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.
We departed Gondar and descended from the high country towards The Sudan. Just before the border is a small town with a junction and here we encountered a scrawny character wandering aimlessly down the middle of the road. He ignored the initial warnings of the horn and only decided to react once the truck slowed down behind him. He launched into an unnecessary panicked run not unlike a flapping chicken and fell over on the road side in a sprawled heap.
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.
I’d like to tell you that the reason you haven’t seen an update in a while is because we’ve all been off doing so much that I haven’t had any time to write one. That wouldn’t be entirely true though. There hasn’t been a blog in a while because we’ve been out having such a great time doing so many things AND because my computer died. But I’m back now and ready to tell you what’s been going on the last couple months.
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. …..
At first glance Namibia is a bleak, monochrome, vast expanse. Lots of sand, lots of flatness, scrubby desert, and the rather uninviting sounding Skeleton Coast. You wouldn’t think that someplace that looks like this could be so exciting. But it is.
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.
Angola turned out to be more of a challenge than any of us expected. I suppose that the primary worry about Angola always was, judging by previous trans travelers’ stories, obtaining the visa in the first place. That was no problem. Piece of cake in fact, and cheaper than we had originally budgeted for. After that we didn’t stop to consider what the country actually had in store for us.
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…..
Cameroon has been very exciting. We’ve driven through jungles, climbed mountains, and relaxed in idyllic beaches.
Only 3 or 4 trucks a year do this western section of the African continent. Back on what we call ‘the Milk Run” where dozens of trucks are running at any one time, the Western Trans has a bit of a reputation. There’s a disproportionately low number of overland crew who can tell the stories of the West and as a result the places and activities take on a legendary quality. The two places usually referenced with the most pride are the now off-limits route through what was then Zaire and the Cameroon logging road. Yellowing, curled edged photos that have been posted up in campsite bars for years show that those telling the stories aren’t necessarily exaggerating when they tell you about the obstacles they overcame. The photos are of trucks, listing over at a 45 degree angle, getting swallowed up by sticky, red mud, surrounded by a forest that looks ready to consume anything that stays there too long. There are photos of passengers and crew alike looking haggard but excited. Trucks have died there. Spirits have been broken. You look at those photos and either say “Man, I’d love to do that.” Or “Never. Absolutely avoiding that at all costs!”.
There are two routes from Abuja to Cameroon. One goes north and around the east side of the country down to Cameroon and the other more or less goes straight down to the neighboring country. The city of Jos falls along that northern road. Jos has had a flare up of regional violence and travel warnings have been issued. We don’t consider Nigeria to be the friendliest place we’ve come across so we decided to take our chances with the southern road which feeds right into that infamous logging road. During the wet season it is completely impassable but we’re at the tail end of the dry season. After hassling some fellow overlanders and the folks at the embassy for information, we determined that it was do-able. So, from Abuja, we headed south and arrived at the Cameroonian border after a couple days.
We had even more trouble getting out of Nigeria than we did getting in. Suffice to say, we overwhelmed the 5 officials inside the immigration office. If any of them listed “excellent organizational skills” on their resume they were lying. It wasn’t easy but we followed their discombobulated process. After completing the formalities for half of the group a man came in and started demanding that we show the receipts for our Nigerian visas. You know, the ones we got back in Mali and that half of us have either thrown away or misplaced. His claim was that if we couldn’t produce the document that we had obviously forged the visas and would have to pay the $130 again. It wasn’t even clear whether or not this man actually worked for the Nigerian government or if he was just some troublemaker in a horrendous, fluffy, sky blue outfit.
After about 3 hours and a little negotiating, we finally got out of Nigeria and into Cameroon. How things changed when we crossed that bridge! Immigration was a breeze. The officials in the office there were wonderful.
The next morning we set off on that fabled road. It was the obstacle course that we had expected. Dips and ruts and narrow passageways featured on this dirt path that carved its way through dense jungle. It was awesome.
Gav expertly negotiated the uneven earth while Mac and I spotted, making sure the truck could safely pass over one section of road or another. The rest of us walked alongside the truck, some bearing shovels and picks, ready to leap into action. The trickier parts of the road would be surveyed and Gav would give instructions on what needed to be dug out, what needed to be filled in, and what needed to be widened. We would spend hours chipping away at the hard earth and use it to fill in the ruts and even out the surface a bit. I believe that the Cameroon roads authority owes us payment for all the improvements we made. Or at least a little thanks.
Our hard work was punctuated by stops in villages for some local fare or pineapples and at idyllic bush camps situated next to waterfalls or jungle-lined rivers where the fishermen caught dinner and the rest of us washed the sweat and the dirt off our bodies. The area was breathtaking.
Despite the fact that we were in the middle of the jungle, we still found a way to get beer. At one stop we put Phil on the back of a motorbike to get a ride to the nearest village. We kept the former occupant of the seat Phil was now on, a Pygmy witchdoctor, as collateral until our companion (and the booze) was safely back in our company.
As you would expect, the experience of the terrible road wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for more than a few of us the logging road was the highlight of the trip. It was hard work, it was remote, there were elements of uncertainty, there were insects. You get adventures by paying for them with things like sweat, blisters, bug bites, and fear. Adventure was well earned on this stretch. This was how some imagined all travel though Africa to be. While I can see the appeal, thank goodness it isn’t all like this otherwise I doubt we’d even be through Mali by now.
The truck did well. We didn’t get stuck anywhere and the damage was minimal. Parts of the truck do sit quite low. Even with our best efforts to avoid hitting any of those parts, we knocked off an air tank. This looked like trouble. Luckily, it only rendered the brakes slightly less efficient. Considering that we couldn’t go much faster than 30kmph on the best parts of the road, this wasn’t much of an issue. We managed to get that fixed in no time when we got to Limbe. A bent registration plate which was fixed with a few taps of the hammer was the least of the damage. What suffered the worst was our now somewhat mangled bumper and plastic cover from the indicator light which got, well, smashed. That happened when Mayumi launched into a frustrated rage. She’d gone days without any ice-cream and went a little ballistic with the mallet and chisel she had been using to chip away at the side of the road. Or maybe I’m making that last part up.
