The eighteen months of our Land Rover restoration project brought us into contact with many people who in their own way contributed to the successful outcome. We met mechanics and electricians, welders and painters, upholsterers and air conditioning specialists. After returning from our trip one of our last Saturday afternoons in Ghana before departing for Canada was spent saying thanks to many of those individuals by inviting them to Opere’s shop for pizza and beer. We set up the Defender in full campsite mode, filled the fridge with beer and soft drinks and brought some pizza from Frankies and meat pies we bought from Rejoice at the High Commission.
The turn out was not bad, if devoid of female presence. Despite that, on request we put an Ebo Taylor CD in the stereo and the boys even danced.
It was our way of saying thank you and farewell to some people who helped realize a project that was, when you think about it, rather unlikely and against the odds.
After leaving Bolgatanga our drive down through northern Ghana was a return to the somewhat familiar. We arrived in Tamale, capital of the Northern Region, about 15:00, in time to go by the CIDA Program Support Unit (CIDA-PSU) office there. Tamale is a pleasant city, clean with wide street and good infrastructure. For Jonathon this was to a certain extent a return to work. We were on holiday but being there he was pleased to engage in work-related discussions with Iddrissu and others in the PSU, not a bad way to get caught up after more than a month on the road incommunicado. We have been to Tamale before, Jonathon for work many times, and always stayed at the Marian Hotel, but this time we were looking for something a bit less refined. On the advice of CIDA-PSU colleagues we went to the Ghana Institute of Linguistics Guest House where the manager agreed to let us set up Camp Defender in their lovely garden.
Northern Ghana is where Ghana sheanut is grown, from which many beauty products are derived. The cultivation of the trees and the processing of the nuts is principally a female activity, and the source of income for many women who work independently or in co-operatives. While in Tamale we were able to stop in at one for tour and purchase some of the sheanut “butter” which is great skin lotion. A lot of this is exported, and can be found on the shelves at the Body Shop in malls in North America.
Most significantly is was while we were in Tamale that Ghana’s President Mills died unexpectedly, we learned of it while we were in an internet cafe and may have seen it before most of the rest of the city.
The other item worth mentioning was meeting up with Abu, the Director of Northern Region office of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Jonathon and Abu know each other through the CIDA-EPA partnership and on this visit they had lots of fun sparring about the Land Rover. As those of you who followed the restoration stage of this blog may know, for the first 15 years of its life our Defender was an EPA vehicle, and as an EPA veteran Abu spent many miles driving it around the extremely rough tracks of northern Ghana to support village environmental education. Abu was very sceptical that this was indeed the same vehicle, it was only when he saw the original GR 1995 license number that they had etched in all the windows that he accepted it was indeed the same vehicle they had driven so hard for so long, and evenatually sold at auction for scrap. Abu said EPA wanted to buy it back now; Jonathon said it was not for sale.
After an unofficial CIDA work-related meeting with the PSU and EPA (Jonathon forgot he was on holiday) we had a much later than planned departure out of Tamale. We knew we would not be able to make it as far as Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city and a milestone en route to Accra, before dark. The back-up plan was to pull up at a monkey sanctuary about 100 km north of Kumasi a ways off the main road.
A couple of hundred kilometres to the south-west of Tamale is Mole National Park, the place to go in Ghana to see elephants. Although we did not go there on this trip, we could have, and because it is such a great part of the Northern Ghana experience we are going to cheat a bit here and close this post with a couple of pictures from a visit we made there last year.
As we made our way toward Tamale from Sirigu the main stop of interest was Bolgatana, capital of Ghana’s Upper East Region. Bolga is known for it very unique and attractive baskets, which are arguably the most attractive craft produced in Ghana, and useful to boot. One can find these in Accra, but there is something satisfying about going to the source. We were also in the market for a few of these baskets for a design idea for our Ottawa house.
One source is a craft market on the outskirts of Bolga, but there is also a place referred to as the basket market, which is less of a market than a dark, unenhanced room with baskets piled in it. We went to both but it was the latter that had much more greater choice and higher quality for what we were looking for. Laura went wild.
Bolgatanga also has to be counted as a maintenance stop. While Laura was basket shopping I went to deal with the slow leak in the right rear tire, which was actually not so slow anymore and had gone completely flat while we were in Sirigu. The affable roadside tire guy I chose was quite amused by the hardware he pulled from inside our tire: a 2″ inch nail AND a 3″ bolt!
