Mistaken Identity

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Not your typical AirBnB… It was advertised as a long wheelbase Land Rover : credit: © Neil Raven
Reader Neil Raven’s novel Airbnb came with an unexpected twist

Back in the dark winter nights, my wife (Mrs Rave) and I were trying to cheer ourselves up by looking around for some winter sun. Being typically tight Yorkshire folk, we were hunting for the best deals. We went through the process of searching budget holidays, as neither of us really likes just sitting on the beach and, to be honest, as a petrolhead, I could quite happily spend my annual leave in the garage with the welder and grinder fitting a roll cage to my rally car. Mrs Rave on the other hand, had other ideas, and came up with a fantastic solution. She found an Airbnb on offer which was advertised as a long wheelbase Land Rover which had been converted to provide slightly cramped but acceptable living and sleeping room in the back, on the sun-kissed island of Lanzarote. Sorted! A nice dose of sun, some mechanical fun and two new experiences for me – I’ve never been to Lanzarote, and never driven a Series Land Rover.

Lanzarote has quite a few decent off-road trails and, although wild camping isn’t allowed, there are no campsites – so camping off the beaten track is accepted as long as you respect the land. Flights booked, Land Rover booked and off-road trails checked, we sat back and looked forward to our adventure.

It was all very basic and easy to sort; just what the Ravens wanted

As we waited at the airport for our host to pick us up, we watched the rest of the people on our flight find their coach transport and disappear off on their sunshine vacation. A few WhatsApp messages later and we were in business and trundling off into the darkness to the garage in which the Land Rover that would serve as our holiday accommodation lay in wait. Our host was excellent and gave us a full tour of our four-wheeled companion for the next five days, explaining how the sink worked, where the gas bottle was and how to slide the sheet of 19mm ply wooden sheet out from under the seat and across the gap to make the bed. It was all very basic and easy to sort – just what we wanted.

Deposit paid and a bunch of keys handed over, the diesel lump cranked into life and we were off, down into a tight Lanzarote backstreet lined with cars – the newbie behind the power steering-less wheel soon getting to grips with the handling of the 2.5-tonne vehicle.

6ft 2in Neil’s thighs struck up a close relationship with the steering wheel, while his left knee flicked on the indicators and high beam

I must at this point also let you good readers know that I’m six feet two inches tall, and was rather surprised when I went to push the seat back from the previous driver – who could have been Jimmy Cranky – to find it didn’t actually go any further back. My inner thighs were striking up a very close relationship with the thin-spoked steering wheel and my left knee was involuntarily activating the indicators and lights on a regular basis. After a couple of shifts to and fro, we were negotiating our way down the pitch-black side streets looking for some food. Unbeknown to me at this point, the high beam lights were glaring away because the light stalk didn’t allow my knee to sit in any kind of natural position with it in the dipped position.

When I pushed the lever forward to dip the lights, I only just had the articulation in my ankle to move the clutch. Needless to say, we drove with full beam on for most of that night, although the lack of protest from oncoming traffic suggested their output wasn’t exactly blinding.

We headed off to our first night’s sleeping spot – I’ll call it a wild-camping location to sound adventurous. Our host had recommended a track on the west coast which offered several places to stop away from civilisation. We like to think we are fairly adventurous, opting for public transport from airports rather than paying for transfers to hotels, but that’s been the extent of our holiday independence thus far. As we rolled off the smooth tarmac, the cumbersome Land Rover came into its own. The rocky track woke up the springs and the steel pans and cutlery started clanking away as we rocked from side to side along the uneven surface. The track was flanked by rock to one side, and darkness to the other. The darkness was filling in the gap between the cliff side and the Atlantic a few hundred feet below; this was a level or two of adventurousness above a bus trip. We went over crests and down twisty turns and following the line on the map, and we decided to pull up at the end of a right-hand turn with the darkness ahead and to the right. We deployed the plywood, slipped the back rest cushion across and went to sleep wondering if the handbrake was on sufficiently, and what was lurking below.

Who needs a fully-fitted kitchen?

We woke up to the sound of crashing dark blue waves against jagged volcanic rock cliffs, with the spray lifted by the wind and giving a fresh mist over the Land Rover. We cracked out the camping table and stove and got the kettle on for a brew. The plywood bed was stowed away, and we had a luxurious breakfast of pastries and coffee that we’d picked up on the drive the night before. After breakfast we headed off on our tour of Lanzarote, taking in the main attractions but getting to them off-road wherever possible. We were still in the middle of nowhere, so we squeezed ourselves back in to the front seats and set off along the track to find the road to the west coast surfing Mecca at Famara Beach. Once past the La Santana torture camp, a specially designed site for triathletes to train and knock seven bells out of themselves, we picked up a cracking track that ran along the coast.

The Landy dropped back into its comfort zone and we started towards the edge of ours. We have competed on production car trials for many years but not many of those have steep rocky descents and sections of gripless sand. Of course, the Land Rover took it all in its stride, and we enjoyed some great routes off the beaten track to get to our lunch halt by the beach. We had started to get to know our new mechanical friend and Mrs Rave was overcome by the smell of expensive perfume wafting from behind her seat – diesel. The tank was full and either leaking, or the breather was working overtime. The swaying left to right on the tracks wasn’t helping, sloshing the oily liquid around the ageing steel tin. Fortunately, the smell subsided as the fuel level dropped, but that was after two full days of adventuring.

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Leaf springs rather than coils confirms this as a 1984 Santana – or as the Ravens called it, Sandy

The other thing this newbie Landy user was finding a bit bemusing was the distinct lack of Land Rover badges and other identification. Instead, there was a lightning flash and the word ‘Santana’ marked on the dash and mud flaps. A few texts back and forth to knowledgeable types, LRM contributor and friend David Barker being one, who instantly spotted from the photo I’d posted that our Land Rover had rather an unusual front end and one-piece windscreen – this confirmed we weren’t actually in a Land Rover but a Santana – or as we would affectionately call it, Sandy.

This did bring about a waft of disappointment which overcame the diesel fumes, but it only lasted a few seconds. As many of you know, these were made under licence by the Spanish and are in essence a Land Rover with a Spanish accent, the main difference with this model was the domestic Land Rovers of this age had coil springs and the Santana still sported leaf springs. I’ll leave that conversation there.

I’d managed to perfect squeezing my lithe frame in and out of the Jimmy Cranky seating position and the elevated view gave us a better look at the scenery around us. The island is flooded with Fiat 500 hire cars, awful things, but we were the only Santana on the island which brought plenty of attention and smiles from onlookers. We had fellow tourists taking pictures as we drove past and a few smiling knowingly. The complete lack of steering response only really showed on the tarmac, and the black soot only appeared on up-hills and I think on one overtake, when I was being especially brave. Most importantly, we had grins from ear to ear throughout our holiday.

The trip’s sole mechanical mishap – the driver’s window fell off its runner. Neil enjoyed the fix

One part of the wild camping experience is finding toilets and wash facilities. During one such foray into Las Coloradas, we parked the Santana and went to wind the window up. The glass promptly fell off the runners, and disappeared in to the door. Bugger. Perhaps I was going to get a bit of messing around with cars in on my week off after all! I set off to find a screwdriver and half an hour later I returned with a €9 toolkit and set to removing the door card. Five minutes later it was off and the window reunited with its runners. As a positive, I must report that was the only mechanical mishap we had over five days of driving. There were lots of noises and clunks, but we guessed they were part of the Santana experience.

Our next night’s sleep would be on the edge of a glorious sandy beach of Playa Mujeres. We pitched up in the dark after gathering provisions and had a wonderful evening listening to the waves rolling on to the golden sand. I went for a midnight dip to sooth my twisted body and enjoyed a very comfortable night’s kip. Sandy turned into a drying horse in the morning, and the hot sun dried out our towels in no time. There was a plastic water bladder that had a tube on it, which you hooked up on the side of the vehicle to act as a shower, but a quick wipe round your bits and pits with a wet wipe sufficed as a wash. The sea also doubled as a big bath, so we kept some form of hygiene during the holiday.

Sandy became a great friend over the holiday, and guided us through our first taste of extremely mild off-roading. As the sun shone, my left arm was tanning nicely after adopting the Land Rover pose of arm out of the window to give you that bit of movement to steer it. The rumble from the big knobbly tyres was our soundtrack, along with the odd gearbox crunch and laboured engine on some steep uphills over the lava fields. The smell of diesel will always take me back to this holiday and the wonderful disconnect from a maddening world. We had five days of basic living and the freedom to roam free. To me that’s what motoring is all about, and the Land Rover (well, the Santana) opens up a whole new world of options because you’re not tied to the tarmac roads, you can quite literally go anywhere.

 

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