Follow the Adventures of a group through our longest and toughest expedition. The Ultimate Trans Africa. An amazing tour starting London then through Africa in 43 weeks, down the entire west coast then back up thru eastern Africa and into the Middle East, ending in Istanbul.
The truck continued on but was soon stopped by a 4×4 full of police and various other characters of unknown origin and purpose accusing the driver of hit and run and complaining they had to conduct a high speed chase to apprehend us. 30 km an hour was the top speed of said chase. So it was we were directed back to the police head quarters for the driver to face prosecution and to view the terrible injuries sustained by the victim.
Witnesses emerged from all over to support the story of the wretch hit by the truck although none of their stories quite matched. His near terminal injuries consisted of a scraped elbow though he claimed the truck hit him in the back. The driver explained to the police that if this frail framed individual had in fact been hit by our mighty chariot he would have undergone a non reversible transition into the 2nd dimension and would have been a mural on the tarmac. The police insisted that “seeing is believing” and we were guilty. They demanded that we pay suitable compensation for the victim’s injuries.
The driver, Mr. Foreman, was most upset and opted for prosecution rather than pay. So, leaving the responsible passengers in charge of the chariot, he was led out the back of the headquarters into what looked like a pig pen where he was sat down on a plastic drum under heavy armed guard. Sharing the area with 4 other criminals and 2 prostitutes chained at the ankles. Four hours later and after much pestering from the police they managed to extract the equivalent of $7 US dollars from the driver and we were set free.
The border crossing went surprisingly smooth and even the money changers weren’t too unfair in their trade. Our journey from there was hindered by enormous herds of goats and camels being marched along the road to heaven knows where. The surrounding countryside was a swamp and it looked as if bush camps were going to be hard to find. It was getting quite late and we had lost a lot of time with the police. Eventually we found a little track and parked off the road leaving the back wheels of the truck on as solid ground as possible.
Inevitably the rain pounded down that night and by morning the road out was a slick mud slide. Shovels were out and people carted rocks in to get traction. Try as we might the truck could not get back up the hill and was starting to slip sideways which really was not a good thing. After many hours things began to dry a little. A handy tractor rattled past and was hailed down. With their assistance our Scania was dragged free and back onto good road.
On our journey to Khartoum we had a classy camp out the back of a service station and next day negotiated the streets into the capital where we stayed at the Blue Nile Sailing Club. Just down the river is where the two Nile’s meet. The White Nile from Uganda and the Blue Nile from Ethiopia.
The boats trips were stupidly priced so the guys wandered down to the bridge where the junction could be seen. Here they were harassed by police not to take any photographs, something the Sudanese seem a little touchy on.
After Khartoum we journeyed onwards to the Pyramids of Meroe and stayed around behind the hills and dunes for a very breezy night and no small amount of sand blasting.
Karima was the next stop. Set upon the Nile there are some more small pyramids, a museum and a temple with some impressive hieroglyphs on the walls inside. By now we were right in amongst the scorching deserts and temperatures were in the high 40’s.
There now is a good tarmac road all the way to our Sudanese departure point, Wadi Halfa. Though, as we did, it is still possible to follow some of the small dirt roads along the river and through the many small villages. The occasional store can be found with cold drinks for sale.
Eventually we arrived at the northern Sudan port of Wadi Halfa along the shores of Lake Nasser. Here we make arrangements for the ferry crossing into Egypt. Currently there is no open road for tourists into Egypt and we are forced to pay the extortionate rates charged by the ferry company. The truck needs to go on a separate barge to the passenger ferry and the trick is to coordinate the 2 together. Somehow our plans went astray and no truck barge was coming despite assurances from previous phone calls that the barge in question had already left.
The stories constantly changed as we attempted to make other arrangements and eventually settled on leaving our truck in Sudan for an extra week and sharing a barge with another overland company making their way along the same route. In theory we would share the cost of the barge but the ferry company had other ideas and are charging us $2000 US dollars in addition to the monies already paid. A bit like renting a car to somebody then charging them more for additional passengers. Little can be done at the moment for, as the way things are, they do have us over the metaphorical barrel.