It took us 3 days to do the 80km. Too short in some peoples’ opinion. But what was ahead turned out to be pretty great as well.
We pulled into Limbe the day we left the logging road. We parked the truck outside a seaside hotel that let us camp in their parking lot. Limbe was wonderful. It had something for everyone. There was a great little primate center with lowland gorillas, chimps, drills, and mandrills. Sarah went at least twice. There was a botanical garden, some great restaurants, and a few good little bars. Dave, Greg, and I went bird watching at the base of the mountain and saw a couple endemic species. Limbe was also where some of us got the opportunity to climb Mt. Cameroon.
Mount Cameroon, so I’ve been told, is the highest mountain in West Africa at 4,095 m. Pete, Phil, Sean, Mayumi, Chris, Spots, Gavin, Jeremy, Katey, Dan, and Gav all summitted. They started off at the town of Buea and made their way up the Guinness Trail to about 1300m where they spent the first night. Phil and Jeremy spent that night battling mice that had infested the hut they were camping in. The rodents seemed to think that Phil’s bag would make a nice meal and that any food Jeremy had was communal property.
The next morning after a tough and exhausting climb they reached the peak at about mid day. On their way down they crossed 200 year old lava fields where they witnessed a fire swiftly sweeping across the hills. That afternoon they came across 13 active, steaming craters. At night they made camp at a place called Mann’s Springs. The last day they were lead through a gradual jungle path. Everyone rated the experience highly.
We headed down the beach town of Kribi after that . Though the beers were overpriced, the waterfall into the ocean and the beautiful beaches were fantastic. Unfortunately, Dan missed the highlights here. He did get to have the unusual experience of visiting a Spanish African hospital, though. I’m happy to report that he’s fine now but was looking a bit grim there for a while. We thought we might have had our first malaria victim of the trip. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Kribi is also where Lena got to celebrate her birthday in the truly chaotic African style, complete with discos, police hassles, and accident prone taxi drivers.
We’re in Yaounde now and have obtained our last visas for the western portion of the trip! Woo hoo! Yaounde has been nice. We’re situated right around the corner from a bakery that caused a few of us to hyperventilate from the excitement upon entering. Those few inches along the waistline that most of us have lost are quickly being regained thanks to quiches and cakes. This is where we’ve found the fastest internet in Africa and some of us have been spending a lot of time and money catching up on certain important tasks like downloading the latest episodes of South Park. Today, Swiss Mike is leading a group to see a football game.
I can’t help but also mention the two low points of our stay here : The strict water rationing we’re forced to follow and the damage done to some of our personal belongings by the wettest and most violent and rainstorm we’ve seen all trip. I love irony.
We take off for Gabon tomorrow but sadly, we’re leaving a few behind. Mayumi’s bag was stolen last week. Unfortunately it was the bag with her passport in it. While the Japanese embassy here in Yaounde was quick to give her a replacement passport, the visas she’s obtained over the last few months can’t be replaced in time. She’s going to head off for South Africa and Spots and Katey are going to join her so she’s not alone. Lena’s also taking off to visit her mom and Craig in South Africa. We’ll see them all again in Cape Town.
Next, we’ll be visiting Lope National Park in Gabon where, with any luck, we’ll see some forest buffalos and forest elephants in addition to other fauna. From there we head south through the Congos and Angola. We’re aiming to hit Namibia around the end of March. We’re anticipating lots of rain and lots of excitement in the weeks ahead.
We have made it to Nigeria. It is a much different place than the other countries we have visited. We’re experiencing plenty of those things that make Africa such a fascinating and unique experience but this country is offering a few new challenges as well. There is a much different energy here.
Have you ever considered what your reaction might be if you were to get up in the morning and find men toting AK-47s in your kitchen? I don’t expect that it’s odd for me to admit that I hadn’t.
Greg’s reaction was to offer a friendly “How ya goin’, Mate?” Which didn’t seem get much of a response out of them.
I heard Phil say “ Good morning” and then refuse to honor one of the men’s request for “hot water”, that is, gin. “Gotta wait until at least, 7:30 am, my friend.” This raises another question: Which is the best choice: deny a man with a firearm something he asks you for or assist in his inebriation? I think Phil made the right decision.
I reacted by pulling my sleep mask back over my eyes, rolling over, and groaning to Gavin, “ Please don’t let them want to talk to us. Please don’t let them want to talk to us. I can’t do it. It’s too early in the morning for a small talk! I’m still in my pajamas.”
Lena emerged from her tent and was swiftly approached by one of them. I hadn’t been paying attention to the beginning of the conversation but he caught my ear when I heard the man say “…I will marry you.”
Lena did what would be considered to be the logical thing and refused. She explained that she didn’t love (let alone know) him and that marriage was a complicated thing. I feared for her. This could have been the beginning of a long and frustrating argument that would go around in circles for God knows how long. Lena did what most would consider the logical thing….. but unfortunately African logic tends to work differently than the logic we know.
It took me a while after I had arrived in Africa to figure out what the best approach is to unsolicited marriage proposals. Traditionally, in Africa, the husband-to-be and his family give the parents of the bride-to-be something of value in exchange for their daughter, usually camels or cattle. Maybe a few goats as well if she’s an extra special lady. The response that worked for me when I was a single woman, when I couldn’t just pull up my “husband” and say “Sorry, Dude, yer too late.” is to tell the man that you are flattered, but your father is already negotiating your dowry with a man back in America (or whatever your home country). They had sent you away on a bit of a holiday so you couldn’t interfere with the process (as us troublesome American women are apt to do).
At this point it is likely that the suitor would say that he would like to negotiate with your father as well. In essence, that he would like to start a bidding war with the other man. He would enquire about the nature of the dowry. You would respond by telling him that the at this point the settlement included a lifetime membership to an exclusive golf club and several bottles of 250 year old whisky for your father, a brand new luxury car for your mother, and an agreement to take over all pending and future debts as the result of your terrible, terrible shopping addiction. Most of the time, they’ll take a second look at you and decide that you’re probably not really worth it. For the especially persistent, as a last ditch effort, you confide in them that, sadly, you are barren. Children are off the “To-Do” list. This sends nearly all the rest of them running.
