Learning about life in the Big Red Truck
A Midlands family set out to experience even more of Africa
SO ... In true African style, we have begun another leg of our much anticipated African adventure.
Why do I say “African style”? well, we were supposed to have left over three weeks ago, but our new rubber sandals never arrived.
The BRT — our Unimog lovingly named by Alhka, which stands for Big Red Truck (can’t quite understand why) — was in desperate need of a set of tyres. We searched high and low and even got conned (long story) trying to buy a set of shoes for our house on wheels.
No one in SA seemed to have the size we needed.
Finally Manisha’s cousin (thank you Rissik!) came through and found us a set. We replaced four tyres and kept two of the older ones as spares.
We got the tyres on Monday. We collected them in Durban and had them fitted in PMB at HI-Q on Greyling Street. We spent Tuesday doing the final bits of packing (it was like trying to fit a whale into a shoebox — but with enough grease, anything is possible).
The Big Red Truck
The Unimog, for those wondering, is a German manufactured, go anywhere vehicle. Our Unimog was born in 1988 and spent a few years in the German army before being bought by a friend of ours (Hello Maartin!) who built a camper on the back of it and spent three years travelling through Africa.
To digress: We met Maartin, some two years after we had purchased BRT, purely by chance. while travelling through Mozambique and had just set up camp.
Along comes a stranger and asks “is that your Mog?”.
Maartin was travelling through Mozambique and had seen us driving and he recognised the Mog that he had built 12 years ago. He was like a kid in a candy store ... Well so was I.
Maartin had all the pictures of the entire build of the camper and forwarded me hundreds of them. We sat, drank beer and talked Mog.
Inside, the back half of the BRT is kitted out with a tiny bathroom containing a toilet and shower, and a galley, which includes a gas stove. 110-litre upright fridge and sink. The back has now been converted by Gary Peacock into a drawer and storage area for a 90-litre freezer.
In the front is a dinner table and shelves for books and other loose items. On the roof (in front of the roof tent) are three 150 W solar panels that generate enough power to keep our 4x105aH batteries full. These batteries run the fridge and freezer and all the lights.
On the nose, the minion Bob is the mascot over the washing machine, a drum that uses the Mog’s shaking to wash clothes very clean. The auto rinse cycle needs some more development work.
One of the additions I added is a fold-down deck on the side. Even if the area is waterlogged, we can still sit on the patio and admire the view.
It takes us 15 minutes to get everything packed and ready to go.
But when the universe knocks on your door and wants coffee and cake ... What can you do but put the kettle on, as happened one evening when we had the pleasure of meeting a very inspirational couple, Margie and Peter, who happened to be from our neck of the woods in Howick.
Both are in their 80s and both suffer from cancer but they are out here camping, living life.
Years ago they built a sea-going yacht to travel the world, with neither having any experience of yacht building or sailing.
Now they’ve built their own camper and travel from campsite to campsite staying for months at a time. They’ve taught themselves to play the guitar and harmonica and other instruments and continue to enjoy life as it should be enjoyed.
So back to coffee with the universe. We decided to say our goodbyes to Margie and Peter in the morning and the conversation went on and on and on. By the time we climbed into the Mog ... it was 11 am (again!).
So far we’ve met several older couples who were all excited that we were “trekking” at a “young” age, rather than at 60 or 65.
What about school?
When most people find out that we were planning this trip through Southern African for an extended period, their first question isn’t “Do you have space for one more?” or “What route are you planning to take?”
They ask: “What about the kids’ schooling?”
Nikayl and Alhka are 12 and 10. These are the most formative years of their lives.
What better time than now to show them how the rest of Africa lives and functions and allow them to experience the culture that exists outside their (hopefully!) ever-growing bubble. Seeing stuff like this on TV is great, but to experience Africa firsthand, and I don’t mean from the window of a five-star hotel, I think, is invaluable.
But back to their schooling, they were both reluctant to leave school for such a extended period. I mean, really!? I can remember, as a kid, I was looking for any excuse to be out of school, and in the bush. Later, Manisha and I discovered missing out on playtime with friends was their biggest concern. Their school and teachers were very supportive of the trip and went as far as to prepare all the work that they needed to cover for the six months that we would be away (Thank you Mr D and Mrs Tiaden!)
This also makes us teachers for the next few months.
Where to next
Our route ... well, we didn’t want to be tied down, so we made the decision to play everything by ear, and probably a good thing too, because if we had booked anything we’d still be trying to re-jig it all considering our tyres were three weeks late.
So, if we like a place we stay for a day — or a week. If we don’t, we move on. I’m not sure how this is going to work out. Some of the parks we want to visit require us to book with government departments and that may not be as efficient as we would like. But we’ll figure it out.
The idea, as it stands, is to head to the Kruger Park and travel up the length to Pafuri (near the RSA, Mozambique, Zim border).
From there we hope to cross the Limpopo river into Mozambique and then into the south of Zimbabwe at Songa (we’re hoping to avoid the extremely busy and potentially money relieving officials of the Beit Bridge crossing into Zim).
The one problem with our intended route is that we need to cross the Limpopo River.
However, no bridge exists and it all depends on the level of the water in the river.
We hope to enter Zimbabwe into the Gorenazhou NP and spend a couple of nights in the park and then head up the Eastern side going through the Save conservancy and Chimanimani, Mutare, Rhodes Park and around to Mana Pools.
From there into Zambia, after which the route depends on how long we stay at any place. If we do not make it to all the countries, that’s OK — there’s always next year.
Ready to start the Shah family trek in the Big Red Truck are Nikayl (12), Alhka (10) and their parents Manisha and Nihal.
The minion Bob is the mascot over the washing machine, a drum that uses the Mog’s shaking to wash clothes very clean. (The auto rinse cycle needs some more development work.)
Alhka, Nikayl and Nihal with the inspiring Peter and Margie from Howick, who are also travelling through southern Africa one camp at a time.
The passenger area with seat belts. Fiction titles vie for space with homework on the bookshelf inside the BRT.