Tour in a 1960s Landrover

In July and August of 2001, I drove from Bulawayo to Cape Town and back in a friend’s old 1960s Land Rover passing through Botswana on the way. My mate Tim Cherry had bought it from new, but it had seen better days. A worker employed by Mike Barry’s father was unwell with a heart condition and I was asked if I could help take him down to the family’s farm at Tulbagh, about 100 miles north of Cape Town, where he could get better treatment. We left Bulawayo and headed out towards Plumtree on the Botswana border, but not before spending several days trying to get the old Land Rover roadworthy. I had been told by the owner that it was serviceable, but this was far from the truth. It would not start, had a flat spare, almost bald tyres, brake lights that did not work as well as poor brakes. The rear fuel tank leaked, the fuel pump was on the blink, the electrics were decidedly dodgy, and you could see the road through a big hole in the floor. The windscreen wipers did not work either.

Once we got the worst of the problems fixed, it took several days to drive down to Tulbagh and we ran out of diesel a few times. The fuel gauges did not work, and we did not realise at the time, but fuel was draining from the rear tank. We slept in the vehicle on the way down. In figures 25 and 26 we see Maurice and Mike about to pull our Land Rover out of the mud with a tractor on their farm in the hills surrounding Tulbagh. The farm had extensive vineyards and a beautiful old farmhouse in the Cape Dutch style. The little town of Tulbagh had some fine cafes where you could sample the delights of milk tart, an Afrikaans speciality.

The Land Rover gave us a lot of trouble along the way. The battery went flat and wouldn’t charge, fuel leaked, and we often had to bump-start it. An electrical fire started in the dashboard. I spent a lot of money on repairs. Rachel and Mike were trying to make a success of a bed and breakfast business they were running. I heard later that Maurice died of a heart attack some weeks after we left Tulbagh for Cape Town. It was very sad.

Mike and Rachel had a turbulent relationship. Mike was a mechanic by trade and very skilled at fixing cars, trucks and tractors. I visited them both in early 1998 with my current partner Leonard who was from Cape Town. Rachel was very histrionic and went barmy when we stripped off and swam in the dam. She used to scream like a banshee at the farm workers and complained if Mike used one teabag per cup. Her driving was terrifying and she paid little attention to traffic lights. She was very erratic. The business was not exactly a success because they were quite a long way outside Tulbagh itself. Rachel had the daft idea of calling the guesthouse The Duck Pond. Nontando and I were among the first guests to stay. However, after a few days, Rachel turned around and said that she wanted us to contribute to our stay. I had been buying food, cooking and paying for wine. Whenever Mike had more than a couple of glasses, Rachel went into full banshee mode. She was like a fishwife when she got going. I told Nontando that I was leaving and did not say goodbye to Rachel, I was that annoyed.

Rachel and Mike subsequently married and had a daughter despite Mike’s numerous affairs and infidelities. Some years later, I heard from Nontando that Mike had committed suicide in Bulawayo after Rachel had returned to the UK and told him that he would never see his daughter again. He had gassed himself inside his car. It was a tragedy. 

After Tulbagh, we drove along the garden route stopping at Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Plettenberg Bay, Tsitsikamma National Park, Port Elizabeth and Coffee Bay finishing up at Durban. After this, we visited Pietermaritzburg where I started a skydiving course which was cut short when I badly twisted my ankle. Travelling with Nontando was not without its difficulties. She tended to wander off with Andy after she woke up in the morning when we were camping and not come back for hours. This was very frustrating. When we stopped by the side of a main road to check the Land Rover, she let Andy, who was three years old, wander unsupervised in the road.

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