The Defenders

Let’s play a game of association: Hemingway. The British Empire. Safari. Adventure. War. Afghanistan. Africa. Big game hunting. British countryside.

One of the things that should come to mind is the iconic Land Rover Defender. Originally known as the Land Rover 90 and 110, the Defender is the most beautiful car ever created. As summarized by Jason Barlow in a eulogy for the Defender in 2016, when the classic version was taken out of production:

Needless to say, I loved it. As did everyone else who saw it, including one friend who owns a 190,000-mile Toyota Land Cruiser, Japan’s more consistently evolved Defender parallel. 

“In many ways, I think that’s one of the worst cars I’ve ever driven,” he told me after a short go. “I’m ordering one next week.”

And there’s the rub: the Defender neutralises all rational thought, possibly by teleporting you back to a time your memory insists was simpler (classic cars perform this Jedi mind trick, too). It has a ladder chassis, agricultural suspension, and even with a newfangled acoustic engine cover, it’s hellishly noisy above 60mph. So don’t bother pushing, unless you’re scaling a mountain.

In a Defender, social media means lowering the window and having an actual conversation with a fellow human being. In other words, this car’s mid- 20th-century roots are matched by the mind-set you quickly adopt when you’re driving it. Weirdly, and for all its inherent lack of refinement, the Land Rover Defender ends up being that most cherished of things: a blissful escape.

In Uganda, the Land Rover club goes on frequent trips to play with their Defenders. Lacking a car, I am not a member. Luckily, my friend Ingrid is. Consequently, I get to weasel my way into driving a Defender around the dirt roads of southern Uganda.

Exhibit 1: Our Defender trip to Jinja and back. Purpose? Drive, take photos of the beautiful machines, eat lunch and then drive some more. #noshame

We did make a short stop at Itanda Falls on the Nile River to dip our feet in the water and admire the water: