VEHICLE and MODIFICATIONS:
Our vehicle is a 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser 76 series station wagon which has only done 80,000km. With its old technology 4.2l diesel engine, without any turbo, it is rather sluggish and is disparagingly referred to as a donkey. We aim to make our way at a leisurely pace, this is no Dakar Rally! Perhaps the engine of our vehicle is old technology, but with its wide-bore fuel jets and simple electronics it will be one of the best-equipped to tolerate any of the testing terrain and bad quality fuel we might encounter in some of the isolated areas of Africa. One needs a reliable, sturdy and robust vehicle that can cover bad roads for long distances under fairly heavily loaded conditions. Land Cruisers have an uncomplicated design which should prove to be very reliable. The Toyota 70 series is extensively used throughout Africa and the average bush mechanic is familiar with working on it and both new and second hand parts should be relatively easy to access. The only real rival for this type of task would be one of the older Land Rover Defender models. To my mind the newer Defenders have become too complicated with complex electronics, sensors and computers. Certainly this Toyota pack donkey of undeveloped countries will be put to the test. We shall see what trials the trip holds!
THE SLOW DONKEY.
Many of our modifications are nice to haves rather than essentials. Those working to a more restricted budget should not feel that what we have carried out is what they should aspire to. With experience our style of how we want to live in the bush has gradually evolved with many of our original concepts not standing the test of time. Two years ago we swopped our ground tent for a roof-top one and were able to say goodbye to blow-up matrasses, stretchers and hours setting up and breaking camp. The stimulus for this has mainly been the present trip. We are both organized people and many of our modifications involve efficient storage within the vehicle. Anyone can just pile things into a vehicle, but as detailed later, we have tried to simplify our storage to make easy accessibility a priority. We have decided against towing as we fear that an off-road trailer (loved so much by many South Africans) would perhaps inhibit some of our more adventurous plans and the type of isolated places we would like to visit. We also enjoy good meals in the bush and many of the modifications have been centered on convenient catering. We previously have had our fair share of punctures and wrecked tyres and being stuck and stranded in the middle of nowhere with breakdowns. We are fairly confident that we have our recovery and repair kit sorted out. We have ensured that if stranded we have enough supplies and water to be able to hold out for up to 2 weeks, not that this should be necessary with a satellite phone. My biggest deficiency is my lack of technical know-how and mechanical skills. We will just mainly have to be dependent on the help and skills of others. I have related how we were once stuck in the Kalahari in Botswana for about 20 hours because I was unable to undo the wheel nuts for a wheel change after a puncture! Much of the backup kit and spares we are taking along are for those with the skills to help us!
I purchased my vehicle in 2009 but have done minimal daily mileage. The first set of modifications were done at Baillie’s Off-road in Midrand, Johannesberg. These have served us well. Earlier this year with this trip in mind, further modifications were done by R and D Off-road in Brackenfell, Cape Town. We have used the vehicle on trips three times since the last set of mods and things are beginning to fall into place nicely. We have endeavored to carry as light a load as possible, realizing that a heavy load is the biggest enemy of trouble-free overland travel.
I have added some bling and some branding to the vehicle based on the slow donkey theme. It certainly should render us instantly recognizable should any fellow travelers see our vehicle on the road. Most often we will be in no rush at all and would welcome any contact with friendly fellow travelers, if only for a chat if not for a cold bottled sandwich or two!
This includes replacement heavy duty front and rear bumpers with Hi-lift jack points and towing attachments. Various protection plates under the vehicle. Standard vehicle alarm. FUEL: The fuel filtration system was upgraded with the addition of an in-line Racor diesel filter with a water trap. We will filter all dodgy fuel with either a stocking or muslin cloth carried specifically for this purpose. A long range tank with a capacity for 185l of diesel had been fitted as well as the capacity for carrying 4 x 20l jerry cans on the roof rack, giving us a range of well over 1,000km despite the thirsty, old-technology engine. It would appear that our longest route without fuel on the trip would be the Lake Turkana Route between Kenya and Ethiopia with in excess of 1,000km between reliable refueling points.
SUSPENSION AND TYRES.
The rear bumper had been replaced and carries 2 spare tyres mounted on swing arms. The important fact is that the weight is borne on the heavy duty bumper and not the rear doors. The vehicle is fitted with six new Cooper Discover S/T MAXX 265/75 R16 tyres which I feel would be best suited for the task in hand, but accompanied by a wilting credit card. We also carry a comprehensive puncture repair kit with plugs, gaiters and spare valves with an air compressor mounted under the bonnet as well as carrying a spare compressor in the vehicle. A spare tyre inner tube is also carried for extreme need, as well as tyre levers. I have fitted the internal tyre pressure monitors as supplied by Valor, as on rough roads I have experienced that a puncture can be difficult to pick up early enough to avoid a damaged tyre. In the past this has resulted in shredded tyres.
