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story below is proof that things are possible below:
The Soviet-era Trabant – a tiny plastic car built in former East Germany that was left “by the roadside” following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, may have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but it still has a special place in many Czechs’ hearts. Among fans is a group of travellers, including a journalist and filmmaker, who have made the tiny vehicle central to their adventures. In late 2009 they conquered Africa in a Trabant - travelling all the way from Tunisia to Cape Town.
Two months, 11 countries, 20,000 kilometres: that is how far journalist Dan Přibáň and three colleagues were prepared to go for adventure in 2009. Not in a massive all-terrain vehicle but in a Trabant – a car that boasts an engine only slightly more powerful than some lawn tractors. Back in Prague, working in a documentary about the expedition, Dan Přibáň told me recently why the Trabbie was important.“We chose the Trabant because we wanted to show that a trip like this one was possible without a 4x4, and GPS, and a satellite phone and things like that. People these days think such a thing is not possible, but it’s not true! The whole engine is made up of between 20 to 50 parts, if you don’t count the screws: it’s great for a trip like this, if you know how to repair it. If you take a 4-stroke engine there are many more parts, so if it breaks down you might be lost. The Trabant is the simplest thing you can imagine. When our engine broke down in the middle of the desert, we repaired it using just a hammer and screwdriver.”
The trip across Africa wasn’t Přibáň’s first difficult journey: he and colleagues successfully conducted a similar trip to Uzbekistan in 2007. But compared to Africa, he says, Asia was a walk in the park.
“When we prepared Africa, my thought was that it would be easier because ‘everyone’ goes there. I thought it would be more prepared for travellers and tourists. But Africa is a completely different level than Asia: everything is harder and much more complicated. By comparison our trip to Samarkand in 2007 was easy.”
Preparations for Africa took roughly two years. In September of 2009, the group, with an additional car in tow for filming, set out. The team crossed Europe and began the Africa odyssey in Tunisia. Dan Přibáň told me more about how they planned the route:
“My first plan was to take the western coast, but we were told that was impossible in a small car. But later I met guy who did it on bike. So maybe we could have done it, but we chose the eastern coast. Then we ruled out countries it wasn’t a good idea to cross, for safety reasons, so Congo and Somalia. So we chose Sudan. In all it was 11 countries and we went to areas we wanted to see like Victoria Falls in Namibia. In all it was Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.”
Along the way, they shot a myriad of different scenes, some of which made their Youtube; they also filed reports with a support team at home making sure the latest info was up on Facebook. The scenery, Dan Přibáň says, was often amazing but also one of unexpected contrasts.
“If you travel to Sudan - just one example - it’s just desert and hot. But when you cross the border to Ethiopia, it’s hell and heaven! It’s green and wet and a beautiful country. The Sudan is beautiful as well but it’s at sea level. When you enter Ethiopia, it’s a different world.”
Differences were also highly visible in many of the deserts, where, their car of course broke down on a number of occasions. Luckily the team always managed to pull through.