Oil aboard for African trip

2015-08-18 06:00
Mark Sampson, with his wife Sam Pearce and their children Zola and Ruby, before they left on their African overland expedition in 2013. 

Pierre-Yves Salaun

Mark Sampson, with his wife Sam Pearce and their children Zola and Ruby, before they left on their African overland expedition in 2013. PHOTO: Pierre-Yves Salaun

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In the two years since comedian Mark Sampson left Cape Town to drive around Africa, he and his family have travelled 16 000km, crossed a dozen countries and their truck has broken down 10 times.

Now, as the family waits for the Ebola outbreak to pass, they can’t wait to get out on the road again.

Mark and his wife Sam Pearce bundled their children into their Big Green Truck, which runs on waste vegetable oil, in July 2013 to drive clockwise around the continent in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest journey made on alternative fuel.

And why vegetable oil? Because it’s free, Sam says.

“We couldn’t afford to drive around Africa on diesel. But also the main purpose of the trek is to draw attention to climate change and how it’s affecting the continent, and show people that we can all get creative to combat it,” she says.

They ask for donations of dirty cooking oil from hotels and restaurants in big cities along the way and then filter this oil.

Former Covent Garden busker Mark has entertained at high schools and South African embassies along the way, while performing impromptu magic shows with his children in villages where they’ve stayed and at hundreds of police roadblocks.

And they have never paid a bribe, Sam says.

The Sampsons have been forced to suspend their trek temporarily due to travel restrictions around the Ebola pandemic, but they intend returning to Liberia in October.

Mark was inspired to take to the road after his father suffered a stroke, Sam says.

“Mark’s dad always wanted to sail the Atlantic, and he spent 10 years building an ocean-going boat, but sadly had a stroke before he could fulfil his dream. We were determined to travel with our family while we were still fit enough to make the most of it,” she says.

And the family has definitely been making the most of it.

“We’ve enjoyed extraordinarily warm African hospitality wherever we’ve been, fabulous surf and palm-fringed perfection at beaches all along the West Coast, and Christmas at the continent’s most spectacular street party, the Calabar Carnival in Nigeria,” Sam says.

But the Liberian roads haven’t been the only bumps along the route.

“We’ve survived a flying solar panel in Namibia, a wheel coming loose in Angola, an AK47-wielding bandit in the DRC, getting stuck on the ferry across the Congo, being bitten by scores of jungle bugs in Gabon, having to drive through waist-high mud in Cameroon, a scorpion bite in Togo and malaria plus typhoid in Cote d’Ivoire. Oh, and we nearly tipped the truck over,” says Sam.

The trip has only brought the family closer, Sam says.

“We have become more adaptable and learned not to sweat the small stuff. We enjoy living with far lower levels of daily stress. We can also survive two weeks with only 500F of water – we’ve all learned how to shower fast!”

Leaving their home in Noordhoek, the family thought they’d miss their house, sofas and TV, says Sam.

“We’ve been spoilt by so many stunning beaches; we haven’t missed the South Peninsula like we thought we would. We only miss family and friends. Who misses deadlines, rush hour and homework?”

Mark Sampson will be hosting an informal Q&A session while in the South Peninsula. He’ll be at Octopus Garden in St James on Saturday, Café Roux in Noordhoek on Saturday 29 August and at Upstairs at the Meeting Place in Simon’s Town on Friday 4 September. Entry is R100 to R110. Book at www.quicket.co.za, www.caferouxsessions.co.za and oliviagain@mweb.co.za respectively.

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