Africa Overland - Introduction - Talaru
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AFRICA OVERLAND

Here begins an account of one of the great adventures of my lifetime – a six month overland trip across west and central Africa. I embarked on this journey in 1996, and ended up in London in 1997. What follows was written many years ago, and some references may be a bit dated but I have kept them as-is so as to retain authenticity.

 

INTRODUCTION

Overland travel across various continents (or all of them!) is becoming a more popular way to travel. It is not unusual for someone to quit their job or take a year off to traverse a few continents. Even a few years ago, when I began planning my trip, it was considered a grand venture. To set off in a converted truck with 20 strangers for 6 months is a risk, and a  challenge. ‘What if’ was the favourite question of family and friends. What if you don’t like each other? What if you want to do your own thing? What if you get sick half way through?

There were just too many ‘what-ifs’ for me to stay at home and wonder about it like everyone else. I needed little encouragement to quit my job, sell my car and motorbike, relegate my considerable belongings (mainly books) to boxes, and take off for a few years. For me, the 6-month overland journey across Africa was just the start. I left the other end open, not knowing how my life would change and how much money I would have at the end.

How do you plan for a journey that has no real limit, no end? For me the more important considerations were which cassettes I would take, how many rolls of film and how many t-shirts I needed. My packing took a few months. I would gather everything together. Leave it for a few days, take out the unnecessary and add in some other necessary items. In the end I found that after careful packing I used nearly everything I packed, except for my first aid kit, which was left nearly untouched.

 

Preparation involves getting a multitude of shots, all necessary for giving you at least some chance of avoiding a nasty illness. Basic commonsense when it comes to personal hygiene and behaviour will also greatly reduce the chance of illness and accidents. The debate over anti-malarials is always a contentious one. I took a course of pills supplied by the overland tour operator I went with. Other companies ask you to bring your own. Non-medicated prevention is just as valuable as pills. By this I refer to sensible dress, use of sprays and treated mosquito nets and a knowledge of when infection is most likely. Despite the whole group taking religiously our pills, one of our group contracted malaria at the end of the trip. You can never be too cautious. The only side-effect of my medication was a loss of hair, but I had plenty to start with anyway.

Day to day life is not really any different to being at home. It is the setting that changes, but you still need to brush your teeth, have a wash, go to the toilet and so on. Don’t imagine that all these things become redundant when you leave home.

 

Each person in my group had a different reason for undertaking such a journey. I was purely after adventure. I was not running away from anything or anyone. I left a comfortable life and job to see another part of the world and other ways of life. Some of my companions had lost a parent, ended a relationship or hated their jobs and just wanted to get away. For me – I was going TO an adventure. The only preconception I carried with me was the feeling of space, openness and being outdoors. Other than that I hadn’t given the actual experience much thought. There was nothing in particular that I really wanted to do or see – I just wanted the experience of travel and adventure.

 

There were many high points of the trip, but one of my most enduring memories is crossing the Sahara and seeing the same thing for miles and miles – space. Sometimes we would go for 4 or 5 days without access to washing facilities, encrusted with sand and sweat. But these are the times I remember most, not the various showers that I did get to use along the way. It was by no means an easy trip. Physically it can be demanding, with the extremes of temperature and climate. For others it was emotionally demanding – pressure of group dynamics, tensions in the various countries, boredom from long periods of travel.

As we grew accustomed to living and traveling with each other we all became more tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies and habits. It is amusing to look back to how people interacted at the start of the trip and how they turned out at the end. Relationships were made and ended, marriages took place, and divorces were pending. In a way, a trip like this brings things down to a more basic level than we are used to in our ‘normal’ lives back in the Western World.

 

A trip of this length inevitably involves a lot of driving. We did not have any scheduled stops longer than a few days in the one town, but circumstances conspired to see us staying for a few weeks in some places, unable to get out!

 I found that after a few months I began to suffer from ‘journal fatigue’. It was no longer exciting to write about sitting in a truck all day. At some stages of the trip conditions were the same for weeks and weeks. But in between these periods were some spectacular and unique experiences. Some of what I write about fits into the category of ‘you had to be there!’. It will never have the same meaning to someone who wasn’t there or who hasn’t been there and done that before. Some of this may seem boring or irrelevant to some readers. But it is an honest account of how I experienced the trip.