Car Culture / History / People / Stories

Fatherly Courage

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_thumbnailWhen I was in the sixth grade, my father decided to put his working career on hold and take our family on a year-long adventure that started in Europe and ended in Cape Town, South Africa. With a 1971 VW Campmobile and a meager amount of cash, we set out on a life-changing experience that sets my compass to this day.

After spending five months in Europe, the weather was getting cold and my father started to turn his attention to Africa, making good on a childhood dream of going on safari. We spent weeks in Rome preparing, acquiring the proper paperwork and immunizations of all kinds to protect us from… Well, who knew what we might encounter?

Leaving Europe behind, we boarded a ferry from Marseilles and landed in Tunis, Tunisia… What followed was a wild adventure that, to this day, leaves me wondering how we made it back alive.

Outside of Tunis, we turned south toward the Sahara Desert. Notice the jerry cans on top. Fuel rationing would be critical…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_01Lonely, desolate, and sometimes led only by a pile of rocks to the next marking point, we were too far away from civilization to be scared at this point.

While traveling ‘cross the desert sands, in dire search of far-off lands, jerry cans strapped to the VW were few. Our destination, Timbuktu…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_02I seem to remember being airborne more than once, and the corrugated roads took their toll not only on the Volkswagen, but also on my mother, who suffered a broken tail bone. Not once did I hear her complain.

Laid-up in Southern Sahara, we smacked something hard enough to drive the sway bar back into the front I-beam. My father, in jeans, made good use of a jerry can as a jack stand. Notice the rope on the front. The Land Rovers we were traveling with used this to pull us out of the deep sand…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_03I still play with cars…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_04Crossing the Ubangi River only meant entering the Congo. I saw my first pygmy at the age of 11. That’s Dad driving the bus onto the barge to cross the river. I’m in my lederhosen making sure he doesn’t drop a wheel off the wooden planks…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_05My sister standing next to the bravest man in the world. Her father. This was the main road through the Congo towards East Africa…

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_06My father, ever the adventurer, always wanted to see what was over the next hill. After trying several runs up the mountain toward Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was not to be. The old bus that had taken us this far, just couldn’t make it over that next hill. Not one to give up, my father started unloading the VW of all excess weight. The summit was in sight, and had we made it we would have had to hand-carry everything over the hill (a calculation I’m not sure my father had made at the time).

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_07See those carved elephants on the side of the road? They still reside in my house, reminding me of what it takes to truly lead a family. Having a father that, regardless of setbacks, never quit at anything, has given me the strength to persevere through many challenges, no matter how my hand was dealt.

richard-griot_fatherly-courage_08Here’s to fathers that have the courage to lead, to never give up, and to inspire the generations that follow to conquer any obstacle that is put in front of them. To my own dad, Happy Father’s Day… And thank you for all the love and attention and adventure that you gave us.

Have fun in your garage!


  1. Ed Dawes says:

    These are amazing photos, and an amazing story. Thank you Richard.

    • Thank you, Ed. The trip was taken at a time when we had a map in our lap, and a compass in our hand. I was lucky to have a Father who thought anything was possible, and made me feel I could anything in life. He always said, “Richard, you do anything you want, you just can’t do everything!” Those words gave me the courage to start Griot’s Garage 23 years ago…

      • Ed Dawes says:

        You were lucky indeed. I looked at those photos, and for the early 70’s , those are very clear. Must have been taken with a 35mm Cam of some sort. What is the story with the carved out rear fenders and the tires? The elephants must have been acquired along the way, they look very cool. Also, I am wondering if you folks ran into any other people doing something similar. Good choice of vehicle , no coolant issues to worry about, reasonable on fuel, simple to repair , very utilitarian. Wow …what a trip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *