THE TOUGHEST OVERLAND JOURNEY OF THEM ALL

Here is another travel article which came out of my trans-Africa trip. At the end of it I made a point of interviewing all the girls and noting their viewpoints and their responses to all we had experienced. I thought at the time that the article would be tailor-made for one of the many women’s magazines which filled the magazine racks back home in England.

          I was wrong. None of them were interested. I still don’t understand why.

          Girls, if any of you are still out there, it would be nice to hear from you again. And just for the record, I really was just looking for a picture to illustrate an article when I trespassed on your bathing pool in the Congo.

SAFARI TO AFRICA

 

THE TOUGHEST OVERLAND JOURNEY OF THEM ALL

 

On April 1st or this year (1971)five adventurous young women in the company of seven men left London on an expedition that was to take them over ten thousand miles of the burning deserts, tropical jungles, rivers and mountains of Africa. Traveling in two long wheel base Land Rovers which they had christened Ajax and Achilles after the legendary Greek heroes, their journey lasted for three unforgettable months.

Their expedition was the seventh successful safari organized for young people by Tim Baily, a handsome young Kenyan who runs Siafu Expeditions from Abbey House in Victoria Street, London. True to the modern-day spirit of do-it-yourself the party was fully self-supporting, with the girls undertaking the shopping and cooking, and the men erecting tents and driving the vehicles over the wild, corrugated dirt roads of what is still basically an untamed continent.

The party crossed the Sahara desert in May when mid-day temperatures reached a blazing one hundred and forty degrees, and survived a howling windstorm that enveloped them in a driving yellow fog for over eight hours. They passed through Niger and Nigeria, and then tackled thirteen hundred miles of densely overhung jungle roads through the Congo. Here the Land Rovers lurched and swayed over gulleys and ruts, skidded through mud holes, and crawled slowly over crude log bridges on the very point of collapse. Ferries took them across wide flowing rivers, and when jungle storms blew giant trees down across their path they cleared the way with saws and axes.

They passed through the mysterious cloud-wreathed Mountains of The Moon where giant gorillas still roam on the upper slopes and entered East Africa; a world of rolling bush and yellow grassland where there is still abundant wild life in the game reserves. They parked their Land Rovers under the noses of dubious elephant and buffalo, and eyeball to eyeball with wary lions. They drove slowly through huge herds or buck, hartebeest and zebra, photographed giraffe and rhino and baboon, and on a boat trip up to Murchison Falls, a magnificent double white cascade as esthetically pleasing as a Japanese painting, they aimed their cameras right into the gaping jaws of crocodiles and hippo.

For Tricia Abbey, a slim dark-haired girl from Bevere Green near Worcester, this was her first trip outside Europe. Twenty- two year old Tricia attended university in Spain and then worked you for a year as a journalist with the Financial Times. She left the Times to return to Worcester and take care of her mother after a serious operation, and when her mother was well again decided to do the safari before seeking another job.

Africa particularly interested me,” she said, “Because it has so many contrasts, especially from the movie aspect. Cine photography is my hobby and almost every year I try to buy a better camera. Also I wanted to do this trip to prove that I can be independent of my family.”

When I asked what she has enjoyed most of all about the trip Tricia had no hesitation in answering:

“Most of all I enjoyed the thrill of crossing the Sahara and getting away from everything. The Sahara is so remote that you have a feeling of peace with not a single worry in the world.  I wasn’t even scared by the dust storm – I was just excited.

“The worst part for me was the tail end of the Congo. I was beginning to be disappointed by the lack of wildlife in Africa. So much of it has been exterminated by the big game hunters, or by the Africans hunting for food. But then we burst into Uganda and were literally surrounded by thousands of animals in the game parks.''

Anita Hoyt, a twenty-six year old America: girl from Auburn near Seattle agreed with Tricia that the desert was a fascinating place.

“It was not at all as I had expected,” she said. “It was so much more varied. I was prepared for endless sand dunes, but the desert changed its shape and color every day, sometimes every hour. It was so awesome. I liked the silence and cleanest of it.”

Anita spent six years in college, studying sociology and then switching to Italian and German. She has studied in Italy and Japan and now has a degree in languages. She has also worked as a ward clerk in a Seattle hospital, and made seasonal money by carrying Christmas trees down from the mountains to sell in her home town of Auburn. She left Seattle and hitch-hiked- across Canada, then flew to Scotland and was hitching her way down through England with the ultimate intention of reaching Africa when she heard about Siafu.

