THE GUTSY GOGO
What do you do when you turn 80 and your faithful Toyota Conquest is 20? You plan a trip around Africa, of course. And once you’ve completed that epic experience, you pack your car off to Europe and start all over again. At least, that’s what Julia Albu’s done.
She defies any stereotype you may have. Dressed in her favourite Mieliebag pants and long-sleeved shirt, her Emthunzini hat jammed on her head and her Crocs on her feet, she puts younger explorers to shame. The Jakkalsfontein resident has driven her 1997 Toyota Conquest, nicknamed Tracy, across Africa and Europe to raise awareness of literacy – and she’s had a ball.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Following the death of her partner of 33 years, having raised four children and been a gogo to her nine grandchildren, Julia decided it was time to take charge of her own destiny. “Who else would I choose as my partner in crime? For a quarter of my life, Tracy’s been my trusty steed,” she says. “I’m doing this trip because I can. My car certainly can, and so can I. The older I get, the younger I feel.”
In a car that had already clocked almost 400 000km, Julia departed from the Cape’s West Coast in June 2017. “I’m blessed to have friends all over, many of whom volunteered to drive parts of the route with me, so that I was never alone,” she smiles.
A WARM AFRICAN WELCOME
Her trip through Africa was easy, she says. Tracy took on the challenge remarkably well and Julia encountered warm, welcoming people wherever she went. “It took approximately five months because I had to make some stops on the way for repairs.” At no point did she fear for her safety. “The highlights were the people I met who invited me into their homes and shared a meal with me, realising a dream of sitting in the Simien Mountains in the Ethiopian highlands with the gelada monkeys and being privileged enough to attend the Masai games in Ndutu in Tanzania.”
Her greatest challenge, she says, was the roads in Uganda, which were a real challenge for Tracy’s wheels. However, she feels blessed to have met the people she did. “Most didn’t speak English, but
MEET JULIA ALBU, THE FEISTY 81-YEAR-OLD SOUTH AFRICAN GRANNY WHO’S EMBARKED ON AN EPIC ROAD TRIP AROUND TWO CONTINENTS IN HER TRUSTY 1997 CONQUEST TO RAISE AWARENESS OF LITERACY
communication is universal. Like when I slept in a cafeteria with seven Egyptians over New Year. We didn’t speak much, but we said a great deal. All we did was smile at each other, but we knew what each other meant.”
Another highlight was in Tanzania, when she met two brothers and their old car, Matilda. “They were 73 and 74 years old and they’d returned to climb Kilimanjaro 50 years to the day since they’d last been there, for old times’ sake.”
Julia’s favourite places include Dar es Salaam, which she says “was full of the most wonderful expats, who for three weeks wined and dined me, and flew me to Zanzibar and the disappearing islands”. Another standout was Lalibela in Ethiopia, where a group of professors took her under their wing, showing her what can be done through dedication and hard work.
She had 10 travelling companions joining her at various stages throughout her trip. “My son-in-law, who spent Christmas and New Year with me and got me out of a very tricky situation, is the one who stands out.”
THE FINAL LEG: GREECE TO THE UK
Tracy travelled ahead of her owner to Greece, where she waited in customs until Julia’s arrival in April. From there, the pair – along with their travel companions – traversed Greece, Croatia, Germany, Holland and finally London.
The highlight of the European leg was travelling around Croatia with Dan Putar, whom she befriended on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya. He was so taken with Julia that he flew to Greece to show her his homeland. “I also met the most wonderful people following me on my blog and Facebook, who invited me to stay with them,” she says.
Julia spent her 81st birthday (and Tracy’s 21st) in London with a good friend. She’d hoped that tea with the Queen would be on the cards, but unfortunately this wasn’t to be, despite numerous written requests. “Because of the nature of the trip and not knowing enough in advance, these things take a lot of time to organise, and she’s very busy at this time of year.”
Having travelled through 11 African and nine European countries, Julia’s now on the return leg. “I’m going to follow the same route and revisit all my friends along the way. This time my grandchildren will each join me for a leg. I can’t wait to get on the road again!”
Her advice to anyone who’s inspired by her journey? “Go with no hesitations!”