Lucky for Lena, the rifle-bearing Romeo was probably still recovering from a big night before and wasn’t too determined.
Sarah came upon a similar situation later that day. This one I hadn’t ever dealt with: a man asked Sarah to become his second wife. Contrary to what you would expect, the idea was enthusiastically supported by this man’s first wife. A likeable woman and much harder to say “No” to than her husband. Still, Sarah had to decline.
But I digress.
The men with the Automatic Kalashnakovs were supposedly there as our security guards. We had decided to camp at a roadside church our first night in Nigeria. It was right next to a police check point, so the cops agreed to keep an eye on us. These guys surveying our camp were the replacements for the night crew and they were just checking us out since we were a bit of a curiosity. As we’ve been informed many times, tourists are a rarity in Nigeria. Go figure.
We were quite comfortable with this set-up. Quite comfortable until, as we were sipping our tea and buttering our toast, there were gunshots. One of these officers was shooting at passing cars! There were a few vehicles that refused to stop at the checkpoint. These were the ones getting shot at. I don’t know if he was aiming for the cars’ tires or for the road just in front of the vehicle but that is where they were hitting. We could only speculate as to whether this was protocol or the result of too much palm wine. Either way, in response to these actions, our 8am departure was suddenly pushed forward to about 7:30am. Nobody had to say it, we all just finished up our coffee and packed up camp a little quicker than usual.
One could understand why the drivers wouldn’t want to stop. Along this stretch of road there had been over a dozen police stops in about 150km, some within view of each other! I’m talking less than a kilometer apart. A few of them demanded to inspect all 24 passports…twice. I think we all appreciate safety and security but, really, this seemed over-zealous.
Between hear-say, snippets in guide books, and government travel advisories, you get the idea that Nigeria’s highways are rife with armed bandits. I can confirm this. However, these highwaymen seemed less hostile than we are led to believe, wore uniforms, and threatened us not with violence but with jail time. Nigeria’s police are ….. and I know I’m not really supposed to use the C-word, but I have to: Corrupt!
You get this all across Africa but never have I seen it as bad as here. We got harassed mercilessly. Every stop where we weren’t asked outright to hand over some cash we were accused some traffic violation or infraction of one sort or another. This in a place where it is apparently perfectly acceptable to drive a lorry with a shattered windshield or a cattle truck with 40 bovid in the back and 30 humans hanging off the side going 120kph down the highway. You may even occasionally see a cattle truck with a shattered windshield and similar cargo. We would be told that if we paid a fine, we could go on our way. Funny, that. We always refused to pay a fine.
“You will have to arrest me then, if I have broken the law.” Gavin would respond defiantly, “We have no money to pay the fine.”
This always threw them. They didn’t expect Gav to call their bluff. They couldn’t really arrest any of us for the things we were being charged with. They would try another angle, maybe reduce the “fee” a bit.
Gav would hold firm, “I have told you. We have no money. The last police officer took it all.”
After several minutes and a bit of whispering between fellow officers, they would reluctantly send us off, us smiling and waving and wishing them a good day.
We got pulled over by one group of men who said they represented the traffic authority. We did not have the proper insurance label on our windshield. We would have to pay.
“Only 60,000 Naira.” The man in the very unofficial looking vest told us. That’s about $400 which is roughly $400 more than we were willing to give this guy.
A lot of insurance companies in Africa issue dated, round, adhesive disks that you stick on your windscreen to show that you have current insurance. The man pointed to what he assumed was ours.
“This one does not work in Nigeria. You must buy one from us or they will not allow you on the roads. There are many, many other checks and they will not let you through.” This after we had already driven a few hundred kilometers through the country. “ 60,000 is my discount price for you. You cannot get it at one of the other checkpoints.”
He pointed to the circular thing again. “I know this one. It will work in other countries but not in Nigeria. You must pay.”
Gav did his usual “We have no-money” routine. He told them we had 3000 Naira but we needed that to buy food for all the passengers. Suddenly the cost of that insurance dropped by 57,000 Naira. Gav negotiated further, emphasizing that we needed to buy dinner. After handing over 500 Naira, the road block was removed and we were allowed to carry on. Those other road blocks that the man promised us we would not get through without his sticker never materialized.
I got to thinking about this. I was confused. I couldn’t remember us having one of those stickers and couldn’t figure out what the guy had been pointing at. I inspected at our next stop. I regret ever getting on Gav’s case for leaving trash on the dashboard. The “insurance sticker” that the man claimed he recognized was the leftovers from our lunch: the round lid off a Manchurian brand Cup-O-Noodles. Hot and spicy beef flavor.
The fun continued.
That morning we passed through the town of Ibadan. This was not our intention. We were following two large scaled maps, a Garmin sat-nav, and notes from a previous driver. All seemed to fail us. I’m sure you know that feeling when you’re convinced you’ve taken a wrong turn without actually having any concrete proof that you aren’t where you’re supposed to be. Gav and I shared that feeling. We put our faith in the sat-nav. The sat-nav betrayed us.
The Nuvi led us down what may have once been a major thoroughfare but had at some point since the creation of the “Garmin Nigeria Street Maps Series” had turned into a market with a narrow path in the middle. It would allow the cars of only the most skilled drivers to emerge unscathed and only the most negligent drivers to emerge with whatever sanity they had to begin with intact. Gav maneuvered slowly down the track. This would have been fine had it not been “Drug Yourself into Insanity” Day in Ibadan. It must have been. There were too many crazed individuals completely off their face at 11am for it not to have been some kind of national holiday. Me and Gav got to help them celebrate as they all seemed to be magnetically drawn to the cab of the truck.