Our last night in Burkina was spent bush camping near a National Park called Ranch Nazinga, a popular site for elephant viewing. The late afternoon was another off-road excursion down a mud track to try to get into a campement that was located some 5 kms off the main road. There had been a great deal of rain the previous night and day and we had to traverse some wide stretches of water.
for about 20 minutes until we arrived at the Nazinga River, which normally one just drives through. However, it had swollen its banks and was about 100 yards wide where the track went in. I waded in to check the depth, egged on by an audience of local teenagers who kept saying “ca peut aller” (it can go). Clearly for them this was a spectator sport.
One of the older boys said “il y a un trou” (there is a hole) and that there was another route upriver where they had put in some boards to help the crossing. If we had had a couple more hours of daylight I might have tried it but there was quite a current and it was getting late so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, swallowed our pride and turned around, much to the chagrin of the boys. The fact was that we were just looking for a place to camp for the night and there was no reason for us to risk having the Landy swept downriver. We retraced our route through down the wet track and found a nice place to camp on higher ground to pass a very pleasant night.
At Nazinga we were only about 40 kms from the border, but before we left Burkina we took a detour east to the village of Tiebele where the Gournonsi practice of decorating the outside of the mud houses with painted geometric patterns is still evident. Despite the poverty Tiebele almost felt touristy as we were flagged by prospective guides. There is no system for assigning guides, you get the one that you decide to stop for, but once you have chosen one it seem the rest leave you alone.
We were taken to a complex of mud houses that are apparently the residence of the Chief and his family, the guide said some 80 people lives within the walls. It was a bit more refined than houses we have seen elswhere with some very unique features.
We did get a sense that maybe this was more of a museum than an actual house, it seemed too neat and clean. There were some people around, and women on the roofs stirring grains as they dried in the sunshine, but the place felt like it might be more a place to show the tourists than an actual chief’s compound. However that did not detract from the very unique structure, which had many features we had not seen in other villages we have visited.
We could see plenty of other similar structures around, it is much less disruptive that they have one they can take the tourists to without disturbing people. That is just good community tourism management. In the Tata Somba houses we went to in Benin and Togo we had to pay a tip to people whose houses we visited, which was a bit awkward.
On our way out of Tiebele we stopped at the local pump to fill up our 20 litre wash water jerry can. We paid the Village Water Committee 200 CFA (50 cents) for the water, and another 200 CFA 50 to the fellow who lugged the full water can back to the vehicle.
Our objective that night was Sirigu in Ghana,which is about 60 km from Tiebele by road through the border crossing but probably only about half that as the crow flies. We spent the last of our CFA on diesel at the last filling station in Burkina at Po before we crossed the border. Then after crossing the border, just as we were clearing Customs on the Ghana side, the last of all the check points on both sides of the border, we realized that the filling station we had stopped at in Po an hour earlier had not put the gas cap back on. As it is a locking tank it meant a full set of our keys was also still in Burkina Faso. Fortunately, officials in both countries were prepared to pretend we were still in Ghana while we quickly drove back to Po to pick up the keys and cap and waved us back through when we came back 20 minutes later. I don’t think they would do that at the US-Canada border, but then they probably would not have forgotten to put the gas cap back on either.
We arrived in Sirigu about 5 PM, about 20 km in down a laterite road from the highway. En route via the laterite side road we were pulled over by a Ghana Immigration crew that were clearly driven by pecuniary motives, and were none too pleasant about it. They asked why were going to Sirigu and laughed when we said we were going to visit the Women’s Co-op. “Ohhh, going for a visit are you?” It was almost funny to see their reaction when they realized that we had diplomatic passports and the Land Rover they had surrounded to hassle had diplomatic plates. They apologized profusely for bothering us and let us move on, but left us with an impression that the Ghana Immigration Service is not the most professional of organizations.
Sirigu and the surrounding region is also known for decorative painting of the houses. There is a strong women’s co-operative in Sirigu that runs workshops and a guest house with a lovely grounds where we were able to camp for the night. There was a Dutch man staying there who had taken workshops in pottery and basket-making, and an American woman doing research in the region for her Masters thesis in Art History. A pump on the grounds was visited by a steady stream of locals, mostly children, picking up water. As the co-op facilities are themselves painted in the local style we did not have to go anywhere to see it up close.
Sirigu more modern and refined than what we saw in Tiebele, but does not convey the historical sense. We visited the co-op shop in the morning and were on our way to Bolgatanga by 10:00 AM.