The overnight ferry ride to Egypt had mixed reviews from the guys depending on how well they slept. Greg loved the journey whilst Sean lay awake the entire night. Mick was woken up at some ungodly hour by a man wanting to know about the current political situation in England. Mick is Australian. He may well could’ve known but claimed not to and the man went away. Hannah, Kirsty and Claire were parked up on the deck where the prayer sessions were being held and weren’t too popular. Hisashi was tolerated however and slept peacefully as people prayed around him.
So we arrived in Egypt and found ourselves being picked up by our reliable assistant, Mr. Abouda, and taken to an air conditioned hotel in Aswan. Luxury at its finest. Here some have already sinfully indulged in the culinary wonders of the Golden Arches and KFC. There are also other near forgotten pleasures rediscovered such as beer and wine. As for activities, some went to behold the marvels of the mighty temple of Abu Simbel and the Sound and light show of Philae.
We continue north after this. We’ll sail the Nile in a felucca for a couple days, visit Edfu and Kom Ombo temples. We’ll stay in Luxor, Hurghada, Cairo, climb Mt. Sinai and finish up our Egyptian stay in Dahab before crossing over to the wonderful country of Jordan.
Our week in Cape Town offered us a break from the truck. Some of the guys went out on a boy’s road trip. Mac, Katey, German, Carolina, and Spots took a trip up to the Kruger. A few hiked Table Mountain. Some went off and jumped in the water with great white sharks or jumped off a bridge at the world’s highest bungee jump. Gavin and I indulged in the conveniences of civilized life, visited the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and climbed Lion’s Head. We left Cape Town short a few but picked up Scotty, Ziggy, Emma, Jes, and Paige. From South Africa we headed straight up to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta.
A bit more than half of us decided to brave the mokoros and ventured out into one of the wildest places on earth. The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland delta. Where the Kavango River meets the Kalahari Basin: that’s the Delta. It’s home to a mind boggling assortment of different animals and a seemingly endless expanse of water and papyrus. Because of the relative inaccessibility, the area and the animals are virtually uncorrupted by encroaching development. And it shows.
We entered the waters of the Delta in mokoros, traditional dug-out canoes which usually retain only about an inch of clearance from the water after 2 travelers, one poler, and a bit of luggage are loaded on board. The boats are powered by a poler, a man or woman who steers the vessel and provides the energy to move the boat forward by pushing off the bottom of the river with a long wooden pole. We traveled a bit over 2 hours in these unstable canoes, past hippos, through reeds, from our launching point to our bush camp.
We set up tents and a fire onshore near the water. From there, Gav and Mac took mokoros out to go fishing and everyone else followed the guides further into the bush to look for animals and to learn a few tracking techniques. The following day, Jeremy and Phill gave poleing a try. It’s harder than it looks but neither fell in, which often does happen to the unsuspecting beginner. In the afternoon, we cruised out onto the water at sunset and over to a hippo pool where we watched a bloat of hippos before they took to the shores for their nightly grazing (yes, that’s right. A group of hippos is called a bloat.).
After rejoining the group back in Maun we took off for the Chobe River for some wildlife viewing. Phill, Dave, and Dan headed out on a game drive through the park while most of the rest of the troops took to the water once again to see the action from the river. Those on the boat saw plenty of elephants. The guys on shore got to see a big male lion enjoying a meal.
Our next stop after Chobe was Livingstone, Zambia, right next to the awesome Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the adventure capital of Zambia and the group was more than happy to take advantage of that. There were bungee jumpers and elephant riders. Scotty, Ziggy, Katey, and Spots all went rhino tracking on foot. Mac, Gav, Greg, and I took a boat out on the upper Zambezi river to fish for tiger fish. It wasn’t the right time of the year, unfortunately, and Gav managed to catch a small tiger fish. Mac caught a couple really nice tilapia.
Then there was the sunset cruise, AKA, the “Booze Cruise”… Sorry, but what happens on the booze cruise stays on the booze cruise and I’m not at liberty to indulge you.
We moved north-east through Lusaka and onwards to my personal favorite, South Luangwa national park where we camped on the banks of the wild Luangwa River. The campsite is unfenced and it isn’t uncommon for animals to pass through. In fact, Katey and Emma were woken up one night when an elephant came and started pruning the tree that they had pitched their tent under.
South Luangwa never seems to disappoint and this time was no exception. We witnessed a huge pride of lions stalking a massive herd of Cape buffalo. There was one moment when we were positive we would see a kill. There was a big bull who appeared to be stuck in the mud. All the lions had surrounded him, though at quite a distance. One young one moved in and it looked like it was all about to kick off. Turns out the bull wasn’t as weak as we and the lions thought him to be. He stood right up and told the young lion who was boss.
In addition we saw plenty of elephants, puku, zebra, giraffe, hippos running on land (much faster than you would ever expect they could), hyena…. The list goes on. We also get the rare chance to see some of Africa’s nocturnal wildlife in Luangwa. It’s one of the only parks that allows night driving. So, in addition to the stuff we have often seen we also got a look at civets, scrub hares, owls, and lions on the prowl. Very cool.
We left Zambia for Malawi. After leaving Lilongwe, we stopped for a few days at Kande Beach, right on the shores of Lake Malawi. You wouldn’t know Lake Malawi was a lake. Half the time the waves are nearly surf-able and you can only just see the other side of it if you squint a little. It’s a pretty fantastic place and we were lucky enough to have some lovely weather while we were there.
Jeremy decided to pursue his SCUBA certification here. He finished the classes and did his first open water dive. German, Carolina, Phill, Chris, Sean and Gavin also went out for a fresh water dive. Lake Malawi is home to the cichlid family of fish. These are the brightly colored fish that you usually see for sale in pet shops. Some species are mouth brooders: a fishes who protects their young and defenseless offspring in their mouth. You’ll see dozens of tiny fish venturing out of a larger fish’s mouth and then all dash back in at the sign of danger. It is a very cool thing to see. Lake Malawi also has more species of fish than the whole of the oceans in Southern Africa. You wouldn’t think that diving in a lake could be so incredible but it really is like diving in an aquarium.
It’s also a bit of a tradition to roast a pig when one is at at Kande Beach. We got together with another African Trails truck and roasted 2. It began with Gav and the other driver, Dani, negotiating the price the evening before. They settled on a reasonable cost for 2 pigs. In the morning, surprisingly, only a few of us headed outside the gates of the camp to watch the slaughter. The rest of us stayed back by the truck and covered our ears. It took nearly all day to roast the pigs but the patience paid off. What a feast! We even had a movie star dining with us that night: Charlie Cox from “Stardust” and “Dot the I”. He was one of Dani’s passengers. It was also a memorable night because this is where Kev shaved his signature ponytail and beard. That was unexpected!
We spent a couple more nights camped on the shores of the lake at Chitimba Beach. While we were here, the heartier few climbed up the hills behind camp towards the village of Livingstonia. It is a brutal hike in the heat, nearly straight up the entire time. It was hot and the hikers came back very sore. They got some great views, though. There are waterfalls just below Livingstonia that are well worth a look.
Tanzania was our next destination. We descended from the highlands in the south into the chaotic, virtual steam bath that is Dar es Salaam. This is where we took the ferry to the exotic isle of Zanzibar. We spent our first night in Stone Town, the main city of the island. We sipped pina coladas out of coconuts on the balcony of Africa House while we watched the sun set behind the traditional dhow sailboats. We carried on to the famous night market for a look at the endless selection of seafood and for Zanzibar pizzas: possibly one of the best things in the world.
It sounds horrible but a Zanzibar pizza is mince, onions, peppers, Laughing Cow cheese, an egg, and some mayo wrapped up in a thin layer of dough and then pan fried in some clarified butter. Top it off with some chili sauce and you’ve got an artery clogging piece of heaven. They’re so good, even our pickiest eater ate one.
After Stone Town was the Spice Tour. It’s an excellent day out: a visit to the slave dungeons ( Zanzibar was one of East Africa’s busiest slave trading ports), a look at the bustling local food market, lunch in a local house, and a trip to the famous spice farms. Visiting a spice farm might not sound that thrilling but it’s really quite interesting… and tasty.
Most of the gang went up to the northern beach of Nungwi. They enjoyed SCUBA diving and deep sea fishing ( I hear Katey and Spots kicked the experienced fishermen’s butts in this instance. Nothing like eating the tuna you caught yourself!) There was plenty of partying and relaxing on the beach to be had, of course, as well. German and Carolina opted for the quieter Eastern beaches which they thoroughly enjoyed. They even got to swim with wild dolphins!
Tanzania is, as you probably know, home to the iconic Serengeti national park. This is the Africa you see on the documentaries. It’s the Africa most people see in their head when they think of Africa. It’s the Lion King in real life.
Nearly all of the troops hopped into Land Rovers and journeyed into the park. They witnessed hyena stalking wildebeest, a big pride of lions, the big herds of ungulates, and even a leopard!
Ngorongoro Crater was the last stop in Tanzania. The crater is an amazing place not just for the scenery but for the high concentration of animals. There are approximately 25,000 large mammals in the 12 km wide crater.
Those who went found elephants roaming their campsite. Make sure and look at the photos that Dan Spotowski took in the Tanzania album. Here, Sarah got harassed in the middle of the night by a wild pig that had some kind of an affinity for her tent. Their game drive in the crater yielded plenty as well.
We left Tanzania and spent just two nights in Kenya before heading into the highland jungles of Uganda. Here we’ll go trekking to see the rare mountain gorillas. Some may ride the white rapids of the Nile river. One or two of us might try to summit one of the mountains in the Virunga mountain range. There’s also a visit to the pygmies or a trip across lake Bunyonyi. But I’ll leave all that for next time. …..
We were exhausted when we arrived in Namibia. And filthy. So, we spent a couple days re-cooping in the town of Tsumeb. The feeling of that first hot shower after 12 days accumulation of dust and sweat without anything that could really qualify as a wash was beyond ecstasy. The fried eggs, sausages, and fresh milk we had for breakfast the next morning was like tasting breakfast for the first time. No matter how great or how exciting the thing you’re doing, the little luxuries in life (like hot showers and fresh milk) always feel well earned, if not a little indulgent, when you’ve been deprived of them for so long.
Our first stop after Tsumeb was Etosha National Park. At 22, 912 km2 , Etosha is one of the largest national parks in Africa. A gigantic mineral pan, the Etosha Pan, covers 21% of the park and is a pretty impressive sight. Etosha is one of the more accessible game parks in Africa so we’re able to take the truck in and do our own game drives.
This is the wet season in Etosha so, while the animals are not as concentrated at the 86 water holes the park has as in the dry season, the scenery is spectacular. The usually dry and dusty plains were lush with grass. We could see thunderstorms in the distance, moving across the sky. We were lucky with the wildlife as well. In the dry season, the animals are dependant on the man made water holes scattered throughout the park and large groups of birds and mammals congregate there within easy view of the roads. In they wet season, water is in abundance so they disperse a bit more and sometimes it’s trickier to spot the animals.
Fortunately, we had Dave’s eagle eyes on the truck. He’s responsible for spotting the black rhino, the well camouflaged pride of lions, and the family of bat eared foxes. We saw plenty of zebra, hyena, springbok, kudu, dik-diks, steenbok, jackal, wildebeest, impala, warthog, mongoose…We saw quite a bit. Possibly the best sighting was a big male lion devouring a springbok that had just recently expired, probably at the claws of animal who was currently munching on his prime cuts.
We left Etosha and moved on to more big cats. Not far out of Kamanjab, a family owns a large ranch. They raise cattle and they also have a campsite on the premises. What makes this place so cool is that they’ve also made the ranch home to a couple dozen cheetahs who would have otherwise met an unfortunate end. Cheetahs threaten livestock in Namibia which is a major industry there. Cheetahs suspected of killing livestock are quite often shot or trapped by understandably peeved ranchers. An alternative is to capture the cats and move them somewhere else. The cheetahs on the ranch are either the convicted cow killers or animals with injuries who wouldn’t have survived the harsh life of the African bush. They have been relocated to the enormous property where they live out their days in a large fenced area. They don’t have to worry about hunting because most afternoons, a pickup truck filled with overlanders and a barrel full of donkey or zebra meat rolls out on the paddock and the meat gets equally distributed. The cheetahs escape a death sentence in exchange for a relatively free and easy life funded by the overlanders who get some awesome photos and a unique experience for under $10. It’s a good compromise.
The family has also taken in orphaned cubs that have grown up as house pets. This isn’t completely unusual. Cheetahs used to be kept as pets by royalty in ancient times. Before getting involved in overlanding, I worked with big cats and the cheetahs were always different than, say, tigers or cougars which you could never trust. If raised from infancy cheetahs are not much more dangerous than keeping something like a German Shepherd. Not that I’m trying to encourage the practice of keeping exotic pets by any means. I am saying that in the right hands, they are tame-able enough to host visitors.
We got to pet the 3 house-raised “tame” cheetahs and were entertained with their antics when they wrestled with the Jack Russell Terrier ( who, incidentally, knew just how to put the cats in their place.) Phill did encounter a problem when the youngest one of the 3 found his camera bag a little too enticing and tried to take it off him.
As awesome as it was to hang out with the big cats, possibly the highlight of our visit to the Cheetah Farm came the morning we left. We were about to take off when a young giraffe came to inspect the truck. About 18 months ago, one of the guys who runs the ranch found a very young giraffe stuck in a fence. They decided to take him in and fix him up. He now gets to wander freely but seems to prefer to hang out around this property where he was raised. He was there this morning and decided to stick his neck into every open door and window of the truck. He might have been looking for candy or he might have just been reveling in the attention. He got a lot of it. He got right up into everyone’s face or camera lens. Dan Howitt got possibly the best hug of his life when he wrapped his arms around the giant animal’s neck.
We continued on to the Brandberg, the highest mountain in Namibia (which isn’t really saying that much). We don’t climb the 2,574 meter mountain but we do hike in the area under it. We hike through the rocky terrain to the “White Lady”. The so-called “White Lady” is a rock art site dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We get a guide to take us out there to see the rock art and also to introduce us to the local flora and fauna. It’s a great walk and this time was especially exciting for the twitchers among us. We spotted a Rupples parrot. Awesome.
A few hours down the road we visited the Cape Cross seal colony. This is home to the largest congregation of Cape fur seals in the world; up to 100,000 of them. It smells awful but the overwhelming sight of so many animals in one place is enough to distract you from the odoriferous chaos. Pupping season is usually in November or December so there were plenty of awkward young pups there which made it just a little more entertaining.
Next came Swakopmund, Namibia’s adventure capital. This is where some of our guys did the unthinkable. Mac, Chris, Gav, Mike, Sean, and Kev all got strapped to an instructor who threw them out of a plane high above the Namib desert. Crazy enough, in my opinion. Phill, Dan, and Jeremy went a step further and took the static line course. This means that after a few hours of instruction, they were able to throw themselves out of a plane without anyone else strapped to them. The static line attached to the plane automatically releases the parachute so there isn’t much of a free-fall but all the rest of the work is up to them. Phill unfortunately missed the landing by a few kilometers. A van had to drive over and pick him up. Otherwise, they all did well and were ready for more.
Swakopmund had all kinds of excitement. Greg went shark fishing. A group of us went sand boarding which is like snow boarding only down the enormous sand dune instead of snow. Quad biking in the dunes was an option a lot of us took. Deep sea fishing was attempted but the guys didn’t get so much as a bite. There were some adventures in dining, too. At Napolitana, arguably the best restaurant in the world, we sampled zebra, springbok, ostrich, and kudu. Swakopmund was great.
After Swakopmund we made our way down to Sossusvlei, home to some of the Namib desert’s most impressive sand dunes. We hiked across the flats, through the red sands to “Big Daddy”. “Big Daddy” is, as the name implies, the father of all the accessible sand dunes and we were going to climb it. It takes at least 45 minutes to get to the top and in the desert heat it feels more like 2 hours. Once at the top, though it’s a short trip straight down the face of the dune to the Dali-esque Dead Vlei. The Vlei is a clay pan with scattered dead camel thorn trees that looks nothing less than surreal. After barreling down the dune we hiked back across the pan and then dragged ourselves back to the truck thoroughly exhausted.
We finished our time in Namibia right on the border of South Africa, along the Orange River. Some of the troops spent the day canoeing down the Orange while the rest of us enjoyed the wonderful camp site.
