Ever since I learnt that people drive around Africa in 4x4s, sleeping in rooftop tents for months at a time, I dreamed of joining them. I became obsessed with Land Rover Defenders, the perfect car for overlanding. I started secretly taking photos of them wherever I went, to the embarrassment of my friends.
My obsession became reality in January 2020, when together with my boyfriend I bought a 20-year-old dark blue Defender. She’s called Nyala. After a few test weekends to check out the car, we were ready to go.
Coronavirus struck. Borders closed, hard lockdown began. Our plans to spend six months overlanding through southern Africa were put on hold.
Fast-forward six months, and we were back in South Africa. To satisfy entry requirements, we’d just spent 10 days sightseeing in Namibia. Now we could collect Nyala and set off into the wilds of one of the most exciting countries on this planet.
Chasing Ostriches chronicles this journey of exploration through South Africa. We roamed the backroads and national parks in our trusty (and not so trusty at times) Defender. We climbed misty mountains, camped in empty deserts, sunbathed on tropical beaches, and saw wildlife galore under the hot African sky.
I came back with dirty clothes, an even dirtier car, and memories to last a lifetime. I hope my book will help you do the same.
Targeted Age Group:: 15+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I went overlanding in my Land Rover Defender through South Africa (and a bit of Namibia) while my parents were stuck at home in the UK. My mum pestered me to write a travel diary, which I actually really enjoyed doing and at the end I turned the diary into my first published book.
The worst bit was when our car caught fire. Apart from that we didn’t have any major issues. The idea of travelling from Cape Town to Cairo came about while hiking in 2019 and like most good ideas, started as a joke. I always loved Land Rover Defenders because of their squareness and started teasing my boyfriend Tom with the idea he would buy me one for my next birthday. Once we had the car we would set off on a six-month adventure, Cape to Cairo, C2C. Or so we thought.
The joke didn’t lose steam but when we finally put pen to paper and wrote a travel plan we realised six months would never be enough and rapidly our plans contracted to a roundtrip through southern Africa. This had the added benefit that the abbreviation, C2C, would still work but would now become Cape Town to Cape Town. In fact, even if we altered our plans further we would still be able to find somewhere beginning with C to end, or widen the implications and make C stand for ‘sea’. We didn’t want to limit ourselves.
Although originally from the UK, I had been living in Cape Town for a few years, researching earthquakes at the university and Tom had been visiting me from the Netherlands where he’s from. I already owned a car, a white VW Golf Chico, which I loved because of its squareness. It was from 2003 but felt much older – it even had a choke and carburettor engine which were outlawed in Europe in the 80s. However much I hated the idea of letting my little car go, Tom managed to convince me it wasn’t the most suitable for overlanding and we started looking for a Defender.
We would pay for half each, a compromise on the birthday present idea, and our budget meant we would be looking for something well-travelled with a few (hundreds of thousands of) miles on the clock already.
Pumba was a cream Defender, the first one we inspected. At the time I was jealous of the name, as Pumba seemed to fit a Defender so well – big and bulky and a bit funny. But Pumba was clunky and the owner kept emphasising how cheaply he managed to run and maintain the car so we decided to check out another with the same engine model (TD5) and age (from 2002) but with more miles. Which one would drive better? The second car had driven almost 300,000 kilometres already, too many we thought, and we wrote it off but still wanted to compare the two.
It was love at first sight. After the first distant glimpse of this beautiful car glinting in the morning light, Tom and I looked at each other and we knew. My heart was stolen by this car from 100 metres away. It was dark blue with a white roof, a rooftop tent, yellow fuel canisters and a matching dark blue awning. It was very shiny and very square.
As the owner showed us the car, we were only more and more impressed. Unlike Pumba, the inside was pristine, with reupholstered leather seats and lots of little extras like tinted films on the windows to keep out the heat. It didn’t feel like a Pumba at all, but much more elegant and we ended up naming her Nyala after a graceful little antelope. The car drove much better than Pumba with no clunking noises at all, and in contrast the owner emphasised how much he had cared for the car and tried to make it its best self. He hadn’t managed to fix one oil leak but this is standard with Defenders and hence the joke, ‘How do you get oil out of a dry stone?’ ‘Stick a Land Rover badge on it’.
The owner was distraught at having to sell his car. He was getting on a bit and a recent knee operation meant he could no longer operate the clutch and had to get an automatic. Tears rolled down his face as we drove away.
We took our car on local trips where we learnt about low range and the differential lock. In low range all the gears are effectively lower, meaning the wheels receive relatively more power. This is particularly useful for steep ups and downs as the car is more powerful uphill and easier to control on the down. Tom read up on Defenders. We quickly learnt we should wave to all other Defender drivers. I caused embarrassment in the beginning when I mistakenly waved to Toyotas or even a Suzuki Jimny one time.
The coronavirus pandemic hit and everything changed. South African borders closed. Interprovincial travel was banned. We all had to stay at home. C2C was put on hold. As the months dragged on we took the difficult decision to return to Europe and booked a repatriation flight back to the UK. This was slightly complicated and we were only given three days warning before our flight left.
A busy three days. Most importantly we needed somewhere to store our car. We found African Overlanders, a farm bordering Cape Town, and stowed it away amongst a hundred other rugged cars with cool stickers from all over the world. The owner had never been so busy with the rush of overlanders fleeing back home, leaving their precious vehicles behind.
In London I’d never seen the tube so empty; we had a whole carriage to ourselves. It was cold and grey on the silent streets above, not a facemask in sight. At the station an official told Toma and me we weren’t allowed to walk within two meters of each other, ‘Whether you’re from the same household or not.’ Strange rules they’ve got here in England.
The summer passed and the situation in South Africa improved. We had to spend ten days in a low-risk country if we wanted to return. We had been to Namibia two years previously and loved it. It was simple to travel around, had good flight connections and the only entry requirement was a Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
Namibia it was and we planned ten days there before a flight to Cape Town to pick up our own car for a two-month South African road trip. We ditched our plans to the other nearby countries as the borders were still opening and closing like a drawbridge playing roulette.
But first we had to get to the Netherlands for Tom to defend his PhD (in aerospace), which he did very successfully. The very next day, late November 2020, we set off for Namibia and the unknown.
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