A holiday romance with a classic Range Rover | Thank Frankel it's Friday

01st March 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Those few of you with nothing better to do with your time than follow my footling adventures on social media may be aware, I'm recently returned from walking up quite a big hill in Tanzania. The biggest hill in fact, there or anywhere else on the African continent. You’ll know it as Mount Kilimanjaro which, at 19,341ft, is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world.


If you ever thought of having a go yourself, a few words of advice. First, your chance of getting to the top is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend on the mountain. Spend four days, and there’s a one in four chance you’ll make it Spend eight and it’s a one in four chance you won’t. Second, go with the best guiding company on the mountain. It’s called Ultimate Kilimanjaro. Third, treat every day as a wonderful hike in a wonderful part of the world amid wonderful people. Do not become target-obsessed. That way if you have to give up through altitude sickness (which strikes young and old, fit and weak without distinction), you won’t feel your holiday has been ruined. Fourth, don’t cut corners on the kit – there’s no need for ice axes, ropes or crampons – but high-quality technical clothing and boots designed for the job are essential.

Finally, expect the five days you spend hiking to the camp from which you set off to the summit, to be among the best of your life. And expect the three days it takes from there to get to the top and all the way back down again to be hell on earth. But remember in those moments of abject, gasping misery where you’d rather be literally anywhere else on the planet, that the time will soon come when you’ll enjoy having done it for the rest of your life, even if you’re hating actually doing it. And once you’re done, remember to take a few days of relaxation because, believe me, you’re going to need them.

I flew to Kenya and took mine at a friend’s small farm just outside Nairobi. He picked me up at the airport in a beaten-up Subaru Forester, which is what you drive around here because it’s indestructible, highly effective and utterly anonymous. You simply disappear. But as we drove to his house he said, ‘I’ve got something that I think you might want to have a play in.’ Note ‘in’, not ‘with’. This clearly wasn’t some clever new gadget.


On the contrary, it was neither clever nor new, and all the better for it. It was instead a 40-year-old Range Rover, completely unrestored, llightly battered on the outside, decidedly scruffy on the inside and rusty in all the areas you’d expect – i.e the parts of the bodywork not made from aluminium like the rear tailgate. And, joy of joys, it was manual.

‘Help yourself,’ he said to me, ‘treat it as yours while you’re here.’ So I did.

It is fair to say that people in this part of the world are no respecters of ancient machinery and if you sit at a junction waiting for someone to kindly slow down and wave you out, you’re likely to be there for quite a long time. You could be in a 250 GTO and you’d still have to get your elbows out and get stuck in. But if you do, it works.

In all countries with densely populated city centres and suburbs, there is a language silently communicated between road users through the medium of how they deploy their cars. Learn it and the initially terrifying can quickly become at first quite invigorating and then completely normal. In Nairobi for instance, the biggest vehicle always wins, even if it’s completely on the wrong side of the road, about to mow down some poor hapless sod in his tuc-tuc. It is beholden entirely on the tuc-tuc driver to find a way of averting disaster. And if you’re waiting to join a fast-flowing line of traffic, wait no longer – just wade in. Everyone will see, no one will mind and you’ll get where you’re going a hell of lot faster.


I loved biffing about in that old Rangie – the view out, manhandling the fabulously agricultural gears, feeling the torque of its ludicrously under-stressed V8 and marvelling all over again how a coil-sprung car on a ladder chassis with live axles at both ends can ride so damn well.

But the ultimate adventure awaited: using it for my own one-day safari in the Nairobi National Park. And do you know what? I bottled out. Pathetic I know, but there is precious little mobile reception in there and among the rhinos and giraffes, there are also quite a few things that would look at me in a broken-down Range Rover as gift-wrapped finger food. It was about 35 degrees C outside, with no air-conditioning and despite being assured that it had never gone wrong, I know that instead of looking at the animals I’d have spent my entire time with my eyes glued to the water temperature gauge.

In the end, I took the Subaru, which meant I had to avoid the really interesting and most rutted paths that the Range Rover would barely have noticed. But being eaten by a lion would have been a poor way to end my little Tanzanian sojourn so, on this occasion if few others, I let discretion be the better part of valour. Sorry.

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