Finnish world traveller Vesa Eksola, his long time friend Jarmo Kymenlathi and local photographer Alessio La Ruffa hopped into a Datsun GO and took it for a 9500km spin.
We interviewed Vesa about his trip across South Africa, Namibai and Botswana and how he experienced it in this entry level hatchback. The Datsun GO is powered by a 1.2-litre petrol engine with an output of 50kW and 104Nm, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
You hail from Finland, which is not only on the opposite side of the world, but is also very different in many ways to South Africa. The people, the food, the climate, the nature. Why did you choose to visit South Africa and our neighbouring countries?
To live is to experience. All the new countries and cultures I am fortunate enough to visit and experience always add something new to me. The world is like a good dinner, full of different ingredients that in the end form a tasty menu. South Africa and its neighbouring countries all had something new to offer.
Which elements of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana that are very different to those of Finland did you enjoy the most?
In Johannesburg I very much enjoyed the calm but nevertheless bustling energy. I felt everywhere: totally different from quite calm Scandinavia. Throughout the whole of South Africa I enjoyed the wide open spaces, we don’t have that many in Finland. In Namibia I fell in love with the desert, so very different from the thousands of lakes and evergreen forests of my home country. In Botswana, however, I was disappointed by my travels on the Trans Kalahari Freeway – not quite as much to experience as I had expected. I should have rather taken the road through the Namibia Panhandle to Victoria Falls and from there to Gaborone.
What did you dislike?
Poverty always saddens me, and the crime that spurs from that angers me. In South Africa so many people have to fence themselves inside their homes.
You, your lifelong friend Jarmo Kymenlahti and local photographer Alessio La Ruffa did the trip in a Datsun GO, an entry-level city car. How would you rate the car’s comfort and handling?
For what one would consider to be a compact car it is surprisingly spacious and comfortable. When you sit for hour after hour inside the car, you sometimes get anxious and such an extensive journey is never easy on your back. The Datsun GO has wonderful front seats. The secret is the the spinal support system borrowed from luxury brand Infiniti. I never had any problems with my back, and neither did Jarmo. And we are not young springboks anymore… And to classify a GO as a only a city car… I wouldn’t dare to do that.
You took this little hatchback to the Kruger National Park and into Botswana and Namibia. Did you have any trouble on dirt roads and what was the trickiest terrain that you ventured onto?
The GO is very capable of handling all kinds of roads, including almost 2 000 kilometers of dirt roads we did on this trip. We had no technical issues, just bad luck with two tyre punctures. Most challenging were the hard packed dirt roads – although some potholes on the paved roads in Botswana were equally challenging. The right speed is the key. But compared to India, where I did 10 000 kilometers in a GO as well, African roads are child’s play.
What mileage did you cover in your 20 day trip?
We covered 9 500 kilometers during 16 days of driving.
What was your fuel economy in the Datsun GO?
We did average 6,8 liters per 100 kilometers, but we pushed the car really hard. The GO maintains, quite nicely, a travel speed of 140 km/h.
We know that you had two set destinations before you started out, namely the Kruger National Park and a visit to Bothaville, in the Free State. We understand why you would visit Kruger, but what is in Bothaville that caught your attention?
We heard that there was a very nice collection of classic Datsuns there…over a hundred cars in fact. It must be one of the best private collections in the world. A very impressive collection indeed, well worth the small side trip.
What where the highlights of your trip?
Kruger and then Etosha National Park in Namibia. To get so close to wildlife is simply amazing. There were also so many wonderful roads… I did enjoy the Garden Route quite a bit; driving towards the sunset in George was an unforgettable experience. Following that the R62 from Oudtshoorn to Montagu was beautiful as well. In Cape Town we had bad weather, but going around the Cape is still always nice. And the long straight roads in Namibia… wow.
Did you encounter any challenges?
The the flats we had. The first one was really bad and it happened late in the evening after dark. We had hardly enough space to park the car on the shoulder and we had to change the right rear tyre – that meant the cars passing by almost without slowing down were less than one meter away from us changing the tyre. In Etosha, we were surrounded by a herd of elephants, there was no room to maneuver anywhere. Luckily enough the GO seemed to have a very elephant friendly face. Even the mothers were quite relaxed…even if there were young babies.
Any other interesting stories from South Africa that you’d like to share?
Oh, so many…I don’t know where to start… so it is better I don’t. And, I have to come back and collect a few more stories. Covering so much ground in such a short period of time makes you hungry for more and South Africa has so much to offer.