Most of the guys in the back were having a great time. The locals didn’t know what to think of us. The guys in the back were waving and getting smiles and waves back. Up front, men were trying to open the doors and were hanging off the wing mirrors. Some were trying to smash the windows and the wing mirrors.
One man came to our rescue. He appeared to be as crazy as the others. He said that he was “Working for God”. Had George W. Bush not used the same excuse for his presidency, perhaps I would have been less skeptical of him. He needed to convince me. This man started punching cars and hitting men with sticks in order to clear a path for the truck. At first this seemed a bit heavy handed. After a few minutes it was obvious that it was absolutely necessary.
The situation was tense. It was quite possibly the scariest experience I have had in Africa. I’ve found myself in an open vehicle at night surrounded by a pride of hungry, hunting lions, and an injured and enraged Cape buffalo bull. The detour through Ibadan shot this out of the water in terms fear factor.
Turns out our man may have been working for God after all. This apparent lunatic got us out of a seemingly impossible situation. He beat off would-be bad guys. He got cars and trucks out of our way. He accompanied us out of the narrow street all the way to the expressway, hanging off the mirror the entire time, even when we reached speeds of up to 40kmph.
With his guidance and Gav’s expert skills at the wheel the only damage done involves the potential life expectancy of me and Gav. I think we may have lost a couple years as a result of that ordeal.
We spent the next couple days traveling to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. It was slow going thanks to dreadful roads, a very confused sat-nav, and police stop after police stop, We spent one night in a gas station and the other within the grounds of a catholic mission, sitting around the camp stoves reflecting and laughing over the chaos of the day.
Finally we arrived in Abuja, the capital city, on Sunday. The Sheraton Hotel is our haven. They’re letting us camp in their employee parking lot. We’ll be here for a week. In between the missions of securing our Angolan and Cameroonian visas and getting extra passport pages for the Americans, we may get some R & R by the pool in the air conditioned lobby. If all goes well, in less than a week we’ll be headed south to Cameroon where we intend to tackle the infamous logging road!
I’m sorry about the title. I know I shouldn’t be subjecting you to that kind of unnecessary cheesiness but I just couldn’t help myself. I should probably warn you that sometime in June chances are that I will be unable to restrain myself from a similar title along the lines of “Kenya Dig It?”. Just a heads up.
Thanks to troubles of an undisclosed nature that trickled down to us at the Ghana embassy in Ouagadougou, our entry and stay in this beautiful country looked as if it would become an unpleasant mission. Going by the unjustified difficulty they gave us at the embassy and the rip-off of a visa they ended up giving us, things weren’t looking too good for Ghana. Fortunately, the place redeemed itself on its own merits.
Our first stop in Ghana was Mole National Park. Mole is a savannah grassland inhabited by monkeys, baboons, warthogs, several species of antelope, avifauna, and elephants. While not as densely populated as some of the parks we’ll see further on in the trip, the walking safari proved to be a fine introduction to Africa’s wildlife. The troops got to see, among other things, their first elephant… very close up. Seeing as how they did so while on foot, it was especially intense.
Even just at park headquarters, Phil, Dan, and Sarah had an exciting and much-too-up-close-and-personal encounter with a troop of baboons who were making a banquet out of the contents of the trash can. Phil and Dan pushed the proximity envelope a little too far and when two big, angry looking males barked loudly and lunged for them, Dan took off, Phil did the same but first managed to push Sarah to the ground. Whether, possibly in some obscure Kiwi logic, he thought this would protect her somehow or if he was trying to leave the irate primates with an alternative target has not been established. And they say chivalry is dead.
Further down the road, a couple of us decided that certain (and I wish I didn’t have to bring this up again, but…) bowel related illnesses had either stuck around too long or progressed to a critical stage. We decided to visit the doctor at the local hospital.
The truck pulled up to the rural complex. Startled goats burst out of the outpatient building. The chickens loitering outside the waiting area looked momentarily flustered by the behemoth, then appeared to forgot what it was they were looking at and resumed their scratching and pecking with great ceremony. Only two of us needed the consult but in all, Sarah, Katey, Spots, myself and Gavin were in attendance.
Unlike any hospital you’d see in Canada or the UK, the place looked more like a country school from, say Missouri, circa 1915… after it had been abandoned for half a decade. Wooden buildings with chicken wire for windows were marked “Female Ward” or “Chest Ward”. The little place out the back that looks like a neglected tool shed was marked “Mortuary / Laundry”.
The treatment and exams were all very straight forward and professional and I have every confidence in the doctor. The sickies were given antibiotics and vitamins and lectured about the importance of hydration. So that was all very boring. The best part of the visit, other than perhaps the lippy little nun who amused us all, was the snakebite victim.
This dude had no idea how lucky he was. A younger guy, maybe 16 or so walked up to the waiting area, the benches outside the exam hall, and sat down cross-legged on the concrete floor holding a crumpled up, once-white plastic rice sack. It was tied up in a tight little bundle with twine and it looked like there was something inside.
“What’s in the bag?” (I think it was) Spots asked.
The boy calmly, almost with an air of pride, opened up the bundle to reveal an enormous, thick, gun-metal grey, and slightly mangled snake. Unmistakably a cobra. The viper looked no less menacing with its head crushed in.
“It bit you?!” The boy nodded and showed us a rather puny scratch on his finger.
“You killed it?” Sarah asked “Just now?” He nodded again.
Obviously the kid had just been given a warning bite. Venom is an expensive commodity for poisonous snakes. If they can avoid using it, they will. Often the first bite a victim receives is a warning bite, without envenomation. If it hadn’t been a warning bite, the cytotoxins and the neurotoxins would have already been going to work and we wouldn’t had had the pleasure of meeting this very lucky lad…at least not while he was conscious. From the snake’s point of view though, well, guess going for the warning bite was a gamble he lost.
While all this infirmary fun was going on, the rest of the group was back in town. Far from bored, they took in a football game with some of the locals. The venue was a wooden shack, the beer was cold, the teams were both English, and the energy, so I’ve heard tell, was great. Plus they had FanMilk in town. No one can be unhappy when the milky, icy sweetness that is FanMilk is available.
The next day brought us to Kintampo and its nearby waterfalls. By this time, we were excruciatingly hot, sticky, and greasy with dirt and grime in a lot of places dirt and grime should just not be. Very much in need of a wash, most of us gave the first two waterfalls, that is the two waterfalls that had the “No Bathing” signs, a polite and obligatory but brief glance then made a mad dash down to the one you could bathe in. It was fantastic.
Further down the track, we turned off the main road onto a rural, unpaved road. Gav negotiated the tricky surface of the “road” while the rest of us took in the passing sights. We passed villages where we got our usual welcome, the kind usually reserved celebrities. Children would rush out of their houses. Their eyes bulging out of their heads, hands waving spastically as they appeared to suffer from some kind of apoplectic fit of happiness caused these physical symptoms as well as uncontrollable yells of excitement. How exciting was this giant truck full of strange looking people waving and smiling at them! The tykes would be whipped up into an even bigger frenzy when the guys in the back started throwing them our empty plastic water bottles, a highly prized gift. Yells of approval would issue from the younger men. We received respectful nods and waves from the elders. The women usually just pointed and laughed at us. Hysterically. I don’t know why. …
This “road” was taking us to the Boebeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. This was a fun experience. We got the chance to see some of the first forest in the trip and take a nice walk through it, as well. In the neighboring village, the residents treat the inhabitants of the forest, the Mona and Colobus monkeys, with great respect. It is a reverence that stems from their faith in fetishes and animism. The monkeys are such an important part of the spiritual community of the area that the primates even have their own cemetery. The monkeys’ behavior is said to predict fortunes and events within the village. Anyone who kills a monkey “will die” (whether this is a curse that will come about in time or a sentence to be carried out by the local executioner wasn’t clear).
Because of this respect from the local people, the Mona monkeys especially have become habituated and have no qualms about taking bananas off of enthralled tourists. Within the forest, it happened once or twice that I was watching Kev or Carolina or someone feeding a monkey a couple meters in front of me only to look to my side to see a little guy sitting on a branch at eye level about a half meter away. Both times I got a look from the creature that seemed to say “Dude. Where’s my banana?”
The monkeys were great. Pete and German also challenged a couple of the local boys to an impromptu game of soccer and several of us did a little shopping at the crafts shop.
That was only the first half of Ghana. After seeing the colossal market in Kumasi, stopping in Accra for our Benin visas and a trip to the cinema, we explored the area around Cape Coast. There, we visited Kakum National Park and the fantastic rainforest canopy walkway. The soccer fans watched Ghana and Ivory Coast battle it out in the African cup of nations during a massive storm in a bar that was stilted over a crocodile pond and which had a fickle supply of electricity. Made for an interesting game.
In Cape Coast and Elmina we took the sobering tours at the castles that served as ports for the slaves being shipped off to the Caribbean, America, and England. We wrapped up our stay in Ghana on the palm dotted sands of Brenu Beach.
We leave Ghana now and carry on to get a taste of Voodoo in Benin and Togo. We’ll cross into Nigeria shortly and begin what has the potential to be one of the bigger challenges of the trip: obtaining our Angolan visas.
I have to apologize, readers. I’m sure friends and family out there have been looking forward to hearing about Christmas and future travelers want to know the details of the Dogon trek. Well, I missed both and while I have tried to interview some individuals about the details, I’m finding it very difficult to write a travel blog about things I took no part in. So, sorry if this is a skimpy entry.
(Warning: The following paragraph contains material that may not suitable for…well… just about anyone.)
Why was I absent for 2 of the biggest events of the trip thus far? A major revolt was launched on my digestive system. I was attacked from multiple angles and rendered tent (or toilet) bound for the better part of a week. I could go into detail. That would be completely appropriate conversation for us on the truck. I realize that for you….. not so much. I often have to remind myself that giving thorough accounts of your bathroom adventures is not something considered normal. Bowel babble is usually a phenomenon restricted to travelers and health care professionals. Here, it is not unusual for someone to raise a question such as “ How many of us have soiled ourselves on the trip so far?” at breakfast and get honest answers. The answer (at least the last time it was asked) was 4. That fact that this was not accompanied by any incredulous gasps of shock or disapproval for such a topic being discussed was probably because we all know, probably from personal experience, that this stuff does happen. These kind of risks are inherent in traveling places like these, traveling the way we do. Further proof that, at least for those who are inclined towards such adventures, it must be well worth it. It would have to be in order to put up with ….well…. you know. Anyway, back to the point: I won’t give you a play-by-play of MY Christmas. But here is what I do know about the rest of the gang:
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas at the Tagona Hotel just outside the dusty “town” of Bandiagara, Mali: A one-pig town. I can’t say one-horse town. I saw no horses. Just a very happy pig enthusiastically doing his part to clean up the city. Even though Tagona was a nice place to stay, Bandiagara was a strange place to spend the holiday. Sweating profusely while doing nothing more physical than sitting in a dusty environment, with a background soundtrack of goats and Bantu language and screaming parrots doesn’t fit in with the theme of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells and stockings hung by the chimney with care. But the troops did their best to cultivate the holiday spirit, complete with a Christmas playlist on the hotel speakers and decorations hanging from the truck.
The big night was Christmas Eve when the drinking, dancing, and gift exchange happened. No surprise, I missed out on that. I did venture out at one point. As I did, Chris M. just happened to be asking Gav about the little monster in his toilet. According to Chris, as he flushed he saw a tail wriggling inside the rim of the bowl. We checked it out. Gav extracted a sizeable gecko that had taken up residence in Chris’s porcelain throne. Can you imagine what could have happened had the lizard decided to defend his territory?
On Christmas day, we had the chefs at the hotel roast us a pig. Not that I could eat much but it was incredible! Kev, Jeremy, and Phil cooked the accompaniments: Potatoes, squash, fried bananas. Yum! This was a major accomplishment. This southern part of Mali has been absolutely pathetic in terms of the vegetable selection. Potatoes and onions are no rarity but squash and bananas? Nice work, boys!
