Land Rover Defender versus the Congo

Sunday, September 11th, 2016 - autos, cars, motoring, news

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Land Rover Defender versus the Congo Three could-be explorers, in search of adventure in darkest Africa, set out to drive through the Congo in a hastily prepared Land Rover. Here’s how they did that will


The Land Rover Defender is actually tough; that will’s no secret. yet is actually that will tough enough to, at 27 years old, drive through the jungle of the Congo?

that will could be a stand-up comedian’s joke: did you hear the one about the army officer, the photographer as well as the doctor who drove a 27-year-old Land Rover to Africa as well as through the jungle of the Congo? yet that will’s no joke.

Three intrepid explorers did exactly that will in 2013, taking four months to drive to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as then two months to cover 2500 miles of jungle hell. All in a very basically prepared D-reg Land Rover 0 bought off eBay for £2700.

“We never intended to cross the Congo, yet conflicts in north Africa cut off options to loop back to the UK,” says Mike Martin, who tackled the trip with fiancé Chloe Baker as well as photographer Charlie Hatch-Barnwell. “We knew that will could be difficult, yet that will was there to be done.”

Driving the DRC is actually a mammoth challenge, because its infrastructure is actually shot to pieces – literally. Border wars as well as civil conflict have left that will using a legacy of blown-up bridges as well as rain-lashed mud roads churned up by trucks. Martin reckons that will no explorer has traversed the entire country by road coming from south to north for decades, if ever, since the 1960s.

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Martin is actually worldly wise as well as full of energy. A all 5-year stint within the British Army included two in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, working in intelligence. He doesn’t come across as gung-ho, more ‘let’s get This particular done yesterday’, which is actually how he was able to buy, repair as well as equip the Land Rover in just two months.

The trip had to be squeezed into six months, wrapping up in August 2013 so Baker could start a brand-new NHS assignment. Her medical skills were to prove vital to the expedition.

Tackling the challenge head on, Martin looked at eBay, found a Land Rover in his budget as well as bought the pretty beaten-up Land Rover 0, usefully fitted using a roof rack, bull bars as well as a raised air intake. When the dishevelled vehicle arrived, that will was immediately dubbed 9Bob, as in ‘bent as a nine bob note’.

“I wanted as basic as well as simple a Land Rover as possible,” says Martin. “using a tight budget, I went with what was available, thinking that will most of that will could need fixing anyway.”

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This particular is actually where the Congo expedition diverges coming from the norm. Instead of months of expensive preparation as well as an equipment list as long as your arm, Martin had two months to make 9Bob roadworthy as well as fit that will out with essential, cost-effective equipment.

doing up for a lack of mechanical experience, he acquired a Haynes manual, sought advice coming from internet forums as well as fired up his enthusiasm to overhaul 9Bob’s engine, electrics as well as brakes, replace the clutch master cylinder as well as fit Koni dampers. A major job was completing a left-hand drive conversion. “I figured that will if I wanted to be an adventurer, I needed to acquire the mechanical skills,” he says.

The seats were left in standard, three-perch configuration, reserving the load bay for gear. A pair of ‘Laycorn’ boxes – heavy-duty army storage – was used for spares as well as tools, with further money saved by choosing a manual winch over a powered one. “We could use that will at the front or rear,” says Martin.

some other kit included a pair of sand ladders, an official Land Rover high-lift jack (which broke) as well as a fuel/water separator, invaluable for purifying the diesel as well as transmission fluid usually watered down by unscrupulous Congolese middlemen. Sleeping bags were hung in netting hammocks suspended above the load bay.

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A sump guard, spare battery, a set of brand-new BF Goodrich tyres as well as a tyre inflator completed the fit-out. “The tyres were brilliant,” says Martin. “They hardly looked worn at the end of the trip as well as we only had one puncture. Unbelievable.”