PS. A systems note: We have now put on more than 5,000 km on the Defender in the month we have been on the road. Everything is working well. The early charging problems we had with the second battery have disappeared and there is no longer any loss of coolant. Incredibly, there is also no appreciable oil consumption – we have used less than a half litre of since we left Accra. Even the air conditioning, for which I thought it was only a matter of time before something failed, is performing perfectly. We did discover an interesting electrical glitch related to the faulty hazard light switch that is the stuff Land Rover folklore is made of. I had discovered sometime before we left Accra that if I turned the ignition off when the flashers were on the motor keeps running. It was explained to me by Eric our electrician that the hazard switch overides other systems and that this can happen if the switch is faulty. Replacing said switch did not make the cut when determinng the priority things to do before we left. We discovered a new twist on the switch problem one day near Sindou when our stereo suddenly stopped working. I thought it was simply a fuse and on inspection found that indeed there was a fuse that was blown that could have been the problem. We were still looking for a place in Banfora to buy a fuse from when we put the flasher on to turn around and the stereo suddenly started working again. We subsequently learned it was just a matter of playing with the hazard switch until the radio comes on, then it stays on, at least until we go into reverse gear, which for some bizarre reason knocks the stereo off again. I am not making this up. Apart from that rather humorous glitch, and a slow leak in a rear tire that needs attention, everything is humming.
Time in Cotonou was dedicated to adminstrative things, the mechanical work, banking, shopping. The city is a bit manic, with the most remarkable traffic, comprised principally of fast new motos and slow old trucks. It moves quickly, but it is crazy. We actually were laughing as we drove through, completely surrounded by motos at close quarters.
We left Cotonou on a Thursday via Porto Novo, the actual capital of Benin, inland a few kilometres to the north-east. We thought that perhaps Porto Novo was a created capital, like Brasilia in Brazil, or Abuja in Nigeria, but that is not the case at all. Porto Novo was first established by the Portugese as a slave trading centre in the 1600″s, and was made the capital of the colony by the French in the late 1800″s. a colonial centre (?) but is now another rambling African city with little to distinguish it. We did go the the Musee Homne, a reconstruction of the Palace of Tofa I, the first local king in a long dynasty that began in 1688 and ran until 1976, when a succession dispute led to the abandonment of the palace and its assumption by the state which then established the museum.
The museum is a small complex of simple one storey buildings linked together and tastefully restored. The lifestyle depicted has many similarities with what we know of that of Ghanaian chiefs. Today part of the governance system of Benin, like that of Ghana, consists of traditional leaders, known as chiefs in some countries, kings in other. In Benin the term King continues to be used, as we saw when we visited the village near Grand Popo (see earlier post). The feature of the complex in Porto Novo that really drove home for us the physical link between the past was the courtyard where the king held public events and ceremonies 400 years ago. It consisted of a large open square with covered areas just a few rows deep around the perimeter. A special, slightly higher place was for the king”. This kind of structure was clearly the inspiration for the durbar squares that exist throughout Ghana and where I have attended many functions. They are all even squares open in the middle with one side higher than the others for the dignitaries, just like the one at the Musee Homne. On the occasions I have attended no one sat in the large open middle of the square. It was empty except for intervals when traditional music and dance troupes appeared to provide entertainment. The Palace in Porto Novo was much more than this, and was very tastefully reconstructed to convey a sense of the myth and reality of the life of African kings, at least these ones.
We left la Part du Chef right after breakfast bound for the capital city of Lome. Out of curiosity we turned at a unction with a sign referring to a “Cascade Themale ” (thermal waterfall) but had to stop in response to a whistle and waves from a road side shed where we were asked to part with 5500 CFA ($10.) to visit the mountain. We agreed to do so on assurance that the Casade Thermales was operational, although the assurance did not include guarantee of a refund it is was not. The payment was a rather bureaucratic process, we had to fill out several forms and the person manning the wicket was not literate. As we drove up yet another steep switchback road the sun broke and we were treated to a great view of the valley below.
There was another sign to mark the turn into the falls so we were discocerted to find the road suddenly end at what appeared to be nothing at all. A number of people surrounded the Defender and gave assurances that we had indeed arrived at the cascade. No fewer than four “guides” then led us through a village to a well maintained trail to the falls, at which point we learned that, in Togo at least, thermal means healthy, not hot. It was very pretty tho’, and the guides articulate and pleasant.
They told us how they had developed this as a community project and we got into a discussion of how they did nto get any share of the revenue collected at the junction. They welcomed our suggestions for how to make the pleasant site moreso (ie. a sign at the end of the road to say one ahd arrived, a place to change into bathing suits, and fewer “guides”) We took one of them back down with us to the guichet and reinforced our point that is was the “cascades thermales” that had inspired us to make the turn and pay the money and he seemed quite content with that, there was no pressure to pay more. Indeed he seemed quite appreciative that we had helped empower him to take up their cause with the “official” at the shed. No doubt the story continues, but we left feeling we had perhaps made a modest contribution to the project by helping them assert themselves.
We had heard about a restaurant that specialized in exotic meats in a village located about 25 km south of Kpalime in the small town of Agou at the foot of a mountain of the same name and decided it was a not-to-miss site. We had no information about places to park and camp in Agou but our timing got us there early enough in the afternoon so we went by just to confirm it would be open and place an order so we just asked them if they knew somewhere we might b e able to park and set up camp. After some discussion the lovely women that welcomed us went to speak to the Chef, who came out and said we would be welcome to set up in his garden.
To set up we had to move some rocks and stacked lumber and backing the Defender through a narrow gate into a lane that ran through the middle of an extended family living space. It worked, and the large extended family that called this ‘garden’ home were more than a little entertained by the rooftop tent which just fit under the mango tree. Everyone took turns climbing up the ladder and peeking into the tent.
We also enjoyed a tour of the property, which is a small livestock operation, with pens for pigs, goats, lambs, chickens and of course guinea fowl. The chickens are everywhere, fed in the morning by the youngest son. The agouti (bush rate) are caught in the wild and kept in cages awaiting slaughter when needed for a plate.
We opted for the Agouti and the Pintade, which translate roughly as bush rat and guinea fowl. The agouti is the same creature as what is known in Ghana as grass cutter, which we never liked, but this was good. Guinee fowl is a dry meat, but this one was meatier than most. We also enjoyed corn meal dumpling cooked in the corn meal jus.
There was no running water, but there was a toilet that flushed. At night they put a big barrel of (very) hot water in the shower stall in the bathroom for washing. We were awoken early by all the animals and served a breakfast of guinea fowl eggs, bread and Nescafe.
We enjoyed learning about Le Chef, as in the name of the restaurant…”La Part du Chef”. We had of course assumed it was all about the person who did the cooking, but that was not the case at all. Rather, Mr. Late did not cook, but was a minor Ewe “Chief”, or Chef en francais. He had earned his living as a primary school teacher until he retired in 1995 and set up the restaurant to supplement his pension. It was a popular place among people from Lome who would come up from the capitol on the weekend. He was also planning to set up a campground (campement) among the trees bordering his property, but he had not yet set up the services and security arrangements, hence our spot in the garden.
It was a lovely evening, which we enjoyed very much.
The “dashboard ” of older Defenders between the drivers panel and the passenger door is notable for its very basic design. It is very much function over form, and the function is pretty basic. There is no “glove-box”, just a 4′ wide, open area with a 2″ high lip along the bottom edge to keep anything from falling out onto the floor. There are two large “ventilator control” levers used to raise the two 2′ x 4″ metal covers than run outside between the windshield and bonnet. There is a a simple switch panel in the lower central section of the dash that almost seems like an afterthought to hold the cigarette lighter and the switch for the rear windshield washer. As to where one puts a radio I was left guessing. Our vehicle must have had a radio and other electrical accoutrements at some point, the motley collection of wires that protrude from a hold in the bottom of the dash attest to that. Some of these wires go to speakers to the sides of the roof panel above the front seats, others go to the an elaborate electrical box mounted in the rear fender to house an external AC plug-in and outlets for accessories. The speakers were still installed, but were very worn out and we removed and discarded them when we redid the roof panel. All the wires are still in place.
Our ideas for upgrading the dash range from creating and installing attractive hardwood “glove-box” doors that would hinge from the flat bottom lip of the dash to close under the top dash. This would add some visual ascetic appeal as it would conceal the open area. The downside is that these cover the vents that are designed to allow air to flow in (or, as James May of Top Gear jibed “just in case it isn’t noisy enough inside already”), but this is not such a concern when we have air conditioning. I have even purchased some mail-order hinges from a cabinetry shop in Canada (Lee Valley) that may work for the this, finding the hardwood here that is thin enough is proving to be more of a challenge.
However none of this addresses the problem of how to mount a radio. This vehicle must have had a radio, the wires are still there, as are two now-defunct 6 1/2 inch speakers mounted in the ceiling panels above the front doors on either side, but there is no evidence of where the radio might have been mounted. There are no holes that suggest there might have been a radio housing screwed in somewhere. However, none of this addresses the problem of how to mount a radio/CD player. No holes remain visible in any part of the dash that suggest screws were once mounted there.
