Three Men in a Land Rover

40,000 Miles, 40 Countries, One Unique Adventure

by Waxy Wainwright, Mike Palmer, Chris Wall

Your responses and feedback give every indication you like to read Tom Cotter’s books about adventurous drives in interesting vehicles. Cotter’s modern-day travels focusing on finding good eateries, coffee houses, or other places of interest pale next to this recounting by these three authors of their trek. As their book’s subtitle indicates, they traveled 40,000 miles, visiting 40 countries, making it beyond a doubt one unique adventure. 

Following a year of preparation, they departed September 1969 on their journey and wouldn’t see home again until mid-June of the following year. The three making the trek are now this book’s authors. They are Andrew “Waxy” Wainwright, Mike Palmer, and Chris Wall. Their steed was a retired electric utility company’s 1964 “petrol-fueled, 109in Series IIA Land Rover with registration number TEN 423,” earning it its forever name TEN. Purchase price was £400 with additional monies spent on a few mods such as the cow-catcher, the 60-gallon gas tank, and that roof rack. The impetus to undertake the trip was to see and experience more of the world while they could before commitments to job and family—in a word, life—claimed them. 

A good photo of the trio, left to right, Chris Wall, Mike Palmer, Andrew “Waxy” Wainright shown standing alongside TEN, their well-laden Land Rover.

As they planned their journey they solicited assistance from sponsors. One important association afforded them an opportunity to support and promote the work of the United Nations. The UN partnership was touted in the large lettering on both of TEN’s sides proclaiming it UNAtrek. 

That UN connection would prove useful a number of times. Sometimes it would smooth an otherwise difficult border crossing. Other times it helped overcome language barriers. Another plus were the doors it opened for them to visit facilities and see firsthand, and subsequently report in published articles, the good being accomplished by the UN and its UNICEF.  

That their story could be told so in the moment over 50 years later it attributable in part to the careful journals and notes each maintained, as shown on lefthand page, throughout their nine month journey along with letters and postcards sent to family, friends and sponsors. Bottom right Andrew “Waxy” Wainright trying to warm his hands surrounded by, above, the rugged landscape of Baluchistan region with parts today in three countries, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

Each kept a diary and Chris Wall was specifically charged with being the official photographer. Mike Palmer was designated to write the reports to sponsors and fulfill article requests from publications. Waxy had been sent to mechanics school during that preparatory year so his job was to keep TEN healthily running smoothly along with keeping track of supplies.

With such an adventurous itinerary, there never was sufficient spare time to explore all the antiquities. The ancient Jordanian city of Petra was one they made a point to see and photo firsthand as these facing page images show.

No surprise, their experiences forged a forever bond such that, 50 years on, they were able to write this very much “in the moment” recounting of their journey and experiences. From that then-to-now perspective they also came to some conclusions that are sad and may surprise some. Then, many areas they passed through or visited were raw and unsettled. What’s so sobering is Wainwright, Palmer, and Wall believe that, over half a century later, not much has changed, for the better that is. 

Then there was no route, much less track, across the vast Sahara that is as large in total square miles as all of the continental US but unlike the geopolitical oneness of the US, the Sahara lies in ten different countries. And therein is the rub. While “crossing the Sahara has become easier via the 4,500-kilometre Trans-Sahara Highway, which is now 85 percent surfaced . . . the same journey in 2023 would not be practical because it’s no longer possible to transit through quite a few of the countries that we visited. 

Journey’s end and safely back home being greeted and congratulated by HRH Prince Charles today the King of England. Map of their travels they kept up-to-date on TEN’s rear door has their intended route the solid line and the actual the dashed line.

Chris Wall comments, “While communications and transport networks have been transformed since our adventure, the same journey would not be possible today [for] the world is neither a better nor safer place.” Mike Palmer adds, “The world now is so much more complicated and almost none the better for it,” adding “We were lucky to do it when we did, lucky to get around unscathed (no jigger-foot, no snake bites, no broken bones)” and were lucky enough to meet some wonderful people despite there often being no common language so that “All we could do was smile, shake hands and maybe have a cup of tea.

Waxy adds, “. . . years later world politics has proved that our journey is no longer possible . . . UNAtrek may only be remembered for its attempt at the longest overland journey, but it cemented life-long friendships . . . which we celebrate annually with reunions in different places.

This recounting of their grand adventure is a grand and worthwhile read! 

Three Men in a Land Rover: 40,000 Miles, 40 Countries, One Unique Adventure
by Waxy Wainwright, Mike Palmer, Chris Wall
Porter Press, 2023
208 pages, 42 b/w & 233 color images & route map, hardcover
appendix, no index  
List Price: $46
ISBN 13: 978 1 913089 03 0

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