To see some living sunflowers, click on the dead one above which directs you to english-house, a holiday home in France which can be rented.

Plymouth to Dakar-2004

Team englishouse on the Road!!!

I have been meaning to update the website for some months now but just couldn't face it! It just seemed so far away - literally and emotionally - after having arrived back in snowy Berlin from Africa. However I've recently been working with a friend on writing the text in German for a classic car magazine and this motivated me. While we were on the road, Chrissy wrote a wonderful diary of our trip. Her words are underlined and mine aren't - make of that what you will!

A slight contrast! The view from my balcony in Berlin, the morning I arrived home, and the sun setting in the Sahara.

Preparation for the rally really was minimal. I am of the opinion that if a car can get through the German M.O.T. then it must be fit for the road, so all I did was to fit the radio/cassette that I still have from my first-ever car and I painted Trudi bright pink. A lot of time was spent on eBay trying to find cheap parts. I didn't have a clue what could go wrong - so I just took what I could find. I also figured that what I didn't need would be useful for the next owner at some point. Colleagues and students were an amazing source of parts and advice - most of it for free. I drove Trudi around Berlin as often as I could - she even helped Lysann to move flats! It was during this that I noticed that she was down on power - which in a Trabant meant that we were barely moving! Micha helped me to check her over and found out that one of the HT leads to a spark plug was not connecting properly - a quick swap and the engine 'roared' into life again. The rest of the time was spent trying to interest the media as much as possible. Interviews followed for local newspapers and I even gave an interview live on air for Radio MultiCulti - a bit embarrassing as the studio DJ asked me to start the car but the keys were in my back pocket and Trudi's a bit cramped. Then, having extracted the keys, I had to turn on the petrol (a tap under the dashboard), give her some choke and fire her up - all live on radio! Still, nobody was listening! The night before I was due to set off we had a Christmas party at work and I felt quite emotional saying goodbye to colleagues as I really didn't know how far we would get on the trip and what really awaited us. With an engine head in a rucksack on my back, I cycled home and tried to get some sleep.

The next morning I woke up early and after a quick coffee, set off for the port at Cuxhaven, near Hamburg in the north of Germany. Although it is only some 440 kilometres away and is a journey that I have done lots of times, I left plenty of time to spare. I had decided to limit Trudi's top speed to 90km per hour. She can do more (not much though) but I reckoned/hoped that this would not tax the engine too much. This decision led to some tension between myself and Andy later.The photos are of a piggy bank that some students gave me, stuffed with money for the venture. Thanks!!!

The road to Hamburg is all motorway but it was particularly unpleasant as the snow lying on the hard shoulder had been replaced by heavy rain and I was getting buffeted around by the big trucks overtaking, then showering us with spray. Water was leaking through from the top of the windscreen and then dripping down the mirror to form a puddle on the carpet and I was constantly having to wipe away the condensation forming inside the car. Still, you can reach just about every window from the driver's seat.

A couple of times there was a smell of burning electrics but turning the radio off for a while seemed to cure this. It seemed that the one bit of preparation that I had done was typically a bit of a bodge. Flashing lorries in with the headlights sometimes resulted in the radio cutting out! From just east of Hamburg, the most direct route to the port is an 'A' road which is very slow. The highlight of the journey was a couple of kilometres short of Cuxhaven when I overtook something - the first and last time until we got through Europe to Africa - and it was a JCV digger! I got to the port with plenty of time to spare and took advantage of this to fix the radio.

The ferry was late in leaving because of the bad weather and the length of the crossing was increased from 21 to 25 hours. And I hate sailing! I drank a few beers, lamenting the loss of the 'Admiral's Bar' in the ship's refit and went to bed early. Bed was a sleeping bag on the floor of the lounge with the reclining seats. I didn't get much sleep as the bad weather meant that I was rolling around on the floor of the ship! When I tried to get up though, I realised that it would be kinder to my stomach if I just lay there for a bit longer and tried not to think about maritime disasters.

As we neared the coast of England I was able to struggle up and drink a coffee. Once we'd docked, the journey was a slow and boring trundle along the motorway to Andy's home in Godalming, near Guilford, Surrey. The car had been attracting lots of interest on the motorway with people laughing and waving. The journey was only 220 km but it still took over 3 hours and by the time I got to Andy's flat, it was dark. He had arranged with Diane, the landlady of the 'Richmond Arms' that we could park in the pub car park and so the decision to make the pub our headquarters was only natural, as it would have been rude not to have!

The piece of paper in the centre of the dash is to write down the amount of fuel as Trudi has a dipstick as a petrol gauge. This is standard for a Trabant but not all that useful on the move!

The next few days were spent trying to gain public awareness of what we were doing and to raise as much money as possible for our main charity, the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice. We'd been given permission to park Trudi on the pavement in Godalming High Street and spent a very cold day there

live interview and were in a couple of the local papers. People were very supportive, particularly as it was a local charity. We had people dropping in cheques to the 'Richmond Arms' as well as leaving jerry cans and one person even left a CD changer but as we didn't have a CD player for the car, we couldn't use it, but what a kind thought! There were lots of little things to be done. We both needed malaria tablets and I had to pretend that I was a UK resident so that I could get a prescription from the doctor. We then bought them at the local branch of Tesco's!

Then there were tools to pick up from our sponsors, and as you can see from the photos, Trudi gained a whole load of new stickers. If I'd known that she was going to be that covered, I could have saved a lot on the paint! And we had to put in a few hours at campaign headquarters! Slowly but inevitably, Friday the 19th December was drawing nearer. I handed over the laptop to Chrissy and gave her some tips on the website and then at 4:30 am, set off from Godalming to Portsmouth in Trudi and Andy drove down with Chrissy in her car. Portsmouth is only two hours from Godalming and Plymouth (the official start) is about nine days at Trudi's speed, and we figured that it sounded similar enough to the official start so nobody would notice. As it were, the minority of cars set off from Plymouth - most went from Dover. Portsmouth gave us our first taste of border controls. I had to open up the boot and looking at the chaos inside - petrol cans, tools, engine parts and so on - Trudi was well and truly packed - the official made me take out a rucksack and put it through the scanner. Well, we were mightily relieved that no bombs could be smuggled out of England.

Well, Trudi and the boys departed from Portsmouth at 7.30 am on Friday the 19th, so it's down to me (Mrs Andy) to try and keep all you adoring fans updated! As you will see, they have already made fantastic progress...

The crossing was calm but slow. We docked at 2:15 pm in Le Havre. However, I decided to make up for the relative boringness of the crossing by losing my passport. Not really the most sensible thing to do given that we were going to cross a few countries on the way to Banjul. One minute I had it, the next I just couldn't find it. I ran back up to the lounge where we had spent the crossing but there was nothing there. We started to search the car but then we had to drive off the ferry. I parked up and then we turned the car inside out but the passport was nowhere to be seen. As I was checking my jacket pockets for the umpteenth

time, it occurred to me to look inside the sleeve and sure enough, my passport was trapped in there. Was this an omen - it didn't matter - we could go through the border control now, except that it didn't seem to exist! Within minutes we had hit the traffic of Le Havre and it had started to rain! Driving a Trabi is a little different from most cars. The easiest way is to get it into fourth gear (top) as quickly as possible and leave it there for as long as possible. In traffic, when it starts to hop a bit, then I would change down, but I tried to avoid gear changes (done on the steering column) as much as possible. There is simply no point in changing down through the gears - it is better to come out of 4th into neutral and then see which gear is best when the time comes! Once it gets up to speed then it's fine but as soon as you slow down, you have to build it all back up again - so roundabouts became a case of judging when to get onto them and then swinging round in a high gear - and there are lots of roundabouts in French towns!! We avoided the motorways - partly as they wouldn't make much difference with our modest top speed and also as we were trying to save some money. As we were driving along, the weather got progressively worse, with thick fog beginning to settle. It was quite an eerie sensation - sitting in this little, whining car, trundling through 'ghost' towns in the fog. At one point I saw some crash barriers and realised that we were on the road part of the Le Mans circuit! The first Trabant to drive at Le Mans?

19/12/03 - DAY ONE:

After their voyage from Portsmouth to Le Havre, Andy and Simon pressed on and were able to drop in on Simon's parents at their house, near Poitiers, to have a welcome night's sleep there after their 500 mile trek.

Andy and I swapped the driving every three hours or so. He is taller than me so had some problems fitting into the front seat - which was adjusted as far back as it could but was still too close.

About 11pm we rolled up at my parents' house in a village between Poitiers and Angouleme, where we were stopping for the night. We hadn't seen a single rally vehicle the whole way but we figured that they had all taken the motorway and must be way ahead of us. Mum had cooked for us but the first thing that we did was to go on-line to find out what the position was.