We opted to get a console from MUDSTUFF, www.mudstuff.co.uk/index.shtml , a company in England that produces a range of aftermarket accessories designed for Land Rovers. The console is simply a plastic form that comes with a metal mounting frame and installation instructions. The user can choose whether they want to use the console to mount switches, meters, a radio, and the precise location of each. I ordered the console, a radio mount, an additional plug-in for AC power and some switches for lights and other accessories.
Installation was not terribly difficult, although it took longer than it would have if I had access to the tools I have storaed in Canada. I did bring a set of basic hand tools with me, which I have supplemented with a ratchet set that I purchased here. I am getting good use of all these, but I do not have any power tools. I had brought a set of light Black and Decker battery-operated tools, but the charger is not working here and it is only possible to get very light work done before the batteries expire. To install the console it is necessary to remove a section of the dash that requires cutting through a foot long section of metal. Getting the tool to do this proved to be the most difficult and time-consuming part of the project.
I asked around to see who might have an electric hacksaw and ended up dealing with James, who is a contractor to the property management team at the High Commission where I work. James came by and quickly determined that a hacksaw was not going to do the job and we went off together last Saturday morning to a metal shop that had a “grinder”. This is a fairly heavy duty rotary tool that can be mounted with a range of different 4″ blades. It was noisy, messy job that took about 20 minutes and GHC 15 ($10), with another GHC 20 for James as fixer, a role which in addition to getting me to the grinder included some other drilling work in the console panel itself that he did with his own electric drill.
At this point there is a bit of a sick feeling because all you have is a big gash in the dash and the panel that held the lighter and rear windshield washer switch is gone. From there is was more satisfying. The metal mounting plates for the console screwed into the area between the vent levers without difficulty. The vehicle has a plastic trim piece that runs along the top of the bottom front lip of the dash catch area that has to be cut. I had to stop in the middle of the installation to go up to Opere’s to borrow a simple hacksaw blade to cut the trim because I don’t have one of those either. It took five minutes to do the cutting but almost an hour to get there and back. I really miss my tools.
The biggest challenge was adapting the console and the air conditioning unit. Distribution of A/C in a Defender, at least in ours, consists of a 2-3″ high channel that screws snugly along the flat bottom of the dash. The MUDSTUFF console has a wide plastic flange e that is designed to slip between the A/C unit and the dash, which helps to establish a firm footing for the console. Unfortunately, I had recently had my A/C unit remounted complete with a screw right in the area where the flange has to go, which prevented the console base piece from slipping in. The amount of time I had to spend unmounting and remounting the A/C unit before I realized all I really had to do was cut the flange was incredible.
Cutting the holes in the console required some precision, and again the lack of tools was a pain. I could mark out the places for the radio, the switch plates, and the AC power converters (cigarette lighters), but cutting them out was more difficult. I was able to coax enough power from my B&D battery operated drill to cut round holes in the corners of the square holes for the radio and switch plates, but had to get James cut the lines to complete the job. With that I was able to mount everything into the console and install it. It is only a temporary placement of course , we don’t have speakers yet for the radio, or light to hook onto the switches yet, but the unit can be easily removed with three screws to get at the backs of the switches and the radio casing to complete the hook-ups.
We still have to run the wires to the unit for radio and switches, but I am waiting for the lights from SA Africa (separate post coming on “a shopping trip like no other”) and we are still in the market for speakers, that one is getting to the top of the priority list .
Other project ideas for the interior front include the replacement of the vinyl-trimmed top of the cubby box between the front seats with a more attractive hardwood panel, and doors fro the dash from the same material. Then there are a whole list of things to do to make the cargo bay expedition ready. One of my biggest problems now is limited time. There is only so much you can do on weekends, I need to stop working long hours in the office, and using my vast stores of accumulated leave to devote to the Landy project.
Now that the restoration stage is pretty much complete we have to get serious about adding the things that will make our Defender usable for overland travel. This involves planning for and procuring a whole range of systems (see separate Feb. 2012 post “Planning the Outfitting Stage”) Unfortunately, there is really nothing at all one can get in Ghana for this, nor do any of our internet suppliers include much expedition gear in their offerings. We decided that the best way to deal with this is to go ourselves to South Africa to buy stuff Our trip to South Africa included the My Land Rover has a Soul Festival (see separate post “Woodstock for Landy Lovers”) and a side trip to Victoria Falls, as well as a few days exploring the amazing Blyde River Canyon in northeastern South Africa. But the real purpose was shopping.
