It took us five months and 25,000 kilometres to reach South-Africa. We travelled through some rough terrain, had our share of setbacks and met some very interesting people. In this three-part series we will take you back to some of the highlights of this journey, while we prepare for ‘the long way up’ along Africa’s west coast.
‘To the end of the world and back’
There is almost no government influence in this region [between Ethiopia and Kenya along Lake Turkana], since the different tribes control the land. They fight over cattle grazing land in what is sometimes armed conflict. The majority still wear traditional tribal dress, which is as exuberant as it is colourful. The locals rarely see “ferangies” (foreigners, often Western people) pass by and, if they do, everyone comes out of their huts to witness the spectacle, wave and, in many cases, ask for a “present” or “gift”, which seem to be the only English words they have picked up! We had visitors to our camp a few times, who were amazed by almost everything: mirrors, fold-up chairs, rooftents, blond hair etc. In general, though, you see more animals than people when driving over the rough track. The scenery varies between a savannah-type environment, with high grass and acacia trees, to barren rocky deserts with the odd bush here and there. The route, although long, is never boring and always challenging.
‘CouchSurfing in Africa’
Honestly, how stupid would it be to drive into one of the most crime ridden cities in the world and stay the night with a random stranger? Pretty stupid right? Well, that’s just what we did. I posted our travel plans just beyond the end of the world, where the phone cables had just about reached, and logged into CouchSurfing. [...] One guy, an Indian expat called Gaurav, wrote a message that he had read our website, liked our 1-year adventure around Africa, and was inviting us to stay with him. He seemed nice and genuinely excited to meet us.
We drove up, went up to Gaurav’s apartment on the first floor and sat down on the couch. The first few minutes were a bit uncomfortable, just the normal chit chat and him trying to make us feel at home. We just needed a place to camp, and the apartment complex’s compound with guards and a big gate was perfect, but Gaurav wouldn’t hear of it. It was winter in Kenya and temperatures dip to around 13 degrees Celsius at night. Instead, he offered us a bed inside and slept on the couch himself. His hospitality was almost uncomfortable.
‘This Is Africa: Serengeti, Land Rovers and Endless Hospitality’
Soon after exiting the park, we stopped for lunch. For the first time during our trip we baked Dutch pancakes, while traditionally dressed Masaai people gathered, curious, around us. After lunch we started the car and the fan belt broke, so we decided to slowly drive back to the park gate to fix it. The problem turned out to be more complex than it first seemed, so we were referred to the mechanics that maintain the fleet of vehicles from the famous and exclusive Klein’s Camp, which borders the Serengeti. After a warm welcome from the camp’s manager, Tawanda, the mechanics Markus and Steph soon got to work, although they were unable to finish the same day. After a nice meal, we were generously offered a room, which was without doubt one of the nicest places I have ever spent the night. [...] So, This Is Africa: you get into trouble and people will greet you with endless hospitality. In Africa things never go the way you planned, but in the end they always have a way of working themselves out as long as you are patient, open and creative. That Is Africa!
‘Heated debate along Lake Natron’
From the Serengeti National Park we drove along Lake Natron on the only road leading to the Ngorongo Crater. The local government had decided to charge all foreign vehicles 50 US Dollars for each of its three checkpoints, which are on one of the most terrible roads we have seen on the trip. After an argument with the guard at the first checkpoint, we parked the Landy right in front of the gate so nobody could get through. Before long, a local bus stopped behind us and demanded that we move so it could carry on with its journey. We refused. After a heated debate during which most of the passengers got out of the bus, tried to push the car out of the way (in gear – luckily!) and even tried to get in and move it, we got somewhere by saying we were driving for charity and simply did not have the money to pay each municipality to use their road. In the end, we moved our car and a friendly guy from the Wildlife Conservation got us through all three checkpoints. An interesting day in Tanzania.
‘Ngorongoro Crater: zoo or natural beauty?’
We entered the crater as early as possible and drove on the crater’s edge through thick fog. We quickly descended 600 metres down into the crater itself where there was already a large group of other vehicles driving tourists around. This meant that inside in the crater there was no need to look for animals like lions or rhinos; the crater’s floor is so flat (with a salt lake in the middle) that if you just drive to where groups of cars are parked with tourists hanging out of the open roof taking photos, then you will find the wildlife. It felt a little like driving through a zoo, although there is interaction between predator and pray and animals are free to enter or exit the crater if they are able. In this respect, the giraffe was a notable absentee; its long legs and neck mean that it couldn’t enter the crater. In the end, we drove in circles half a dozen times, saw all the animals that inhabit the crater except the leopards, and then left. Back on the edge you get a spectacular view of the crater and its size.
‘A piece of tropical paradise in Malawi’
Lake Malawi is 560 kilometres long and 75 kilometres wide at its widest point. It is famous for the enormous diversity of its tropical fish and looks rather like the sea; you generally can’t see the other end and the lake creates some significant waves, but has no tides and is not salty. After some searching we drove onto an abandoned looking campsite where we were greeted enthusiastically by Oswell. We were given a tour of where we could camp directly on the beach under the trees. The prices on the price list were immediately halved because the facilities were limited. We didn’t care though, the lake was blue, the local fishermen friendly and the sun was shining. The guestbook proved just how abandoned the camp was: the last visitor had left on April 30th. In the end, we stayed for four days and left this piece of tropical paradise with some reluctance.