The suspension has been upgraded with a full Old Man Emu heavy duty suspension kit. I will also carry spare used OME shock absorbers and spare OME rear leaf-spring bushes. Research has indicated that these are the most likely to need replacing under the type of conditions anticipated. The shock absorber system is still completely compatible with standard Toyota replacements if need be. In addition I had inserted air helper springs in the rear to help against sag when heavily loaded. It does seem that locating Old Man Emu spares might be a problem further north. With suspension failure apparently being the most frequent vehicle problem due to the bad roads, this is a source of slight concern to me and we may have to revert to Toyota components should problems arise during the trip or have the spares couriered to us by the South African agents.
The roof-top tent mounted on the roof-rack has been shifted slightly towards the rear and on the front portion of the roof rack are mounted the 4 jerry cans for diesel and a gas cylinder. In the rear compartment a pair of capacious African Outback sliding drawers with a freezer slide are installed. This makes storage and accessibility to groceries and odds and ends as convenient as possible. This rear compartment of the 76 series is rather small once the 40l Engel freezer is in place. Thus we removed the rear seat and had a sturdy but light “his and hers” cupboard/shelf system inserted on either side from floor to ceiling. In this way everything has its place and nothing is stored in a piled-up fashion. Easy access and a standard place for everything is important. As far as possible nothing is packed upon anything else reducing the need for too much unloading and reloading for access. This does mean that we have no third seat for the areas that require one to carry a guide. In some areas it will be a good excuse not to carry the “compulsory” guide that you pay extra for. In other areas apparently a guide is desirable. He may have to sit on the center console freezer between the front seats or even on the roof-rack. We shall have to see!
A shelf was inserted high across the rear compartment to store light but bulky items like sleeping bags, jackets, shoes etc. The rear side windows on either side were replaced by gull-wing storage compartments allowing convenient access to kitchen and cleaning goods when stopping on the roadside. A quick cup of coffee or tea and even a meal on the road should be easy. Deep to these compartments are 2 large, fairly inaccessible cubby holes where we store spares and other heavy items. This serves to carry much of the load centrally and low down within the vehicle to lower the center of gravity. A vehicle safe is mounted in the bowels of the rear compartment. There are three other lockable compartments for valuables. A folding stainless steel table is contained in a slide under the roof rack. A drop down table is mounted to the rear door after the paneling was removed, this provides a sheltered area for use of either of the stoves, gas or multi-fuel. Special slots for our director type chairs were placed just behind the 2 front seats. Opening into the gap between the 2 front seats and incorporated into the rear seat cupboard system, are 2 foam-lined lockable sliding drawers for my camera kit and lenses. This importantly allows for easy access as photographic opportunities arise from within the vehicle. Many of us know the marital strain caused by expecting a wife to sit with a camera and long lens on her lap during game drives.
The SLOW DONKEY with rooftop tent deployed and the external modifications visible, including the replacement side gullwing kitchen compartments.
The central console between the seats was removed and an 11L Snomaster fridge/freezer inserted. This holds about 20 cans and will be run as a fridge at about two degrees centigrade to store drinks and perishables such as butter, cheese and salad ingredients. Cold beers and other drinks are like gold in the bush. A 50l water tank is mounted just forward of the sliding drawers in the rear compartment. We also carry a small hand operated Katadyne water purifier. Drinking water is carried in the rear of the vehicle in 2x20l plastic jerry cans, with recessed taps. On the flat surface of the dashboard is mounted a compartmentalized dashboard organizer to store odds and ends used frequently. It also has two drinks holders. Canvas storage modifications included two covers over the sun visors with zip and slip-in compartments, handy for maps, sunglasses and small items. Two small zipper bags are attached to the side of the front seat mounts and 2 canvas storage attachments fixed to the sides of the front doors with pockets and slots. Special zipped and lockable canvas bags suspended around the spare tyres are used to store dirty items such as a braai grid, firewood and charcoal. A central roof console with LED lights and storage compartments is mounted down the center of the front ceiling. To be able to locate odds and ends we carry a laminated list of what is stored exactly where.
Rear seat Storage Cupboards.
Center Console, Drinks Freezer and Camera Drawers.
To be able to run the 2 freezers we required quite a sophisticated system. A dual battery system with a 105AH lead crystal auxiliary battery, split charger/solenoid and battery monitors is fitted. Fortunately the vehicle has loads of spare space under the bonnet originally designed for the much larger V8 engine and comfortably has room for extras to be mounted. To augment the battery charging via the alternator, a 135 watt solar panel is mounted on top of the hardtop roof-top tent, regulated via a C-Tek DC to DC system. We also have a small 300W inverter for charging batteries and the laptop. A fair amount of discipline is needed not to open the freezer too much and milk the auxiliary battery of charge. These 12 volt electrical systems have a reputation for giving trouble. We have tried to obviate problems by insisting on high grade electrical wiring installed by experts and have tested the system thoroughly on two previous trips.