South Africa is arguably the best source for expedition outfitting gear in the world. There are many manufacturers and many more distributors. We had seen some of this during our first visit to South Africa in 2010 (see Jan. 2011 post on Testing the Idea in South Africa) and were able to make a list of things we might want to pick up on a return visit. We made that return visit in late February equipped with a list of about twenty items we needed and another list of a half dozen stores/suppliers to look at. The latter ranged from big box camping stores like Outdoor Warehouse to excellent 4×4 outfitting specialist stores like Front Runner 4×4 or Safari Centre, as well as suppliers of specialized items like solar power systems or awning canvas suppliers. All the photos in this post are stock photos from the suppliers, our own stuff is still on a boat somewhere en route to Ghana.
Rooftop Tent: Our experience renting an outfitted Defender introduced us to the concept of a hard floor canvas tent that bolts to a rooftop carrier. (see Jan. 4, 2011 post, Testing the Idea) The roof rack that came with our Defender will accommodate this very nicely. There are a few tent products available from different places, ranging from South Africa, Italy, Australia, etc. This is the largest, (heaviest) and most costly piece we need so we invested a fair bit of time looking at the available options. After doing lots of research we settled on the Eezi-Awn Jazz tent, a first-class quality and tested product of South Africa. Weighing in at 55 kilos there is nothing like this really. Erects quickly and easily via a ladder that comes out from underneath the floor and fills our need quite nicely. This is what we had for our earlier test run in South Africa trip and we loved it. Now we own one.
Storage Drawer System. As we learned from our earlier rental, the design of the Defender cargo bay supports the installation of a flat floor between the wheel wells in the cargo bay which creates a 1′ high x2′ wide x 4 ‘ deep space and lends itself well to installing drawers that then open out the back when the cargo bay door is open. Frontrunner 4×4 www.frontrunner.co.za in Johannesburg produces a great drawer system using simple and affordable “ammo” boxes.
In the Defender we rented from Bushlore it was this system that they used to carry all the kitchen gear and some other miscellaneous pieces. We liked it so much we went back to Frontrunner and bought one. There are other makers of 4×4 drawers but we did not see anything that was as cost-effective. I was very surprised to see a review of drawer systems carried in the Winter 2012 issue of Overland Magazine did not even seem to acknowledge the existence of this South African product. This is likely because of the American base of that magazine, but I think they missed the best product.
Propane and Water Storage. One can buy jerry cans in Ghana but they are very expensive and they do not come with harnesses to mount them. We looked at various floor and wheel well fuel and water storage systems that Frontrunner or others make for Defender but decided these were more that we needed or could organize for and opted instead to pick up stock water and propane tank carriers designed to fit on the side and rear exterior walls of a Land Rover Defender.
Solar Power System: After some on-line research we decided that back up power to help ease the draw on the vehicle battery when parked is a worthwhile investment. Like so much to do with overlanding there is enough demand for this in South Africa to support a couple of specialist suppliers. The one we visited was Bushpower http://www.bushpower.co.za run out of the garage of a suburban house in Kyalami on the northern reaches of Johannesburg, only about two kilometres from the Frontrunner store and factory. The panels and related wires and switches are all imported, mostly from Europe. We purchased an 85 watt panel with mounting and cables, together with a dual battery monitoring system.
Lights: The front headlights on our Defender are not the brightest I have seen and our comfort driving at night will be greatly facilitated by additional lights. It is quite common for 4x4s to be equipped with an extra set on the bumper or roof rack. I had been looking at 70 watt Lightforce from Australia but the only place I saw them they were very expensive relative to other quality options. We opted for a product called KC, which I believe is an American company based in Arizona. These were recommended by the Safari Centre store in Centurion which carries a range of very high quality 4×4 products.
Because it gets dark at 6:00 PM here we also need to have an area light for meal prep and eating at night. We happened to notice one type in particular on the backs of three Land Rovers in parking lots our first couple of days in Jo’burg and when we saw exactly the same light in Frontrunner we figured it must be good so we picked it up.
