Husband-and-wife team’s eccentric but epic trek across the African continent

2009-11-25 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Africa Trek: From the Cape of Good Hope to Mount Kilimanjaro

Sonia and Alexandre Poussin

Published by Jacana

ON the first day of January 2001 — the beginning of the new millennium — the French husband-and-wife team of Sonia and Alexandre Poussin set off on an epic trek to walk the entire length of Africa, a journey they hoped would symbolically retrace the one made by early humankind. With no logistical back-up and very little besides a few maps in their backpacks, their eccentric odyssey, while obviously including detours to such famous landmarks as Table Mountain, the Victoria Falls, the Ngorongoro Crater and Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, would also see them slogging their way, often in extreme heat, through some of the continent’s most remote, harsh and inaccessible landscapes.

Despite the inevitable dire warnings — especially in South Africa — that they would most likely be robbed, raped or murdered, they seem to have encountered nothing but kindness along the way, at least for the first part of their trip (this volume covers the Cape to Mount ­Kilimanjaro leg of the journey).

In Zimbabwe a farm invader invited them to stop over for the night in his recently acquired new property, while in Tanzania a pride of man-eating lions — who, a few weeks later, were shot because of their predilection for human flesh — allowed them safe passage through their territory.

While the book probably lost something in translation (this is the first time the book, which was an ­International Herald Tribune bestseller, has been published in English in South Africa), Alexandre Poussin writes well, in an artfully rambling way.

There is a strong, elegiac timbre to the writing. Out of his random encounters with ordinary people — farmers, farm workers, tribespeople, artists, businessmen, dissidents and those trapped under the cloak of dictatorship (in Zimbabwe they accidentally bump into and organise an interview with Morgan Tsvangirai) — Poussin has fashioned a form of reportage tinged with poetry.

It is a fascinating rough guide to hoofing it through Africa.

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