Overlanding in Africa: The good, the bad and the beautiful

Rhinos

When the notion of Africa first came into my mind I just couldn’t shake it, so a week later I found myself on a plane to Johannesburg about to embark on a 26 day camping trip. Now I don’t camp, period, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but I wanted to do Africa, and lets face it, most of us can’t afford the luxury tours. Now I will say this, if you don’t have any character before Africa, you will leave with an abundance of it; you’ll probably have as much character as dirt oozing from you, and that’s exactly as it should be. TIA – This is Africa

Now lets get the bad out of the way so we can focus on the good and the beautiful. There’s a surprisingly large amount of nothing in Africa, so be prepared for a lot of long hot dusty truck rides, and girls, just accept now that there is zero point trying to brush your hair for the duration of your trip (see photo).

Nicole

Heat + open windows = bad hair month

Communal peeing. Yep, get used to it. One day a small boy ran up from a nearby house to say hello while we were all in a line going to the toilet. I was mid-pee when I heard him shout hello and peed on my foot when I jumped in fright. TIA… The African bush doesn’t always offer the best cover, so when there’s one bush that offers a modicum of cover and you’re all on the verge of peeing your pants you just all pop a squat next to each other. Even the strongest willed cave eventually. Enter Nicole, who until the end of the trip had been the group camel that never needed to pee. One day we were confronted with some particularly sparse bush (pretty sure everyone on the truck saw our white arses) so we all just shrugged, lined up and started going, to which in complete and utter horror Nicole announced “omg, you’re all going in a line!” and then stood there with her back to us until she couldn’t hold it anymore and joined us.

The dirt. It kind of becomes like a blanket, a blanket that you really don’t want, but a blanket none the less. Eventually the notion of being clean becomes a far off distant memory of times long past, and you just accept that a layer of dirt is now a part of everyday life; it’s time to forget actual clean and embrace Africa clean.

Tent

Photo Credit: Nicole Lamont – My tent mate and owner of the hair

The tent. Now, what could possibly be worse that sharing a room with a complete stranger that you’ve just met? Sharing a tent with them! The tents aren’t exactly roomy and have about a foot of space between mattresses in them, and that’s before you’ve even put your stuff in them! So you’re going to get to know each other pretty well, pretty quickly, whether you want to or not. Now, I’m not going to lie, for the first week I hated every minute of living in a tent. I didn’t know how I was going to survive almost a month of camping, but little by little, I started to get used to it, to the point that the tent started to feel almost cozy and homey. It really is amazing what you can get used to.

The bugs. Where to begin… there’s lots of them. Lots and lots of them. And if you think I’m exaggerating, remember I’m Australian and we kind of have a monopoly on creepy crawly flying things that bite. At least I thought we did until I went to Africa, but it turns out they win hands down. Flies that lay eggs in you that eat their way out, parasites in the lakes (deworming day is 1st December people!) and everything in between. But take an abundance of bug spray and a positive attitude and you know what, you’re going to be just fine. It all comes back to that abundance of character you’re going to return home with. Turns out there isn’t just toilet character, but there is bug character too. TIA!

Elephants

Now if you haven’t worked it out yet, part of what I thought was bad about Africa is also what makes it great. You don’t go to Africa and expect to be clean and bug free; to expect the creature comforts of the western world. You go for an experience of a lifetime, for the journey, for the memories, for the adventure, for the great unknown. You go for Africa, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Africa is one of those places that really does look like the postcards. The route I chose took me from Johannesburg across the border into Botswana, then into Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. There were so many highlights on this trip that if I wrote about them all we’d be here all week. We bush camped for two days in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, walked with Rhinos in Zimbabwe, rode horses bareback into Lake Malawi and swam at the beach in Zanzibar. I also managed to complete my big 5 on this trip and even watched a leopard take down and impala and start to eat it before a hyena came and stole the meal. It truly was an amazing experience; one that I wouldn’t change for anything.

Things to Note:

The cash situation in Zimbabwe – There isn’t any. Yep you heard right, there’s no cash in Zimbabwe right now and the country is on the verge of collapse. As our first tour guide said “if it has a face on it, they’ll probably take it” and while this isn’t quite true, they do take quite a few different currencies as payment. I paid one bill in South African Rand, Botswana Pula and USD, just to get to the right amount as they had no change. Basically anything goes, but it’s easier if you just take enough USD to get you through, and make sure you take small bills as you don’t want to be getting your change in bonds. Bonds are a guarantee for USD (because there isn’t enough actual USD) and can only be used in Zimbabwe, and given the money could collapse at any minute, it’s not something you want to have much of!

What to take – A good pillow, a warm sleeping bag and a good torch are the things you just can’t scrimp on when planning your trip. I had none of these and was miserable. Half way through the trip one of the guys that left gave me his pillow and I bought a comforter which saved my life on those few cold African nights. As for the torch, well I just bitched and moaned until the bitter end, so make sure you pack a nice bright head torch!

sunset

Ah… Those African sunsets though…

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2 responses to “Overlanding in Africa: The good, the bad and the beautiful

  1. I LOVED reading this! I lived in Uganda for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and this really takes me back. Great description of what it is like to be on the road in Africa. I might need to visit my second home again soon. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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