Lucy and Chris also put in a good effort and cooked some fruitcake in the camp oven. Not a simple task. By the end of the evening, everyone was well fed and had their strength up for the upcoming trek.
The majority of veteran Trans passengers say that Dogon Trek is a Western highlight. So far, I don’t think that there are many on this truck who are going to disagree. Dogon Country or Pays Dogon is home to, if you can believe it, the Dogon people. The Dogon people are confined to this area of southern Mali. Because finding such well preserved culture – a culture that has resisted the influence of outsiders, is rare these days the Dogon homeland has been given World Heritage status. Tourists have the chance to see the unique Dogon way of life by visiting the area. Multi-day treks are a popular option and that’s exactly what the troops did. Some opted for the 3 day trek and others made it a 4 day journey.
The trek took the gang through Dogon villages, onto escarpment cliffs, and over dusty goat tracks. They would set off in the morning, stop for lunch in one of the villages, and arrive in another hamlet late afternoon where they would sleep on the roof of one of the archetypal mud buildings. The meals got rave reviews: Short on the meat but big on taste.
It was not the easiest hike any of these guys have done. The killer heat (35*C) and occasional climbs took its toll. Fortunately, the awesome guide, Speedi, had that covered. He’d hired a donkey cart to carry supplies and weary trekkers. It was a rickety contraption but it could do the job of carrying bodies to recovery.
Everyone seemed to have loved the trek. Some funny tales were certainly recounted upon the troops’ return: Everything from the confusion of locating the hole that was the toilet in one village (It was covered by a large decorative “lid” in the form of a statue) to Mayumi mistaking a donkey for Phil. Everyone was glad they had gone.
We’ve moved on from Mali. We spent New Year’s Eve in No-Mans’ Land between Mali and Burkina Faso. I haven’t decided yet if what happens in No-Mans’ Land stays in No-Mans’ Land or if I should give you a juicy report.
We’re currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, where we’re getting our visas for Ghana. Monday was a national holiday. Ouaga isn’t a bad place to be though we have been a bit stuck – unable to spend the duration of our 7 day transit visa anywhere else of note. Always with the holidays!
Ghana should have a lot to offer. I’m certainly looking forward to hitting the first national parks of the trip, Mole and Kakum, where I’m sure we’ll see some exciting new species. We’ll also see some of the old slave forts of the Gold Coast and visit the biggest market in West Africa. I’m sure there will be a good story or two to tell coming up very soon!
We’ve made it to Bamako. We’re here in the capital city of Mali to collect Nigerian visas. Contrary to what both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet say, it isn’t such a bad place to be stuck. The place has had lots to offer (including Wi-Fi and, at least for Kev, air-con!).
The first night we were here was a big night. After doing time (albeit a short amount of time) in a dry country it was time to party and the bar here at the Sleeping Camel had plenty of beer to facilitate that. Not everyone was looking too good the next morning.
Sean Paul is playing tonight and some of the troops are planning to attend that concert. A few days ago there was a football game: Bamako against the Mali Armed Forces team. Carolina got right up there with the Malian ladies and danced in support of their team.
Greg had a craving for goat yesterday and had one of the local guys show him to a good spot. Apparently the “good spot” looked like a dirty old shack but whoever was cooking in said shack new how to do it right. Greg had 2 servings.
Aussie Sean and Jeremy came with me to lodge the visas. They wanted to see how tricky it can really be. Dang me if this wasn’t the easiest visa process I have ever experienced. They think I’m a liar now. I’ll have to take them to the Angolan embassy with me. If that proves to be difficult, I can reclaim a little face. If it ends up being a piece of cake, I’m bringing those dudes with me to every embassy as they’re obviously some kind of good luck charm.
I was told that there were 3 things in Mauritania: Sand, flies, and Mauritanians, in that order. That’s half right. There’s also camels, donkeys, and (allegedly) terrorists. I can’t confirm the latter but they certainly had the biggest, most disruptive impact on the trip. Also, I believe that the camels and donkeys outnumber Mauritanians – even if you only count the camels and donkeys that were road-kill.
That said, Mauritania was pretty awesome. The scenery was gorgeous and the people were very friendly. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see much of it though. We were rushed through the country by military escorts. The armed guards were on account of recent Al Qaeda activity in the area. They rushed us through town after town like an overprotective mother rushes her child past anything she perceives to be germ ridden. I almost felt like they were embarrassed to be seen with us they were that adamant about getting us out as quickly as possible.
The only times we really did slow down were when we had to get out with shovels and make the sandy road passable for our truck. That was fun.
So, we didn’t get to see much of Mauritania.
We arrived at the Mali border after dark ( and 3 days earlier than anticipated) so we slept there. Our first day in Mali proved that we’re truly in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was a quintessentially African day. That is, a day where you’re not really doing anything but still a lot happens.
I often sleep outside when the conditions are right. If it is warm and the area isn’t too densely populated, sleeping under the stars is a great option. That’s what I had done this night. I woke up surrounded with no less than 14 eyes fixed on me.
“Ugghh.” I mumbled from under the covers of my sleeping bag. There are few things I hate more than being stared at. “Make ‘em go away!” They didn’t go away.
The gaggle of children didn’t leave camp for hours and, in fact, they commandeered our campfire. Just as the concept of personal space is not really grasped in Africa, the concept of private property is not always clear either. I believe some of the skinnier ones were waiting around for a bit of our breakfast. Definitely not an option! We’re not heartless, we’re just budget
We proceeded down the road to Nioro where we struggled a bit to find the customs office. It wasn’t exactly obvious. We drove towards town and were given directions the opposite way. We turned around and when we stopped to ask where the office was we were pointed in the direction from whence we came.
When we did eventually find it, we ran into two groups of travelers that we had previously met in other locations. I find that you’re always running into people you know in Africa. Sometimes in the weirdest places. This wasn’t really a weird place to find fellow overlanders but the odds of us all hitting it at the same time was a bit strange.
