The splendid landscapes of Europe, some surprising discoveries in Asia Minor and the magic of the Middle East are now a thing of the past for the Cape-to-Cape convoy. Having crossed the Red Sea, the 6 Renault Keraxes and 6 Sherpas arrived in Djibouti in East Africa. On the agenda: deserts, mountains and… some unexpected encounters with desert wildlife!
On the Port of Djibouti, the team carried out a thorough examination of all the vehicles before heading out onto the African roads. In blazing sunshine, the technicians reviewed all the mechanics of the vehicles. Nothing was left to chance: pressure levels, air filters, drive belts and all fixtures and straps. Whilst the mechanics were keeping themselves busy around the Sherpas and Keraxes, a certain enthusiasm reigned at the idea of getting back on the road. Morale is good. Florence, Kerax driver and responsible for pre-project product development in Saint-Priest confided: “My office colleagues gave me a bag of messages before I left, for me to dip into during the expedition. They said it could be helpful to me if I felt lonely. But for the moment, I’ve not had the chance to open any!
Once the technical checks were finished, the Cape-to-Cape expedition got back on the road. Whilst children ran around the vehicles, everybody waved to the crowd following the convoy. You could hear the children shouting “Vive Renault!” and “Bon voyage!”.
Leaving Djibouti, the convoy headed out on the rocky desert’s only road. Traffic was dense and the road was littered with abandoned trucks. This was a dangerous stretch, full of traps where accidents are legion. Indeed, it was here that the Kerax went into a ditch as a result of a driving error, but it was not as bad as it looked. The truck was able to get back on the road once righted! It took 3 hours to get over the border, in uncomfortable heat - sometimes approaching 600C - before the convoy could get into Ethiopia. Here, traffic was more fluid but there were still some surprising encounters to come: whilst the drivers were sleeping in their tents at the bottom of a beautiful valley, hyenas invited themselves into the camp. The wild animals caused quite a fright but the drivers were able to laugh about it the next day.
The crossing the holy town of Lalibela and the visit of its 13th Century churches (actually carved out of the rocky ground) as the faithful sang canticles was something that everybody will remember for a long time. 10 hours’ drive followed in the dust at 3,000m altitude right through to Lake Tana before getting into Addis Abeba. The party thrown at the French Embassy in the Ethiopian capital to honour the visit of the Cape-to-Cape expedition will remain in people’s minds for a long time, with several enthusiastic diplomats having even admitted that in the past, they had used Sherpas as company vehicles!
The expedition continued on its way through a much drier landscape, desperately in need of the rainy season. However, a few hundred kilometres further on, the team was surprised to pass over a particularly green plateau. This was the Ethiopian orchard which is regularly watered and planted with banana trees and potato fields. Further on, they witnessed immense cornfields laboured by mechanical tractors. Nobody was expecting this sort of landscape.
More surprising still, the next day, in foggy conditions, the convoy went through the pine forests on Bale Mountain. At 4,121m altitude - according to the GPS - the Cape-to-Cape convoy had reached the highest point on its journey. The descent that followed was truly vertiginous and the excellent and practically deserted laterite track wound through luxuriant vegetation with a few curious baboons popping up to glimpse this strange convoy. The landscape, with its giant acacia trees, its massive stormy clouds and giant termite hills pointing skywards was very reminiscent of neighbouring Kenya.
Kenya’s mythical mountain Kilimanjaro and its summit at 5,892m, stood as a benevolent sentry over the expedition’s mechanical armada. Later on in the afternoon, purchasers and potential clients climbed on board the Keraxes and Sherpas to take a ride down the track under the amused gaze of some animals from the Savannah. Later on, on deserted tracks, numerous Massaï saluted the passage of the vehicles armed with their assegai, used to protect their cattle from predators.
The rainy season continued over Kenya, making the track sometimes extremely muddy: the Keraxes’ fording capacities and ground clearance are particularly appreciated under these conditions! During the expedition’s reconnaissance trip, the team promised to help a school by supplying crayons and exercise books. Just a few months later, Cape-to-Cape kept its promise.
On the road to Tanzania, the expedition helped a local truck which had been stuck in a muddy rut for 4 days. 7km before that it had been stuck in the mud for over a week with a similar problem. It goes without saying that this helping hand was most appreciated!