Around the world in a junkyard buggy
All images © Christopher List Photography
Chris and Elayne Clash have driven through 86 countries, and over 200, 000 km around the world in Victor, a buggy made out of junkyard scrap that they hope to enter into the Guinness Book of Records as the "most travelled homemade vehicle".
After roughly five years of travel, the couple ended up in Somerset West, where I spotted Victor in the parking lot at the mall.
In fact, that's how most people get talking to Chris and Elayne, as Victor is certainly eye-catching. "We started our adventure by thinking we could build our car from rubbish with the help of friends, using anything we could find such as junk metal and old parts. We did it with our own hands and our own skill sets - so that we could spark the imagination of others".
|Despite appearances to the contrary, Victor is a 2-wheel drive but goes everywhere that a four-wheel does - including the Americas, Europe, Asia, and both East and Central Africa.
The whole car is constructed from old ARB bull bars, welded together to create Victor's unique shape. "The car itself is a message, like a sculpture, that attracts people", says Chris. "We started off with an engineering concept to create a comfortable car, with compliant suspension and so on, but Victor overtook us, in character and personality!"
"My mission as an engineer is to prove that you can do something like this organically to the point where it is recycled; it has a character of its own", he continued.
Victor weighs only 1,330 kilograms, compared to the average 4-wheel drive which, fully-loaded, can weigh up to 4000 kilograms!
Running on bio-diesel (waste vegetable oil mixed with diesel), Victor has no heater or air conditioning - relying on thermal mass to keep cool.
In fact, everything except the roof tent is second-hand and packed to the point where you can't put anything more in.
The eco-conscious couple also charge everything from their car, don't have a fridge, and cook using a tiny petroleum stove that uses less than two litres of petrol per month.
Chris and Elayne fervently believe in buying local, seasonal produce, and supplement this with whatever Chris can catch with his fishing rod.
They collect rainwater and average less than 7 litres of water per day, as compared to the 147 litres used by the average Australian.
"We're trying to be low impact", says Chris, "we're rebuilding what we have, recycling what we can.
Our headlights are held on by string, but they still work. Since we don't travel at night this isn't an issue for us.
We want to have a vehicle that is sustainable, that will inspire adventure travelling".
Of course, being eco-friendly shows you a whole different side of things. Chris, a born story-teller who even does accents, tells a story of when the couple where on their way to Labrador (North America). "You have to travel about 1485 kilometres along the Trans-Labradoran highway which is just a gravel road, without many fuel stops in between. To get there, we took a ferry from Cartwright to Goose Bay.
"We didn't have much money at the time so we asked the chef if there was any food left over. We got all the food scraps and then asked if it was possible to get any used vegetable oil. They gave us five 20lt drums of veggie oil which we strapped to the back of Victor before heading down the Labradoran highway.
It was surrounded by a vast expanse of trees, thousands of kilometres of prime forest, and we had to pull over and decant our vegetable oil into the fuel tanks. So we're parked on the side of the highway straining it, just doing the best we can, but we can't help but spill some.
All of a sudden we see this old bakkie (truck) and a Canadian guy pulls up. He says, 'My, that's a mighty strange vehicle; you're not from around these parts are you?'
So I tell him we're from Australia. 'You're a long way from home', the old timer says. 'I'm going to give you some free advice. There's only one thing these grizzly bears like more than peanut butter and that's fish and chip oil. You guys are like a great big bear burger on wheels!'
We also met a couple travelling in Tagoma, Tanzania who are off to North America in a LandCruiser. Just by talking to us they took 980 kilograms of stuff off their car, and they're planning to create their next vehicle as an environmentally-sensitive car".
Chris and Elayne tell me that part of the reason for creating Victor out of rubbish tips and old parts was to introduce a stepping stone for those who had a spark of adventure, but were daunted by the cost of these vehicles.
"We spent about USD 5,000 (excluding the tent), and at the end of the day created something that is really at a low-entry price. And over five years of travel through some of the world's toughest terrains, our rebuild value has been less than a third of the vehicle's value", says Chris.
"For us the message is about giving to others, causing hundreds of smiles around the world as people realise they have an opportunity to do something from a low-entry point. Some people spend more on options for their offroad vehicles than we spent on the whole car!
