Welcome to the blog of the Indlovu 2011 Drive and our journey into Africa overland.

I am transcribing this in 2021, from my journaled notes, as we reach the ten year anniversary of this incredible adventure. I will try to be as faithful to my original writing, as much as sensibilities allow. To be honest it’s been too personal to do before, but in a decade, a lot of dust can settle…… RicH

We hope to include our motivation, planning and the journey itself as this project grows from fledgling pub-talk to fulfilment of an impossible dream.

Richard broke his neck playing rugby in 1986 and is dependent upon using a wheelchair and crutches, but recent advances in self care (Peristeen) and the import of the incredible Azalai Land Rover Camper conversion make the adventure possible.

All that’s needed now is our commitment and belief – and quite probably a little luck and goodwill!

We’ve been mulling the possibility of Africa overland since we first went to South Africa ten years ago. We have been back many times since, and are particularly drawn to the outdoors and wildlife. Equally, one would have to be pretty facile to not be completely intrigued, overwhelmed and bewildered by the human complexities of such a huge and diverse continent. And that’s just scratching at the surface!

I have been inspired by reading Colin Javens’ story ‘Driving Home’. Colin (seen in the Sudan in this picture along with his crew) is a phenomenal fundraiser, born in Kenya, who is tetraplegic following a neck injury. His pioneering trip (from a disability point of view) prooves that there is no excuse not to undertake a similar venture. (A bit like my friend Swiss Toni, rather helpfully telling me that the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee, Western Cape RSA, the highest commercial bungee jump in the world at the time, “took wheelchairs” – the point being because they did, I did, and it was good too! Thx Swiss x).

All that said, the logistics are still crucial. Colin’s trip was with a couple of vehicles, and a few carers and support team members. My disability, though still neck break related, is not quite as profound as Colin’s, and although I’m sure it would have been his goal too; to travel as independently as possible [minimum obligations for carer(s)] we might need to think more laterally in order to avoid the trip becoming disabling rather than liberating in my circumstance! EG Within my established support mechanisms (that’s adaptations and Rachie as carer!) I’m quite independent at toileting at home, but a non accessible facility on the edge of the Nubian Desert could quite easily put pay to that. An aim of our trip is to challenge that sort of environmental and circumstantial limitation. And our recent research has possibly afforded us a solution. Enter the Azalai Land Rover Camper conversion http://www.azalai.co.uk/. – and it turns out that the UK franchise is just a stone’s throw away from us in Kingsteignton at OEC Ltd. We booked a visit over there and met with Anton De Leeuw – super guy, straight as a die, clearly knows his stuff. We chatted through our formative plans (East Route in a few years’ timescale) and looked at an Azalai shell (not even on a base vehicle yet). It looks like a goer  – but we need to consider the cost in detail.

Clearly this is going to be a big commitment – a good job we have no kids – as if we did we would definitely be depriving them of any inheritance due!…

Scoping the Azalai

We’d let things drift a bit since our visit to OEC in April, but Anton had recently emailed to say that he has a finished Azalai 130 in the workshop – so we again made the short trip over to Kingsteignton to see how things may or may not work. It was also a chance to check on some of my estimates based upon a trawl of internet prices and providers against an outline spec from OEC.

We got over to the yard and over a welcome coffee had a quick update chat. Anton undertook to firm up a quote and then to business – a look at the Azalai 130 (the vehicle featured in LRO monthly). First challenge, how to get in. The rear steps as standard were no good for me and my crutches. We tried a portable step but not quite enough height to access the LR’s deck, however it easily afforded opportunity to sit on the cabin’s floor and ‘arse it in’ as it were. Not elegant but feasible (whilst the Azalai’s shower area is dry!).

Note 1 – will need to think of a bespoke steps solution; Anton is confident that this is something OEC can do (and we’re confident in OEC)

Once in everything was ideally to hand, and indeed the compact nature of the design makes life easier if you have mobility difficulties. We lifted and lowered the roof, nosed around the storage, sat on the loo, and raised and lowered the upper bunk. The portable step came in handy to proove that this, with the lowered cab roof option, is more than acceptable (and rather comfortable too).

Note 2 – need the lowered cab roof option

We also measured the length of the cabin, and were pleased to realise that if we should ever need to, our Oztent RV5 will travel, albeit poking through into the pasenger part of the front cab. We also realised that there is nothing for us to gain with [the seemingly popular option] of cutting the Cab bulkhead down to the deck.

Anton has a stated philosophy that he is not a salesman. “I don’t do sales” he says in his Rhodie drawl, “I’m happy to answer any questions and it’s up to you to make up your own minds.” A refreshing approach and to be fair it’s not rhetoric and he is true to his word.

We also had a quick look at a few innovations coming on stream such as an awning being attached to a new conversion in progress. We looked at a Puma LR 130 from the point of view of hand controls (very helpful as it could be all too easy to get so far and then find you couldn’t actually drive the vehicle). Things are slightly more comfortable than back in the day, when I had a Petrol 3.5 naturally aspirated V8 110 van (A178 KDV) – and that was fitted with hand controls and manual transmission. This time we’re looking at an Ashcroft auto-box conversion and L. foot accelerator, with hand control brake (possibly push pull brake accelerator). I am keen to be able to maintain the ability to accelerate and brake at the ‘same’ time as can sometimes be demanded by off road conditions.

Anyway – it’s still a goer – actually more so – as we can now tangibly see and feel the potential.

We returned home in good mood and buoyed up with a very positive afternoon’s research.


Had our final meeting with the bank and things seem OK. I guess we can do no more than wait for the wheels to turn now. A scary amount of money, but we are confident that the sums add up and it’s ‘affordable’ – in the loosest of terms!

As an aside, but related to the objectives of our project, I had a discussion at work yesterday relating to the blast injuries being taken by servicemen in Afghanistan. The gist of it was that we’d at least have a great Paralympic team come the 2012 Olympiad. Partly this view was driven by the recent BBC documentary ‘Wounded’ featuring a couple of soldiers, now finding themselves in recovery after multiple amputations.

No doubt that a fighting spirit correlates with positive outcomes in adverse and novel situations, but it did get me thinking what did our discussion say about our views on those of us that have never had the experience of being fully able?

Maybe I’m being oversensitive or perhaps PC – but was there an inference that such fighting spirit is only evident following trauma? [Traumatic disability in this case] Do people only achieve if they have lost something?

It doesn’t fit does it? Dame Tanni Grey-Thomson anyone? She seems to have managed to achieve sporting success without the benefit of an insight into abled body-ness (if there is such a word). For that matter and rather obviously, Joe and Joanna Public also are known to do well on occasions too – with no disability whatsoever!

So what does motivate us? Is it what we have lost or is it what we might gain? The truth is both do. We fear and move away from loss and aspire and move towards the rewarding. But I suspect it is easier to attribute success to a discernible event (and there can’t be too many things more ‘obvious’ than having your legs blown off by an improvised explosive device). At the other end of the scale we attribute success to people ‘landing a plum job’ or maybe ‘winning the lottery’. This is a shame as it suggests that we might have a behaviour tendency to sit idly by and wait for our own crisis or random good fortune before looking to do something ‘exceptional’.

Think what our potential could be if we avoid this trap.

The difference between people that ‘do’ and people that ‘do not’ bears a sharp correlation with people that succeed and people that ‘just’ live. (At the risk of sounding like an awful self help book – we make our own luck.)

Maybe it’s just that I need to justify to myself, that we are borrowing more than our first house cost us in order to realise our ambition…. Still it’s a point worth pondering n’est pas?

OEC have also emailed to say they are expecting a full order book. We’ll need to move pretty fast if we are to avoid a greatly extended lead time (backed with a £2k deposit), but we are hostage to getting approval from the bank. We can wait for sure as the trip is still years off, but VAT returns to 17.5% in Jan 2010.

Here’s hoping the next posts include firm progress once funding is tangibly in our hands!

Hopefully within the next month or so….

Loan Agreed

The loan has come through today. This is a point of no return of sorts – or at least it will be when we convert it into a Land Rover 130 Double Cab Azalai Base Vehicle later this week.

The reality bites – as does the fiscal burden! Literally now, “In for a penny, in for a pound”.

Rachel is selling her car too, all proceeds into the expedition fund.

Musings of a fat man

When the idea started, I had no real idea what might be involved, or even whether it would come to anything. We’ve been going a few months now so I’ve had some time to reflect.

Firstly the realisation that we are starting to make something pretty fantastic manifest itself in the form of a suitable expedition vehicle, that we have started to approach (potentially) interested partners, that we are developing a project plan etc etc ad infinitum – all outside of the day jobs – is proving to be quite a self-development experience. Working in the public sector has of course led to experience in these areas (commissioning, project planning, budgeting, negotiation), but there is something to be said for experiencing the direct consequence of one’s own decisions as they impact upon one’s own money and resources. I might even describe it as a bit of a buzz, although that might wear off when we are still paying things back in fourteen years’ time!

The point being that the work involved is filling a gap that I didn’t really know was there. Subsequent successes, at any measurable level, are definitely adding ‘something’, but what exactly? Self-esteem I think! Self esteem and Occupational balance. And as it turns out that’s a pretty difficult thing to measure if you don’t know it’s deficient. Or put another way, doing things is good for you. (Especially if it presses buttons you’ve been neglecting or didn’t even know were there).

Of course I should know this as an Occupational Therapist, but sometimes the tree and forest effect is all too pervasive. Projects like this make you look and think outside of the box. I don’t for one minute suppose that there is a level of ‘grandiose’ to qualify for this, but the trick is to get beyond the old routine and out of the comfort zone. [How many clichés can I get into this post!?!]

Secondly, another benefit comes from the financial sacrifice and discipline. ‘Things’ are starting to have a real value again. For example, looking ahead to Christmas, I can ask for mundane items such as socks, pants and smellies, and actually be genuinely grateful if anyone should be gracious enough to deliver!

Thirdly, going out less correlates directly with less excess in alcohol and food (pub and restaurants) and my ageing body thanks me greatly. There’s been no drastic weight loss, but there is an undeniable downward trend contrasting with the previous upwards one. Not too long ago I’d have quite happily professed “I don’t know where it [weight] comes from, I eat healthily enough.” Cobblers!  It’s as simple as the units [‘allowed’ for a sedentary man in the UK] equate to an extra day’s calorie intake a week or thereabouts; especially if you look at the concomitant and inevitable snackage that goes with beer.  A sobering thought (tee hee).

(Fourthly, I still hate talking to anyone other than friends and family on the telephone.)

Of late, although not being in any way ‘well-heeled’ – we’ve been able to pretty much buy and indulge on impulse. I wonder if this is something of a common symptom in modern British society – where the disease is our obsession with obtaining material wealth, only to find we are literally no better off subsequently. Those currently suggesting we might be happier in ourselves if we had less, might have a point. That aside, I am not lost to the irony of pontificating on disposing of our ‘disposable income’ (and then some) on a grand indulgent project like an Azalai Across Africa.  I think I’ve mentioned before that the ethics of the scheme are part of the test!

Base vehicle ordered for Azalai conversion

The deposit is being paid this week for the Azalai conversion, and the base vehicle has been provisionally ordered from Roger Young Land Rover (Saltash) via OEC:

Land Rover Defender 130 Double Cab Chassis cab

Electric windows/central locking (deals with paralysed fingers on R hand)

Green (non metallic)

Standard seats (will upgrade these in the build)

No ICE (will add this during the build)

Estimated Carbon Costs

As this is a quiet month with little to report, I thought it opportune to consider some of the real costs of this trip……..


