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NEWSPAPER ARTICLE

 

This report appeared in our regional daily newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, from which I borrowed the title for our daily blog. Published on Monday 22/2/2016. The journalist is a very keen self-drive traveler himself. The weekly column entitled "The Chiel" often addresses conservation and wildlife topics. I have been busy with some Powerpoint presentations to various interest groups and have more coming up.

"UP AFRICA: not for sissies

SO YOU think the Chiels are adventurous in their camping travels? You’ve seen and heard nothing until you learn what East Londoners Stan and Ann Weakley got up to last year. Stan’s talk and slide show to the Nahooners, supporters of the Nahoon Estuary Nature Reserve, last Monday, was a full house in the Enviro Centre with a buzz second to none – not from the bees in a wall cavity, but among his super-attentive audience.

The Weakleys push boundaries we would never attempt, with meticulous planning, research and a go-getter attitude – 18 months of that alone using contacts and the SA 4x4 Forum among others. In Southern Africa they’ve done plenty, so last year they set off in April to explore further afield, returning home in November (in fact January), and what an adventure it was.

If anything needs to be strong and reliable on a trip like this, it is the vehicle. The Weakleys have a Toyota Land Cruiser 4.2 HTZ diesel-engine 76 Series station wagon, which was chosen wisely because it uses the most common engine available in East African countries they were going to explore. “It is reliable, and has easy maintenance in the middle of the bush,” said Stan. “There are thousands of them to take spares off if you need them.” The choice proved the right one.

Packed to the hilt, with even more on the roof, including a roof-top tent which goes up or down in two minutes flat (amazing), plus extra fuel and two spare tyres, they set off through Botswana visiting old favourite places, into Caprivi, through Zambia where they saw rare shoebill storks, into Tanzania and to Lake Tanganyika for a close-up with chimpanzees, and to Rwanda, with its magnificent lakes and forests, and an even more exciting face to face with gorillas. They had to hang around for a week to get that.

Next on the itinerary was a month in Uganda which Stan describes as a beautiful country, but short on animals. “It will recover though,” he adds. The Nile, tracing Livingstone and where he met Stanley, was interesting.

Then followed two months in Kenya and the same again in Tanzania. “Kenya was busier than Tanzania with more infrastructure and we explored everywhere, going off the beaten track as much as we could.” Their route to Ethiopia took them via Lake Turkana in Kenya which is surrounded by desert. “Ethiopia is a very beautiful country with lousy people who have been ruined by international aid.” He described them as arrogant and demanding towards tourists, expecting handouts at every turn. They had rocks thrown at them. “In the rest of Africa we were very well received as South Africans, better treated even than Americans, Britons and the French.”

They pushed the Land Cruiser to the limit climbing a mountain pass in low range first gear, huffing and puffing and reaching 4 300m at the summit.

A short time was then spent in Sudan, away from troubles in the south. “Khartoum was my favourite city on the trip and where the White and Blue Niles meet, and went further on to swim in the Red Sea where we turned back and didn’t go to Egypt because of their strict control of tourists.

Highlights of the trip: Serengeti and the Maasai Mara where they watched the animal migration and river crossings; the convergence of the White and Blue Nile “which gave me a lump in my throat”; Erta Ale, a rare continuously active volcanic lava lake in Ethiopia – spectacular.

Lowlights: Having the rear axle break when a bearing seized and spending four days and three nights on the pavement with no privacy. “We could only use our portable toilet behind a building after dark.” However, the bush mechanic rebored the axle shaft by hand and the temporary repair got them to civilisation for proper repairs. Another: Collecting kindling for the fire after dark and nearly picking up a puffadder; three new tyres and three new shocks, “overloading is your biggest enemy, and we were!”

After 43 000km on the clock and nine months on the road, they must have been exhausted. Next expedition: Angola this year, but Ann’s staying home for that one. Can’t blame her one bit!"