We're trying to say to people who don't have access to endless funds that you can have an adventure, even with a recycled bicycle or billy car. People make the adventure", he continues.
"Throwing my design into the arena has inspired people to know that they can do something similar, whether it's running their car on vegetable oil, rebuilding things, or using their skills to create something, rather than running off their check book.
Ultimately, we want to have a vehicle that is sustainable, that doesn't need to replaced every year. So many youngsters have come up to us and said 'cool car where can you buy it' and tell them that you have to build it yourself, using your own skill set. And they tell us they want one!"
Chris believes that car manufacturers are missing out on this niche; building an adventure vehicle that is low impact and low consumption, uses old parts and is serviceable anywhere in the world.
The intrepid couple arranges talks and workshops at schools and universities to spread their message, but happily stop to talk to anyone who is interested. "Build something different if you want people to come chat to you." says Elayne. "But if you park somewhere for the night in poorer countries like Mozambique, where they've never seen something like this before, you'll go to the loo and see ten people watching you!".
Catching up with them at a coffee shop in Tableview, where they were already surrounded by an enthralled group of Capetonians, the magnetic power of Victor and their mission was clearly in evidence.
Chris and Elayne thrive on the spontaneity of people. Chris tells me how they were lost on their way to get their Angolan visas and stopped outside an antique shop. "This coloured guy came outside and said: 'Man I love your set of wheels, do you want to swap?' gesturing to his old bakkie (truck). So we laughed and said not really.
He gave us directions to get to the NI and I asked him what he did. He told us that he's an into antiques and collecting old junk, and used to collect all the rubbish out of planes and old bombshells in Angola and bring it to Cape Town to sell in the late 70's.
He opened his bonnet and there was a beautiful old wooden funnel inside that he wanted to give us as a gift. I couldn't take it because we just didn't have the space, but I really admired his spontaneity", Chris continued. "I told him he is truly an ambassador of South Africa".
Chris advises every traveller to remember this fact - that they are an ambassador of their country. No matter how frustrated you get, you must remember that you represent your country. You need to inspire others by your example, your passions, and your heritage and hopefully build bridges between all of us.
Elayne and Chris tell me that their epic journey has irrevocably changed them. "It's turned into more of a spiritual journey because we are so humbled and inspired by others.
This is an interaction - as a creator, giving others an opportunity to see what can be created, but also through learning from others and having them learn from us.
The generosity of the human race is beyond comprehension - from the humblest of countries to the wealthiest of countries, people have wanted to give us whatever they can.
This is the message of humankind, that deep inner feeling that we are all connected. Our journey has been fraught with dangers and adventure, and it's still ongoing, but we're newly humbled and inspired every day.
Elayne relates a moving story of a couple they met in Iran. "We couldn't find a hotel and were at a stop street when a couple on a pushbike pulled up, with the lady on the back with her legs in callipers, and asked us if they could help.
They told us to follow them to a hotel. The first one was closed, the second one didn't have safe parking, and in the end they just told us to follow them.
We went through back streets, not knowing where we were going, and then came to these big doors that looked like they hadn't been opened for years.
They told us to drive in and suddenly we're driving through a vegetable garden at the back of their house.
We stayed the night with them in their small house, which only had two rooms. She cooked a meal of fish and flat bread, along with greens from the garden and wanted to share it all with us, even though they had so little.
They had a small photo album containing just five pictures from their wedding, and asked us to keep one so we wouldn't forget them.
We gave them a whole lot of tinned food, and hid some money as we knew they'd never accept it. When we left the next morning we saw that we'd unavoidably rolled over some of the lettuce in their tiny vegetable garden! I realised that if everyone just had the love that couple demonstrated, the world would be a great place".
An important part of the couple's mission is to raise money for Cancer for Kids and the Epilepsy Foundation of Victoria in Australia. What makes this trip even more extraordinary is that Elayne herself suffers from a type of Epilepsy known as Hormonal Epilepsy, which struck when she was 30 after the birth of her second child.
"There's not enough people supporting this cause", Elayne says. "We plan to donate what we can and will auction off Victor to raise additional funds when we're back home".
The two Australians are no stranger to adventure.
In fact, this is their second overland trip, with the first a 2-year trip with their two boys Adam (14) and Tristan (12).