Footprint Country

Average World


Your Carbon Footprint:

House 2.10 tonnes of CO2

Flights 3.32 tonnes of CO2

Car 2.93 tonnes of CO2

Motorbike 0.00 tonnes of CO2

Bus & Rail 0.00 tonnes of CO2

Secondary 3.27 tonnes of CO2

Total = 11.63 tonnes of CO2

I have visited and completed a few online ‘Green/Carbon footprint calculators’. Pretty consistently, based on current behaviour,  I (we) am coming out at about 12 tonnes per year, three and a bit of which was a long haul flight to/from Cape Town earlier this year. According to the WWF that equates to 2.63 planets being available. According to http://www.carbonfootprint.com ….

Your footprint is 11.63 tonnes per year

The average footprint for people in United Kingdom is 9.80 tonnes

The average for the industrial nations is about 11 tonnes

The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 tonnes

The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes

So if we don’t fly we are ‘below average’ it seems (8.3 tonnes), but still way above the world average and 400% above what’s needed to combat climate change.

We have made changes, for example we don’t drive locally any more. I either take my electric scooter or hybrid handcycle into work (and have done for a few years now). Rachel walks or cycles. We have reduced the number of miles driven (in a 2.5 litre diesel VW Transporter) to less than 7000 a year. I liked to think that this was pretty good for a guy who doesn’t walk – but clearly there is more to do. Certainly flights need careful consideration. Currently our planned trip will involve a one way!

Land Rover include a point of sale carbon offset that enables customers to offset their own emissions for 45,000 miles. In theory this ‘offsets’ our trip handsomely (estimated at 17000 miles) – although the Azalai conversion carbon costs and build are not included. That said,one can’t ignore the paradox here – and I hope that we will continue to strive to reduce our impact.

So not justification exactly, but a santimonious pricking of the collective concience (yes the paradox being it looks like yours as well as mine!). And I guess that’s the main (albeit remotely) positive argument that I can lay down – that doing this trip could raise people’s awareness of green issues…..

Anyone remember Alf Garnett’s ”Smoking for Britain’ rant? The logic here is not much better I’m afraid.

For the year of the trip (so including home and away time) we can each estimate

House 1.59 tonnes of CO2

Flights 1.66 tonnes of CO2

Car 10.77 tonnes of CO2

Motorbike 0.00 tonnes of CO2

Bus & Rail 0.00 tonnes of CO2

Secondary 2.29 tonnes of CO2

Total = 16.32 tonnes of CO2

Although the ‘car’ footprint will be between us so nearer 11 tonnes total each.

Injured Players Fund assistance

Great news, just heard from Tim Bonnett of the RFU’s IPF (Injured Players’ Fund) that the Trustees have agreed to help fund the cost of adapting disabled facilities for the vehicle. This includes a provision for mobility aids too. This will help to keep our outlay broadly in line with that of able-bodied purchasers.

My thanks as ever goes to this much appreciated charity. It means a lot to know that people still care enough to contribute to one’s wellbeing some 23 years after my accident. In that respect the funding is worth far more than ‘just’ money! Rugby is a great fraternity.

Xmas stash report

Not really much to report. Needless to say Rachel was indulged in Michelin Maps, Stacking Cooking Pans, Survival Guides and the like as Christmas presents. Me, I got a micro-towel – cool!

Regarding the van, I have casually researched platform lifts and had a cursory dialogue with Anton at OEC.  I’m wondering whether something along these lines might fit the bill http://pwsacc.co.uk/disabled-scooter-carriers.htm

On the positive side:

Wide platform conducive to crutches

It’s a lift

Could be used in conjunction with a portable step to avoid having to often up/down maybe (IE adjust its position so it could itself be a step)

(Domestically at least) It can be used as designed to carry handcycle/chair etc


Not sure what the fatigue characteristics would be like (eg over corrugations)

Not sure on the weight/loading effects

Not sure of height of tow bar (or whether range of lift/mast height can be ‘extended’ to give a further rise.

Seems possible…….

Car Trading

Good news! Rachel’s car has been sold (thanks due to Dave Webb).

The modest return is getting added to the trip fund. We’re hoping, if we can get the right [access] solution for the Azalai, so that we can transport the scooter and handcycle (the former at least locally) then we can sell the van too (VW Transporter, low mileage, many extras – just in case you’re in the market).