Overland through Africa

2010-12-04 00:00

IF you have ever thought about travelling overland through Africa, but were too daunted by the monumental nature of this undertaking, there’s now a book to help you.

Maureen Day, her husband Brian and three other couples spent 10 months in 2007 travelling through Africa, particularly East Africa. Their epic journey took them from Pietermaritzburg to Zanzibar and back via Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. The self-published book, Beware of F alling Mangoes, is the product of the experience and the mammoth research Day did before they left.

The four couples travelled in three Land Rovers and a Land Cruiser.

“The book represents all the information I wish had been available to me before we went. It would have saved me months of research, so that is my aim: to save others all that sweat. For example, we took one set of certified personal documents per person per country and 50 passport photos for documents or other official uses, and never used one. What am I going to do with all those photos now? By the time I use them up I’ll look completely different!” Day laughed.

The book is attractively laid out with stunning photographs and handy hints and tips interspersed throughout the text. It starts with essential advice on key issues like how to choose your travelling companions, kitting out your vehicle, choosing a campsite and the rules of the road, even for places where there are no roads. So comprehensive and detailed is the data that it includes information on fuel availability, GPS co-ordinates, daily itineraries, border formalities, spares and vehicle insurance, clothing lists, documentation required, complete lists of camping and vehicle equipment, kitchen utensils, medical supplies, a grocery list, “bush recipes” and even tips on choosing and setting up a house sitter for while you are away. Day’s attention to detail has been described as “alarming”, but not if you want to use her book to plan a trip — then it’s a godsend.

Each country is covered in a separate section that includes detailed information that would take you days digging on the Internet for. This includes route maps, advice on where to stay, what to see, negotiating with officials, the quality of roads and other infrastructure, food and water availability, what creepy crawlies to expect and basic vocabulary in a local language.

There are amusing excerpts from letters written home by one of the travellers, Ingrid Hardman, plus anec­dotes and fun titbits like the names of shops they passed, wise sayings from local cultures and interesting trivia or “Did you knows” about each country.

However, as I looked through the book, I kept expecting and wanting more personal reflection, anecdotes and more of the author’s voice and presence. It wasn’t there and I felt disappointed as a journey like this cannot help but affect everyone involved: individuals, couples and group dynamics. It cannot have left them unchanged.

Day explained that the absence of the personal is deliberate and the book is specifically a hands-on “How-to” guide and not a personal reflection and general travelogue.

“People said that wasn’t what they wanted, what they wanted was what my book is: a step-by-step manual for an overland African adventure.”

It’s not a common thing this, to spend 10 months travelling overland through Africa. So why did they do it? “We have done several 4x4 adventures in neighbouring countries, and once you are bitten by the bug, there’s something about Africa that keeps pulling you back for more. The smells, tastes, sights and cultures of Africa don’t let go. It recharges my soul to sit in a landscape where there’s no one else around and to marvel at places which hardly anyone else has seen. There’s nothing like it. The slices of heaven I’ve seen will remain with me forever.”

Would they do it again? “We bought a Lotto ticket as we drove back into ’Maritzburg. If I’d won we’d have refuelled, restocked and turned round and done it all over again. If I did win the Lotto, I’d do it again tomorrow.”

African adventure at a glance

 

Total distance covered: 45 000 km

Countries: Six

Border crossings : 26

Bribes: 0

Total fuel cost: R42 000

Total flat tyres: 30

Only place crime experienced: One theft, Arusha, Tanzania

Crime prevention: SA stickers on vehicles e.g. flag, Madiba, Bafana Bafana. Day is convinced these created interest and goodwill, but beware: children tried to take them!

Worst soil erosion and land degradation: Kenya

Not necessary: Water purification plant — bottled water available; satellite phone — take cellphones and buy local SIM cards

Necessary: Tubeless tyres and locks for everything on outsideof vehicle

A life-saver: Vehicle roll bar

Advice: Do a trial run first and make sure all the participants get on with each other

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