The beginning of our Encounter Overland trip in 1979 from London to Johannesburg.
The truck had been prepared for a year away and given a new coat of paint at Encounter Overland's workshop in Bedfordshire. The the mechanical provisions had been wrapped in waterproof material and packed into military boxes.
A trip to Bedford and the shopping done, and all packed securely into the back of the truck. The trailer prepped and loaded.
A final check and all was ready.
The day before departure we drove the truck down to London and stayed the night in the Company's flat, which could have been at 12 Egerton Gardens, just a few minutes walk away from the office, well about 30 mins. I have no recolection of the address, but found it as one of EO's addresses.
Departure date arrived, 3rd February 1979.
As normal for a departure day, the office opened early and the girls welcomed the people joining the trip and registered them in. Passports with Visas were distributed where appropriate. The truck was parked on the other side of the busy Old Brompton Road. On yellow lines, so we did not want a tardy departure. Somewhere I read that the truck was meant to arrive at the office by 07:30am with a scheduled departure at 08:00am
The group grew and photos were taken. Not by me apparently, perhaps a little preoccupied?
Tom and I were meeting and greeting the passengers, the last time they will be called that as they became Expedition Members, or EMs for short.
These five photos are not of our trip or even our truck. The truck parked on the yellow line is only one digit out in the registration number. The photos came from an EO Scrapbook online.
The coach arrived. The EMs would travel to the ferry at Dover by coach to comply with English Law and insurance requirements.
See how bright and sparkly the truck is, especially the silver bumper and front axle. Everything clean, shipshape and Bristol fashion.
I can't remember at the moment but I assume the luggage was loaded on the truck, or more precisely into the trailer, and the EM's would travel in the coach with hand luggage, perhaps cameras, and documentation, such as passports.
As an aside, that was the doorway I walked through the year before to begin my EO experience.
More clues to it not being our group, as the truck is in the alternative colours. Not exactly home or away, just both were used.
The EMs congregate beside their truck eagerly awaiting departure.
Apart from the couples, this might have been the first time that they had met, other than any induction meetings for the UK residents.
A group photo of part of that Expedition Team.
After all the introductions and formalities, it was time to set of. The truck and the coach may depart at the same time, but travel at different speeds. Hopefully all the EMs are comfortable having at least seen the truck that they will be traveling in, and are not concerned that they have been duped and the trip will all be by coach.
We arrive at the ferry terminal in Dover. The EMs board as foot passengers and we drive on to the truck deck. All very easy, with no difficulties of did you pack all the luggage, why have you got luggage for about 20 people and enough loo rolls for months. Different times.
The truck is easy to drive onto the ferry and after crossing the English Channel, just drive of the other side, RORO, roll on roll off..
I don't particularly recall much about our drive through France. The map has a route, but that is just approximate. I don't think we used the Autoroutes of France, not just to avoid paying the tolls, but there was little to be gained by doing so. The truck is a 'medium mobility' ex military vehicle. It is a capable off road vehicle, specially adapted for long haul, self sufficient expeditions. It is not well suited to cruising along a motorway at significant speed, unless 40mph is considered significant. Given that, there is more interest for the EMs in keeping to the trunk roads rather than the motorways, which tend to be more bland.
Also, whist recognizing that Europe is a fascinating place with much to offer the tourist, our intent was merely to transit through it, with the least amount of distraction or hindrance. Further, it was early February, it was cold.
Fortunatly, Wolgang has a better memory than me. "I joined the trip in Calais and remember a really cold first night in the tents, second night was at a winery in the Champagne, next in a forest close to the Swiss border."
The second night was near Chalon sur Marne, now renamed to Châlons-en-Champagne since 1998. The third night, and the last before crossing into Italy was in a forest close to the Swiss border in the vicinity of Dijon.
Early morning, followed by a long slow climb, driving into the Alps. Topping of at Mont Blanc Tunnel, with an elevation in the centre of 1,395 m (4,577 ft).
According to an European Union Website, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom join the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of Member States to nine.
Not quite a true reflection of history as the EU was not established until 1993.
The European Economic Community (EEC) was a regional organization that aimed to bring about economic integration among its member states. It was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. Upon the formation of the European Union in 1993, the EEC was incorporated into the EU and renamed the European Community (EC). In 2009, the EC formally ceased to exist and its institutions were directly absorbed by the EU. This made the Union the formal successor institution of the Community
Freedom of movement and residence for persons in the EU is the cornerstone of Union citizenship, established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.
Not really wanting to move into politics, the reason for mentioning the EU and freedom of movement was to explain that there was a border crossing between France and Italy in 1979. The actual border is above the tunnel, which was opened to traffic on 19 July 1965, but the border control was on the Italian side. The buildings are still there, but presumably only used to collect the tolls now.
