LEFT: Simon Booth beside a map of Africa where he spent a considerable amount of time
LEFT: Simon Booth beside a map of Africa where he spent a considerable amount of time

Trek of a lifetimein name of charity

By LUIS FELIU

BANORA Point dad Simon Boon returned home to his family this week after a gruelling 17-day day motoring adventure of a lifetime.

The oil-and-gas logistics expert and former African tourexpedition leader took part in his first West Africa Challenge rally from the United Kingdom to Gambia, which raised funds and provided valuable medical equipment for a Gambian hospital.

Unlike professional rallies, the fundraising challenge had a limit on the cost of vehicles used - 100 pounds - to keep the big works teams out.

Mr Boon's trip got off to a rocky start soon after setting out on a ferry from Portsmouth on Boxing Day with his brother-in-law in their old Mercedes-Benz 250 sedan.

"The crossing to Bilbao in Spain was hair-raising - we were blown out of the harbour and and had a Force 9 gale all the way - it was rough as hell," he said.

On reaching Gambia's capital Banjul, Mr Boon donated everything they had to the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, including their car trailer, first-aid kits and an array of medical equipment they had bought along the way.

"It was a work in progress, if we weren't fixing gearboxes we were collecting for the hospital," he said.

A former rally driver in Britain, Mr Boon said the challenge was not a race but a test of endurance.

"Getting there is the main thing - once you start there is no back-up or support allowed, and if you break down or get sick you're on your own," he said. The trip cost him $20,000, including air fares, insurance and bribes.

"You need to, to get across the borders quickly, there's 55 checkpoints in Senegal and the border guards stand there with their AK-47s to reinforce the issue," he said.

"Everything went as planned apart from the car having a cardiac arrest in the centre of the Sahara, but that didn't stop us. We caught a lift with a fellow team and they towed our trailer with all the medical supplies the rest of the way.

"We had to tow the broken-down car across the border out of Morocco to avoid paying thousands of dollars in duty and sold its remains to a camel trader-turned car dealer in no-man's land between Morocco and Mauritania. He gave us 100 Euros which is what we paid for the car originally."

The camel-trader replaced the blown engine with a diesel one and converted it into a taxi which is still operating in Mauritania.

"When we arrived in Banjul, we were driven in a motorcade through the city with a police escort - Gambia TV and all the media was there," he said.

"We raised 120,000 pounds for the hospital plus the direct donations of vehicles and equipment - all up worth about 300,000 pounds.



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