March 22 • 02:19 AM

Global trek includes fair

Imlay City a stop on couple's 5 year journey traveling the world in Land Rover

August 12, 2009
IMLAY CITY — For a couple who's seen the wilds of the jungle and the majesty of the pyramids of Egypt it seems the Eastern Michigan Fair would hold little allure.

Unless you're Leone and Jan Vorster, a South African couple who's been on the mother of all road trips for the past decade or so.

In a specially outfitted Land Rover they lovingly refer to as the 'little Dipli,' they left Johannesburg, South Africa in June of 1998 in their quest to travel the globe.

"You could say we traveled 150,000 miles over 88 countries just to get to the Eastern Michigan Fair," Jan says, a twinkle in his eye.

Little Dipli? Yes. The mighty four wheel drive machine is as mighty as the diplodocus dinosaur, the longest land animal ever known in existence.

The Quest? Ten-plus years, 11 summers? Yes and no. The Vorsters spend six months of each year on the road, the other six they're back at home in Johannesburg. It just so happens the plan includes year-round summer.

South African couple Leone and Jan Vorster chat with Fair Manager Ian Kempf about their overland travels around the globe in their Land Rover after taking in the sights and sounds of the Eastern Michigan Fair on Friday. photo by Catherine Minolli.

Fair weather friends

The Vorsters have always loved travel. They took their first major road trip in a tiny Citroen back in 1969. Three years later, they were still cramming all they could carry into the little two-seater French car, having spent their time touring Europe and North America.

"We drove from Ottawa to Buenos Aires in that Citroen," Jan laughs. "I don't know if you're familiar with the car but they're like a VW bug gone wrong."

Still, it was right enough to accommodate two rucksacks and a tent that they pitched 700 times before Jan stopped keeping count.

The couple ventured out again, this time with two young daughters in tow in from 1980-81. They traveled South America that time.

"Let's just say with 4- and 6-year-old daughters in tow, a year in a motorhome taught them discipline," Jan says.

They began their latest journey in 1998, then just a dot on a map of the globe stretched across the side of their Land Rover.

For five and a half of the past six years, they've traversed the globe, concentrating on the United States over the past three years.

"Last year we traveled the northwest (US) up to Alaska," Jan says. "This year we're covering the south and center (of the US). This is our third six month (travel) period."

They go back to Johannesburg every October, a requirement mandated by the U.S. government in 2007.

Travelers are only allowed to stay in the country for six months.

"We travel from April to October, which is basically summer here and we are back home from October to April," Jan says, then grins. "The last winter we experienced was four years ago."

Jan, who holds a master's degree in metalurgy, is retired from a small civil company he owned. Leone is a "semi-retired" librarian— "semi" because she reads and studies countless guide books and writes the couple's travelogues.

A wild ride

Though the midway was hopping at the fair, Jan and Leone were taking a rest in their custom Land Rover. The vehicle was built before the 1996-97 model year. Jan has owned it since 1998. It's high profile is not just for fun, it's a necessity for overland trips, Jan adds.

"Here you take your four by four and go out to a forest two track and have your fun," he says. "In some parts of the world the forest two track is the road."

The heavy sheet metal riveted to the windows is also a necessity, Jan adds, though not necessarily right now.

"The US has no crime," he says. "You think you have but you don't compared to most of the world."

Perhaps most unique is Jan can drive the Land Rover on both the left- and right- hand sides of the road.

"A third of the world drives on the right side," he says. "It takes about two hours to make the switch."

Lasting impressions

The Vorsters say they're thrilled to be in the US right now, where things are comparatively easy.

"It's relaxing to get to a country where everything works, where the police aren't corrupt and things are clean," Jan says.

Two things really stand out in the couple's minds after spending months in the US:

"US culture doesn't vary much from coast to coast," Jan says. "And there's spectacular natural scenery and spectacular man made things...museums and art galleries."

"Everyone tries to make something out of nothing and we suffer from impression overload," Jan says. "But it's an affluent country and there are lots of people who donate things to make museums and history nice and important."

As for the fair, they found out about it when they crossed the Blue Water Bridge into Port Huron. They'd been traveling around Ontario, which they entered through Minnesota, and chose Michigan to make their entry back into the US.

"We stopped at the visitor's information center," Leone notes. "We were looking for the state fair but the person told us about this one. We're glad we came."

To learn more about Jan and Leone's adventures, visit and look for Overland Travels. The Vorsters' logs and photos are listed under 'Overland with Dipli.'

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