Namibia was fantastic and we were all a bit reluctant to leave. However, we knew what was coming up : Wine tour, Cape Town, shark diving, bungee jumping, and a bit of an urban infusion in South Africa. Afterwards, on to even more adventures and excitement when we turn the trip around and start heading north on the second leg of this incredible journey.
The border was time consuming but ultimately painless. This was a welcome relief after spending 3 hours at the D.R.C. border. Before we knew it, we were off! Off on what became the WORST road of the trip. The logging road was just a warm up for what Angola threw at us. It didn’t take long before we had our first flat tire of the trip. I, myself, thought that was pretty impressive that we’d gotten that far without one. But a flat tire is a flat tire and we had to stop and change it.
That fixed, we carried on but it wasn’t long until an air hose burst under the truck. Gav and Mac fixed it up with a bit of hose and duct tape quickly so we could avoid the oncoming rainstorm. Once again we bumped along the “road” slowly, slowly careful not to break anything on the truck including Dave’s back. We pulled up at a small village and asked to camp there for the night.
We must have been the biggest thing the village had seen in years. Every man, woman, child, goat, and canine turned out to watch German and Carolina cook tuna patties. I suspect they’ll be talking about it for years, the time the “Tribe of Mustachioed Men” visited the village.
In case I haven’t mentioned it, the men of M772OOP have decided to don mustaches until Cape Town. It’s unsettling. Really. One man with a mustache is fine. Three men in a group with mustaches, you wouldn’t really think about it. Fifteen mustaches sitting around a campfire or lining up at an immigrations office. I don’t know why but it just doesn’t feel normal. Anyway……
Bright and early the next morning we departed and we eventually ran into our first bog. After D.R.C. and Congo we had become quite proficient at rectifying these types of situations. It took a lot of tree branches, a few rocks, and a bit of time but we made it out. The road ahead, however, was very rough traveling and required some seemingly impossible maneuvering by Gav and more physical labor on the part of the rest of us. We filled in ruts, and dug out narrow passages just like on the logging road. We were not making good time.
The second night we pulled up in another village. Despite the fact that we encountered a bit of rain, water sources were scarce in the area. Those of us who needed a wash had to resort to a recently formed rain puddle to clean ourselves in. Jerry cans for cooking and cleaning had to be filled up in another cloudy rain puddle.
That night was great despite the tough day. All the local kids came over to the truck and we entertained them in exchange for them entertaining us. It started out with Phill introducing the Village People to the village people with the “YMCA”. Now, Phill’s a Kiwi and he taught them the Kiwi version of the hit song.
“Why…” He would say
The kids would repeat him “Why…”
The kids would sing one of their songs for us and we’d come back at them with something else. Mr. Paterson gave them a rousing rendition of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down”. Lucy and Chris showed them the Charleston.
This happened to be Greg’s birthday as well, so Sarah taught them to sing “Happy Birthday To You”. They did a good job for only just learning a song in a foreign language. I don’t think Greg will have another birthday where he won’t look back fondly on the time he was serenaded with “Horee Burgha Oo Bao” by a group of Angolan children. Horee burhga, Greg.
The next day: The road didn’t improve. It got worse. It got wetter. On day 3 we came up against the biggest challenge we’ve encountered on the trip. There was as stretch of mud. It appeared that if we kept our momentum up we wouldn’t have a problem. We had a problem. We sunk right down and bellied out, our left rear tire was more than half buried. That didn’t go exactly how we had hoped.
Most of us got right in there and started digging. And digging. This was just a reflex for us now. Pete and I were well and truly filthy after crawling under the truck and trying to dig out her front axle. Mac and Gav did their best to jack the truck but the mud just kept swallowing up the blocks we used to support the jacks. We attempted to put the sand-mats under the jacks. That just bent the sand-mats. This was not looking good.
We were in the middle of nowhere. No trees, no shelters, no villages, no beer. This was a dire situation. Mike, Phill, Mr. Paterson, and Sean decided the hike off into the unknown (OK, not really, just the last village we passed, several kilometers away, where we thought we may have seen some heavy machinery.). What a sight it was to see the four of them waving heroically from the back of a large dump truck a couple hours later. This looked like salvation.
