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Let’s off road!

“Although we had to get up at the ungodly hour of 5.30 in the morning we were pretty excited about the next two days – myself, Jake and Sarah were set for a great time! As part of the Logistics Skills Development Project, we had been sent to Gibraltar to take part in a two day fleet management and off-road driving course (I know, life is hard). Our off-roading skills were pretty limited; Jake and myself had never done it before and it had been some time since our resident Aussie had had a go.

The first day we had a tour of Toyota Gibraltar Stockholding (TGS), which is the company that both runs the course and sells us the Landcruisers; it was nice to put faces to names of the people that we’d been emailing about the cars. A classroom session on fleet management (the job of looking after all the cars owned by a country programme) and safe driving followed, then our knowledge was tested as we went into the garage to run through the checks that Save the Children employed drivers have to run through before they take the cars out.

I’m sure that our instructor, Cor, must have had a few private chuckles as pretty much the only things we knew about under the bonnet were the oil and water! He was very patient with us though, and explained the reasons behind the things we were checking and how they work within the engine – I definitely know more about the inside of an engine than I did before. We were checking brake fluid, clutch fluid, how to find out if there’s water in the oil and the engine (and what to do about it), how to tell if the head gasket has blown (and what it is!), air filters, coolant levels and so much more.

For a little r&r after, we took one of the Landcruisers – the 76, our personal favourite – for a little tour of the Rock. There’s some pretty steep parts, even if the roads are tarmaced, and it was reassuring to be in such a capable vehicle (and driver – thanks Cor!). We saw the famous monkeys, which were much more placid than I had expected, although the heat and lack of tourists could have contributed to that, then it was off to pick up the other Landcruiser and home for a late dinner.

The next day (yep, same time of the morning) we met Cor on the mainland in Tarifa – as Gibraltar doesn’t really have any off-road at all – and it was time for the fun! We drove about on dirt tracks for the morning, getting used to the cars and using the different kinds of 4 wheel drive, which I didn’t even know about – I figured 4 wheel drive was all the same, but apparently not. The high drive gives you the 4 wheel drive control but you can still get some speed up whereas the low drive is really slow for extreme terrain, the car pretty much drives itself in low so that all you have to do is steer, which is really useful when you’re trying to go down a 50% incline!

We played with the electric winches and discovered why the hand winches are better (they don’t run the battery of the car down!) and got investigated by some curious cows. The reason for the winch demonstration became apparent after lunch when we had to ‘rescue’ one car using the winches from the other – which was kinda cool and gave us a bit more confidence about being out and about in the field. We were going to do some really steep up and down stuff but it had been raining a couple of days before and so after the inital demonstration run driven by Cor, the ground on the approach was too ripped up to get back up the hill.

Honestly I was sort of relieved as it had been a pretty hairy experience as a passenger, but it would have been good experience to try it. It was, however, a good lesson in what can happen when (for example) driving in a convoy. So instead we practiced controlled reversing down a slope for when the car stalls. With 3 of us all having a go, all this had taken us near 12 hours and so we trundled off for a drink with Cor – although there was a designated driver! – to say our goodbyes.

It was a great experience and I feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to do it, and I definitely feel way more confident about running a fleet and looking after the drivers, which was pretty much the idea! Thanks to Cor and the guys at TGS :D”

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