On Friday, we needed a part for Codiwompler. Unfortunately, the soonest our mechanic (Grimm’s Auto) could get it was Thursday, delaying us by another week. Stink! Last week, while visiting Philakade (https://philakade.org/) I met Cindi, who is married to Andrew, the CEO of Toyota South Africa (yes, really). After mentioning my trip, she offered Andrew’s help if I should ever need it. I was grateful for the offer but brushed it off. Surely the CEO of Toyota, South Africa had more important things than Benjamin and my trip through Africa.
Fast forward a few days and I need a Toyota part that Grimm’s Auto can’t get hold of. Wait… I might have a connection? I reach out to Cindi to verify permission to contact Andrew. Andrew connects me with Jakkie, who then begins to do some research. A few hours later he finds one, also in Jo’burg. No problem, Judy is flying out to meet us in Cape Town so she can bring the part. Things are coming together.
However, Judy is only allowed one bag at 7kg (15.4 lbs) and Jakkie doesn’t think it is a reasonable ask of Judy to carry car parts in her luggage (I wasn’t as considerate, obviously). Instead, he is going to use Toyota’s distribution system to have the part at Grimm’s Auto by Monday morning. Wow!! Really?
Yes, really… Grimm’s Auto calls me on Monday at 12:30 and reports the part has arrived. We drive the car over and they do the installation, along with an oil change. The car is ready to go by 5 PM.
When Judy arrives she informs us that we, “Are guarded by Angels.” 👍
I have been working on our vehicle, the Codiwompler, with significant help from others (especially Albert Merkel) since December. However, this last weekend was a scramble to get all the last-minute adjustments made to our rig and I’m very grateful for all the help: Mark & Marianne, Josh & Meshach, my neighbor Mark, Benjamin, and Elisabeth.
It was a scramble, but by 9 PM, I was ready to drive off for the port of Vancouver, BC, where I was shipping the vehicle from.
There are a only a couple remaining items left when the car arrives in South Africa. Firstly, the turbo is leaking. Secondly, I want to add some mosquito netting to cover the gaps in the canopy walls so that we can cook under the canopy and not get carried away by the mosquitos once we travel further north.
In June 2022, when our overlanding Africa in 2023 idea first emerged, I started perusing the Internet for a vehicle. I considered all types: Land Rovers, Jeeps, Unimogs, Mercedes trucks, Sprinter vans, etc.
In the end, my uncle Rob, who is a Land Rover expert and an experienced African overlander as well, recommended we take a Land Cruiser. What? Why would a Land Rover expert recommend a Land Cruiser? Simple, they are less finicky and you can get parts anywhere in Africa. And so, I narrowed my search to a Land Cruiser with the following features:
Left-Hand Drive (for right-hand driving like in the USA)
No new-fangled electronics that I couldn’t repair while off-road
Unfortunately, this still left me with countless possibilities. The first Land Cruiser was made in 1951 and there have been numerous models since and innumerable options and variations on each model. Also, I came to find out that there were no diesel Land Cruisers in the United States. No such car was ever manufactured here. I continued to scour the Internet. I contacted a seller in the Phillippines and looked at shipping from there. I connected with an Overlander in the UK and even met up with him in Scottland (when my family happened to be there) to take his Land Cruiser for a test drive.
During our trip through the UK, I connected with a seller in Sandpoint, ID who happened to have a vehicle that met all the above criteria (well, except the double cab). I informed him I was interested but that I couldn’t see the vehicle until I returned in a couple of weeks. He told me to check in with him when I returned.
Lo and behold, it was still there when I got home and I went up to check it out over the weekend. Eric Edmonds accompanied me as my advisor. (Elisabeth pre-approved any decision I might make – making her obviously exceptional.) The fact that I found a unicorn, a 1996 manual, diesel 80-series Land Cruiser, so close to home, was remarkable. Furthermore, it had been outfitted for Overlanding, with a rooftop tent (RTT), lifted suspension, flood lights, and numerous other enhancements. The car had been imported from Honduras. In addition, it had recently returned from traversing the TransAmerica Trail (TAT). (“… a 4,253-mile (6,845 km) transcontinental vehicular route, intended as a recreational pathway across the United States using a minimum of paved roads, traveled by dual-sport motorcycles, off-road vehicles, or touring bicycle.”)
All this to say, I’m now the owner of a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80L which I have named the Codiwompler. Codiwompler a derivative of coddiwomple, “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” – a very apt description of my traveling style.
This is the vehicle we have chosen as our trusty steed as Benjamin and I traverse cities, towns, villages, deserts, forests, mountains, storms, mud, rivers, more mud, and so much more in our Overlanding adventure across Africa.
Last week, I purchased flights from my home in Spokane, WA to Cape Town, South Africa, and then returning from Brussels, Belgium back to Spokane – 5 months later. To get from Cape Town (the Southernmost point in Africa) to Brussels, Benjamin and I plan to drive along the West Coast of Africa to Tunis, Tunisia (the Northernmost point in Africa), through 20-28 countries, across two deserts and numerous areas of unrest/conflict along with many other challenges.
Lest you think the route is more defined than it is. My initial route was a printed-out map of Africa that I drew a line on along the coast. For the updated version above, I asked Google to map a route from Cape Town to Tunis and then dragged the route around to avoid areas where I know there is conflict, the route is impassable, or based on my intuition of what I thought might be “interesting.”
Why you might ask? Well, my son (Benjamin) just graduated from college, and before he does something responsible (like get a job) or irresponsible (I’ll let you come up with your own examples), he suggested we go on an adventure. Driving across Africa seems like a good example of such an adventure, so that is what we are planning.
Hanna and I flew to the Southern Tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico this week to continue learning to kiteboard. Last year, at the same time, we went to Punta Chame, Panama for the same. We arrived Sunday evening with the plan to start sailing Monday but there was no wind. We settled instead for a beautiful sunrise and a slack line. The latter seemed like a good practice for balancing on a kiteboard.
Hanna (of course), made it across. I was less astute at the task. Regardless, given no wind, we decided to go exploring West, on the Pacific coast side of the peninsula.
We parked just above Playa Bonita, near the construction of a new resort (The Palm) and I was surprised at how deserted the beach was. It stretched for miles but there were only a few cars and accompanying visitors. From there we hiked North along the coast for less than 2 miles, up and over the rocks looking down on Playa Las Tinajas. Remarkably, there was no one there. Literally, in the entire time we hiked, we only saw one family at the start and then no one. (It’s not like we were on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar or something.)
There were pelicans and seals a little way out from the beach – having a good little laugh at the joy of beach life I expect.
When we returned back to the car we drove to Playa Los Cerritos and stayed a little way out of the new construction area at Cerritos Beach Inn. We chose this location to be the night we splurged for accommodations with an ocean view room. (In hindsight, there wasn’t much point because we loved sitting downstairs overlooking the beach so basically only used the room for sleeping. We appreciated it nonetheless.)
In the morning, a father and son walked along the beach for 40 minutes to the hotel to have breakfast. Upon calling the rest of the family to drive over and join them, the dad realized he had the keys. Whoops! I offered to drive him back, picking up gasoline on my return to the hotel.
We left the hotel around 11:30 heading to Pozas Budistas (translated Buddhist Pools). This was casually recommended by the Kartchner’s – who neglected to mention details like, it’s a 4-wheel drive road, be sure you have a full tank of gas, don’t forget to take lots of water as you are going to be in the high desert for several hours, and oh… by the way, when you get there you won’t find any signs. (Admittedly, they told us to count the 11 water crossings but we missed this detail.) All this to say, the drive was wonderful, but not exactly a paved road.
Not only was the drive an adventure, but the pools themselves were (mostly) great as well. We hike in at one of the upper pools (rather than from the bottom), and so the first pool was a slide. Awesome! That is except for the fact that I took the first slide and when I emerged I was freckled with baby leeches. Yes, really!! What? Who recommends this to their friends I wonder? (The rattlesnake wasn’t a big deal because although we wore sandals on our hike, we didn’t see the rattler until we were back in the car.)
Regardless, not to be deterred, we hiked down the creek jumping along the giant boulders until we reached the main pool. And, since it was hot, Hanna volunteered that I test this pool for leeches as well. It was clean, refreshing, and cool. We swam. We were in a high desert and swimming. It was wonderful.
Zorro Falls…. wait what? A waterfall and freshwater swimming hole in the middle of the desert? Really? Yes, really! It was stupendous.
In the evening (Wednesday night) we stayed in the ecolodge, Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, just above the falls. Internet was only available at the entrance, not at our cabins, and there was no cell service. They do have a restaurant, but it was closed while we were there. If you visit, bring your own food though, as they have a great cooking setup with a grill (they provide the charcoal) and a kitchen with dishes. Rather than staying in the cabin, in fact, you can camp. In addition, they have a host of animals from peacocks to pigeons, and rabbits to horses (no relation to dinner). I loved the atmosphere of the ecolodge and, best of all, it allowed you to access the waterfalls after hours. When we went down in the evening, and had it entirely to ourselves. In the morning, I visited as well and took a glorious swim while the sun came up and shone into the pools. It was stupendous.
The wind was forecast back at La Ventana by 11 AM Thursday morning, so we headed out, a 1.5-hour drive. Unfortunately, wind is not as reliable as that and, while Hanna got out, I didn’t. Furthermore, Hanna spent the morning in the water as there wasn’t quite enough wind and she wasn’t able to actually get up on the board – though it was exhausting nonetheless. In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to catch up on work.
Astoundingly… Friday it was too windy. Wow… this sport is picky about the conditions – at least for beginners like us. Not to be bored, however, we took the opportunity to drive to Playa Balandra – which was beautiful. Unless you hike in, it is only open for entry at 8 AM and 1 PM and we timed it just right to make the 1 PM entry. (We were towards the back of the queue but we still made it into the park.) There is an overlook from which you can see both the inlet and the beach of this epic location. Down in the water, you can walk the entire area with the water below your waist. (I expect the sunrise is spectacular and I’d like to hike in early one morning if I’m ever back in the area.)
Back in La Ventana, we stopped by the natural hot springs at El Sargento. The timing was great because the tide was still coming in so we made a pool in the hot springs (which were too hot to start), and then waited for the tide to come in to cool it down.
Afterward, we headed to dinner. The restaurant was empty and the owner informed us that the menu didn’t correspond with the food available. We told him that suited us, and we welcomed him to make us something great – just not anything Hanna is allergic to. We both enjoyed our dishes and then switched so we could sample each other’s. Unfortunately, after switching, Hanna’s dish now had some unknown substance that triggered a significant allergic reaction. She took the necessary immunotherapy but it’s especially disconcerting when you are so far from significant medical facilities. Furthermore, while the medicine is life-saving, the after-effects are an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
On Saturday, we finally had wind, not too much and not too little. It’s about time! We watched the usual sunrise from our bedroom window – yes, it was like that every morning we stayed in La Ventana. And, around 10 AM, we watched as the wind blew in from the North. You could see it in the water. And, by 10:30 AM, it was time to sail.
We sailed from the Elevation Kiteboarding School and took the jet ski option – which meant they took us upwind via jet ski and then instructed us as we sailed (or struggled to sail) around the bay.
After the morning session Hanna was exhausted while I decided I deserved another afternoon of the sun in my eyes, water up my nostrils, and saltwater “hydration.” And, since we couldn’t catch an early flight out in the morning on Sunday, we may as well try again in the morning before rushing out for the 2-hour drive back to the airport.
Needless to say, we are close, but at the end of a second week (18 hours in total for me and 12.5 hours for Hanna) we still aren’t quite independent kiteboarders yet. I expect next time, but that’s what I thought last year so….
This weekend some friends and I took an off-road trip on the Washington Back Country Discovery Route (WABDR). We debated all winter on where to go and what route to take but, with all the recent snow, and some logistics around a couple of participants wanting to leave a day early, we settled on starting in Ellensburg and heading South and then North.
There were seven of us in all:
Eric Edmonds and Josh Dahlstrom driving a 2020 Tundra
Albert Merkel with his daughter driving Mitsubishi Montero
Michael Stokesbary driving a Jeep Wrangler, and
Benjamin and I taking up the rear in a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser (HDJ80L)
The main purpose of the trip was to test-drive the Land Cruiser which, thanks to Albert’s help, has undergone some major improvements including regearing the differential, upgrading to bead-locked wheels, rebuilding the brake system, installing rear differential lockers, re-doing the auxiliary power, replacing the auxiliary fuel tank with a 42-gallon tank, and installing new storage draws in the rear.
Our drive to Ellensburg was flawless and we filled up the auxiliary fuel tank with 18 gallons of diesel there. We then took the circuitous route (I think we turned around four times), before arriving at the start of the rugged version of the WABDR. We initially started on the route via Umptanum dirt Rd. within a few meters, Albert decided to take the more “rugged” route so we turned around one more time and began our adventure. The road wound around and down into the valley at Durr Road Campsite but this was not for us. We started up the other side which was quickly covered in snow. We all down-shifted to 4×4 low and headed up with Albert in the lead and Stokesbary taking up the rear.
Unfortunately, after about 15 miles, Eric radios us that the Tundra is stuck. Hmmm… We wait at the top as attempts are made to continue. Eventually, Mike makes his way around Josh and joins us at the summit and the Land Cruiser (which needs a name – suggestions welcome) heads down to try to help. After a couple of attempts, however, and the interruption of another car (not in our party) descending, Josh and Eric give up and start heading back to Ellensburg to purchase some chains.
On the way back, however, they radio us and suggest we camp at the Durr Road Campsite. This works for the rest of us and we head back down to the campsite for the night.
We set up camp and Benjamin, with Josh’s guidance, cooked a stew for dinner in the Afghan pot. Excellent!!
We awoke with a beautiful sunrise and Benjamin’s, again with Josh’s guidance, cooked an egg souffle – albeit this time in the dutch oven. Mmmm!
Rather than head back South, we decide to drive through Ellensburg, pick up chains for the Tundra, and then drive over to Cashmere – to try our luck traveling North on the WABDR. Alas, it was closed for exclusive snowmobiler access, so Albert lead us to a different trail. We started out on dirt with a caution sign – what we assumed was just a suggestion – and then progressed to mud.
At this point, we all aired down. (I took the Land Cruiser down to 9.5 PSI thanks to the fancy new bead-locked wheels that Albert installed.) However, the mud didn’t last for long as we were shortly driving on three to four feet of hardened snow. I was impressed with the lack of concern, but everyone seemed undeterred, so we continued up the mountain. In spite of the newly acquired chains, the Tundra got stuck, but Josh successfully was able to get it moving again on his own.
It was this next stretch, however, where the adventure really started – and we stopped. Albert was in the lead, Stokes and Josh next, while Benjamin and I took up the rear. Josh gets stuck. Yay! It’s about 3:30 PM. Time to pull out the winch, shovels, and recovery boards.
Overhead on the radio, “I think we have reached the end”, says Albert. “Yup, we are a little stuck.” Mike and I are going to go radio silent for a while as we figure this out.
We pull out the winch and start helping Josh. No, go! We tried angling (pun intended) off a tree but the Tundra would not budge. Recovery boards… nope. Shovels are out and we start digging. The Land Cruiser, while not stuck, didn’t have sufficient traction to pull Josh out. Thanks to suggestions, we anchor it to a tree. More pushing, shoving, digging, etc. Still no luck. It is starting to get dark. Benjamin volunteers to cook dinner.
There were a few less-than-ideal details:
Josh doesn’t have the correct fitting to undo his spare tire.
The Land Cruiser was missing the handle for the bottle jack (details).
The connection on the winch controller was failing and the winch was failing to activate.
It was getting really icy as the evening went on.
The Tundra was so close to the cliff side that you couldn’t enter/exit from the passenger side as the door couldn’t open.
The Montero blew a fuse so Albert had to jerry rig it directly to the battery (fuses just require replacing anyway).
In an attempt to descend, the Jeep skids perpendicular to the trail.
The Montero is high-centered and there are no nearby trees to anchor to.
Focusing on the Tundra, and in desperation we allow the winch to pull the Tundra to the side with a little extra vigor and the beading gives out and its tire goes flat. Stink! This truck is completely high-centered to the point that even taking out his spare tire from under the vehicle is challenging. (Benjamin continues cooking dinner with Eric’s accompanying conversation.)
After some hemming and hawing, Josh decides to attempt to reseat the wheel with gasoline and a lighter. Yes… this is the time for Macgyver-type measures. And, what do you know, it works the first time. Wow!!
Yeah… it’s been 4.5 hours and we finally have the first car unstuck.
Josh and I reverse down to a “passing” spot, Josh stays on the trail and the Land Cruiser passes by off-trail. No getting stuck. we head up to the next rig. Here we find Mike’s Jeep rotated 90 degrees on the road. And after pulling his rig out (another few hours), we again switch spots and the Land Cruiser heads to the top to find Albert’s Montero. We tried with the winches (the Montero also had a winch), and some raw pulling. Regardless, the Montero didn’t budge. To reduce the likelihood of the Land Cruiser getting stuck, we drop the air pressure down to 4.5 PSI. And, while it came close, it was always able to self-rescue. Yes!!!
Eventually, we take to digging, rotating, and digging some more, slowly pulling the vehicle around.
At 3:30 AM, 12 hours later, all cars are unstuck and we head down to Josh and Mike’s car to camp for the night.
In the morning we wake up fresh and ready for a new day. It doesn’t take long, though, before we all decide to head home. We’ve had all the practice we need for this trip, all concentrated into a single 12-hour block. Although the Tundra got stuck one more time, we all knew the digging drill and were able to rescue it without much ado.
Once off the trail, we head to Cashmere Riverside Park for a picnic. Josh whips up dessert in the dutch oven (yes, really… it was wonderful). A great finish to an adventurous trip!!