An amazing 8,000-mile round trip to Senegal in West Africa in a 13-year-old VW Golf Estate has been completed by a Harrogate couple.
It took Tony, 71 and Beryl Thorndike, 70, just over seven weeks, including spending two weeks on an immense beach over Christmas and New Year, to complete the mammoth journey in their car which had already done 330,000 miles.
Leaving on 1 December they drove the car onto the ferry to Bilbao and, once in Spain, drove to the next ferry at Algeciras, stopping overnight in Salamanca and Cadiz.
Once in Tangiers they went on to Rabat to obtain visas for Mauritania. Reaching Marrakesh where they stayed for three days, Beryl, who is treasurer of Harrogate Film Society, then flew back to Manchester.
“I was fearful about going through the Sahara given the very adverse security report about Mauritania on the Foreign Office website,” she explained.
Tony was left to drive on through Western Sahara in Morocco and then Mauritania on his own, going through more and more challenging conditions in the Sahara desert.
“I wasn’t alone all the time,” said Tony. “I occasionally picked up locals wanting transport as public transport is virtually non-existent south of Agadir until you reach Saint-Louis, the old French colonial capital, in Senegal.
“But I did have problems with severe sandstorms on two days and ran off the road twice. I had to be rescued on both occasions because the car sank to its axles in soft sand.”
A notable feature was the number of military and police checkpoints, understandable given what was happening in nearby Mali.
“Several times ‘presents’ were demanded, really bribes, so I got through a lot of packs of cigarettes, pens and footballs,” said Tony, who is chairman of Harrogate Film Society.
Eventually crossing the Senegal river at Rosso, a place notorious for corruption and bribery and where a lot of money had to change hands, he was finally in West Africa.
“I had to press on to Gambia as I had to meet Beryl,” he said.
Reaching Banjul in Gambia after a chaotic river crossing Tony met Beryl at the airport eight days after they had parted company.
After a few days on the beach to “give the Golf a rest” they went on to southern Senegal, to Cap Skirring, very close to the border with Guinea-Bissau.
“That was the target,” said Tony. “We knew that Le Cap has one of the best beaches in the world.”
Staying in a little French run hotel crisis struck when Tony drove accidentally into a deep hole.
“The sump was torn open and I lost all the oil,” he said.
Coaxing the car back to the hotel two African mechanics took charge.
“They were amazingly innovative and, after four days of repairs in a dirt yard with the car resting on stones, using bits of wire in places, it was ready to be driven back. They were as impressed with VW engineering as we were,” said Tony.
Beryl was the passenger on the way back, reassured that her fears were not justified. “In fact we met nothing but kindness in Mauritania,” she said. “We had no security problems at all.”
Tony said: “We crossed back into Mauritania by a different route but that meant driving nearly 100 miles on dirt and uneven roads. But we got stuck in the sand again, this time in a very remote area but were lucky to be rescued by a truck.”
Home was reached by a different route through Morocco taking in Fes. In Spain, they visited Granada. But more challenges had to be faced: snowstorms in northern Spain before reaching Bilbao for the ferry back to England.
“We could say we have faced it all!” said Beryl.
Asked why the trip was made Tony said it was something he had dreamed about doing as he had a “consuming interest in West Africa”, going back to when he had been a VSO volunteer in the region many years ago.
“It was simply a wonderful adventure,” he said.
“The secret is to have a well serviced car, no matter the age, and utter determination. Ever the optimist, I never thought of plan B, only plan A, although pragmatism was the order of the day!”
And, as he remains a practising barrister out of chambers in Manchester, he was back in court within 36 hours of arrival home.
“But the memory will never die,” he said.