a normal cooler box and lined the inside walls and floor with sheets of polystyrene. A sixth sheet was placed on top of this “case”, after which the lid of the cooler box was closed. So the “fridge” problem was kind of solved.
As the trip approached, another problem reared its head. The issuing of their passports and visas was running behind schedule. Agonisingly, the two ladies received their passports on the eve of their departure.
“We had to leave at 6am the next morning and be in Ruacana in Namibia two days later to meet up with the rest of the tour group. We left Cape Town in a flat spin, but made it to Ruacana okay,” said Antoinette.
So how did the rest of the tour group react when they pitched up the little Daihatsu?
“Oh yes. We could sense that there was a fair bit of apprehension. Two retired ladies in their wannabe 4×4, with no previous 4×4 or camping experience, amidst all the bullbars, diff locks, and rooftop tents. We were not too bothered about it, though. But Buksie, as I had christened the little 4×4, soon got a couple of new names!”
The first was KOEKBLIK. The second was SETPIL (suppository). Antoinette was initially rather taken aback by the latter, and duly asked if she should consider this as an insult.
“The man explained that, like a SETPIL, the little Daihatsu could slip in and out of the tightest spots, anywhere! We thought it was quite funny.”
And so, after staying over at the Hippo Pools campsite with the other tour members, the Angolan odyssey started with the border crossing.
“It was a nightmare!” Magda recalled. “The officials dragged their feet like you cannot believe, and a bit of bribe money was required to fix any problems like ‘suspicious’ passports, or whatever. It took the group four hours to get through the border post.”
In Angola Francois led the group in a westerly direction, through mopane forests, towards the Kunene River mouth. The idea was that the group would camp wherever they found themselves at the end of the day, on the bank of the river.
“Under Francois’s guidance, the little Terios handled this section very well and not even a river crossing halted our progress. Some of the other 4x4s battled to get up the bank after the crossing, though, which provided some photographic opportunities,” Antoinette said.
That night the group camped on the banks of the river, and with their well-practised “tent-pitching drills”, and the help of some of Francois’s assistants, the ladies set up camp without incident.
“We were busy at our campsite when one of the other tour members and his wife strolled past. We heard him say to his wife, ‘at least it doesn’t look like they struggled to set up camp’. You bet we didn’t! We didn’t practice for hours on end for nothing,” Antoinette laughed.
Magda concurred. “We operated like a production line at a factory. We both knew exactly what had to go where and how. And as the days passed, we became even more efficient!”
The next morning the tour group officially left behind any signs of civilisation. The route led them on a parallel course with the Kunene, through the Enyandi area.
The Daihatsu followed in the Fortuner’s trail of dust, and they eventually arrived at the campsite… well, that might be a tad strong a word for the spot they had to set up camp.
As was the case the previous night, the ladies socialised with the rest of the group around the campfire. It finally seemed as if some of the tour members were warming up to the TANNIES in the group in their “almost-4×4” Daihatsu Terios.
But scepticism remained. Some even questioned Francois Rossouw about the wisdom of allowing the little Japanese 4×4 along on the trip. The real daunting 4×4 stuff was still on the menu.
The third day in Angola saw the group continue farther on towards the Kunene River mouth, through the Iona Park. The tracks were getting rougher in places, but the two ladies and the little Daihatsu carried on regardless.
“At times the 200mm ground clearance was just not enough, and rocks clobbered the undercarriage. With the need to keep up a reasonable pace we couldn’t stop every few minutes to check if any damage was done either,” said Antoinette.
The kilometres flew by, and that evening the group again camped on the route. By this stage the ladies’ expertise at setting up camp was clear for all to see.
The next day the group tackled the last stretch towards the river mouth, and they camped near the mouth itself. Some basic lodgings were available at Fos de Kunene, and Antoinette and Magda decided to make use of this, instead of camping.
“Fortunately there was a broom at hand to remove the sand dune on the floor of the room, Vim to clean the washing basin, and Doom to rid the beds of bugs. We stayed for two days and nights, so that the men could do some proper fishing. And even though we didn’t catch any fish ourselves, they caught enough for us to also join in the feast. This room also became a kind of refuge for some of the ladies while the men were out fishing. We laughed a lot, and talked a lot of nonsense too!” said Magda.
After two nights at Fos de Kunene, it was time for the real 4x4s to put up their hands. Ahead lay the infamous “Doodsakker”, or acre of death, a 40km beach drive on the beach with very little space between massive dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a gruelling section that tests both man (or woman), and machine.
“This was the most scary day on this trip,” said Magda. “Because the convoy was so big, ti ming the incoming and outgoing waves was crucial. I stopped taking photographs when we got to the really bad parts. Like where we had to round rocks protruding onto the beach. The Terios bogged down, but with Francois instructi ng we soon got going again. Quite a few vehicles got stuck there.”
But there was a problem farther up the coastline. With only 7km still to go, it was the end of the road. A petrified dune had collapsed, and the road ahead was completely blocked by the “rocks”. The group had no option but to turn around and race back to where they could turn inland, away from the threatening Atlantic Ocean’s incoming tide.
“We completed the 33km beach drive just in time, and then faced the dunes. This was even worse! Race to the top, then stop, go slowly over the crest, then down the steep slip faces. I know that some of the drivers of the following vehicles were getti ng irritated by our slow cresting of the dunes. But we didn’t have low-range gearing to slow us down on the other side, and with the automatic gearbox the Terios wanted to run away. So keeping the speed down required some effort. But we made it!” beamed Antoinette.
With the Terios’s low weight counting in their favour, they never needed recovery either. The same could not be said for some of the other pukka 4x4s in the group, though. The group finally arrived at Flamingo Camp, after a day that took its toll on the two ladies. This lodge was pure luxury after the previous accommodation and proved to be the perfect therapy for them. The group stayed over here for two nights, to explore the area.
After two relaxing days, which included seeing the breathtaking oasis in the desert called Arco Lake, the group headed towards the town of Namibe, then north to Farodo. But to get to Farodo they first had to negotiate a steep climb to the top of the plateau.
“Antoinette had to tackle this rocky section at speed, and the rocks hammered the Terios’s undercarriage. But we couldn’t stop, and it just kept on coming, hitting the underbelly. However, once we got to the plateau, it was so worth it. A sapphire blue sea, a small white beach, surrounded by breathtaking cliffs and rock formations. Wonderful,” said Magda.
The group camped here for two glorious nights, by day exploring the area, fishing, relaxing and socialising. Then it was down the same rocky track again to head for the Leba Pass and the Palanca Negra Lodge.
“We drove Buksie up the spectacular Leba Pass. Wow, that pass snaking its way up the mountain was something else. Beautiful. We forgot all about the Terios’s aches and pains. We also stopped at Humpata, a town created by the Dorsland Trekkers. That was also very interesting.
“When we arrived at Palanca, Francois took off the bent cross member, and a volunteer knocked it back into shape with a hammer. It was put back on, and Buksie was good to go again,” said Antoinette.
The group stayed over at the lodge for two nights again, and the two ladies were very happy to have brick walls around them. They enjoyed camping, but a furnished room was that much better.
They spent the next day exploring the city of Lubango, which seemed to be falling apart at the seams. A million inhabitants, and the city appeared in bad shape.
There were highlights though. Like the statue of Christ on a mountaintop, similar to the one at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. And Tundevalle, a massive crater.
After two comfortable nights at Palanca Negra, it was time to head back to Namibia, then South Africa.
“The 250km from Lubango towards the border was absolutely and utterly awful,” said Magda. “There is no longer a road, just potholes. And no sign of any life, other than our party.
“There were some sharp comments made over the two-radio. Someone asked if anyone had seen the ears of a hare sticking out of the pothole. ‘We did,’ came the answer, ‘but actually, it was a donkey!’ That’s really how bad it was!”
The convoy was in for another surprise. A brand new 150km stretch of tar before Lebango had allowed the convoy to make much better time than expected. This in turn meant that they arrived at the border much earlier than anticipated. It was decided to go through the border late on the Friday afternoon, instead of early on a Saturday when the officials might be more tempted to delay the proceedings.
“We went through this border post in darkness. There wasn’t a electric light that worked. Nor candles. Yet all the formalities were dealt with. Now I know this: an Angolan can see in the dark!” joked Magda.
The group headed for a nearby campsite, just outside Ondongwa. After getting lost, the two ladies and their slightly battered Terios arrived there too.
“I was very upset at the change of plans. And when we got to the camp, we had to line up like sardines to fit in. Later, around the campfire, with a glass of wine in hand, I started feeling bett er,” said Magda.
“Ja, and when Magda was her chirpy self again, she tapped me on the shoulder, and asked whether we were going to perform that litt le drama piece for which we rehearsed every night. So we did, and everyone liked it. So our Angola experience did end on a high note after all,” said Antoinette, who is already planning her next adventure to Botswana.
And so, the legend of the little Daihatsu Terios 4×4 and its two companions was born.
Francois Rossouw on Buksie
“Some people advised against the Terios tackling Angola. But, after seeing the vehicle in action before, I knew what it is capable of, and that it is extremely reliable. And the little Terios didn’t disappoint. It exceeded all my expectations, and all the people who were worried about Buksie were left speechless by its performance. Importantly too, the ladies carried fuel for 1000km, drinking water for 13 days, shower water for five days, and all their luggage and gear in that little 4×4. Only a bulky stretcher had to be transported elsewhere,” said Francois.