A tough journey but with great rewards

FEATURE | From Soweto to Luanda in an old Merc fleet

Brenwin Naidu Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
Difficult terrains were encountered on the trek.
Difficult terrains were encountered on the trek.
Image: Supplied

In March we met the Cape2Cairo crew planning to drive from the southernmost tip of the continent to Egypt in a classic Mercedes-Benz fleet.

Leading up to the main trip in September, the team has embarked on a series of shorter journeys through the continent.

Its most recent expedition was from Soweto to Luanda in Angola.

Basking in the quietness of the desert.
Basking in the quietness of the desert.
Image: Supplied

Qiqa Mpetsheni, media liaison and organising committee member, spoke to us about the highs and lows after returning safely from the trek.

Q: What inspired Angola as the destination for this run?

A: While there is history between our two countries, to the general public, Angola has always been wrapped in mystery. There’s still far too little we know about the country – which stirred certain trepidations.

We expected a tough time from security officials, but to the contrary, we received a royal welcome. The stretch from the Southern Namibia to the Angolan town of Calueque, towards Lubango, is a stretch of road where the security control points seem endless.

The cops would literally salute as the convoy of eight W123s in a their myriad colours, it was unbelievable. In other cases, we would arrive at a security control point and the cops would be waiting with their smartphones, clearly the word had gone out from the control point before. Where they stopped us, they were courteous and you could tell of the interest they had on our expedition rather than collecting toll fees.

The Cape2Cairo team made many friends along the way.
The Cape2Cairo team made many friends along the way.
Image: Supplied

Q: So, the team felt like a group of celebrities?

A: As we arrived in Luanda after 4,000kms from Jo’burg past Botswana, to Walvis Bay and up to Otjiwarongo, everywhere we stopped was a spectacle. We were excited to engage and tell the story and to hear the locals’ stories.

It was akin to when old friends meet after decades of separation, that is exactly how it felt. Everywhere we passed, or cars that overtook us, it was hooters and hands waving.

The fanfare gave us a sense of what it might have been like to spend a day in the life of Nicki Minaj. People loved us and we loved them back. It is as if they were thirsty for good energy and they indeed gave us good energy back.

Cars’ suspensions were put to the test under heavy load.
Cars’ suspensions were put to the test under heavy load.
Image: Supplied

Q: It sounds like you really connected with others along the way...

A: It is the people who made this expedition worth it. There is something special about African people, beyond what we have heard. In the Trans-Kalahari border post between Botswana and Namibia we met a particular official who did his job with passion, class and flair.

After stamping our passports he gets out of the booth and meets us all, telling us about the Republic of Namibia, things to see, the culture of the land and what to eat. It was as if he was a tourist guide.

Taking in a mellow African sunset after a full day of driving.
Taking in a mellow African sunset after a full day of driving.
Image: Supplied

When do you ever see an immigration officer excited about their job, meeting guests and giving that positive first impression of their country? In many ways, Mike Aupa Andima understood “ubuntu” to the core. He represented what Africans are all about. We are hospitable people.

We also saw even when families in Katutura invited us to drink “marhewu” for free, telling us how it’s made and how it helps the digestive system. It’s all a people game, they make the experience.

Despite reservations, the team had good border encounters.
Despite reservations, the team had good border encounters.
Image: Supplied

Q: Tell us about how the cars performed.

A: The cars held exceptionally well. This was our third trial run ahead of Cape Town to Cairo in September, expected to be over 12,000kms and 28 days. When we reached Botswana, one car, named Oyster (1984 230E) gave us some technical challenges.

Our travel mechanics advised that we leave the car there in lieu of time, as the prognosis suggested the job may take longer than expected. It was a good call as we were chasing time.

We then travelled from Botswana with seven cars. “YelloBone” suffered failure on the slave cylinder between Lubango and Benguela, where our technical teams sorted it out on the roadside. The 1984 280E named Fascinating, the lead vehicle, suffered wheel bearing faults and that was also fixed on the road.

On our way back we towed Oyster from Botswana. For every trial, we conduct a full bumper-to-bumper inspection, make some adjustments where needed, loading the necessary spare parts.

In the Angola trial run, some of the cars were heavy-laden with technical equipment and catering goods. The load has an impact on bearings. Before the Cairo trip, it will be back to the drawing board, to get the balance and load distribution right. This is exactly why we do trials.

Though nearly five decades old, the W123 is still up to long-distance cruising.
Though nearly five decades old, the W123 is still up to long-distance cruising.
Image: Supplied

Q: Would it be safe to say Angola exceeded expectations?

A: Angola was beyond our wildest dreams. Maybe because we knew so little about it and the warm reception we received overall changed our perceptions. The land is beautiful, the city of Luanda is like a European city, a Lisbon of sorts. Angola was like the dessert at the end of the journey and a dessert it was!

The fleet lined up in Soweto.
The fleet lined up in Soweto.
Image: Supplied

Q: How does the team pack for a trip of this nature?

A: Over the last three trials, we have mastered what and how to pack. On the second trial run over four countries and 6,000kms, one guy had a hockey bag full of sneakers. We all laughed but it was painful because space is a luxury. The crews are dressed with uniform gear and so this helps.

Often teams miss the importance of uniform gear, yes it looks great for pictures, but also makes for easier identification. In my bag you will find three sets of underpants, two shirts, a golfer, a warmer, all-terrain shoes and a pair of flops. This is in addition to a toothbrush, mosquito repellent, soap and toothpaste. A nice camera helps – and a great attitude always counts the most.

Safe and sound in Angola.
Safe and sound in Angola.
Image: Supplied

Q: What is the food like on such an adventure?

A: In Katutura, a township in Windhoek, it was carnivore heaven. In Angola we ate dried fish and umbundi. Our fast-food was boiled eggs and some chakalaka along the way.

As well as many other indigenous drinks that we still do not know the ingredients of – of course, those who drank did not drive. We were spoiled, as we travelled with our own cook, always on standby for culinary emergencies – and that 4AM bowl of oats.

The very first trial run showed us flames. From Gqeberha to the Kgalagadi, the cars gave us a challenge and we got hungry in the middle of nowhere – hence the decision to take a travel chef to cover the essential meals and accidental meals we would need should we have a prolonged repair on the side of the road.

We travel with catering equipment, the stove, coolers and gas cylinders. Hungry people are grumpy people, this was not on the cards. We learn, we grow with every trial run as we prepare for the big one, Cape Town to Cairo.


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