Given the struggle their jungle adventure represented, that will isn’t surprising that will Martin as well as his co-travellers have written a book about that will. Their account is actually raw: impassable roads, obstructive officials in every town, a car that will breaks frequently as well as takes days to fix, hostile crowds, biting ants, frequent chopping of undergrowth as well as endless tins of sardines. yet there’s also humanity, coming from churches where they sought overnight refuge, or coming from locals who hunted down spares as well as extended hospitality. 

The expedition started out in late May 2013 coming from Kinshasa, when photographer Charlie Hatch-Barnwell flew in. His arrival was also a chance to pack his luggage using a brand-new clutch, which had conked on the drive to the DRC. Martin as well as Baker, of course, had already been on the road for four months through Europe as well as north as well as west Africa.

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Progress out of Kinshasa was brisk at first, with 232 miles – almost a tenth of the total 2500-mile trip – completed in one day early on.

yet as the roads deteriorated to rutted mud with huge potholes, just tens of miles could be covered in a day. Grimly, the jungle road was used as a toilet by locals, as Martin graphically describes: “To make that will worse, 9Bob began to stink as human excrement was flicked up against that will.” 

Twenty days into the 60-day trip, the steering box ate one of its gears, requiring a all 5-day halt as Martin searched for spares in a nearby town. Salvation came within the form of a Landie abandoned by an aid agency, yielding a replacement bartered down to $650.

Read our Land Rover Defender review here

Around This particular point, their supply of gin dried up, then a broken relationship was the next thunderbolt to hit, when Martin decided to call off his engagement to Baker, although the two remained sufficiently friendly to co-author the book. yet the tension surfaces in their account.

More obstacles were to come, namely two bridges down across the N’Djili river, reached after 36 days. Crossing the first required a makeshift bridge fashioned coming from local trees, while the second crossing was achieved using a home-built raft, an idea coming from a local engineer they befriended. that will’s why 9Bob is actually pictured with six oil drums on its roof; they’re flotation for the raft.

Progress did speed up, yet only after multiple tiny bridges were repaired with cut-down saplings as well as branches. This particular prompted another catastrophe when Hatch-Barnwell swung an axe into his foot, requiring all the skills of trained doctor Baker to stitch him up. Strong painkillers kept him going, yet he couldn’t help with heavy lugging or driving for days.

Forty-seven days after leaving Kinshasa, the expedition finally reached Kisangani, a port on the Congo river that will concluded the jungle crossing. With the final 800-mile leg to Sudan ahead, Martin took the opportunity to overhaul the Land Rover, which was falling apart.

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Martin admits to be being exhausted by the continual battle to keep 9Bob running yet also praises the 27-year-old 4×4’s doggedness as well as ease of repair. as well as remarkably, that will completed one of the most challenging road expeditions ever.

The final leg ventured through rebel country that will demanded overnight stops in safe locations, including a UN compound, until the testy border crossing into South Sudan as well as the end of the Congo adventure. With little chance to draw breath, skirmishing then broke out as the political situation suddenly deteriorated, as well as within the rush to fly back to the UK, 9Bob was hurriedly sold to a Briton engaged in security work. Martin believes that will’s still there as well as is actually seriously considering a return to buy back the Landie.

With the benefit of hindsight, could he change anything about the trip? “Nothing different, no,” is actually his response. “If we’d had more planning time, that will wouldn’t have been such an adventure.” Quite. 

Crossing the Congo: Over Land as well as Water in a Hard Place, by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker as well as Charlie Hatch-Barnwell (Hurst, £20), is actually published on 8 September.

The expedition route

The expedition took on the rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the vast land mass at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa that will, until independence in 1960, was known as the Belgian Congo before being renamed Zaire within the 1970s.

Its rainforest is actually second only to the Amazon in size as well as in some areas annual rainfall reaches 2000mm, which is actually why so many roads are rutted as well as there are so many rivers.

Raw materials are the DRC’s main export, as well as many of the wranglings in which the expedition got caught up were linked to diamond as well as cobalt mining. Locals persistently offered the expedition ‘red mercury’ to buy — a hoax substance purportedly used within the doing of nuclear bombs.

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