To our amazement we saw that we had actually got further than most of the teams - who were all complaining of the thick fog. And we also realised that we had miscalculated a bit as those teams who had set off from Plymouth were still on the overnight ferry. We weren't leading the challenge but we were up at the front! At that point we were elated - the challenge had started - and then also realised how tired we were - as our day had started some 20 hours before - and fell into bed.

20/12/03 - DAY 2:

Our intrepid duo made incredible progress by driving for a solid 23 hours! When they finally reached Malaga, it was reported that their breath cannot be described !!!

We set off at 9:30 in the morning - this was my shortest ever visit to Mum and Dad's which was a bit sad for all of us. I started the driving - I wouldn't describe myself as a morning person, but when I have to get up, I can, and I don't need much sleep. The car was well-stocked up with food from Mum and the all important soya milk for me. I have been a vegan for about 7 years now and knew that it would be a problem for me to find food on the trip, so I took 6 kilos of muesli with me. It's not the tastiest of things to eat but filling and so I knew that it would mean that I wouldn't go hungry. I think I was the object of some ridicule with my cereal bowl at all times of the day though!

The journey was very uneventful at first. Mid-afternoon, when we were approaching the Spanish border we were overtaken by a 'rally' Ford Escort and a Lada. I was elated - the first sign of other teams - but Andy seemed depressed. I couldn't understand why. "They went past us like we were standing still and it was a Lada!" he explained. We crossed the border into Spain and again decided to avoid the motorways. Although it was getting late, neither of us were tired and Trudi was going so well that we decided to press on, with one of us doing the driving and the other dozing in the passenger seat.

We had decided that when the driver felt tired we would either swap or call it a day and sleep in the car, but as it was, we drove through the night and it probably wasn't a bad thing to do the mountain roads in the pitch dark as it meant that the passenger couldn't see the drop! I still have wonderful memories of being at the wheel as dawn was coming up and driving through the mountains with the Straits of Gibraltar alongside. Trudi was obviously enjoying it too as she got the speedometer off the scale as we were free-wheeling down the mountain passes! It was a very beautiful drive - who needs a sports car! Well...

We arrived in Malaga at about 8 in the morning and as it was Sunday, we struggled to find a cafe that was open to sell us a coffee. Maybe it was just the tiredness hitting in, but both of us were not really very impressed with the Costa del Sol. Hotels and golf courses with the road going through the middle. We wondered where they buried the people, as real estate was surely too expensive to waste on graveyards. We drove on and after a bit of head-scratching, we found the hotel which was to be our home for the next couple of nights, and yes, it was next to a brothel! We parked up, were really pleased to see some other 'rally' cars and went in to register, have a shower and get something to eat and have a celebratory beer.

"Trudi makes friends" - the oil slick was not from us!

The rest of the day was spent swapping stories with the teams as everyone started to arrive at the hotel. The Ford Escort and Lada drivers were amazed that we had got there before them, but everyone else had stopped in or around Madrid for the night. A few beers and then bed.

     22/12/03 - DAY 4:

A day to explore the sights of Gibraltar. Rock On!

The next morning we had a day off to check the cars over but as Trudi was in the best of health, we decided to hit Gibraltar and of course we had to take Trudi up the rock. Basically we just followed signs to the top and went up as far as we could - and were rewarded with a spectacular view.

We then drove around most of the island before hitting the town centre. Gibraltar is a very strange place as it is like a hot and sunny England, but where the coffee tastes good. I quite liked it, but felt it could be claustrophobic after a while. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking for tapes to play on the car stereo as I had only brought along three, one of which I had used for teaching, so it had a recording of the sports news from 1994 on it! The only apes we saw were at the border - I really think that if I was going to smuggle something through customs, I would chose a car that is not quite as noticeable as Trudi! But no, they had to search the car!

That evening we spent exploring the attractions of Sotogrande and after those ten minutes we went back to the hotel bar. Despite the fact that we had a pretty early start the next day, it was still quite a long night. Sotogrande was a bit of a foretaste of the challenge. Before I set off, I was always asked about whether I worried that the car wouldn't make it. I honestly had no real problems in that area as it was completely out of my hands, but I did worry about whether Andy and I would make it, as although we have known one another nearly 20 years now, we have not spent all that much time together recently, and we were in a stressful situation and in very close proximity to each other. Not only were we sharing a tent, but also a tiny car - that meant that we spent most of the 24 hours a day together and that for three weeks in a row. Andy and I were fine but the first couple of nights in Sotogrande really showed what a mixed group we all were. There were people of all ages, accents and beliefs - united only in the desire to get a car to Banjul, but even there it was clear that some people had different agendas. That day that we spent in Gibraltar, a group of five cars left for Morocco as they decided that the hotel was too expensive and too boring. That might be, but for me the challenge was to help each other and to stick together. Maybe I am naive (I have been described as a hippy before!) but I didn't think it was a race and I didn't think it was fair (or even necessary) to push on when some people (e.g. the group leader) still hadn't arrived. However, although this was typical of some of the cars that left in that group, it was atypical of the challenge as a whole.

23 December - Day 5:

Simon and Andy were up early to catch the 7.30 ferry to Rabat. This was only a forty-five minute journey but took them out of Europe, and signified the beginning of their adventures in Africa...

I was awake really early and took the opportunity to have a long warm shower and a shave as I didn't know when I would be able to next do this. We were one of the last cars to leave for the ferry, although we were the slowest car there. I also thought that I was being chatted up when someone told me I was nice and thin but it turned out that they'd locked themselves out of their room and needed someone to climb through the half-opened window! It was only 40km to the port and after a long wait and a couple more coffees we were on the boat.

The crossing was only 50 minutes long but that was just as well as it was really rough. Most of the rally seemed to be made up of hardened sailors but I hate boats - I know I've said that before, but it bears repeating. I spent most of the journey glued to my seat and hoping the coffee wouldn't come back up. Not nice but there are refugees who do it in small boats! Once we had crossed the Straits of Gibraltar then we still weren't in Africa proper. We were in a small duty-free enclave called Ceuta. Here we stocked up on fuel and food but I noticed that cous cous was more expensive here than back home in Berlin! Once we'd finished, we set off up the coast as there was a road (according to our map) leading directly to Tangiers. Our map (provided by the organisers - thanks Julian) also showed parts of Greece and covered more than 10 African countries! The scale was 1cm to 40km! I'm saying this because our road turned out to be a dead-end and led straight to a military-police hut. We were explaining the situation when Team Clueless Racers turned up - obviously having had the same idea as us. Our map was "bad, very bad" apparently and the policeman put a large cross through the road we were on.

Either they didn't trust us or more likely they thought that we were incompetent, but they gave us an escort to the Moroccan border. The photo on the right is by Kerstin Brand, the one on the left by Andy.

The border was quite incredible. We parked up among the other rally cars and were told that we had to give up our passports at this window. We waited under the burning midday sun amongst the huddle and every 5 minutes or so, names were called out by the official and passports were handed back amongst the throng. The trouble was that he couldn't pronounce any of the names so we couldn't understand him and we didn't recognise each others photos as we hadn't really got to know one another yet! Once that'd been resolved (about an hour later) it was off to the next hut where we could do the car documents. Several huts later, we were through, but Trudi was blocked in by other cars. Finally it all got sorted out and we drove over the border to be greeted by a question from the Moroccan guard – "Are you carrying weapons?" Lots of answers went through my head, but fortunately I found the correct one and then we were through and into a sea of people. It was incredible as this really was 'The Gateway to Europe' and so many people were trying to open it. We witnessed people fleeing over the hills, carrying sacks of belongings and being chased by two border guards only, who tried to beat them back. While they were being beaten, more were going past unchallenged on the other side. It was just incredible and really quite depressing. We drove slowly through the masses with the windows shut tight and then were through and picked up a sign to Tangiers and started climbing through the hills.

According to our map we didn't have to go through Tangiers as there was a main road leading to Larache. However, when we came to the road that we thought we needed, it wasn't signposted to anywhere that we recognised. Still, according to our map there was only the one road and there was only one name on the map in that area anyway, so we turned left. The road started off well but went literally downhill very fast. At one point the potholes had turned into a dirt track and we were slithering along on mud. Rounding a corner, we came across a man

filling in the holes - it was just such an absurd waste of time that we had to laugh. We kept coming to junctions and not recognising any of the signs, realised that we were well and truly lost. We decided to press on though and soon came to a village and there at the cafe I was able to drag out my French and try and find out the way. There was a brief huddle while the options were discussed but when they took Trudi into consideration, they told us to always turn right. So we did and about three quarters of an hour later we were back on a main road and heading towards ... Tangiers! The whole short cut had been a complete waste of time, but at least we were seeing something of the country. It wasn't until reading the guide book some days later, we realised that we had gone into the drug-growing area!

