A story about my overland trip from London to Johannesburg, Southbound, with the layover in Southern Africa, and back to London covered elsewhere. The first chapter.
EO London to Johannesburg departure 3 Feb 1979
On board WBH 646S in orange
I was one of the Expedition Leaders/Drivers, L/D for an Encounter Overland trip from London to Johannesburg in South Africa. The trip left London on Saturday 3rd February 1979 and was planned to take 16 weeks. At the time Encounter Overland operated a single staff member with an expedition team of about 20 people. Otherwise known passengers, customers, punters, or officially Expedition Members, EMs. Whatever they are called they are most definitely not passengers. Having only one staff member ensures that the L/D has to fully engage with the Expedition Team and not able to bump along with with another staff member. Another advantage of course is that there is an additional seat to sell. Our trip was something different from that norm, just as well.
The Expedition Leader was normally therefore, driver, mechanic, navigator, guide, concierge, facilitator, medic (unqualified), confidant, aide, peacekeeper, negotiator, and many other things as well. The Expedition Team had to make camp, cook, wash up, shop for food, assist the Expedition leader in most things, as required, apart from driving. On top of that they had to look at the scenery, engage with each other, and the locals and generally enjoy the adventure. They were normally in the age range of 18 to 30-40. There was no formal upper age restriction, but trips like this are tough both physically and mentally. Pushing a heavy truck through soft sand, and running round from back to front with sand mats before the truck loses momentum, is not an easy task.
Some of the team were couples, others small groups of friends, and frequently they were travelling on their own. It is very interesting and challenging whichever group you fall in, to suddenly be spending 24/7 with either your partner, friends, and people you have never met before. It makes for some very interesting dynamics. The Expedition Leader has to help all of the different temperaments get along with each other and resolve any areas of friction. A collaborating team can be a happy and safe team. A happy team makes for a happy and memorable trip. Something to remember and be proud of for life.
The date was 3rd Febuary 1979, a Saturday. It was not long before everyone had arrived. It was time to get underway. However, not together. I would drive the truck down to the ferry and the EMs would travel by coach. English Public Service Vehicle laws were difficult for a truck in those days and near impossible these days. For instance, how do you construct a truck that has both a low skirt, like a coach for UK roads, and a high ground clearance for the off road segments? We would join up again on board the ferry.
Tom Coville accompanied me to Tunis, as Alan was ill. We met up with Alan in Tunis and Tom returned to London. Alan stayed with the group until Zambia.
I arrived with the Expedition Members, albeit in a different truck than left London, in Johannesburg on Tuesday 5 June 1979, a mere 11 days late, with a happy and contented group. The trials and tribulations together with the excitement and awe of those 123 days can be read about in the following articles. Eighteen weeks of uncertainty, change and challenge. The stuff to change a person and give memories that last a lifetime.
First time routes for Encounter Overland, wars divert us to roads not traveled by foreign trucks for a decade or more, or to leave our trusty truck and take to the air. Animals we are there to watch decide to charge. Spies and intrigue, death and destruction, mabey, and a lot more besides. However, no sex and salacious gossip, this is not a kiss and tale.
The motley crew
Our group consisted of;-
Encounter Overland staff, Ivan Hurst, Tom Colville and Alan Dougall