The Spaniards had been delayed as they found themselves in a bit of trouble. One of the guys had decided to para-glide behind the other’s motorcycle while they were in the desert. The para-glider was arrested on espionage charges. Of course! Why would someone do something like that if not to spy on the Mauritanian government? Apparently the charges had been cleared.
Customs work finished, we took off towards Bamako. We found a little junction town where there were stalls selling delicious roasted goat. Before we could eat, however, we had to deal with the cops. Some kind of run-in with the police happens roughly once a week, often more, for us here on the dark continent. It’s usually something benign. Sometimes completely ludicrous. One comes to learn to expect it.
“Bonjour! Chief, chauffer!” The big man in the blue camouflage uniform boomed as he tapped me on the shoulder.
“Oh, great.” I thought, “Here we go.” It can be frustrating and time consuming dealing with these guys, but in truth, it’s sometimes kind of fun. Fun when I’m not starving, though! I really wanted that goat. I was a bit miffed.
I took him over to Gav and he proceeded to tell us that there was a problem.
He explained to us that one of the passengers had taken a photo of the police post. This is illegal in most of Africa, as is taking photos of bridges, government buildings, borders, military officials, public officials, politicians, probably any family member of any elected official, in some countries, certain streets are off limits. These are just the things I know of right off hand . How your average tourist is supposed to keep track of all this, I just don’t know. I think they need to start handing out pamphlets on what you can and can’t photograph.
Well, this photographer didn’t even know that there was a police post there. Just like the customs office, it wasn’t exactly obvious. She was taking a photo of some women and of the little town itself. Not that that mattered to the coppers. She deleted her photos in front of the big man in blue, we joked around with him a bit, and he sent us on our merry way. I got my goat.
As we moved on we passed plenty of overturned vehicles along the road. Not an uncommon thing on African highways. We came upon one vehicle, though, that had just recently driven into the ditch. The 5 occupants of the green sedan were sitting around stunned and looking hopelessly at the wreck.
This was their lucky day, though. We’ve got some strong men on the truck. Surely African Trails could just simply lift the car out of the ditch, right? Right! With the combined strength of the guys and Peter’s excellent instruction, the car was right side up on terra-firma with just a few heaves. If you ask the ladies of African Trials though, what really made it all possible was the encouragement provided by those of the fairer gender.
After that random act of kindness, we carried on and found ourselves a little bush camp in the scrub 100km or so down the road. Great little place with lots of bird life (including Senegal parrots!!) and some oddly, mushroom shaped termite mounds.
After dark, it became apparent where the smoke we had been seeing off in the distance was coming from. Trees were silhouetted against an orange and black background not too far from camp. Flames were licking those trees. There are a lot of controlled burns in Africa but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t spectacular and sometimes scary.
This one was quite a ways off and didn’t put us in jeopardy. Not everyone believed this though so it added an extra element of excitement to the evening.
Now, Gavin P. and Chris H. have been working hard on a project. In Fes, they built and tested a smaller model. They decided to go big on round 2. The guys constructed a gigantic, crate paper hot air balloon in Nouakchott. With the hot air from the camp fire, they believed they could make it fly. They were ready to test it out at this bush camp.
They got close. Really close. The balloon filled with hot air and tried hovering above the fire. Alas, she failed to lift off. The idea was right but her materials were perhaps just a little too heavy. Hopefully they’ll give it another shot.
From here we travel to Djenne and check out the biggest mud mosque in the world, the biggest mud structure in the world, in fact. We’ll see Mopti and Bandigara and trek in Dogon country. The river trip up to Timbuktu isn’t happening. Those damn terrorists again! I’m sure we’ll find something exciting to make up for it though!
Since last checking in we have traveled the High Atlas Mountains and the Western Sahara. In the Atlas, we saw fossils, Dades Gorge, and Todra Gorge. At Todra, Lena and Phil rock climbed. Lucy and Chris got adopted by a canine escort that showed them through the gorge and back to the guest house.
We experienced the rather amusing dichotomy of hospitality and thievery from a gin-fiending Berber man that let us spend the night on his rooftop.
We spent a few days in a campsite just outside Marrakech that was home to a large flock of peafowl and a few kittens that the animal lovers in the group (myself included, of course) just couldn’t resist.
In town, we wandered through the market and witnessed the famous snake charmers.
In Essaouira , we spent a day at the little seaside town and wandered along the beach and medina. From there, we headed off into the desert………
Last night Greg, Chris, Hisashi, and Aussie Sean cooked up a camel stew. We were parked by the beach near Dhakla. There were a few kite surfers in the bay and some European campers on the other side of the lot from us. It was a bit more inhabited than what we’d experienced the previous few nights. Gav and Peter tried a little fishing. Gav caught something. We’re not quite sure what, but it tasted great.
Tonight we have the tents set up on a sandy spot in the middle of nowhere. Literally. We’re no longer in Morocco but we aren’t exactly in Mauritania yet either. We’ve got a roaring fire going right next to the Mauritanian immigrations office. Carolina, German, Peter and Mayumi are cooking up a storm. There’s a lot of eggs involved but I haven’t taken a close inspection to determine what it is yet.
We pulled into Moroccan immigrations a bit before 3. We were there for ages! I went off to take care of the immigration formalities while Gav took care of customs. Everyone had to wait and wait for the truck to go through the x-ray machine. I had to wait and wait to get the passports back. Gav had to run from this office to that office to this uniformed officer to that uniformed officer back to the second office….. it went on like that for a while. Then a police officer threatened to detain Sarah for being too desirable. Fortunately, she knows how to talk herself out of these situations and we didn’t have stick around longer in order to negotiate her release.
When we finally did get all the paperwork done, we were stopped about 4 or 5 times within the space of 100m to have all that paperwork checked and double checked.
At one point, a little old man came over to the left side of the cab, my side, in this truck the passenger’s side.
“Passports” I gave him the passports.
“Papers” I gave him the papers.
“Nationality” I told him our nationalities even though he had our American and Australian passports in his hand.
“What is your name?” He asked me as he looked down at a paper stating the driver’s details and name as Gavin Foreman.
“Summer Wilms” I said
“No. That is the driver. That is my husband.” I don’t think he was listening.
“You change! Now.”
Huh? I was confused. “Huh?”
“You change. You go his seat. He come your seat.” He said very sternly.
What?! I didn’t want to drive! “I… um…Oh! …Wait…” The truck is a bit high and I realized that he couldn’t see into the cab very well. I opened the door and showed him that the steering wheel was on the right hand side of the vehicle. Half of Africa drives on the right side while the other drives on the left. We’re usually in the part that drives on the left.
“Oh! English!” The little bespectacled man yelled.
We all had a bit of a laugh about that and he waved us through.
We drove out into No-Mans’ Land, the 8 km stretch of something vaguely resembling a road that we were warned has mine fields on either side. It was creepy. It was a nearly monotone environment. Everything a shade of beige. The place looked like something out of one of those sci-fi movies where most of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared and only a few hundred individuals are left to fight it out in the barren wasteland that the earth becomes. Dozens of burnt and rusted cars littered the side of the road. There was an eerie, stagnant feeling about the place. It definitely left an impression.
We pulled into Mauritanian immigration around 5:45pm. For the first half hour we were given no indication of what we were to do. That’s normal. The ball finally got rolling and I took the passports to the office. They kept pushing me back in line. I admit, processing 26 passports at the end of the day does look like a daunting task.
Evening set in. The sun just seemed to click off rather than set. I didn’t notice when it did. One minute it was light, then it wasn’t. All this hurrying-up-and-waiting can be very distracting. One of the immigration officials asked me something quickly in French.
“Ummm.. Qu…Ummm. What?” I’m ashamed. I can make attempts to speak French but when it’s coming at me so quickly, I get flustered.
He mimed sleeping and pointed to a patch of sand next to the small white building where passport formalities were done. He was inviting us to sleep there for the night. Seemed like a good idea. It was clearly going to take a long time for them to finish hand-writing all the information from each individual passport into their logbook. By this time it was 7:30pm and definitely the best option. So, here we are: Somewhere between Morocco and Mauritania, sitting around the fire, about to eat dinner. One of those memorable if not unusual “bush” camps.
We’ve had some good “bush” camps over the last few days. This is night 5, I believe, since we’ve seen a campsite. We’ve visited civilization during the day when we’d pass through a town but otherwise, we’ve been living in the vastness of the Western Sahara.
It’s been cold but the nights have been excellent. Our first camp we found ourselves on the top of a red, rocky hill dotted with cactus. OK, as Pommie Sean pointed out, not the most ideal place to set up a tent, but it worked. Peter braved the outdoor sleep for the first time that night.
The next night we found ourselves in another unique spot. Dunes lay ahead of the truck. The beach was on one side with a little estuary on the other where a flock of flamingoes had taken up temporary residence. There were a few European campers there as well as some Berbers setting up large tents for an upcoming festival. Jeremy followed Peter’s example and slept by the fire that night.
Another camp found us in the middle of the desert where some of us wandered off on short walks to experience the place. It was hard not to. The wilderness seemed to be calling out for attention.
There, Dave decided that he would “upgrade” and slept in an unused camel trough. It was cold and windy and the trough was dry with high sides so it did made a lot of sense to sleep there.
As we set up camp in that spot, a convoy of tanks passed us on the road. Where they were going and what they were doing, I can’t even begin to imagine. They were excited to see us though and gave us a few friendly beeps and waves as they went by.
As you can imagine, with all this roughing it, most of us are starting to look a bit….well…. ragged. Dirty doesn’t really describe it but we’re that, too.
Aussie Sean came up to me the other day and said, “I changed my clothes this morning. It just isn’t worth it, is it?”
At this, I mentally inventoried myself and realized that I had been wearing the same jeans for well over a week, maybe 2, and the shirt for no less than 4 days. It occurred to me just then that that wasn’t really normal, was it? I usually go a couple months without washing my wardrobe (underwear being the exception, in case you were wondering. I’m not THAT feral… yet. ). It hasn’t occurred to me in years that this might be considered gross by a fair portion of the population.
“No, Sean. Definitely not worth it. When the clothes you’re wearing start to disintegrate, then it’s a good time to change them.”
He nodded in agreement. That seemed to make sense.
The jeans I was wearing at the time have no less than 9 holes in them and are starting to wear very thin. The crotch area has an emergency patch on it. I couldn’t find a sewing kit at the time of repair so some fabric and Super Glue did the job. Yeah…. I might be due for a change in leg wear. In addition, despite the fact that we’ve been eating well, I’ve already lost enough weight for walking in these jeans to become difficult: Step, step, yank up on the belt loops, step, step. It’s beginning to slow me down.
I may dress a bit like a cast member of “Oliver!” these days but I’m comforted by the fact that I know I’m not alone. Gavin is the guru of Overland fashion. He has a knack for keeping garments that most would have long considered dead on a kind of life support for textiles. Soon, it won’t just be Gav, though. By the time we get to Swakopmund, Namibia, we will all have forgotten about dress and decorum and will be looking as ragged as a bunch of Depression-Era hobos. And we’ll be proud of it. We’ll have earned that look! (Except for maybe Lena. She may make it all the way still looking like she’s remembered to shower. She’s been wearing a white shirt for a few days ago and it still appears to be spotless! I can’t wear a white anything for more than an hour without it being soiled. I don’t know how she does it. I’m in awe.)
We head through Mauritania next. It probably won’t be much of a visit. There isn’t a whole lot to see in Mauritania outside a national park and the fish market in the capital city. I think what everyone is most looking forward to is the showers at the Auberge Sahara.
Since the situation is a little uncertain here in Mauritania we’ll be personally escorted on the road by armed military and police officers at least until we get to Nouakchott. Possibly when we head south as well. That’s great, but it might mean we rush to Mali even quicker than anticipated as they’ll be setting the pace. That’s one of the great things about Africa, though….. and one of the worst: You never know what to expect!