Later we were driving through a town and had lost all signs of where we wanted to go (although according to that damned map there was only one road!) and we suddenly arrived at a roundabout and were being waved on by a policeman. We didn't have a clue which way, so went straight on and found that the streets were getting more and more muddy and then suddenly we were in a shanty town. I was very conscious of not pointing a camera in anyone's direction and only managed the furtive snap on the right, but it gives an impression of the place. Again, although nothing happened, there was a feeling that this was not the best place for us to be. We carried on and more through luck than judgement, got

back onto the main road and were back on course. The rest of the journey was uneventful - marked only by the occasional potholes. But it was slow, slow, slow. As it started getting dark, we remembered Steve's (the group leader) warning about driving at night in Morocco - basically don't do it. But we were nowhere near the camping point so we carried on. Some of the locals were obviously concerned about road safety as we saw a couple of mopeds with old CDs dangling from them as reflectors - it was just a pity that they didn't have any lights! Fortunately Trudi was not a fast car as it was quite disconcerting when donkeys with carts would suddenly loom out of the darkness. Every now and again there was a police control but they were friendly. We had seen no-one from the rally since the border crossing though. Eventually we found the town, Sale - near the capital Rabat -  where we were camping for the night, and after a little bit of searching, the campsite. Everyone seemed really happy to see Trudi and, lit by her headlights, we put the tent up and then wandered into town in search of something to eat. Needless to say, we were the last to arrive!

The next morning, 24 Dec, Day 6, we woke up cold and damp. There was so much condensation in the tent that it had formed a pool of water around our feet. Fortunately the sun came out and warmed us and the cats up,

I hadn't got that much sleep - I don't need a lot anyway, but the mosque and the cold hadn't helped much. However, just behind the campsite was a beautiful beach, so I went for an early Christmas walk (the 24th is Christmas Day in Germany) and collected some shells. I then tried to enjoy the instant coffee, which was warming if not tasty. The trip had not been without problems for some of the cars, although

Trudi was fine. One of the Wacky Racers' Ladas had gearbox problems. A local mechanic came out to look at it and diagnosed that they needed a replacement gearbox. They told us not to wait for them - the two cars were travelling together so they would not be completely alone - and so we all set off at about midday. The drive to Marrakech was anything but spectacular, despite seeing names like Casablanca, as we took the motorway. We had arranged with the 2 Johns in Daphne

the 2CV that we would travel together as both cars had about the same average speed and it had been so disheartening the day before being totally alone. Leaving Sale/Rabat took a while as we got stuck in traffic but once we were on the motorway, we thought

that everything would go smoothly but then we came across the Triumphs on the hard shoulder. It was not a real problem though -

they had just run out of petrol, but everyone had jerry cans. It was still quite strange seeing cars just parked up on the side of the motorway - but there again, it was strange seeing people crossing the motorway on foot, or people trying to sell

you live chickens as you were driving past. As we neared Marrakech, we were sending text messages among the cars to talk about sleeping arrangements. Some wanted to camp but the campsite was well out of town and we had two nights in the city. Kerstin had found a hotel (the Citroen BX is a lot faster than us) and the two Johns suggested staying there. We decided to go along with this, but as we were driving towards the city we suddenly saw a familiar sight. It was the Stuke Capri. Stu and Luke were enjoying a couple of beers on the bonnet and hanging out waiting for us to arrive. They had left

before us, way back in Sotogrande and were really pleased to see all of us. We pressed on, into Marrakech though. We hit the city in the rush hour - six lanes of road but although logically it should be 3 lanes in each direction, mopeds and donkeys seemed to have a will of their own and live charmed lives. The city was hot, dusty and very smoky. We couldn't find the street where the hotel was (hell, Andy and I were lucky to find Marrakech with that map!) and so we did a deal with a cyclist who showed us to the door for a tip. The list of alternative transport faster than Trudi was growing daily! The hotel was great and although the cars were parked on the street, they were watched 24 hours a day, so we could

leave all our stuff in them, and they were even cleaned! After a welcome shower, we walked to the main square of the city and were hit by the atmosphere. There were stalls everywhere with people trying to sell you food and I mean, really trying and then there were snake charmers, bongo players etc. etc. We had something to eat and then had a peppermint tea on the roof of a bar overlooking the square and, thanks to the technology of mobile messages, more and more of us began to meet up. After a while, we decided to head back to the area near the hotel and about 12 of us went into a bar Kerstin had been to before where we were told we could only have red wine if we ordered food (though beer was ok without!) but they were quite happy for us to order one salad between all of us. We had at least a beer apiece though and watched the belly dancers (who were available for a price) but resisting their charms and trying not to feel guilty about the number of empty beer bottles on the table, stumbled back to the hotel.

We were woken up early by the building work going on outside the window. Christmas Day, Day 7 was spent wandering around Marrakech. Andy really wanted to buy a carpet so we headed into the bazar just off the main square. We ended up in a carpet shop and the seller was really keen so by the time we left, both Andy and I had a carpet each! Later in the desert we were chucking out stuff to save weight, but the carpets made it all the way back home. We also sent back lots of photos to Chrissy to go up on the website and as the Internet connections in Africa aren't the fastest in the world, this took up quite a lot of time. That evening there was a Christmas meal for us in the centre. Andy didn't feel like going so I went with some of the other teams. We all bought some beer or wine from a nearby shop and went off to the venue. It was all a bit much - and at times really annoyed me - Brits abroad. But on the other hand, it was really good to see everyone socially and not just through a car window. As the evening drew to an end, the Russians arrived. They had travelled from Russia in a Lada Niva and had only just managed to catch up with us. They had tales of breakdowns and financial problems - unfortunately their luck wasn't about to change. It was great to see them as they had sort of taken on mythological status. The phrase "The Russians are coming" had often been repeated, but now it had come true. When it was time to go, we crammed 7 of us into a taxi (memories of Turkey came flooding back) and then went back to the hotel. I just wanted to go to bed so was a bit annoyed to find the door locked and Andy nowhere to be seen. Of course we had only the one key. Still, there are not all that many places where you could be at that time at night - I found him in the Internet cafe, got the key and went to bed.

The next day, Dec 26, Day 8, was somewhat marred by the fact that I discovered that I had broken the lens on my SLR camera. This would be bad enough normally but was a double blow as the 'Oldtimer Zeitung' was interested in covering the story in their magazine, but their offer was dependent on the quality of the photos. We didn't want to hang around Marrakech waiting for the shops to open though, and as we knew that we were heading for Agadir, a tourist resort, we decided to look for a new lens there. The photo on the left is of a coffee break on the way. Unfortunately, after having waiting ages for the water to boil, as I was checking if it was

ready, I managed to knock the whole thing over. A small thing maybe, but it just showed how well we were getting on as a team that something like that could be laughed about and accepted. I think we were both pretty cool about each other's mistakes and problems. Also, just after we had pulled off the road here - the middle of nowhere - a man popped out from nowhere and asked if we were alright. When he found out that we were, he disappeared off over the hill but there was nothing for miles around! Where had he come from and where was he going - or had he just been a mirage or the object of tired fantasy?

 After a short break we drove on - the rest of the drive was uneventful and to be honest, really dull, but we were soon at Agadir and pitched the tent on what has to be the hardest ground for a camping site ever. We went into town and I managed to find a lens for my camera and even managed to haggle the salesman down a bit! We later walked down to the beach and I was a bit shocked at the European nature of the town. A bite to eat and then it was early to bed.

27 Dec, Day 9, was an early start due to Andy's somewhat distinctive ring tone waking up all the campers, when his mobile's alarm clock went off. As it had been such a warm night, we had left the tent flaps open and woke up with mosquito bites - I started remembering the malaria warnings. This was the first time that I had used a toilet where you had to stand up, if you know what I mean - but it worked. We set off at about 9, after having said goodbye to the two Johns and to Kerstin and Rob as they were going to go surfing and spend another day in the area. Photo by Rob Brown. This part of the journey was really long

(about 700km and don't forget that our top speed - not average - was 90km per hour) and really boring. It was really getting on our nerves that we had only the 3 tapes and radio reception was terrible, or maybe it was just that the radio was terrible. Whatever, it was just a long hot road and a very slow pace. We hardly ever saw a car coming in the other direction. Every now and again the boredom was relieved by a police control but it was just a dull drive. As it started to get dark the temperature became more bearable but the driving became more

difficult as you couldn't see the potholes. We overshot the campsite at Foum el Ouid, Laayoune, as the guide book had some very strange directions but we eventually found that most of the group had decided to take some bungalows for the night. Our bungalow stank of gas and we slept with the windows open but that only made me worry about mosquitoes - I have a problem sleeping in a room with something I know is just waiting to bite me and this is compounded if I think it is going to give me a deadly disease as well. Still, perhaps the scuttling of the cockroaches kept them at bay - whatever, it wasn't much of a good night's sleep and I don't think that I'll be rushing back there.