They travelled in a Ford Bronco around America, down through Baja Mexico, in a DAF Van through the UK and most of Europe, then spent five months on motorbikes in Greece and Cyprus, with both boys on their own bike (at 13 and 15).
The two Australians are no stranger to adventure. In fact, this is their second overland trip, with the first a 2-year trip with their two boys Adam (14) and Tristan (12). They travelled in a Ford Bronco around America, down through Baja Mexico, in a DAF Van through the UK and most of Europe, then spent five months on motorbikes in Greece and Cyprus, with both boys on their own bike (at 13 and 15).
This experience helped them deal with the more challenging aspects of their current journey, including getting held up in Gaza with AK47s pointed at them. "The Palestinians thought Victor was a Special Forces vehicle, but once that misunderstanding was cleared up, they offered us chai tea", says Chris.
Elayne tells how they were taken in by the Taliban in Tajikistan. "We were looking for a place to camp and unknowingly drove into a mine field. Once we realised the danger, it took us more than three hours to get out there, retracing our tracks in the rapidly fading light.
The main problem for Chris was trying to follow my instructions, while I was perched precariously at Victor's rear, trying desperately to follow the small depressions Victor's tyres had made in the rocky ground!
At 3800 mts in -20 degrees centrigrade, we were both freezing cold and had nowhere to put the tent up. Chris spotted a small building with his old set of binoculars, which was set high along a ridge.
We investigated and unknowingly drove into a Taliban operation. I was the only woman, surrounded by about 35 men. They rounded us up using machine guns to gesture what they wanted and then gave us something to eat. It was so revolting we couldn't get it down, so we opted to swallow the large chunks of cold gristle, which stuck in our throats.
We were doing our best not to gag, all the while trying to show how much we appreciated their hospitality by smiling from ear to ear and nodding our heads, as they watched us intently.
They showed us where to sleep in a small room, which was an old tent sent up in the decrepit building, which had no roof. Numerous men lay on army beds, with machine guns and mines stacked up everywhere. We were feeling pretty stressed at the time, but the cold was worse.
Lying on a single army bed we made plans to leave at dawn, hoping our excuse of needing to visit a toilet (which did not exist), would set us free. The next morning we prayed Victor would not let us down in the icy cold. With Chris' fingers glued to the spark plugs, Victor fired up first time and we left as fast as we could, hoping no bullets would follow us".
Chris, whose motto is 'adventure before dementia', relates travelling through customs in El Salvador, where right-hand drive vehicles are not allowed through.
Their steering wheel comes off easily, so they placed it on a broomstick on the left-hand side so that Elayne could pretend to be driving, while Chris actually drove using the spanner that was stuck to the steering column at the bottom of the car.
Another adventurous story occurs when the couple crossed the Amazon on the deck of an old boat. "Victor just fit on", says Chris. "The Amazon delta was so quiet and still, the stars touched the black waters of the Amazon and were so perfectly reflected that we felt like we were on a spaceship.
There was not a breath of wind, not a single wave, it was really surreal. Early in the morning we called into a port, where they loaded 12000 broomsticks made from the freshly cut trees of this rapidly depleting rainforest. It was a miracle we made it - those broomsticks nearly sank the boat and us".
Currently in Namibia, the couple plan to head up the West Coast of Africa and cross over into Europe.
The route is by no means set - Elayne and Chris believe in "going with the flow", zigzagging from country to country as circumstances dictate, but Pakistan, India and Indonesia is definitely in their sights.
In fact, they intend on visiting at least 140 countries by the time they head back to Australia.
Not content to rest there, the two eco-travel gurus plan to buy an old barge, fit it with solar panels and travel for another three or four years from France to Russia and across the Caspian Sea.
"A barge is the most efficient form of transport ever designed by man", maintains Chris. "It takes one bhp to pull a barge that carries 70 metric tonnes!"
"We as humans have devoluted instead of evoluted", Chris continues. "We don't realise how close to the edge we are. Sustainability is a way of creating a more balanced environment".
Using less than eight litres of diesel per 100 km, and travelling at 85km/hr, Chris and Elayne Clash are not only ambassadors of the imagination, but also of the environment. And while others rush past, Chris and Elayne enjoy the ride.
To follow the self-titled "Crazy Travellers", visit www.ouradventurebug.com
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