It wasn’t, unfortunately. The truck tried to pull us out. With one more tug after we made some adjustments we could have made it. They wouldn’t wait for us though. They took off yelling over their shoulders that they’d be back sometime tomorrow with a bigger truck. Oh! The frustration.
It was 21 hours before we finally emerged from the dismal bog. The next day a large tractor did come and managed to pull us out for the price of about $30 and a half carton of cigarettes.
It was a rough day, being stuck in the mud and the heat. We lost 2 in the process (temporarily). One individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, was feeling less than stellar over these few days in Angola. By the time we got stuck he was feeling horrible and decided to hitch a ride to the next town with a hospital. We could pick him and his companion up if and when we ever got un-stuck. We met them in Tomboco and found out that tests confirmed he was our first malaria victim of the trip.
Once again, we thought we had done pretty well: we had had 2 cases of dysentery (myself and Gav, who may have become a little too accustomed to drinking tap water in Africa), and a few nasty stomach bugs and colds that had gone around the truck but no malaria. By this point in the trans, there’s usually been at least one case. We thought that we were on the home stretch, that we’d just been extremely lucky. Nope.
Now, the word malaria strikes fear into most any traveler (or traveler’s parent, friends) who hears it. Most of the time the prophylactics work, they’re definitely worth taking, but every once and a while they don’t do their job. Malaria can be a terrible, not to mention fatal, disease. But malaria is certainly not always the monster most people think it is. The real malaria monster preys on the stubborn who don’t go for treatment or, more commonly, on locals who unfortunately can’t always get to a suitable health care facility or who don’t have the funds to pay for tests or treatment. If it’s recognized and attended to early it is quite easily treatable. For the traveler who has access to transportation to a hospital and money to pay for the treatment, this isn’t a problem and the suffering is limited to something akin to a really bad flu. Gav and I have had malaria 3 times each since arriving in Africa and we’re still alive and kicking, as is our malaria victim #1, fully recovered now.
Our Anglolan adventures didn’t stop with the Massive Bog of 2010, though. Three years ago a suspension spring on the truck broke. It was a huge ordeal. It took Gav and two other men a whole day just to get the U bolts undone. One of our greatest fears ever since has been breaking another spring. Gav was taking it slow and easy over the bumps and ruts but the constant battering was just too much for our poor truck. We hit a relatively mild bump.
Gav and I just looked at each other with identical looks of dread and defeat. We knew.
Indeed, one of the springs had completely sheared in two. We pulled up at the next village and started work. This was going to be no simple task. The first hurdle was retrieving the spare spring from the storage area inside the truck, under all the firewood.
The men of the truck were able to get it out and pass it around to the side of the truck. Sean and Mr. Paterson were lugging it around to the side when a hand slipped and Gav’s finger got stuck. He was left with a very deep cut that Sarah and Carolina attended to. He decided to hitch a ride to Caxito, the next big town and get it stitched up. Mr. Smith was feeling a bit under the weather decided to join him and see a doctor, just in case. He turned out to be our malaria victim #2.
At this point, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves “Where are we going!? And why are we in this hand-basket?!”. All the punches were hitting us at once. Most everyone was in high spirits, oddly enough. At this point in the trip almost all of us had become familiar with the philosophy of TIA. This is Africa: You just have to roll with those punches and enjoy the ride.
The spring took several hours to fix. We lost about a day to the repairs but it took a lot less time than we anticipated. Thank goodness!
We arrived in Caxito and picked up Swiss Mike (who had accompanied the guys into Caxito in an effort to find an internet café) and the two invalids and carried on. Suddenly, the road became a magnificent, modern highway. This seemed too good to be true. It was. There would be 100 kilometer stretches of this beautiful road and then another 100 kilometers of terrible, rough, nightmarish glorified goat paths. It was the most schizophrenic road system I have ever seen. It went on like this for an eternity.
Had the roads not been so dreadful and had we been allowed to stay more than 5 days in the country, Angola may have been one of the most spectacular places we visited. The people were friendly, the countryside beautiful, the police stops tolerable. We had to zoom right through it all, though, as 5 days was no time at all to travel 2000km, especially tackling the roads and problems we did.
After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the Namibian border. This was a major step for me and Gav. Back on our “home” turf. For the rest of us, some of the bigger adventures were just around the corner…..