28 Dec, Day 10. We continued the pattern of getting up early in the morning and heading off before the others, as it was always very reassuring to know that there was a backup behind us. A couple of cups of ineffective coffee, a couple of bowls of fill-you-up muesli and I was fit to drive. I always did the first stint - I love driving and always have - but we soon stopped as I couldn't drive past a 'desert' scrapyard without taking a few photos. The light was just so beautiful and the scene so evocative. Hopefully it wasn't prophetic!

28 December, Day 10 - True to their word, Andy and Simon were on the road early to get a good head-start before the rest of Group 1. The Capri you can see behind them in this pic left at 10ish and had caught up with them by about midday!

This photo gives you an idea of the "scale" of the challenge!

While travelling, the vehicles coming the other way were almost all Land Rovers, which made us wonder if they knew something that we didn't. The police controls were also starting to be a bit more serious - before they had just looked at the car and waved us on - now they wanted to know more details.

Got themselves into a bit of a pickle soon after though...

Anyone remember that story about the tortoise and the hare? hee hee!

Fortunately Julian had warned us of this and had put a form on the internet which we could print out, fill in and hand out to the police to save them the trouble of writing everything out by hand and thereby hopefully make them appreciate the gesture and wave us through without further ado. Unfortunately Andy hadn't reckoned on the number of checkpoints and had only brought a few forms - I had typically overestimated - but then I just lose them anyway - and we spent a wasted 45 minutes in a town trying to find a photocopier. We finally found one but then it had no power, so Andy spent the next part of the journey copying out his details onto sheets of paper. Gradually cars from the group started to overtake us, which was a good feeling - as we knew that if we got into trouble, someone would always be coming along. And as Chrissy said - sometimes you catch up the cars that have overtaken you. The Espace was having problems with fouling plugs. They later overtook us again and we all met up at the petrol station where everyone was busy filling up, as the petrol stations seemed to be getting fewer and fewer.

As everyone knows, the Trabant has a tiny fuel tank, so we were hoping that we could jump the queue and then be back on our way. (Putting fuel in was always a crowd puller - as this evocative photo taken later by Rob Brown in Senegal shows - the tank is under the bonnet) However, the Espace was in front of us and as Richard, her driver from Bradford uttered the words "Fill her up," we groaned, as filling up meant using a plastic funnel as the nozzle wouldn't fit into the tank opening and he wanted at least "four-e-leeass" which made his nickname for the rest of the rally certain.

After a while, the scenery became more interesting as we drove along with the sea on our right, but then we noticed the shipwrecks that were littering the coast. At one point we saw the Triumph boys and pulled up to see if they were okay. They had some problems but were coping well on their own and so Andy blagged a cup of tea and I went for a walk to see exactly what it was that we

were driving along. I was amazed to discover that the road ran along a cliff - as every now and again we had seen cars parked and people fishing. The ground was covered in shells, presumably from the gulls that we had seen wheeling around. It was from about this point on that Andy just stopped driving Trudi.

Why, I don't really know. I have a feeling that he had achieved what he had set out to do - we had both said in England that the trip would be a triumph for us if we got Trudi off one continent and onto another - and this we had done. We never really discussed it though as I was happy to do as much driving as possible. At about 3pm we approached Dakhla along a stunning peninsular. Sorry but the photo on the left was taken a bit earlier in the day. I promised myself that I would photograph this place in the dawn light

when we set off again but sadly I never did. It was just an amazing view until we rounded a bend in the road and saw lots of camper vans. Trust humans to spoil everything! A few miles later we were in the town and as we were going to spend a couple of days here, decided to find a cheap hotel. We found a very comfortable but basic place but we weren't the only tenants - there were lots of cockroaches!

Here's one of Simon (photo by Andy) deeply in thought... not sure if he's contemplating the dangerous days ahead, or just hallucinating about beans-on-toast.... and another of Andy fast asleep on the bed.

The guys spent a couple of days here making preparations for the next, gruelling stint of the journey. Andy has loaded the car up with tinned sardines, but Simon is not quite sure what he'll be eating - Dakhla is apparently NOT the world's capital of Vegan Cuisine!

There was a conference to discuss the dangers the competitors will be facing over the next few days. These include the possibility of accidentally discovering a landmine or two. Each team will be paying a guide to assist them across the terrain to minimise the danger.

In addition, many of the teams have decided to raise their cars a few inches to avoid damaging the exhaust systems, which would otherwise be dragging along the ground. Trudi, of course, will be setting out unmodified, in typically pioneering spirit!

We had a meeting at the campsite on Dec 29th, Day 11, at the campsite and we were glad that we had decided to stay in the hotel. Despite the loud TV outside our room and the mosque outside the window (and the creatures) we didn't have to pitch a tent on white gravel in a wind trap. Steve explained how the next part of the challenge would work. We had to form groups of 5 cars

 - so typically we managed to get a group of 6. This group was to travel together through the Sahara with a guide and then afterwards we could travel at our own pace again. Our group was Trudi, Daphne (2CV), Sven (Saab), Dobbin (Lada), Josephine (Lada) and the Citroen BX. We agreed to meet early next morning and to set off for the Mauritanian border together. Bought lots of water and petrol for the days ahead.

30th December - Day 12

I had a text message from Andy just before 8am to

say that they were just about to set off, so that will be the last contact I have with the team for the next couple of days or so. They will be in touch as soon as they're within range of a mobile phone signal or an internet cafe. So, until then, I wish you all a very Happy New Year... Keep your fingers crossed with me that they make it safely. Good Luck Boys!

Up until now we had had the relative luxury of being able to send text messages between the teams and back to various countries - click here to see the messages englishouse sent on the road. We had also been able to send back photos to Chrissy so that she could update the website while we were travelling. This was great as it could give all Trudi's fans a real idea of how she was progressing. It was not so much fun for me because the keyboards were all in French and Arabic and the connections were so slow. I spent a lot of hours in very clean and well-equipped Internet cafes in many towns but they were all slow - I used to take a book along and read while I was waiting for each photo to be sent. Anyway, from here on we were off to Mauritania, the Sahara, and then to Senegal and we knew that we would be out of touch for some time.

We were the first group to set off as we were the slowest. Travelling in a group brought some security but also some tensions - the talk was all of E.T.A. and there was a lot of encouragement to turn up the pace and push on. Steve had advised us against all arriving at the border together as 31 cars would be a bit overwhelming, but naturally this is exactly what happened! The drivers had to take their papers and passports and wait in a queue outside a bare concrete hut. Things were very slow but we had got to within about five people of the official when he put his cap back on and announced that he was taking a lunch break! No-one believed him but it was true. The lucky ones who were in the hut had some shade, but the rest stood under the midday sun, slowly roasting. There was nothing in the hut apart from 2 photos of the King. After about 20 minutes, just as Giles was rolling a cigarette, an official came back and asked him if it was dope. It turned out that he was only joking but there are funnier topics for a border point in Morocco! He started to process some of the papers, but then the original official came back and although nothing was said, it was clear that the 2nd official had intruded. It was sad really as he only wanted to help us. Once we had got our papers sorted we could drive a few metres to where there was a half-hearted 'search' of the car - more a glance at the outside and then a wave on. Well, there were a lot of cars packed to the roof and the sun was beating down, so you can't blame the official. Then we were in no-mans land.

Steve had told us to keep calm and just follow the tracks and we would be okay - the whole area is mined because of the hostilities between Morocco and Mauritania over the Western Sahara. What Steve hadn't said is that at some points there would be two sets of tracks, that would go in different directions. I felt like Doctor Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu – "I could see nothing in front of us and nothing behind us". All around, were people waiting for stupid tourists like us. They ran over telling us to stop but we were very suspicious and carried on. Cresting a rise we saw an area of deep sand ahead of us

and I gunned the engine but predictably, we got a few metres and then Trudi was buried to her axles. Not a very auspicious beginning to her desert career and I began to think that all the doubting Thomases back in Berlin might have been right. As if ordered, a jeep appeared and pulled up next to us - but we hadn't ordered it and it wasn't very welcome. They were "willing" to pull us out for €100! Get off! As the price went down our resolve to solve this on our own went up. And then our prayers were answered - well kind of: Sven the Saab and Richard and Elspeth's Citroen crested the rise. Together we got Trudi out (even the 'likely lads' helped for free) and decided to head back the way we had come. This was clearly the right idea as when we came back to the point where the tracks had divided we saw some rally cars on the horizon and so speeding up, followed them through the minefield. Later, and thanks for telling us after the event lads, we were helpfully informed that in the guidebook (which we didn't have) it said to always bear right when the tracks divided - so if anyone is reading this and doing the event in 6 months - just keep to the right and you'll be fine. Mind you that's what they told us in the drug hills of Morocco and we ended up in Tangiers!

This photo is stolen from The Wacky Racer's website but I still reckon they stole it from somewhere else. It was a Land Rover, which took a short cut through the minefield - as Mum would say – "more haste less speed".

Once we had got to the Mauritanian border everything slowed down again. It was a sense of deja vu with passports, car documents being exchanged and everything taking an age - but this time there was a twist - presents were expected. Not bribes, not money - but gifts. We had been warned of this but I was a bit surprised to be told by the Mauritanian official that two teachers should be able to give good presents. I think he was a bit affronted by the window stickers that we gave him from one of our sponsors but he was naturally too polite to show this and thanked us. It wasn't until we were leaving that we noticed that his hut had no glass in the windows! Then it was on to the visa control - a tent a couple of metres away. I sat down inside to wait my turn and was asked by one of the officials to hold a large chunk of unidentifiable dead animal, which he was cutting up with a rusty knife to add to the pot boiling beside him. Sensing my distress (I don't think that it was that well-hidden) Richard leapt to my aid and explained that I didn't eat meat. The official said that I wasn't meant to eat it, just to help cut it up - this lead to a lengthy discussion about the "strange diet" of veganism - nice to be the object of such attention. I had already said to Steve that I was worried about this border. Most of the competitors were British, as I was, but I have lived in Berlin for 13 years and have a British passport issued in Dortmund, Germany. Then I have a German address and all my visas were issued in Berlin, so I stood out a bit. And then there was the slight problem of the Mauritanian visa. The Lebanese official working for the Mauritanian embassy in Berlin (could it be any more complicated?) had got the dates wrong on my visa, so she'd crossed them out and written new dates next to them and put her stamp next to all this. It looked like a 3-year-old had been at work. When I queried all this artwork, she told me that it would be absolutely no problem at the border - she was wrong! "You wrote this visa, didn't you." If there's one thing I hate, it's people in authority challenging me - I don't know why, but I can't remain calm. I tried to do so, but he obviously sensed my hostility. He told me that I would have to get another visa. I waited while he checked Andy's passport. After a few minutes standoff, he simply told me to start eating meat again and gave me our passports back and said that I could go. Next hut was the car papers - there is no make 'Trabant' in the Mauritanian customs' list and if there is no make, then it doesn't exist. I can't remember what we eventually compromised on, but Trudi didn't enter as a Trabant. By this time it was beginning to get dark. One of the officials started praying right next to Trudi so I felt obliged to wait until he had finished before starting up, driving round the corner and into the arms of Will and Tracey who'd been waiting for several hours for our group to get through. At least we could tell them what was happening. In the meantime they had been busy and had organised a guide for us. The darker it got, the more problems that everyone else was having at the border. In the bad light, Wendy drove over one of the official's stoves, damaging it beyond repair. They were very poor at the border and lived and worked in appalling conditions but had a good eye for business as she was charged €50 for a new stove. There was no electricity there either and torches were being passed along so that the officials could transcribe the details into their ledger. Normally the border was closed at this time, but due to the number of cars and the fact that we were in no-man's land, they got us all through.

photo by Andy - not the clearest in the world but he was being bounced around and it was taken with no flash - shows the dust well

There was a brief discussion about whether we should camp there for the night as it was already dark or travel on to the capital - as our guide wanted. There were also 7 cars now as the Russians wanted to travel with us. The way cannot be described as a road - the good bits were far and few between and we spent most of the journey driving on rock, punctuated by sand. The dust was unbelievable. We had to keep close to the car in front as Trudi's lights were not that bright and often all we could see was a glow in a dust storm ahead. It was a really horrible journey and not helped by the fact that I was really tired and doing all the driving. Part of the way was on a road under construction and at one point we had to dig a way through the heaped up sand at the side of this, to get onto the right track. And then when we thought it couldn't get any worse, we had to traverse a railway  

track! Should you ever feel the need to do this, think again, but the technique is to approach it at an angle of about 45' and then to drive slowly, hopping each wheel over so that you always have at least one wheel on either side of the track. Naturally the Russians broke down, but were able to get going again. After about 70km of this (taking about 2 and a half hours) we accelerated out of some waste ground and bumped onto a main road and found that we were in a large city, Nouadhibou. Things didn't really improve as we were back in the land of unlit cars driving on the wrong side of the road, but fortunately we soon reached the campsite (the last group again) and as it was midnight, decided against pitching the tents and all slept wonderfully in a Bedouin tent, that was permanently erected. I took the photo below at 7am from inside the tent.

The next morning, 31 Dec, Day 13, was spent changing money, buying provisions, insurance and visas for various parts of the next journey. This was all done on the campsite. The ladies managed to charm the owner into using his personal shower, so had hot water. I showered in the toilet doubling as a shower and it was freezing!

Our guide was back and hurrying everyone up. We were back to the original group of 6 cars as the Russians were going with a smaller group. The two Johns were busy doing some repairs to Daphne's sump guard but as ever

Trudi just needed starting up and we were ready. As I had been asked by a classic car magazine to write up our story, her reliability was almost becoming boring, but really we were very grateful and somewhat nervous as today was the first desert day and we just didn't know how an air-cooled Trabant would behave in sand at temperatures of well over 40'C. The first stop was at a petrol station to fill up and as soon as the cars stopped ,they were surrounded by people and children begging for anything.

Once we had fuel, we drove to the first checkpoint and again were instantly swarmed upon by local kids. We had named our guide Bob (Can he fix it – yes he can!) and he

took our papers to the first control point - he was to guide us through the desert and to ease us through the many checkpoints on the way. Getting to the

desert isn't difficult from Noadhibou - you just drive to the outskirts of the city and the road ends. It is a city surrounded by nothing but sand and with no connecting roads although

After this welcome break, the trip seemed to get a lot harder. It was a probably a combination of more difficult conditions and tiredness as I was doing all the driving, but we had more and more stops to shovel people free of the sand. Trudi was not without problems either.

that is set to change. The first part of the drive was great fun - hot and dry but it seemed that we were driving along tracks, which were more dusty than sandy. Whenever there was a difficult stretch, Bob would jump out (he always travelled in the leading car) and have us drive across one at a time. As time passed, it was getting hotter and hotter and we were very grateful when we pulled up at a local 'roadside cafe' and enjoyed some peppermint tea with extra flies. I declined the milk that was being passed around in a jug, well in fact I declined the tea as there is always more sugar in it than tea. It was a great place for some photos and beautifully isolated until some other mad people in strange rally cars turned up.

Bob had let a lot of air out of everyone's tyres to let us ride over the sand more easily but we

were all finding it hard going. Trudi seemed to be stuttering a bit - I would accelerate in 2nd gear but she would go slower, not faster - as if she was driving against a really strong headwind. This was especially noticeable in the soft bits and we were getting bogged down a lot as we just didn't have the power to drag ourselves through. If you think about it, Trudi's engine was 6 times smaller than the Capri's - which could just pull itself through anything. We all put our heads together to try and sort out Trudi's problem and although we weren't sure, one theory was petrol starvation. The petrol line ran close to

the hot engine and as the ground temperature was well over 40'C, it could be that the fuel was evaporating before it was getting into the carb - so I took off the front grill and tied the bonnet down with bungee straps. It looked as if Trudi had really been through the wars and was a real pain as every time we had to put petrol in her, we had to undo the straps (the petrol tank is under the bonnet) but it seemed to do the trick. When she went to the auction, we put the grill back on (it was carried in the boot for the rest of the trip) and she looked beautiful again.

The photo of Daphne getting stuck is, I think, by Ellie - sorry if not. We were keeping a tally of who got stuck the most but after a while there was no point!

As the sun started going down, the temperatures became a bit more bearable but Bob was getting more and more nervous. We had all agreed to meet up in the desert - it was New Year's Eve - and we were still some way off, and not making very good progress. It all came to a climax when all the cars but the one that Bob was

leading in, got stuck at the same time. We dug one out and then it would be driven to a patch of hard ground nearby and then we dug the next one out, etc. Tempers were beginning to get short on both sides. Bob decided that it would be better if we just raced straight to the camping point. He showed us a star and told us to head for it and we would get to the camp- no, this is not a joke! All the cars seemed to head off in slightly different directions at top speed. We were bumping over sand and shrubs in the dark and trying to follow one star out of what seemed like a galaxy as well as driving etc. I have often been asked if I was scared on the trip and this was the point where I really was. Not because of what happened - nothing - but the potential for disaster. We were (for a few minutes) alone in the Sahara in a Trabant, trying to follow a star. It sounds like Mr Bean goes to Bethlehem! After a few minutes of a mad dash we hit more solid ground but then we were being thrown around inside Trudi. I didnt dare slow down as it was too dark to see what the ground was like and we were just slamming over rocks and soft sand.

