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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 07:47 GMT
Crossing the Sahara in a 75 car

By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online, South East

Andy and Paul Camsell hand over the Panda in Nyofelleh
The Fiat Panda will be used to support a school and pharmacy
Two brothers have made a landmark journey across two continents and the Sahara in a 75 banger.

Andy and Paul Camsell set out on Boxing Day in a clapped-out Fiat Panda for the Plymouth-Dakar Rally 2004, intending to raise 10,000 for charity.

Three weeks and 4,110 miles later, they arrived in the Gambian village of Nyofelleh and handed over the car - still in working order - to a foundation running a school and pharmacy.

It was a real eye-opener - it wasn't what I expected it to be and it certainly wasn't a holiday
Andy Camsell

The brothers, both from Crowborough in East Sussex, have not yet managed to raise the sponsorship they hoped for but says the trip has changed their lives.

Father-of-three Andy, 34, said: "It was a real eye-opener - it wasn't what I expected it to be and it certainly wasn't a holiday.

"It's amazing how you see the difference out there. It makes you feel really humble.

"There are kids who walk barefoot five miles to school every day because they prize education so highly."

The computer engineer is now determined to raise more cash - and may even write a book about his experiences.

The Fiat Panda in the Sahara
In the desert the brothers slept in the car or camped by sand dunes

The journey started with a day-and-night slog through France and Spain to Gibraltar, where they met up with the other rally drivers.

Unlike the famous Paris-Dakar rally, the Plymouth version is a challenge for bangers that have seen better days.

Under the rally's rules, the competing cars have to cost less than 100 and no outside support is allowed.

After New Year celebrations in Marrakesh, the convoy headed on through Morocco to Agadir.

Andy said: "That's where things started going wrong.

Dirt tracks

"The car started making some really strange noises and, in the middle of a set of roadworks, smoke started billowing into the car. We leapt out."

The brothers, participating under the name Desert Prats, managed to fix what turned out to be an alternator problem - but lost most of their party in the meantime.

When they reached the Sahara - the most hazardous part of their journey - their 1989 Fiat Panda Sisley 4x4 Special Edition was accompanied only by a Ford Transit van and a Volvo.

Andy Camsell in the Western Sahara
The brothers crossed a minefield in the Sahara

"You cross into Mauritania and into the desert - and into the really dodgy part, with 17km of minefield," said Andy.

"After Morocco the tarmac ends and you're on dirt tracks. In the minefield you have what they call the old Spanish Road, just loose stones.

"It's really creepy in there - there are lots of cars about but everyone's picking their way through and you can see burnt-out cars all around."

However, it was the corruption at border crossings which proved to be a real challenge.

What I say is 'if I can drive to the Gambia, I can do anything'
Andy Camsell

"Everyone's asking for a 'petit cadeau' - that was a phrase we became quite familiar with," said Andy.

But everything changed when the brothers, now reunited with the rest of the convoy, reached the Gambia.

"We got to Banjul, where there was a victory parade," Andy said. "Everyone was flashing their lights, sounding their horns - it was absolutely superb."

The next day, the brothers made their way to Nyofelleh, where they donated their vehicle to the Derek Bailey Foundation.

Villagers in Nyofelleh learn the Hokey Cokey
The brothers taught the Nyofelleh villagers to Hokey Cokey

Andy has set up a link between the village's children and pupils at Sir Henry Fermor CE Primary School in Crowborough, where he is a PTA member.

He hopes to encourage his fellow parents to sponsor Nyofelleh's 300-pupil school, run by the foundation.

"Anything we do will be a drop in the ocean and it will never be an English school," he said.

"Here we raise money for computers - last year at my daughters' school we raised 10,000.

"If you did that for Nyofelleh, it would just be so much money - you could build so much and do so much.

"What I say now is, 'if I can drive to the Gambia, I can do anything'."

Banger drivers head for Sahara
26 Dec 03  |  Southern Counties
Wacky racers head for desert
19 Dec 03  |  Devon
Bath men rally to charitable cause
28 Jan 03  |  England

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