The 1959 Airstream Wally Byam African Caravan was the event not to miss. 41 Airstream families and 104 Caravanners made the journey to Africa, and every single one crossed the equator, either by sea or by air.
Equator-crossing ceremonies were held, a tradition of many seasoned sailors around the world. King Neptune, the Supreme Ruler, Monarch, and Potentate convened the first-timers, nicknamed Pollywogs. They were duly initiated into the mysterious Order of the Trident, recognizing their first equator crossing and their induction into the Brotherhood of the Nautilus.
Don and Genevieve Christie, Caravanners from Carmel, Indiana, went through the initiation as they traveled from the United States to Cape Town, South Africa, to meet the Caravan at its point of origin.
Both were goodhearted and friendly people. Don had a great sense of humor. Gen went out of her way to assist others. (When I needed a haircut, Gen did the clipping.)
Pete Turner, the Caravan photographer who later achieved great fame as a photographer for National Geographic, frequently had Don, Gen, and Airstream #1986 as his subjects. Don had a Groucho Marx mustache and even shared similar facial features. Though they didn’t look quite alike, they were similar in a way you couldn’t quite put into words. When Don wore his pith helmet, he was transformed. He became Spaulding from the Marx movie Animal Crackers. When wearing his Caravan Blue Beret, he became Groucho himself.
When you drive from Cape Town to Cairo, you cross the Equator several times within the depths of the Belgian Congo. Leave it to Don to have his equator land crossing all planned out.
Don crossed the equator in his Maidenform Bra, with assistance from a foundation around his hips. In one hand he held a massive spear, and in the other, an umbrella.
There were howls, hoots, laughter, commentary, and all-around enjoyment from the Caravanners upon Don spoofing it up. Natives observed in amazement this crazy person.
For personal aggrandizement, I began a repetitive crossing of the Equator from north to south, south to north so that I could claim to have crossed over 200 times. So much for my imagination at the age of twenty.
The Caravan also included the crossing the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.
It’s not just the roads, the natives, the scenery, and the wildlife that creates lasting memories. Meeting your geography head-on in your Airstream on the African continent leaves you with vivid lifetime memories.
Airstream owners in this century may not have the African Caravan, but geography runs in all directions, north, east, south, and west throughout North America. Even a weekend adventure can hold treasures along every road. Visit the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite or Maine’s rocky coastlines, Florida’s sandy beaches or Mount Rushmore. Retreat for a night, or escape for a month.
Your adventure, today, is the first time you hitch your Airstream to your tow vehicle and head out towards the horizon, finding memories in places you least expect.
by Dale Schwamborn