The Indestructible Beetle

It was 1971, just before Big Five was officially launched, though the idea of adventure was already instilled in me. This story takes place when I was 23 years old which is ironic since I just turned 75 a few days ago. A group of friends in Kenya and I decided to take a trip to Lake Turkana, one of the most remote locations in Kenya. There were 14 of us split between three classic Land Rovers and one old-fashioned water-cooled VW Beetle. The Rovers were all heavy trucks with iron cladding fit with everything from a 4×4 transfer case to a snorkel and off road gear. The Beetle, on the other hand, was an original design, water cooled engine in the back and nothing special added to it, except for its driver, Sukhi Patel, a dear friend. Sukhi could drive anything on wheels in a manner nobody else could. Three of us drove to Kitale, 3.5 hours from Nairobi. Here we were joined by 11 others (two in our party were friends of friends and were newly married).

After several nights in Kitale, we carried on to Lake Turkana, the second leg, a 10-hour ride on dirt and muddy roads. Sukhi let me drive the Beetle on dirt roads, however, in the mud, he was back in charge. Along the way, one of the Rovers had a flat tire and got stuck; another had a fan belt snap also got stuck. Fortunately, we had a mechanic in the group, as in those days, no roadside assistance existed. The final Rover had a mechanical issue also requiring repair work. The Beetle, with its underpowered engine, 4-speed manual, no 4wd, and no ground clearance, carried on without a hiccup. The local Meru and Turkana tribes came out and helped us along the way, letting us enter their communities and offering the hospitality Kenyans are famous for.


Once at Lake Turkana we set up our beds on the platform sleeping under the stars. There was no hotel here, only one tent for the newlyweds and a platform with sleeping pads for the rest of us. We had to create a perimeter around our platform using Gamatox powder (dry sulfur), a great home remedy to keep the poisonous critters away. We slept soundly, knowing nothing venomous was crossing our powdered barrier until we heard a yell from the tent. The groom had been bitten by a scorpion!

Two hours from the closest civilization, with no doctor in sight, a witch doctor from the local community graciously helped us remove the poison from the bite. The groom was screaming so loudly in pain, you could likely hear him in Cairo. How do we take the edge off the pain, we wonder? A few minutes later we had our solution, which in hindsight may not have been a medically approved procedure, a bottle of whiskey. Once the poison and the edge were both removed, the patient relaxed, and we took a sigh of relief. By 9:00 AM the next morning, he was somewhat back to normal. The sun was scorching, so we jumped into the lake to cool off, even pushing our bite victim in with us. At this point, he was safer in the water than he was left unsupervised on land.


Back home we went after our adventure at Turkana, and once again the Beetle reached home without incident. I started Big Five two years later.

A True Timeline;

Dear Advisor Partners,


My family is entrenched in Africa, from Kenya; on my wife’s side, Uganda. What some of you may not know is that my mother and her family are from Sudan, a place I visited as a child and remember vividly. In fact, my memories of Sudan serve as a benchmark for what I see as authentic experiences, and it is a goal of mine to someday see tourism part of the equation in a future Sudan. That is why this is likely the most important blog I have shared with you in my 20+ years at Big Five and in the 50 years of Big Five’s existence.


All of you by now have seen the news of the unrest in Sudan, however you may not know that we had a front row seat at the unrest, as my mom’s brother and my uncle, Kaushik Mehta, lived in a suburb of Khartoum. My parents would speak to him daily, often with limited connection due to the power and water outages even with solar panels on his roof. When the unrest started, my aunt, uncle, and their friends made a plan to painfully leave their birthplace, leaving everything they owned to become refugees as they fled to India. The last time I heard about members of our family fleeing was when my father in law and his parents left Uganda when Idi Amin was in power. This time, it was unfolding in real time. My mother in her wisdom, asked my uncle to chronicle his journey when he finally left Sudan. Today at 70 years old, he is safely in India, in quarantine, making his way to our home in Pune, forced to start his life over again. Below is a timeline of their exodus written by my uncle’s nephew, Niral Mehta, who traveled with the group and was instrumental in making sure the whole party was evacuated. The below was written while sitting in quarantine in India.


April 13, 2023: News of the unrest between the two armies started to spread but was not taken seriously.


April 14, 2023: The Sudanese army warned citizens that the country’s biggest paramilitary was mobilizing troops in cities across the country.

  • 6:00 AM: Fear setting in among citizens. People starting to take shelter.
  • 7:20 PM: Urgent message sent out by the Sudanese army that the situation has escalated and a complete closure of roads to Omdurman (where our family lived)


April 15, 2023: A possible peaceful resolution that never happened

  • 12:59 AM: Al Jazeera reports that both parties were meeting to ease tensions, or so we thought.
  • 11:30 AM: Strong sounds of gunfire heard from our home. My uncle writes “May God protect us.” Fear turns to panic.
  • 11:47 AM: Videos start to circulate that shops and offices are closing. Those residing in Khartoum could no longer go back home as the bridge was closed, so they sheltered in homes in Omdurman residential areas with relatives. Some people had not left home for 2 weeks.
  • 12:25 PM: The unrest reached Khartoum airport and all flights stopped. Flying out from the main airport was no longer possible. Power and water were now cut in Khartoum. People started purchasing electricity which you could store in your prepaid meters in Sudan. Mobile phone Sim cards were refilled before it was no longer available. Some began transferring payments to relatives outside the affected before the generators powering the network headquarters ran out of fuel.
  • 1:27 PM: The Indian Embassy in Khartoum begins communicating with all registered Indians via WhatsApp group as there was no other way to communicate. All banks closed and accounts frozen. Internet and network signals become intermittent.
  • 2:29 PM: Heavy gunfire, including aircraft guns and anti-aircraft artillery, can be heard.


April 16, 2023: A community member is lost.

  • Local citizen Albert Dal has been killed. He was hit by gunfire through his home window on the 11th floor. Nobody could get to his home due to heavy gunfire.
  • Bombing and gunfire has increased to the point where nobody can leave their homes except out of necessity for 10 minutes to get vegetables and bread which was available in limited supply.
  • 9:38 AM: Indian Embassy sends a google form out to complete so they can get an accurate count of how many to evacuate.
  • 12:32 PM: Indian Embassy starts a second chat group as the first one is filled to capacity.
  • 11:24 PM: Khartoum airport closed due to runway damage. At the same time a shelter in place order was sent out by the Indian embassy.


April 19, 2023: Mandatory shelter in place

  • Land Cruiser traveling from Khartoum to Wad Medani was shelled with occupants killed.


April 21, 2023: Evacuation plan

  • Idea for a 13-hour drive to Port Sudan though concerns were raised about traveling amid gunfire.
  • Fuel shortages also a concern to complete 13 hour drive without being stranded as 2 routes to Port Sudan pass through conflict zones.
  • Official count from Indian Embassy, 3,000 Indians stranded in Sudan.


April 22, 2023: We’re all alone

  • 8:52 AM: The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised that nationals from US, UK France, Germany, South Korea, and China were advised of evacuation plan. Panic set in as India was not mentioned in the statement.
  • Port Sudan was designated the evacuation route however, nobody had yet completed the 13 hour drive during present conditions, so there are too many unknowns.


April 23, 2023: Signs of hope

  • 1:13 AM: Video received from first group who safely completed the 13 hour drive to Port Sudan.
  • Bomb explosion sounds heard in Khartoum. Things getting dire.
  • Evacuation plan decision made. It was time to leave for Port Sudan.
  • Transport had to be pooled due to cost and limited access to funds.


April 25, 2023: Difficult decisions

  • Ambulance needed to accompany the bus for bedridden member of evacuation party.
  • Bus capacity had 49 seats. Google form created for sign up for those interested in leaving. Two hours later there were 170 names applying for 49 seats. Eventually four buses and three ambulances sourced. Now paying for that transport was the issue otherwise will they still show up?
  • Numerous messages received from relatives demanding we leave immediately. We have to have a plan first.
  • In the end 5 buses and 1200 bottles of water arranged and confirmed.


April 26, 2023: We will be refugees

  • 9:00 AM: Requests sent to Ministry of Foreign affairs to arrange transportation from Jeddah should those at Port Sudan be allowed to cross over to Saudi Arabia.
  • All health and dietary complications needed to be accounted for.
  • Meetings took place at Niraj’s home with those attending risking gunfire to attend.
  • Responsibilities all assigned to handle bus bookings, money collections, ambulances, and fuel.
  • Sadly while those who came to meetings were at our home, their fuel was stolen from their homes by looters.


April 27, 2023: We are leaving and there is no going back

  • Finally, we are leaving. Buses arranged by Sanjay Kothari, a fellow community member.
  • Firing and bombing continues black smoke everywhere.
  • Everyone is carrying enough food for 3 days in case we get stranded.
  • 6:30 AM: Five buses and three ambulances depart Omdurman Indian School – 807 KM 12+ hours.
  • Five hours in, necessary stop made at Al Haya. No water, no fuel, and no network connection on the route. All buses fitted with freezers to preserve food since there was nothing available to buy en route.
  • One ambulance arrived at Al Haya late due to tire blowout on the road.
  • 90 KM from Al Haya, true Sudanese hospitality appears with the Sinkat indigenous community.  They offered us tea, coffee, and sandwiches, anything needed for a safe journey. Even though they may not get food tomorrow due to the unrest, they were ready to give us what they had. This is the real Sudan.
  • 5:50 PM finally approached at Port Sudan. Refugee camp set up as no space was left anywhere else.
  • Price gouging evidenced all over Port Sudan from those renting out flats for USD 10,000 per month. Food and drinks prices are tripled. Where do we get the money for this? The refugee camp was the only option for many of us.
  • We learned Omdurman bridge connecting to Khartoum was destroyed right after we left. There is no going back.
  • Milan Parekh was the true hero. He helped everyone who could leave get out.


April 30, 2023: Reaching Port Sudan airport, but there is a problem

  • Military buses provided to take everyone 25 KN to Port Sudan airport.
  • The mood is lighter today. We all realize this is a life story we are experiencing.
  • Out of approximately 300 people, only 135 were approved as last minute rule denying Sudanese passports holders, OCI (Overseas Citizens of India), and ambulance patients were denied boarding.
  • Indian military cargo plane landed with seats installed. There was no room to take extra passengers.
  • Plane lands in Jeddah to a royal welcome with fresh food. Three buses took passengers to Jeddah Indian School.
  • Bedding and sheets all new. This is the first shower and change of clothes in days for some.


May 1, 2023: India!

  • Indigo Airlines flight #8657 departed for Ahmedabad, India, at 3:57 AM with 210 passengers on board.
  • We left everything we owned in Sudan except what we packed. We must all now start life over.


May 4, 2023: Second flight out

  • Military aircraft landed in Port Sudan to pick up those left behind (including Kaushik Mehta) with OCI cards that were denied entry into Jeddah.
  • Direct flight from Port Sudan to Ahmedabad, India, by military cargo plane. This was the first time in history this route had been flown.
  • No room for anyone and all seats were taken with others on the floor.


As a former British colony, Sudan had a sizeable Indian population. According to the Indian embassy in Khartoum, which is presently shuttered and evacuated, the settled Indian community in Sudan is about 150 years young. The first Indian Luvchand Amarchand Shah, a Gujarati trader who imported goods from India, is believed to have come to Sudan from Aden in the early 1860s. When his business expanded, he brought his relatives from Saurashtra, who in turn invited their own friends and family. This is how the Indian community grew and developed in Sudan. From the small towns in the eastern part of the country, Port Sudan and Sawakin, the early Indian pioneers moved into the interior of the country and settled down in Omdurman, Kassala, Gedaref and Wad Medani.

As someone with family in Sudan, you know the current situation is not easily solved. As a part of the tourism industry and a regional member of the WTTC, you know that Sudan, like Rwanda, does have a future at some point that involves tourism as a key export.

A visual illustration of the Exit from Sudan. Click below


The New Podcast Episode

Dear Advisor Partners,


This week we change gears. Yes, again. Many of you know and listen to our podcast, the Sustainable Voice, on Apple, Spotify, and Amazon, to which I say thank you with the utmost gratitude. On several of those episodes, I was joined by one of our many amazing travel advisor partners, Robin Cline of Cline & Co Travel Consulting, where we covered everything from tourism, and powering women’s rights in Egypt to Colombia’s transformation through Medellin. Now, Robin has her very own podcast, The Intrepid Traveler, which I have been a guest on, as have many of our partner colleagues. Our viewpoints on many things travel are aligned, and it seems we laugh harder on each episode as we explore these topics even further.


After our most recent recording, where we talked about the origins of our careers and how we ended up in tourism, along with our introduction to sustainability, the conversation turned to current events and the inaccuracy with which this is reported at times.  As Robin is sharing her stories about what is happening in France and me about what is happening in Sudan, I began to wonder why there isn’t a reality show of sorts on our daily lives in this industry. It would certainly be more entertaining than seeing yet another Kardashian drama! All of a sudden, we had an epiphany, why not create a monthly episode on both of our podcasts where we can review the month we both just had and talk about the events that made the news that perhaps wasn’t “front page” material or in some cases, wasn’t even real news at all.


May I share the trailer Robin and I recorded for our new monthly podcast episode, Things We Shouldn’t Freak Out About. Our first episode is set to go live at the end of this month, and I cannot wait to see where this topic takes us.

For more information on The Sustainable Voice, click here, or ask Alexa (I always wanted to say that)


Enjoy this week’s video –

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