THE GUTSY GOGO

Toyota Connect/Lexus Life - - TOYOTA CONNECT -

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!”

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