Canvas for Awning: There are a number of roll-up awnings available in the market, including a range manufactured by Eezi-Awn tent producer. There is value in having something to provide protection from the sun and rain, but the manufactured awnings all seem expensive and require quite a bulky, heavy case that mounts permanently to the side of the vehicle. I came up with our own awning design (see separate Awning Made to Measure post for details) for which we needed some material. We thought of this when we saw a store that sells awnings for windows and decks and went in to have a look. As it turned out they did not sell material itself, but the helpful woman in the store referred us to a place called Home Hyper City near Pretoria, where she said we should see Uncle Joe. The store was the largest fabric store we have ever seen two floors the size of a football field, really incredible. We found Uncle Joe and explained what we were looking for to which he replied “oh, for your baakie?” A baakie is the term South Africans use to refer to what North-Americans know as pick-up trucks, but the term can also be used to refer to any 4×4. He led us to a row where they had a range of weights and colours of canvas and we picked up a couple of metres of canvas in two colours that will look good together and complement our own “baakie” quite nicely.
Miscellaneous: We bought a few things that were not on our list to supplement the miscellaneous items we had purchase in December 2010. A funnel, speaker wire, fastening straps, an ammo box for the roof with a water proof cover to hold sundry items like souvenirs purchased along the way, silicone spray for the awning, etc. When the shipment finally arrives in Accra we will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by things we have forgotten we purchased. It will be like Christmas, hopefully it won’t take that long to get the stuff!
By the time we were done we were glad we had bought the fridge and other outfitting gear the first time we came to South Africa from Ghana because after 3 days of nothing but shopping we had run out of time and had to go back to Ghana. The purchase of all these items came in the last few intense days of our time in Johannesburg, after our trip to Victoria Falls and the Blyde River Canyon. The most difficult part was arranging shipping. We had started the process weeks before we left Ghana through a company that brings things in to Ghana from South Africa and this led to a recommendation to rent partial space in a container to be sent by sea as an inexpensive option. It was indeed a very affordable option, unfortunately the Jo-burg forwarder we had been referred to turned out to be non-responsive and we had to go back to the original contact to try to get their attention and this led to referral to another forwarder. They turned out to be much more responsive, but it all took awhile to arrange and it not until our last couple of days in Jo-burg we had settled with them. We had to impose upon the Safari Centre 4×4 store in Centurion (between Johannesburg and Pretoria) where we bought the tent, second battery, lights and other accessories to hold all our things, not just what we bought there, but everything from all the suppliers, until the forwarder could come by to get it. They agreed to do so, and we delivered all our other sundry items to them the day before we left,on the understanding that the forwarder (Synergy) would retrieve it in the next couple of days. It actually took Synergy more than two weeks to get around to picking the stuff up, which also meant they missed the sailing of the boat they had initially said we could use. Thanks very much to the Centurion Safari Centre for helping us out in a jam.
Who ever heard of such a thing as a Land Rover Festival? But there it was, featured on the sheet on the counters or walls of the various overland outfitting shops we visited in the first couple of days in our recent trip to Johannesburg in South Africa. Apparently, part of the idea of the festival was to try to break the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of Land Rovers in a single convoy. An added incentive for us to attend there were a large number of suppliers offering on-site sales, including a “boot sale” which is the British/South African/I’m not sure where else equivalent of a flea market.
As shopping for items for the outfitting stage of our own Land Rover project was the main reason for our trip to South Africa, the opportunity to hang out with other Land Rover owners in what is arguably the world centre for Land Rover overlanding is not something easily passed up. Despite the attraction, the fact the so-called festival was taking place during the time we had booked for a 3 day trip to Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s premiere destinations presented no small dilemma. Victoria Falls is a place that I have wanted to get to for a long time and we had decided to priorize our time for Vic Falls in what may be our last trip to South Africa before our Ghana posting ends this summer. The solution we chose to resolve the dilemma was to split the difference. Delay the trip to Victoria Falls by one day to catch the first day of the two day Landy festival (missing the Guinness record shot convoy) but still be able to spend two nights at beautiful Victoria Falls.
The timing actually worked out very well. Laura decided to hold to the original schedule and go to Victoria Falls on Saturday morning and I was able to reschedule my flight by one day and take Laura to the airport in Jo’burg in our rented Volvo at 8:00 AM on my way out to Vaal, the rural district south of Jo-burg where the festival was scheduled to take place. It is worth mentioning the Volvo because it was, without any doubt, the only one present at the Land Rover Festival.
As usual, getting there was half the fun. I had obtained directions on-line how to get to the Malojeni Guest Farm, which was the site of the festival, from the Oliver Tambo Airport in Jo’burg. Unfortunately I learned too late that for some reason my Blackberry could not download the full directions file so I had instructions about two thirds of the way. I ended up in the middle of a very pleasant Vaal town called Meyerton. After unsuccessfully trying to get directions from a service station I was able to close the distance simply by following a Land Rover I saw driving by. It was while en route at this point that the Woodstock analogy first occurred to me. The line “going down to Yasgur’s farm” from the CSN song popped into my head at a small country junction where three Landys coming from three different directions converged and all headed up the same road. Clearly, I was headed in the right direction.
