Diary from an Overlanding Trip in Africa

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Written by: John Lightbound

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I did my overland trip over an 11 week period from February to April 2004, travelling from Kenya through Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia before reaching South Africa and Cape Town. Highlights of the tour included trekking to see mountain gorillas, white water rafting on the Nile, cycling round Hell’s Gate park in Kenya (where the Lion King was based!), lots of game viewing, tropical beaches, more animals, Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, the Namib Desert, and other extreme sports.

The beginning of a typical day in the truck

5.30am. The alarm beeps in my ear, and I slap around the tent until I find it. My cook team had been nominated as ‘kitchen slaves’ for this camp, so we were on call to light the barbecue. With a 7am driving start, this meant waking only a couple of hours after staggering to my tent from the warming glow of the bar.

Trying not to kick my tent mate in his sleep, I fall out of the tent onto the rock we tried not to camp on. It’s all hands on deck to get brekkie ready for us, the 20 other people on the truck, and our driver and guide. Cooking toast for 28 people over an open flame in the dark is no easy task.

With breakfast over, the washing up done and tents packed away, we all climb aboard. Somebody yells: “Don’t forget your Doxy!” and we all remember to take our antimalarials. As he pulls out of the camp, the guide details the day – a total of eight hours driving, stopping for lunch and shopping, passing through a game park and a campsite, and a bar to finish. Everyone sinks into their seats and falls asleep.

Venturing out into the wild

Four hours later, with the sun dead overhead, the people at the front of the truck who have got a little warm ask us at the back to pull the window tarps open. Unfortunately, this means that all conversation is stopped due to the noise of the wind, and we start getting blown around. What’s more, we can’t hear the loud Australian rock music from the front. A prized pair of aviator sunglasses are swept off someone’s face and into a crowd of locals walking to market. We assume from the less than welcoming expressions on their faces that they think we’re attacking them in some way and decide not to try to collect the escapee sunnies.

Overlanding in Africa

Pulling into town, we park close to the market and told we have 90 minutes to do as we wish. I jump from the truck into the dust and am immediately surrounded by samosa salesmen. “Later,” I tell them, as my cook group dashes off to the market to get today’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. We manage to haggle a reasonable price for our peppers, tomatoes and bananas at the market, given that we have to feed 28 people on US$28, which, even in Africa, is not a lot of money.

Seeing amazing animals in a game reserve

A couple of hours later, we are told to watch for animals. Tarps are hauled up, treasured SLR cameras unwrapped, and everyone stands up, desperate to be the one who spots that lion. Twenty minutes later, we get that first sighting. “Look, a warthog,” someone whispers. Cameras click, and the beast runs off into the bush again. Then, coming thick and fast, elephants on the left take priority over impala on the right, and people push back and forth across the interior of the truck.

As the sun sets, some still stood looking for game, we turn off road, the jolt knocking over any standing folk, and thorn trees come in the windows, with everyone at the back dropping to the floor to prevent being hit. We are told to camp where we please and that there’s a bar with a tab. Cheering at this news is followed by people hauling tents, chairs and tables out of the bowels of the truck, and the fire is lit while we start chopping the veg for our stir-fry. With some new slaves bringing us beers aplenty, the chore is quickly done and we retire to the bar. As the vodka bottle cap is thrown away, I’m glad its only 6am I have to wake at tomorrow…

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