I remember the good old times when we lived in a great country with one nation and many nationalities. That country was called Yugoslavia. Placed in the middle, between eastern and western bloc, the leader of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Country of friendly, proud and inovative people. That kind of people are capable to do extraordinary things. One of those stories from ex Yugoslavia times was famous expedition from town of Kragujevac (Serbia) to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which took place in 1975. The main goal was to promote “Zastava” car industry and showcase the car`s ability as family transporter over the harshest terrains and climate conditions.
The expedition started in Kragujevac on 14 February 1975, drove through Greece, crossed over to Egypt, drove through Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and finally reached the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The crew was made of eleven brave people in five brand new “Zastava 101” cars. Journalists, a film director, photographer, a couple of mechanics, a doctor, expedition leader, organizers and a Zastava manufacturer representative. In two words – interesting crew! The 11.000 km journey took almost two months and was heading to the most inaccessible part of the world, north-east and east Africa.
The main initiator of this expedition was prof. dr. Milan Rakočević who came to the brilliant idea to suggest this venture to the management of the “Crvena Zastava”, car industry based in Kragujevac. He came up with this idea while hiking through the deserts of Africa. That was a unique opportunity for promotion of new car model and test its endurance in various terrains and climate conditions. So, the car manufacturer management prepared five models of new “Zastava 101”, well known by the nickname “Stojadin”. Everything was ready, and eleven people have started this journey into the unknown.
They packed a whole assortment of spare parts in the boot, along with food and their personal belongings. The roof racks were packed with spare tyres and jerry cans. So, they were ready for a journey of a lifetime, as much as possible. Adventure lasted 45 days and led them and their simple, non 4×4 cars through some of the harshest terrain on the planet. Also, they had to cross the Mediterranean sea to get to Egypt and Lake Nasser from Aswan To Wadi Haifa, using public and private ferries.
It was a huge undertaking to get through the Nubian desert, dangerous army-infested roads, savannas, rocky deserts and swamps. But the expedition also had its bright moments. For instance, the crossing of the Giza Plateau by car and driving right past the pyramids. That`s not possible to do nowadays. The same thing was driving alongside the wild animals through numerous safari parks, like Amboseli, and the great feeling of completing the adventure at the base camp of the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro.
This great journey was filled with many of adventure and many tense situations. A real movie material! They drove through the hot desert without cooling systems in the vehicles, all that on 50+ degrees Celsius. Sometimes the sand was so deep that were jammed in the middle of the desert. Also, desert storm Haboob was a constant threat to them. The only way to get through this harsh terrain was speed driving around 120 km/h. But it was very difficult and they were stuck for many times into the desert sand. But, when there is not enough horsepower, you can rely on strong man power to push car out from the deep sand.
Some of the expedition stages were very interesting because they had to make important decisions at the site. Part of the journey from Khartoum all the way to the south of Sudan was a tricky one because the expedition had to cross 1,600km without a single petrol station along the way. And that, for vehicles without long-range fuel tanks was nearly impossible. Bearing in mind the fact that Yugoslavia was a very important country of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in that time, the Yugoslav Embassy in Khartoum arranged them to rent a small truck filled with about 10 barrels of fuel to come with them over the next stage of the journey. From Juba in South Sudan, the expedition then had to cross the Mogila Mountain range which was such a difficult route to overcome. They were told that no one had crossed it in the past fifteen years. That was a quite challenge for our eleven adventurists, but they managed to get through.
The harshness of this terrain took its toll on the vehicles, or rather on their tyres. According to the notes of the expedition’s writer, on one day they had a total of 60 tyre punctures and in 12 hours crossed only 30km.
The only solution they came up with was to repair all the tyres, pile them up on one car and try to find help in the nearest village. Leaving the punctured tyres along the way to help them get back to the rest of the crew. Finally, the solo car came across a small village with missionaries present, who were stunned to see a vehicle coming from the North. The missionaries borrow them a small truck and a machine to make tyre repairs quicker and easier. Then, they went back to get the rest of the crew!
The next stage of their journey took them across the Equator and into Kenya. This was a very special moment as it was the first time a Yugoslav vehicle had made it this far south along the globe. They went to Nairobi and then to Tanzania through the Amboseli National Park, and finally to magnificent Mt. Kilimanjaro. Some of the crew members even made the trek up to the “Roof of Africa”.
The rest of crew decided to relax on the beach in Mombasa and take marketing photos of the Zastava 101`s with local Tanzanian model Winnie Kibuye. One of these was used as the cover for the book recounting the expedition, entitled “Jambo Africa”.
The expedition members were later flown back to Yugoslavia, while the cars were ferried back up to Greece and then driven back home to Kragujevac. When we talk about this expedition, one thing is clear, this was a “Mission impossible”, but they managed to skip all the obstacles. Regular, economic cars in the middle of African desert, surrounded with local tribes, harsh terrains, wild animals…? Well, that`s something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, the story about this great expedition was quickly thrown into oblivion. Although, movie and book about this journey was made, it seems it was not enough to keep audience aware of this venture.
I hope that this story will continue to live, because it is much more than just adventure story. It is story about bravery, pushing the limits, friendship, learning, hope, freedom,… after all, it`s a story about life. I`m glad that I had the opportunity to read about it, and finally to write about it.