“Africa has always attracted me,” she said, “Partly because I enjoy African music, and partly because I am so fond of animals. I am also fascinated by Africa because their culture and their way of life is so different from ours. I once had an African boy-friend for two years.

“I enjoyed just about everything on this trip, but my general- impression is that even Africa is beginning to get too touristified. We visited the pygmies in the Ituri Forest in the Congo, but they were being exploited by their neighbors. They danced for us in front of their little leaf huts but the more advanced Africans who acted as our guides took money from us and gave very little of it to the pygmies.

“For me the most exciting thing was the first time I saw a lioness. She was so much bigger and more powerful than I had expected, but the cubs were so sweet.”

The youngest member of the expedition was Judy Payne from South Africa who celebrated her twentieth birthday at Tamanrasset in Algeria, the home of the blue-robed, dark-veiled Toureg warriors who once ruled the desert from the Hoggar Mountains. The expedition spent three days at Tamanrasset, and made friends with a group or Americans working f or an air-survey company who provided a roast sheep for a wild barbecue birthday party with dancing and tape-recorded Slavic under the stars and the palm trees.

Judy’s home is Lakeside, a suburb of Capetown pressed between the lake and the mountains of the Cape Peninsular. She was educated in South Africa and then came to London in 1969. A qualified secretary she preferred to work in an architect’s drawing office for a year. Then she toured France, Spain and Portugal before flying back to London to join the Siafu expedition.

“I have always wanted to see more of Africa,” she explained. “So this was the ideal way for me to get home. For me the most fascinating thing was learning more about all the different peoples we've met and their different ways of life, especially in the independent countries. In Kenya I found, that the majority of the population had the same standards of living as the Bantu in South Africa, although the educated minority is better off. In some of the other countries we saw living standards were far below those of the Africans in South Africa, and the amount of disease really shocked me.”

 Judy joined Tricia and Anita in voting the desert the most interesting part of the trip. All the girls seemed unanimous on that point.

“But the Congo also pleased me,” she added, “Mainly because of the greenness and wetness of everything. There is a lot of drought in South Africa, and so I think most South Africans have this love of hearing and seeing fresh running water. I left South Africa in the middle of a drought.

“I found it was great fun doing the buying and bartering for the expedition in the native markets, but perhaps the most exciting incident was the day we arrived at Agadez in Niger when they were holding the local derby. I spent a lot of my childhood on my grand-parents farm on the borders of the Transkie where I learned to ride almost before I could walk. I have loved horses and riding ever since and keep my own horse at Lakeside where I ride as much as possible. In Agadez they had some superb horses and one gloriously dressed sheikh in pink robes allowed me to ride his horse. It delighted me that someone should be so friendly and this spontaneous friendship from so many of the people we met pleased me immensely.

“Another thing that happened to me in Niger was at Zinder where I was bitten by a scorpion. What frightened me most was the local hospital where they had to shoo the vultures away from the door before we could get inside. The injection I was given caused me more pain than the scorpion bite.”

Judy also had the awkward problem of being born in South Africa.

“I couldn't travel through Africa on my South African passport,” she admitted. “But fortunately my father is British so I was able to obtain a British passport. I traveled with that and kept my South African passport hidden in my knickers every time we crossed a frontier. In Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) I switched to my South African passport again, for without it I would not have been allowed to stay in South Africa.”

The fourth girl on the trip was Suzanne Duncan, a twenty-four year old teacher of physical education from New South Wales. Sue came to England on a two-year contract to teach at Hawnes School in Bedford. “It was my first teaching job,” she said, “And I enjoyed it very much.

“I have always wanted to do this overland trip through Africa and Siafu appealed to me more than any of the other firms organizing similar expeditions. Tim Baily who runs Siafu is a most persuasive person, very generous and very helpful. There is no special reason to my travelling to Africa, except that I just want to go there.” She smiled and added: “On the flight out from Australia I managed to stop off at Hong Kong, New Delhi, Agra, Karachi, Abadan and Beirut before I finally got to London. My ambition is to see every country in the world.”

 For Suzanne the most memorable incident of the trip was the wasps.

“We had stopped to bathe in a Congo stream,” she explained. “When suddenly Peter, who was our expedition leader, started throwing himself under water and then ran out doing a war dance and tearing his hair. I thought he had gone mad, and it was frightening at first because I just didn't know what was happening. Then I got stung too. We had disturbed a whole nest of flying black wasps and they chased us all the way back to our Land Rovers.