On the Italian side of Mont Blanc Tunnel, or being on the Italian side, Monte Bianco. The Tunnel mouth can be seen through the gap.
Just slightly further along, and without the tunnel entrance. This is a close match to our photo of the time, but without the snow or the queues of trucks waiting to go through the tunnel. The roads may have been remodelled but the structure is substantially the same. Queues now are more likely to be for the tolls or to limit traffic flow in the tunnel, than the immigration and customs of our day.
Boarder crossings inevitably lead to a degree of delay, sometimes only shortening the driving day slightly, but sometimes involving an overnight stay between one border point crossing, leaving a country, and the next entering a country. A night in no-man's-land. (Not to be confused with Nomansland in the New Forest.)
Again from Wolfgang, 'First stopover I remember in Italy was a campground in Fiesole (close to Firenze), then Napoli (there was the burglary), I think in Palermo we stayed somewhere in the town at an abandoned yard? On the road to Trapani we camped in front of the ruin of an an ancient Greek temple. ( we went for holidays in Sicily some years ago, then this temple was a national monument with a fence around and an entrance fee!).' Wolfgang checked his diary and added a stop in the Aosta Valley.
The crossing into Italy was snowy and cold, but beautiful as well.
My first photos of the trip were taken here, near the Mont Blanc Tunnel, some not too dissimilar to Wolfgang's.
After the border we moved just a short distance to the Hotel Astoria and Funivie Monte Bianco in Strada la Palud, Courmayeur, Aosta. Photo in the slideshow of Funivie Monte Bianco, the Italian cable car, Courmayeur, Italy with Grandes Jorasses above.
A matching Google Streetview of Astoria, Strada la Palud, Courmayeur, La Palud AO, Italy, in 2008.
The Funivie Monte Bianco can still be seen in past streetviews, but as explained in an article in Powder, its days were numbered.
In addition to the Border Crossing we stopped in the carpark beneath the Crossing buildings, took some photos and stretched our legs.
The same carpark that now appears to be the location of the replacement cable car.
I think we drove into the village looking for somewhere to stop, but found that too difficult without obstructing traffic, so possibly took the photo from the layby, found somewhere to turn around, and continued down the valley and stopped in the carpark instead, a few minutes later.
Less of interest, but more space. Somewhere to get out.
We were in the same Aosta Valley, but lower, with less snow, when we had our first night in Italy. Camping of course.
Up early the next day, partly because it was cold, and partly to get out of the mountains and go south, down Italy towards Africa. The next night stop was a campground in Fiesole.
For over 50 years on the hill of Poggio Magherini overlooking Florence
The most beautiful balcony in the world near Florence
Camping Village Panoramico Fiesole is just 7 km from the historic centre of Florence. Nestled in wooded parkland, since 1956, it has welcomed generations of tourists whose exceptional experiences have created a long-lasting emotional ties to the camp.
Could this be where we stayed? Possibly, it has been there long enough, and the area could have been too build up for wild camping.
I don't recall visiting either Florence or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The latter was almost on route if we travelled via Genoa.
Part of the reason for thinking we took the route via Genoa was the photo of the coast with the cliffs, viaducts and bridges. Two roads and a railway line hugging the mountainside. I have spent years, on and off, trying to place where the photo was taken. Checking mapping and internet images, and even posting the photo on the internet, with a caption of 'Help needed with location of this photo.' Well today, 13 April 2021, I found out where it is. Not on the North West coast of Italy at all, but South of Naples. At the beginging of the port of Salerno, which was not there at the time. It was just a small bay at the botom of the cliffs.
The next image is from Google Maps which I think you will agree is a good likeness, dispite not being from exactly the same angle. Click on the image to take you to the place in Google Maps.
This of course opens up the possibility of us not having taken the route via Genoa, but instead, inland via Milan, or nearby.
However, I have recently found part of a report by Alan Dougall, who was due to be on this part of the trip but was ill, so will be joining in Tunis, and Tom will be returning to England. Alan was a trail blazer and this report is from the first Trans Africa Southbound via Italy. Previously routes were via Fez or Rebat, Morocco but the political situation between Morocco and Algeria was becoming fraught, so a new contingency route was necessary.
The report is from Alan on a Southbound trip which left London on 20 August 1977, about 18months before our trip.
Just because Alan took one route it does not mean that we kept totally to that on our trip. His information is feed on to following groups, to help make trips successful.
For instance we did not go over the top but went through the tunnel as evidenced by the photos.
It does increase the probability that went via Milan and not the coast.
I agree that Rome is too big, with too many things to do, and this was a Trans Africa, not a cities of Europe trip.
The report also confirms which ferry it was that I had to reverse onto. More on that later.
The photos of this trip are divided into the following areas; Europe, North Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa