Ambulance technician Mark Whitfield has been speaking about his epic journey across the Sahara desert to donate an ambulance to a hospital in Senegal.

Mark, 31, returned to work in Tolworth last week after the month-long road trip to Africa with his fiancée, Viv Lind and college friend, Julian Hobson. The trio bought the decommissioned training vehicle from London Ambulance Service and drove it 3,000 miles to a hospital in Senegal's capital, Dakar - then spent a week training staff how to use it.

Mark, who has been a paramedic in New Malden and Tolworth for nearly four years, said: "It was such a relief to get the ambulance there in one piece. One of them said it was the best ambulance they had ever seen, and we were quite touched by that. I hope it will make a difference."

Mark, of Goldcliff Close, Morden, made the trip as part of the Plymouth to Banjul banger car rally, which aims to drive clapped-out cars to West Africa whilst raising money for African charities in sponsorship.

Mark and Julian studied engineering together at college so both are trained car mechanics. With Viv, they spent about £7,000 in total on the trip, taking into account the £450 cost of the ambulance, repairs, equipment, petrol to West Africa and living costs.

Mark said: "We have had about £1,500 in donations from friends and family, but have been too busy to fundraise."

Mark called the rally organisers when he heard the ambulance service was getting rid of some old vehicles.

He explained: "They said African countries are crying out for that kind of stuff, and if I could get one of them out there I would have a guaranteed place in the rally. It escalated with getting more equipment. It has taken a huge amount of planning."

The three friends set off on December 22, and arrived in Dakar on January 16. Along the way, they spent Christmas in the Pyrenees and New Year's Day in Marrakech, and drove through Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania.

Often, they slept in the ambulance and lived on dried noodles and iodine-sterilised tap water to save money. Mark said: "It was so freezing in Europe, there was ice on the inside of the ambulance. But in Senegal, it is 100 degrees and the sand and dust gets absolutely everywhere."

The ambulance had its share of adventures - it was impounded on the Moroccan border, and they had to get Viv's father to send an official-looking fax to secure its release. Beggars followed it constantly in Africa and it was pounded with rocks in Western Sahara.

In Mauritania, the team had to bribe their way through countless police checkpoints with everything from pens to clothing, which Mark described as "friendly robbery". They even rescued a stranded European man from the Sahara desert whose car had broken down, and he had been wandering for 15km looking for help.

They took him to the nearest town. Mark said: "It would have been very dodgy for him if we hadn't seen him in that heat."

The lifesaving team handed the ambulance over to the Dakar hospital on January 18, supported by the British ambassador to Senegal and much military ceremony. The city previously only had one ambulance for a million people.

Mark said: "It was a great thing to do and we really enjoyed it, even if it is not something I would do again. It was very stressful and we didn't know what would be next."

"They seemed to really appreciate the ambulance - I hope it will last them a long time."

- To read more or donate to the cost of the trip, visit ambu lance