It was really horrible. Andy turned to me and just said, very calmly "You dont like this, do you." It just seemed so unfair on Trudi - she had got us all this way when no-one had thought that she could and now we were breaking her up, racing her across terrain where a Land Rover would have slowed down. We came up a small rise and saw the two Ladas parked up and Steve from another group, and pulled up next to them, relieved that Trudi and us were still in one piece. We saw headlights racing towards us, bouncing up and down and heard revving engines - and a few minutes later we were all together and then drove to where the others were camping.

We pitched the tent in sand (easier than I had imagined) and joined the two Johns and Kerstin for a sandy meal - sorry, it was me who inadvertently kicked sand into the pot! Then we grabbed whatever bottle was handy from the stash that had been smuggled in and saw New Year's Eve in surrounded by tents, with (unbelievably) a disco glitter ball twirling around and lit by a torch, a sand dune as a backdrop, thousands of stars overhead and the sound of AC DC's "Highway to Hell". I had some party poppers and sparklers (thanks Suse) and everyone hugged and kissed each other and felt like we had got somewhere. Mindful of where we still had to go, Andy and I went to bed early (plus we had not smuggled through any beers as we are cowards) and woke up clear-headed and freezing cold the next morning. It is an interesting sight to see people wandering around the desert with shovels over their shoulders. And as most of us were British there were hearty "Good Mornings" before we all scurried off to different parts to squat in peace and ignorantly think that we couldn't be seen.

Lots of people were busy repairing their cars and this time Trudi also needed some TLC. The mad drive had trashed a wheel. It was soon repaired but others had a bit more to do.

desert photo by the Kiwis

The next day, Jan 1, Day 14, continued as the last one had ended - we had all parked on soft sand - and so we all needed pushing to get going. It was nice to see the way we were all much more confident about driving in the desert now that we had a day behind of us. The pattern was much as the day before - sand - racing as fast as you can over sand - digging a car out of sand - and so on. Bob swapped between Daphne and Trudi. He was very complementary about Trudi, but always ended his comments with "for a little car". However Daphne was his true love and when he stood with half his body stuck out through the canvas roof, waving us on and

and shouting out "gas gas gas", you couldn't but think of Rommel. All our conversations were in French (broken on our part) but he usually showed his wishes with a waving brown hand. It was quite surreal - you would be bouncing over the sand in second gear, thrashing the engine and watching this floating hand as Bob would use it to signal everything. I am surprised I don't have nightmares about it! We stopped for lunch under a tiny tree, which provided some relief from the blazing sun. It was amazing how much life there was in the desert. We would aim at little scrub bushes as where they grew, the ground was firmer, but we didn't follow wheel tracks (there weren't any!) - just Bobs hand. As we hit the bushes, locusts would swarm up in front of us. Most died instantly, impaled on the cars' fronts but more than enough made it through the open

(l-r) Jon, Bob, Kerstin, Tracy, myself, Andy. Top (l-r): Trevor, Andrew, John. Rob took the photo and Ellie and Adrian were hiding somewhere!

windows into the car alive and huddled together on the back window ledge - they are huge! When we stopped we could see tracks of all kinds of creatures and in the afternoon, we were racing across a very open part of the desert (apparently aiming towards a red mountain that only Bob could see) when he frantically signalled for us to slow down as the next thing we knew, we were in the middle of a camel train. Later that afternoon I was driving big Jon in Trudi and having a lot of fun

playing rally driver with her - chucking her around in the sand and getting the back to drift out. Great! Trouble was I wasn't really looking at the 'road' enough and, rising a crest, going, with hindsight, possibly a bit too fast, we got one or both of the front wheels in the

air and landed with a horrible bump, and then it was as if a V8 had been magically transplanted into Trudi - well in sound, if not in power! I had cracked the exhaust at the manifold! But we weren't the only ones, tee-hee. Thanks to Ellie for the photo of Sven - right. Not too sure if that's a victory or a rain dance going on at the front of the car! The sound was great for the first ten minutes but over the next week, the combination of noise and fumes from the exhaust (we had to drive with the windows open all the time) meant that I had a permanent headache and made

conversations a thing of the past. Bob quite liked the sound though (and me too, from the outside - I have never heard a Trabi sound so good!). The sun was beating us - setting faster than we could drive. Thanks to John Alflatt for the 2 stunning photos of Trudi on the right and below.

It was getting later and later and again we hit the point where it was no fun anymore. We were tired, Trudi was loud, and all we wanted to do was to stop, pitch the tents and get something to eat before sleeping. But we just

carried on with this mad dash across the desert in the dark. I was driving Ellie and we were following a couple of cars in front but they were just getting further and further ahead and then we lost their lights. We were on some kind of track, but got bogged down in really deep sand. It turned out that the other cars were above us and we had diverted off down a bit. We were so close to our destination, but stuck fast. Ellie and I got Trudi out but she couldn't get a run up and just ground in again. Soon help arrived - some of the group running down the hill to us - they heard where we were before they saw us! And although we were all tired, there was no animosity. It was just accepted that cars would get stuck, break down etc and all the time that it wasn't your car, you were just lucky - living on borrowed time as it would happen - and it was just a fact of the trip. So everyone helped and we were soon back with the other cars and then out of the desert and at the entrance to a National Park where we were to spend the night. Just the checkpoint to go through, and then we parked up next to where the other groups were camping.

We had got the tents pitched and were in the middle of cooking, when the Police turned up. It turned out that we were not in the official campsite but just short of it and had to move. There was a bit of a stand-off and it was resolved in the time-honoured way - we handed over money! It wasn't a lot of money, but until the circumstances were explained, led to quite a lot of ill-feeling as we were all so tired. The photo on the right is from the Kiwis, taken the next morning.

2 Jan, Day 15 - I awoke early and once Andy was up, we packed up the tent. Now that it was light we could see that we were almost parked on the beach! It was a beautiful location in a National Park between Nouamrhar and Nouakchott. Bob was a bit agitated as the next part of the route was along the beach and the tide would be coming in if we didn't start soon. However, the desert had taken its toll on a lot of the cars and repairs were necessary - I tried to fix Trudi's exhaust manifold. I took it all apart and shoved in some chemical metal, started her up and it held! Bob showed me how to get onto the beach - Trudi was to be the guinea pig. It basically involved driving as fast as I could between two water bottles marking the route, heading for the next two and then slewing sharp left and parking on the firm wet sand.

Everyone was watching and Trudi was a star - engine revving madly, she took off as I hit a rise in the sand and on landing, promptly re-cracked the manifold, but we parked perfectly on the beach! Bob had let the tyres down but told us to aim for the wet sand as it was firmer there.

He sat in Trudi and was constantly turning the wheel down towards the sea and then back again as the waves washed up. It started to really annoy me as we were wafting along like a drunken man and the cars behind were all driving in a straight line a couple of metres higher up! The problem was that if you drove through the water, then you could flood the electrics. It was a wonderful experience though, driving along a beach and so therapeutic after the desert. After a couple of hours we all stopped for a break. Some decided

to climb a sand dune overlooking the beach but I just stripped down to my pants, rubbed some shampoo into my hair and went for a swim. To wash 3 days of sand out of my hair was wonderful!

thanks to Kerstin for the photo on the left of Trudi following Daphne

Bob was concerned about the incoming tide so all too soon, we had another spectacular 'jump' to get off the beach and then a mad drive along the foundations of the road being constructed to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. This was a very dusty part of the trip and unfortunately resulted in our second puncture whilst I was looking down, trying to change a cassette, and managed to drive over one of the metal rods that marked the edge of the razed ground. Soon we arrived in the city and pulled up at the 'Sahara Auberge' where we were going to stay for a couple of nights to rest, repair and regroup.

The Auberge had only opened that day and were totally unprepared for 60 sweaty foreigners and a lot of tired cars but they were magnificant. I wish I could say the same

about the facilities though. There were two toilets and two showers but they were combined! It seemed that no matter what time you wanted either the toilet or a shower, you stood in a queue! Although we were all in dire need of a good wash - people had noticed a very strong smell inside Trudi, but had been too polite to comment - I only found this

out when Bob asked for his plastic bag back and everyone realised that the source was the fish that he'd caught in the morning had been warming up in a bag under the seat. As there was nothing to do to Trudi (I had given up on the manifold) Andy and I could take it easy for a couple of days, but others were working (in the case of the Russians) literally around the clock to try and repair the cars. The Russians had serious engine and gearbox problems and also no money to buy parts. Despite the Trojan efforts of some of the teams, they still hadn't got it all fixed when we had to move off. I am really sorry about waking those who had just got to bed when we left early in the morning, but I had tried to repair the manifold before and this time didnt bother, as I knew that it would only break again! We spent a couple of days in Noukachott, but still one of the groups hadn't arrived. We had heard that the minibus carrying supplies for deaf children had had clutch problems in the desert and had to be abandoned. We waited as long as we could for the rest of the group to arrive but as they hadn't turned up a day later and we were worried about the border crossing, it was decided to leave the next morning. When we went to pay our bill we were very surprised to find out that one person had disappeared! The Russians had picked up a hitchhiker in Dakhla and she had stuck with them throughout all their problems with the Lada. However, once we were in Noukachott, she did a runner without paying the hotel bill, which was very mean as the Russians were the ones who could least afford something like that. We all clubbed together and paid for her stay, as it wasnt the hotel's fault either.