The South African love of Land Rovers is such a phenomenon because of a couple of factors. The South African Armed Forces was/is a big user of Landy’s, and thus a source of slightly used “surplus” product for the population at large over a number of years. Another factor in all of this is the South Africans’, specifically the Afrikaaners’, love of overlanding. This is one of the features of Afrikaan’s culture that we have really come to appreciate through our visits here and the knowledge of history that comes with that. One of the defining moments of the Afrikaaner’s history was the “voortrek”, the overland journey taken by the Dutch settlers in the 1840’s to get away from the Brits that were encroaching in the more accessible areas around Cape Town where the Dutch had first settled a couple of generations earlier. The Afrikaaners are a fiercely independent people and extremely proud of their heritage. The “voortrek” became an fundamental part of Afrikaaner history and culture and by carrying through on their love of adventure and exploration of remote areas the Afrikaaners played a huge role in defining the African overland experience through pioneering trips into the some of the more remote areas of southern Africa, including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and points beyond. The vehicle of choice for most of this overlanding has been the Land Rover Defender. It is really an incredible cultural phenomenon, one that has led to the proliferation of a huge number of overland outfitters and suppliers in the country, not limited to Land Rovers of course but certainly favouring them.
This title of the festival was “My Land Rover Has a Soul”, (MYLRHAS’ is the acronym). This illustrates the passion that South African Land Rover owners have for their vehicles and that passion was very evident at the festival. There were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles there on Saturday, every model ever made well represented, Series, Defenders, Discoveries and big 130s, all boasting their own particular style and personality. Some were very stock, others very customized and colourful. But it is not really so much the vehicle, the Land Rover has just perchance become a modern day expression of the Afrikaaner`s love of overland travel. Afrikaans was the first language at the MYLRHAS festival, and the festival was really less about the specifics of Land Rover mechanical or body design than it was about overland equipment outfitting: tents, awnings, cooking equipment, storage, water systems etc. all things which the very functional Land Rover design is conducive to. There was even an expedition wine carrier.
Other elements of South African/Afrikaans culture were well represented at the festival. Virtually all the food came off from the “braai”, the ubiquitous SA barbecue. Indeed the air was so thick with charcoal smoke, whether from a couple of communal braais or the many individual ones at the various campsites, that it was sometimes difficult to breath. South Africans are crazy about braais, for boerwurst sausage, or burgers or steak. They are also crazy about beer. Canadians also love their beer, but here virtually everyone was walking about visiting the shops and displays at 11:00 o’clock in the morning with a beer in their hand. This is not a culture I have any difficulty adapting to.
M&M’s product line includes leather “expedition wine cases” for your Pinotage
There were hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people, plenty of families with kids. In addition to the food and expositions there were helicopter rides, and an air show. No flying Land Rovers, rather some old, loud, single engine planes that were unspectacular but steady, like Land Rovers would be if they had wings. I sat down with my boerwoerst and beer lunch to listen to the live singer/guitarist musician whose repertoire included Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Sting, and, incredibly, Led Zeppelin. All good music for the white, baby-boomer audience in attendance, But after he was done with the boomer stuff the musician switched to Afrikaaner folk songs and the response was enthusiastic, to to say the least. I was treated to a real Afrikann`s culture moment, complete with beer and braai and songs about independence and overland travel. If there were any blacks there I did not see them, this seems to be exclusively a white South African, Afrikaans cultural phenomenon.
In addition to the cultural experience, I was able to benefit from the collection of overland outfitters and suppliers. In addition to a better knowledge of the market I came away with a floor-mounting safe for our vehicle, as well as a lovely Land Rover cap that I have always wanted but never came across.
I did miss the Guiness Record shot. The convoy apparently had 1007 Land Rovers of various vintages and models, ranging from Series from the 50s and 60s to just-off-the-line Discovery 5s and the new euro-styled Range Rover Evoque. The line stretched for 24 kilometres between first and last Landy. Apparently they are waiting to hear from Guiness if they have the record, but I can’t imagine anyone every getting more than 1,000 Land Rovers in a convoy before. There are some videos on youtube…….
I would have loved to have been able to stick around to overnight and to participate in the Sunday convoy, but my rented Volvo would hardly have fit in, so heading back to Jo`burg to catch the Sunday morning flight to Victoria Falls was easy to do.