In January 2002 we, Erika and Klaus Därr, started on a four-year trip around the world by land across all five continents.
First we drove from Europe to Morocco, then through the Sahara to West Africa, through the entire Sahel to East Africa and from there to southern Africa. We traveled to 27 countries, i.e. more than half of all countries in Africa, and covered 65,000 km on all conceivable types of roads, slopes and routes in 16 months. We shipped from Cape Town to Buenos Aires and are currently in Bolivia to explore the American double continent.
We experience our phase of life “world tour”, between working life and retirement, as an interesting, fulfilling time in which new interesting experiences and encounters occur every day.
Already in the thirty years before the world tour, we gradually traveled to countries in all five continents with a wide variety of vehicles – from cars to panel vans, campers, off-road vehicles, trucks, ex-Bundeswehr vehicles to the new MAN 4×4 truck Establishment of the GDR People’s Army.
For the multi-year trip around the world, more comfort, off-road mobility and security against break-ins was needed and so UNICAT, with our input of travel experience, came up with the TerraCross concept.
After 18 months of travel with the TerraCross of production no. 0001 it is clear that we can enjoy a level of comfort that few other travelers have. Especially in largely poorly developed, difficult Africa, our wet room was often hundreds of kilometers away, the only place with a decent toilet and warm shower. The fresh water supply of 400l makes us self-sufficient for one to two weeks. We have everything we need on board, except for a plot of land where we can stay overnight. It is important to look out for a suitable place to stay overnight in the later hours of the afternoon, whereby the secluded place on the slope with a view of a wide, varied landscape is the best place to sit around the vehicle with camping furniture, awning and KW receiver can spread. Often we camp on the mostly simple campsites, where the sanitary facilities fluctuate between nonexistent and unreasonable, but that doesn’t affect us. Again and again we are granted access to private property, where we find very nice places outside the sight of the street and fenced off. When looking for such places, it is helpful to be able to mention that we do not need any sanitary facilities and that nothing is left behind in any way. But even in the rare, difficult cases, a parking space in front of a police station, a gas station or a guarded parking lot in the center of large cities is sufficient. In such cases, we crawl into our vehicle where we have enough room to move, are provided with everything and, in extreme cases, could even start from a standing position without leaving the vehicle.
In addition to the aspect of being largely independent of external infrastructure, security naturally plays an enormous role, subjectively and objectively. With TerraCross it is already standard that windows, doors and flaps have a stable aluminum frame, windows are fitted with impact-resistant double glass and locked twice. The doors and flaps are even triple locked. If you now make sure that a step-through or slip-through to the driver’s cab can be locked easily and stably, you can consider the housing structure as a kind of “safe” in which you are not only very securely housed, but also the valuables stowed there . When we use our vehicle e.g. To go shopping or to go to a restaurant, we move cameras, etc. from the driver’s cab to the back of the secure living structure. With its windows lying above head height, it makes it difficult for “interested parties” to orientate themselves about its content and it would take special tools, experience and an above-average amount of time to open it forcibly, which would still be associated with considerable noise.
As the base vehicle for our TerraCross, we have chosen the MAN LE 220 B, an all-wheel-drive 14-ton chassis with 220 hp, which actually only weighs 10 tons and therefore has enormous reserves. After driving 70,000 km in Africa and South America, diesel consumption stabilizes at 25l per 100km. That may seem like a lot to the driver of a car in Europe, but in relation to the 10 tonnes of the vehicle it is surprisingly little when you consider that this also includes the consumption of the diesel auxiliary heating and hot water system. Diesel costs an average of € 0.40 per liter in Africa and America, which means that fuel costs are € 10 / 100km. This means that they are no higher than the average fuel costs for a gasoline-powered car in Europe. The tank capacity of 2x300l helps us to use the price differential between neighboring countries, which has never led to any queries at the borders. Even within large countries there are occasionally significant price differences, depending on how far a gas station is from the nearest port with a refinery or a rail connection with a tank farm. My dream would be a tank capacity of 1,000 liters, which can only be achieved in vehicles with a significantly longer wheelbase, which would then also have higher consumption.
Mosquitoes can be expected in many regions of the world, on journeys to the north as well as in European autumn and in tropical countries. It is therefore pleasant and important that the windows are fitted with a mosquito blind and the entrance door with a mosquito curtain. If you want double security, you can also hang a mosquito net over the bed.
Unfortunately, when we ordered the chassis, we did not include the airconditioning option for the driver’s cab, but are now having it retrofitted at low cost in Brazil.
In the living area, we can cope with a large 230V / 70W fan when it is very hot, and of course we need a converter from 24V on-board power supply to 230V to operate it, which also provides excellent service.
Thanks to the strongest alternator available from MAN and the four thick batteries for on-board power supply, we can cope with the installed consumers, especially the refrigerator and fan, for a number of days without having to run the engine, even in very hot weather. We did not install a solar system, which turns out to be very correct, because in hot countries we naturally try to find a place in the shade of majestic trees where it would provide little electricity. The entrances to campsites and national parks in Africa and South America are often so overgrown that branches graze on the roof of the 3.5 m high vehicle and a solar system would sooner or later be cleared away.
If you wanted to air-condition the living area while standing, you would either have to have an external power connection, whereby in the typical target areas of the TerraCross driver there is no power supply at the stand. You could of course also run a generator. This is expensive, requires space, additional fuel and, in particular, causes annoying noise.
For the energy supply, we decided to cook with bottled gas and heating / hot water with diesel oil. Diesel is always available anyway, and the two of us can get by for four months with an 11kg gas bottle. If a bottle is empty, the replacement bottle is connected and refilled at the gas tank storage near the railroad track of a provincial capital. It usually takes a little patience to create a suitable connection for filling, but it has always worked so far.
An obvious question before going on an extended long-haul trip is of course: “What about the supply of spare parts?” It should first be clear that there is no vehicle for which a worldwide spare parts supply is guaranteed by factory representatives. On the other hand, a truck has a much smaller proportion of its components made up of vehicle-specific parts than a car. The most amazing parts that fit or are made to fit can be found at auto parts dealers in developing countries. In developing countries there is a wild mishmash of trucks that are kept running for literally millions of kilometers without ever going to a works agency. This goes from re-lining the brake shoes and clutch pressure plate to the production of spring leaves and exhaust pipes to the casting of a new windscreen in one-off production at a fraction of the cost of a new windscreen in Germany.
If vehicle-specific small parts are essential, they can be sent to any capital or provincial capital in the world by UPS courier service within a few days. The working hours in the workshops are very cheap, the mechanics start immediately after placing the order and have an amazing ability to improvise. You only replace parts that are actually defective, not entire assemblies as in Europe using the fast procedure.
Typical wear parts such as V-belts, filters, wiper blades should of course be carried with you.
I wish all readers of these lines a lot of fun dreaming about a trip around the world as we are currently experiencing, having fun planning, equipping and finally carrying it out.
Life is raging on five continents and we should take a look at it now, so don’t postpone the start of the trip around the world „for ever and a day”.