The Chalbi Desert is considered one of the most inhospitable places to live in in the whole of Kenya. Yet this is home to the Gabbra and the Rendille people. Here, a day can be a 50°C affair in one instance and a wet, rainy situation in another. So be prepared to drive across a dry river bed in the morning and a non-navigable shallow lake in the afternoon!
Getting through the ocean of hot and dry volcanic sand can be a treacherous affair if your safari includes the Chalbi. Only a four-wheel drive can survive the varied seasons of this ancient sandy desert and the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser Hardtop becomes your closest friend.
For over 40 years, since its début in 1954, the Land Cruiser has built a reputation for overcoming rugged terrain like the Chalbi desert with ease. Toyota’s tried and tested 4.2-litre diesel engine forms the backbone of the Land Cruiser range.
Getting stuck in the sands of time in the desert is almost an inevitable reality but Toyota’s low-down torque technology offers increased tractability while its 4WD adds the final kick that keeps you going.
The Toyota experience that many travellers and tour companies have come to rely heavily on has a rich history behind it. In 1941 the Imperial Japanese Army occupied the Philippines, where they found an old Bantam Mk II Willy’s Jeep that was used by the US army, and promptly brought it to Japan.
The Japanese military authorities commanded Toyota to make a similar vehicle but to not model the appearance on the American Jeep. The prototype was called the Model AK and was formally adopted by the Japanese Imperial Army as the Yon-Shiki Kogata Kamotsu-Sha – a very long name for a car.
Later in 1941, the Japanese government asked Toyota to produce a light truck for Japan’s military campaign. Toyota developed a 1/2 ton prototype called the AK10 in 1942. The AK10 was built using reverse engineering from the Bantam GP.
The truck featured an upright front grille, flat front wheel arches that angled down and back like the FJ40, headlights mounted above the wheel arches on either side of the radiator and a folding windshield.
Since then the Toyota has gone through a series of developments from the 20 series models to the recent 200 series that saw the Toyota take a drastic departure from the traditional styling that even raised heated criticisms in the marketplace as Toyota tried to keep with the changing times of the 21st-century automobile market place.
If you ask many tour guides, the Land Cruiser hardtop 70 still is a favourite. It has stood the test of time and continues to ensure that safaris to places as treacherous as the Chalbi are navigable. What are your thoughts on the best off-road vehicles to navigate Kenya’s uncharted terrains? Share your views by commenting below.