“Apart from that I enjoyed the trip immensely. The Sahara was the most fascinating place I’ve ever been. Meeting the Americans in Tamanrasset and that wonderful barbecue was another highlight, and of course the pygmies in the Congo and all the animals in the game parks -- there s so much when you try to remember it all.”

After Nairobi where two of the male members had to leave the expedition Suzanne helped out with some of the driving on the last leg of the journey down to South Africa.

“I enjoyed doing that,” she said. “The roads of East Africa are pretty good and I hadn’t done any driving on rough dirt roads until we reached the Hell Run in Tanzania where the big trucks churn up huge clouds of red dust on their way from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, but I soon got used to it. I would rather do the driving than the cooking. I hate cooking. I have no imagination in that field. Doing the cooking was the worst part of the trip. However, I wouldn't want to travel other than in a group. I've always travelled with a group, mainly because I like meeting different people.”

 Judy had a similar comment to make. “All thorough the trip I’ve enjoyed the feeling that we’ve all been pushed together,” she said, “And that we’ve all had to pull together to get through.”

 Marilyn Hook, another attractive blonde Australian agreed:

“Really it’s been a tremendous personal experience working with everybody, because we were all so vastly different. How we ever got on so well together I’ll never know. The desert particularly was a challenge in which I was glad to participate. Crossing the rest of Africa was more or a challenge for the men who did most of the driving, but I enjoyed seeing all the different peoples.”

Marilyn, aged twenty-six: came from Melbourne. There she was in charge of a department in a business college with over 500 students, which, she said, “was far too many for what I really wanted to do. I find that teaching can only be rewarding when you can work on a personal basis.”

 So she found a financial backer who helped her to set up a business college and secretarial service of her own which she ran for two years. And then she gave it up.

“It was at big decision,” she said. “But I think it takes a special kind of woman to compete in a man's world. I am very independent and I had proved that I could do it, but after that I was content. I found that in running the business I was working twelve to fourteen hours a day and on top of that I had to run a home for my father and fourteen-year old brother. Also my engagement broke up around this time, partly due to business pressures which did not leave me each time for any social life.

“Having given it up I thought, what now? And then I decided I would like to travel. I flew to Bangkok and then to Lisbon, and then toured Europe for five months before I came to London. There I worked for Quantas, the Australian airline.

“I saw a film on Trans-Africa which interested me in the idea of going part of the way home overland. It was made by another firm, but Siafu was the only company I could find which ran well-organized expeditions all the way to South Africa, and I thought them good value for money.

“I really couldn't choose which was the most interesting part or the trip. Possibly it was the masses of animals in East Africa and the boat trip up to Murchison Falls. It was frightening to get so close to the crocodiles. Or perhaps it was the water holes in Algeria a where we saw the Touregs with thousands of their camels, or Niger where we saw the Fulani nomads with their herds of long-horned cattle. Or perhaps the dance ceremony we saw in Agadez where the witch-doctor appeared dressed as the devil.

“Our first night on the equator was exciting too, we could hear lions roaring and hippo grunting and some elephant came up really close during the night. I thought the nights in the desert were beautiful with such a heavy silence, and I enjoyed walking through the Tunisian oasis at Nefta where we paddled under the date palms and were given gifts of flowers by the native boys.”

 When asked about the future they all admitted that it would be hard to stop traveling. Tricia was returning to England to start a three year practice in an estate agency but said that she would like to do the trip again. “The only thing that scares me is going back to England and resettling myself,” she said wryly.

Anita planned to continue travelling in Africa for a while and said that when she returned to Seattle she would probably sell Christmas trees again, although her real ambition is breed dogs. Waiting for her in Auburn she has a beautiful thoroughbred Samoya she has named Tashya.

Judy regretted that she had run out of money and now had to work again in South Africa, if possible in another drawing office as she is still interested in architecture.

Suzanne had positive plans to return to England and work for a year and then take the trans-Siberian express to Japan. She plans a visit to her home in Australia and then she will make another overland trip through Asia and India. “I have no desire to stay in Australian,” she said. “I would rather be in England.”

Marilyn had no definite plans at all. “I’ll probably just keep on traveling,” she said, “and avoiding the issue.”

Write a comment

Comments: 11
  • #1

    Jeanette Nannelli (Thursday, 29 May 2014 19:24)

    Nov 10, 1969 - Tim Bailey arranged (his first) overland journey from London UK to Johannesburg with 34 people and 6 old land-rovers. Now that was a story and tough!
    I was one of the 21 year old girls, Janette Perry (nannelli@live.ca)

  • #2

    Julian Tattum (Monday, 27 October 2014 13:14)

    I was on the trip before this setting off from South Africa to the UK on the 1st October 1969. Magic trip. where's Tim now ? and my mate Graham Turvelle / Frank and Meg Marshall and Dave McDowell ? There were 22 of us and the Congo was the highlight.

  • #3

    Rick Jowett (Friday, 20 February 2015 09:02)

    1971 March 3 from London rickjowett@live.com

  • #4

    Peter (Saturday, 21 November 2015 04:58)

    I corresponded with Tim Bail(e)y when planning a private overland trip through Africa. Myself and three other 20-something guys called ourselves Surrey Overland Expedition and travelled in a long wheelbase Land Rover from UK to South Africa.
    We also met Tim in Cotonou, Benin (formerly Dahomey) while trying to obtain Entry Permits for Nigeria. Tim was also there for the same purpose. His SAIFU group consisted of 38-people in six LWB Land Rovers, most of these were waiting near the frontier at Dura for his return.

    After several weeks in Cotonou our group went by sea and air to Douala, Cameroun to continue the overland trip.

  • #5

    Graeme Moore (Australia (Sunday, 03 January 2016 04:11)

    Hi All
    Actually Tim organised an earlier semi - a private expedition - because he was still waiting for finance - just 13 of us
    Andy Robertson, Me (graeme Moore) , Phil Kinsley, Ian White
    Eleanor Hayward, Jill Buchanan, Chis Harris, Chris Burbury , Nonnie Keogh, Mick Mortimer, Richard Hasseltine, Peter Turner, and Robert ? Took 6 months London to Capetown- unbelievable trip. Have lost contacy with the others. Any clues?
    Graeme
    booksourcesonline@gmail.com

  • #6

    Judy Craxton (Sunday, 24 April 2016 13:04)

    So excited to find this and great to chat to you.

  • #7

    Jane Bell - nee Cameron (Monday, 09 May 2016 12:25)

    I cannot believe after all these years that something has been written up about our trip - Tim's first - on Nov 10th 1968 (not 69!). It was a lot of fun but horrific all the same - arduously long with breakdowns galore. I wonder who else had to bail Tim out to keep things going!! Dick, Wayne, Angela and Dawn have visited me in Australia. Cheers everyone from Siafu Safari No 1.

  • #8

    Erik Kermer (Saturday, 07 January 2017 21:29)

    Hi all
    Travelled with Tim Bailey and Andy Robertson in Nov 68 until end of March 69. Have fond memories but lost contact with all. Would love to hear from those I travelled with. I am currently living in north Devon.
    erik.kermer@btinternet.com

  • #9

    John Aldridge (Saturday, 25 February 2017 16:50)

    I have just found my diary (40 pages) of the 1971 trip with a piece of pink paper attached. I probably haven't looked at it for 45 years and was amazed how much detail it includes. All the problems we encountered, the great experiences and things we would never do now such as buying ivory! This prompted me to ask Google what it could find and up popped Bob's website. I see that Judy found it as well but no other names I recognise. Great to know that the trip still means much to people.
    john@aldridge1a.freeserve.co.uk

  • #10

    Essay help at MidnightEssays.com (Monday, 19 June 2017 11:27)

    It is noticeable that they all steadily decomposed in one way or an additional at some point during their overland journey out over the freezing wilderness.

  • #11

    James Henderson (Friday, 21 July 2017 07:21)

    Hi Robert, I was fascinated by your account of the journey with SIAFU and I want to let you know that I also traveled with SIAFU across Africa from London to Nairobi in 1974. The journey was plagued with mechanical problems all along the way, including a 2 week breakdown in the middle of the Sahara, which lead to half of the people abandoning the journey when we reached Kano, Nigeria. Despite all of the challenges and hardships of the journey, it remains the most incredible experience of my life. I even met my wife to be on the trip! This is just to let you know that I kept a daily journal of the trip and published it a couple of years ago. If you or your readers are interested, it can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites under the title "Travels with King Kong - Overland across Africa". Wishing you all the best! James Henderson