The team are a bit concerned about the border crossing as people have apparently been refused entry into Senegal in the last few days. However, they think it's worth trying to charm the border control officers... otherwise they will be forced to leave Trudi at Rosso, and get the bus to Dakar!

Jan 4, Day 17, most of the teams had been swapping cars in the desert part - it gave us a chance to get to know one another and the cars. I wanted to be in Trudi all the way - I had driven her from Berlin and wanted to go the whole distance. Andy swapped, initially to film from other cars, but at the auberge, it became clear that there was a lot of stress between a couple of team members and this culminated in Kerstin and Andy swapping teams - so at least Trudi had a real German for company! However this meant that Kerstin also wanted to drive, resulting in our third puncture. (Trudi's favourite driver is on the right!)

Kerstin will probably tell it differently, but the problem was that you can't drive a Trabant down a road littered with potholes, trying to take a video with a digital camera at the same time - well that is unless you are a German woman! Thank God the evidence is on camera - the trench that Trudi fell into, wiped out the third tyre and meant that once we had swapped wheels, we had no spares left and the road wasn't getting any better. To be fair, Kerstin is more used to driving an Audi TT around the M25 but hell, why try and find excuses for her!

These 3 photos are all by Kerstin - taken when not driving! The one above shows the quality of road-building there and in the photo on the right you can see camels wandering between the huts and the trees. And yes, Jon is a very tall man - but he still fitted into Trudi - just!

We really didn't want to cross the border at Rosso, as last year the cars had to break out of a compound, so we had arranged to drive along a dirt track and cross at Bge de Diama (I think the spelling's right). The track wasn't signposted and Steve had given us some interesting directions. It was quite a funny scene as some of our group had GPS systems, but we just asked at the garage when we stopped for fuel. Ah, the old ways are the best - or maybe I am just jealous as Trudi had neither GPS or an ipod and the cassette radio had then decided that it had had enough - and we had just got some new cassettes off the Green Baron boys in the Merc too!

The dirt track didn't have the potholes of the main road, but was very dusty as you can see in the photo of us following Daphne. How Kerstin managed to sleep for most of it, I will never know, but it at least gave me a chance to take photos and drive without being called a hypocrite. The track was through a nature reserve and parts were really beautiful. Every now and again - although it was becoming more now than again - we had to stop at control points. Gifts were expected and we watched as Adrian "Bonjour mon Ami" handed out t-shirts as if he had suitcases of the things.

Kerstin is well-travelled and always offered them some dates from a bag from around her feet. These were politely declined, but then they had chosen to refuse our gift and we were no longer troubled. There was a more serious side to this though. A similar picture to the one on the right cost Andy a large fine and a lot of aggravation. We had all parked up on the track as Josephine (Lada) had broken down. She had been having a lot of problems over the last few days - just cutting out and having to be towed. Trev had only passed his test a few months before doing the rally and was learning fast but not always quickly enough. He now knows

that unless you put the key in the ignition, the steering lock is still on, which is not a good thing when being towed! Anyway, while we were waiting - a feature of the rally - and I was chomping on yet another bowl of muesli, the Mercedes in the photo pulled up as he was interesting in buying Sven the Saab - according to Adrian, it's owner. We still reckon he was more interested in buying Ellie – Sven's co-driver. He blocked the track a bit, but a Citroen being driven by a beautiful woman sailed effortlessly past, keeping close to the track. But Mr. "I've got a big 4-wheel drive" decided to go a bit wider a few minutes later and ploughed to a stop, with the axles stuck in mud. I was damned if I was going to help as it was completely his fault, but to cut a long story short, one of the people involved was a big shot in the police force and he objected to people laughing at the problem (but you have to remember what we had gone through over the last 3 days and here was someone in a vehicle designed for this and he had got stuck and was staying stuck because he was stupid) and he objected to people photographing it. He happened to catch Andy and although he was only one of many, he was made the scapegoat.

Large amounts of money were being talked about or a night in the cells at Rosso, but in the end Steve managed to diffuse the situation, but it still ended up in a large fine for Andy. We all reached the border in the early afternoon and parked a few miles short of it. Steve collected up all the passports, car documents and some money and went on ahead to negotiate our crossing. An hour or so later he came back and we drove up to the border. It was 'same procedure as every border': queue up at a hut or concrete building, hand over passports and money and then queue up at the next hut. Finally we just had to pay a guard €5 to open the barrier and we were through and onto .....a bridge. Where we sat and sat and it got darker and darker. More negotiations and then we were allowed onto Senegalese soil. We knew this border would be tough - in fact the woman in the ADAC office had said impossible - as there was a ban

on cars over 5 years old from entering the country. Steve was wonderful though - he sat in various offices while we waited outside. At about 2am, all that was left to do was to get insurance and we were allowed to leave the border point. It was at some cost - about 14 hours of waiting, €115 per car and we had to have an escort to take us from one end of the country to the other. Our car papers had been confiscated until we got to the next border, just to make certain we complied. The escort turned up and it was planned to drive straight to the Gambian border. Trouble was it was a close thing whether the cars or the drivers were more likely to break down. We formed a convoy of about 28 cars, plus the customs officials, and headed off down yet another bumpy track. Within minutes the first puncture had occurred, then a car dropped back with engine problems, then another with a puncture. It was taking forever, as we would wait for each car to be fixed before going on. After an age, we got to St-Louis where we pulled up at a cash-point as no-one had any local currency. However luck was not on our side and we couldnt get any money out so I drove around looking for a garage that would sell me petrol for Euros. Third time lucky and I filled up a grateful Trudi. We rejoined the convoy and at that point the officials started to see the futility of the action and agreed to Steves request that we drive to a nearby campsite. For some reason all the camerade seemed to disappear from this point onwards. The faster cars shot off and our desert group stuck together - literally. For, after rounding a corner in a far-from-perfect road, we saw headlights shining everywhere. There was a huge patch of mud and some of the cars were stuck fast. We lined up and gunning the engine in second gear, I slewed Trudi through the mud. It was just like the desert again except it was too much water and not sand that was the problem this time. Her back swung out as she clawed her way through and burst onto the hard ground before sliding into the campsite. I felt like a real rally driver and at that point Kerstin woke up. She had been fast asleep since the border. She went off to sort out accommodation for the group and I went back to look for Daphne as she hadn't come through yet. She was stuck fast as was the 4-wheel drive which had tried to tow her out. I went back to the campsite but the drivers at the bar suddenly had all kinds of reasons for not being able to help. Feeling disgusted and angry, I woke up Adrian and Ellie as I knew they would understand. They gave me the keys to Sven and hopefully her lack of an exhaust woke up all those who had gone straight to bed. In the meantime someone was pulling Daphne out and it was while I was turning Sven round in a narrow part of the track, that I too got stuck. I felt a complete idiot but was soon pushed free. John and I decided that it wasn't worth going to bed, so we had a couple of beers until the kitchen staff arrived and ate a great breakfast while watching the sunrise.

5 Jan, day 18 - most people woke up probably thinking that they were in paradise. Climbing to the top of the tower in the photo showed that we were on a peninsular and the muddy bit was formed by the tide. The owners later said that they didn't plan to improve the road as it kept the undesirables out - people with motor homes! The Zebra bar really is a wonderful place and well worth a visit. Most of us didn't want to leave and there was talk of mutiny or staging breakdowns so that we couldn't drive on. In the end, the official offered to put us into 2 groups and the four or so cars who wanted to go left with him.

We couldn't drive as our papers had been taken away but found another way of getting into St-Louis and spent a few wonderful hours exploring the city. On the way back Adrian gallantly carried Ellie from the canoe so she wouldn't get her trousers wet, only to lose his footing and they both fell in! She was carrying all the money for the boat's owner too! A perfect day ended with a perfect evening - an excellent meal sitting around a blazing campfire in the sand, swapping stories.

6 Jan, day 19 -although the break had been very welcome, some were anxious to get on as they had flights home booked

at the end of the week and we still had a country to go! However, because of the few cars that had left, we had to wait another day for the escort to get back. We couldn't understand why they couldn't have waited just one more day and we could have all travelled together. Looking at the

photos now, I guess that I could have cleaned Trudi, but I just changed the plugs as they were a bit oiled and checked her over. Others had more serious repairs but I had a nice lazy day. Later in the day the missing cars turned up. The Mitsubishi that had broken down in the desert had had a new clutch made using a Triumph one and glue.

It was great to see them all again especially as the Triumphs were the only classic cars among us.

7 Jan, day 20 - once the escort had arrived at the campsite, we set off for the border. However, after just a few miles we stopped for some unknown reason. Still, it gave us a chance to play football with the local kids who would descend on the cars every time they stopped, demanding "cadeaux". We started off playing with their 'football' - a dried orange - but the looks on their faces were wonderful when one of the Triumph guys pulled out a real football - and they got to keep it when we left too!

Again, we were given the feeling that we were holding the faster cars up. Our desert group stuck together though and we were all reunited at the next petrol station. Here we heard the news

that Rhian had been taken to hospital. She'd been complaining that she'd felt unwell for the past few days. She was given a check-up but was back with us a couple of hours later and we set off once again.

The faster cars left us behind once more and in fact we weren't to see Andy again until the end of the rally. We lurched along the bad roads, trying to avoid the huge potholes. Trudi, who had not put a foot wrong throughout the event, started playing up. Every hour or 70km, she started misfiring and dropping down to one cylinder - and she only has two! Stopping, taking out the plugs and swapping them seemed to get her going again for the next hour but it was costing us some time.

Added to this were the delays caused by the constant punctures and we were dropping behind schedule. It was at one such puncture stop that John or Adrian diagnosed Trudi's problem. I had changed her plugs over as I had been given a large supply from a friend, but they were for an earlier model of Trabant which believe it or not, had an even smaller engine than Trudi. Once the original ones went back in, the problem went. We passed through a town with a huge mosque, where

smoking anywhere in the town was banned. More punctures were happening and Steve had dropped back with his customs escort to keep us company as we were bringing up the rear of the convoy and the others were long out of sight. He too had a puncture - you can see the state of the roads in this blurred (but Trudi was bouncing around) photo of the Triumph. The car swerving off to the right is a local, avoiding a trench in the road.

 Steve had the problem that his spare wouldn't fit on the back as the brakes fouled so he had to swap a wheel on the front before he could change the back tyre. Josephine was playing up too and under tow. Time was ticking on and it was getting dark when Steve had his second puncture. This was a bit more final as he

had only the one spare (why Steve, why?). I had got two of my wheels bashed out at the Zebra bar so was okay but Adrian and Ellie went charging off in Sven to catch up with the convoy as there were some more Mercedes there who could give Steve a spare. Unbeknown to them, Steve had already rung one of the cars and they were turning back. The wheels changed, we were on our way again, but it was now really dark and it was very difficult to see the potholes so we were even slower. We stopped in a town to get some tyres repaired and unfortunately here Trevor had his mobile phone stolen.

Tired and upset, we pressed on, but we were need in of a rest and Steve managed to persuade the official to agree to let us stop for the night as the border would be closed by now. It just so happened that we were near to an auberge where Steve used to work - it was never clear how many things that happened around Steve were just due to coincidence or otherwise, but that beer at 1am has never tasted better. We slept four to a room and only had a cold shower but it was wonderful to rest there.

8 Jan, day 21- the third car in the photo is a Hillman Hunter from the first rally and is owned by Steve - he bought it after the event. We were made to feel really welcome here, but it was soon time to go. We reached the border soon after and it was a very hectic place.

There were lots of strange characters, including one with arms thicker than my legs who spent the time pushing on Daphne's boot to make her bounce up and down. We got our documents back though and after handing over a little more money were free to drive to the Gambian customs post. They were much more friendly too us here and were expecting us as the others had gone through earlier. It helped that the national language was now English too. The building looked very strange though - it turned out that it had been torched after the Gambia beat Senegal in a game of football! We were soon through and heading down yet another bumpy road to the port. There, the authorities rushed around trying to get us onto the boat while the street kids rushed around trying to sell us everything under the sun and trying to get us to give them everything they could point to in the car. We were quickly on the packed ferry and sat at the front on the Ladas, looking like the

tthe stars from 'Titanic'. It was then that Andrew from team Wackyrally told us about his 'tanker phobia' and I am really sorry that I laughed, but it sounded so absurd. Mind you the tankers in the bay were very big, but the ship safely steered round them and then we were on the other side and it was just a few miles to the National Stadium in Banjul, and then a few more until we had found the entrance. We had missed the victory parade, but were hoping to make it in time for the official welcome from the local dignitaries. As we neared the stadium, another Andrew in a Merc, pulled to the side and waved me past, so that, he told me later, Trudi wouldnt be the last in the rally. First or last - it

just wasn't important as every car in our group had made it - an achievement which has yet to be equalled! When we drove in, everyone cheered. The teams loved Trudi - she had become like a mascot to the rally. I was reading John Simpson's memoirs today on the bus after having dropped my car off at the garage and he wrote "Trabants.. wheezing little cars ... which came in 4 basic colours (and pink!), had two-stroke engines, could manage a maximum speed of around fifty-two miles per hour and were as unsafe and uncomfortable as they were ugly. But they came to possess a certain temporary chic, for all that." John Simpson, 'Strange Places, Questionable People', Macmillan 1998. This feeling of elation and achievement was soon cut short by the BBC reporter's question: "I have heard that you are in the worst car of the rally. How do you feel about finishing?" I think she was surprised at the aggression in my voice when I barked "Who said that?" Only I was allowed to criticise Trudi! She later apologised and indeed tried to buy Trudi at the auction.

Andy flew home the next day as he just wanted to get back. I had a couple more days and these were spent wandering around Banjul, going to the press conferences with the others and generally relaxing. On Saturday, the auction took place. All photos of Trudi at the auction are by John Alflatt. The auction was organised by Gerri from the Safari Gardens and was to raise money for Gambian charities. We auctioned off not only the cars, but also equipment and tools and it was a huge success, raising over €75,000 in total from the three groups. John and I had been toying with the idea of shipping Trudi and

 Daphne back to the UK but it was too expensive. I wish we had done so though as she raised less money at the auction than I had paid for her back in Berlin. Many people have asked about selling the cars in the Gambia - the idea wasn't to provide people with cheap cars, but to sell the cars, and for the money to go to the charities. There are people with money living in the Gambia and there were a lot of people there looking for cars to be used as taxis. Trudi was bought by a man whom I never met. His friend didn't seem interested in her though and although I explained about mixing the fuel and the oil, he didn't seem to be

listening and as I said a private goodbye to her I wished her good luck. I was back at the Safari Gardens when the call came through that he couldn't get her started. He had flattened the battery trying though and disconnected the dash, looking for the fault - which was that he hadn't turned the petrol tap on! I was close to tears when I saw the bare wires coming out of the dash, but tried to further explain to him what he should do and how the gearshift worked. I patted her and left without looking back. I felt really sad even though I know she is 'just' a car.

The next day there were three of us on the flight back to London, which typically for the Challenge, was not without problems. The runway looked as bad as the country's roads: potholed, and we took off some three hours late. While we were flying over a great stretch of sand, I realised how big the Sahara is and felt proud that we had driven through a corner of it. The flight lasted six hours and we covered almost the exact route from Banjul to Gatwick that we had driven from Godalming to Banjul in 21 days. It was quite a sobering thought. Once I was back in England, I had about a week at Andy's, before I flew back to Berlin and the two Johns, Kerstin and I all met up in London - and in the past few months I have seen most of the desert group again. I consoled myself over the loss of Trudi by buying an old diesel Land Rover which, in fine style, broke down 13 miles short of the ferry, but that's another story. Thanks for reading this one and to finish, I would like to end with what I wrote back in England after finishing the challenge.

Trudi in the mirror by Jon Hope

I would like to thank all the people who helped us out; especially our group within a group who always got there and I think really showed the true spirit of the rally, which was to help one another and not to rush on and be the first. And special thanks to Andy, Kerstin and Chrissy. And finally, Trudi. Everyone fell in love with her. At first she was seen by some as a liability and a joke, but in the end, it was amazing how many people were so genuinely happy that this little car had made it. And so many people wanted a drive in her! She was fantastic and won their hearts and mine- I hope she'll be happy there, but I just don't know.

There were two questions that I was often asked: why in a Trabant? Well, because of the symbolism of the car and because everyone said that it wouldn't make it. Everyone. And this was typical of the attitude before we left and at the beginning - people saying that the car can't make it.  And I really hate being told what I can and can't do and like to prove people wrong, so that's why in a Trabant.

And the other question was: did you really think that you would make it?     No, but I hoped.