Original Touring Africa Diary – Zambia a la Ian

1. GETTING IN
Three and a half hours and USD 280 lighter we managed to enter Zambia and headed off towards Livingstone. Our entry into Zambia was USD 65 more expensive than M & L’s as there was this little road user tax issue, which for some reason appears to be only applicable to rented vehicles crossing at Kasungula – how bizarre.

2. GLOBAL WARMING
There’s this little secret that the world doesn’t know about yet. Vic Falls from the Zambian side n’existe pas.

3. LOWER ZAMBEZI
It’s hot so hot… and sticky… One sweats like a pig just blinking one’s eyes. There’s biting bugs everywhere – we’ve been bitten by so many bugs in so many places, we know not anymore which bug bit us where or when. Our host assures us that the sleeplessness of the staff is not an indication that the Tstese fly carries sleeping sickness , but faire attention for the striped bitch (that fearsome mossie that will give us all malaria).

4. TESTING THE THEORY.
Theory has it that if one wears dark colours ( C & I), one gets ravaged by the Tsetse fly but if one wears light colours ( L & M) one comes out unscathed. L, who foolishly wore a long white dress will testify that theory is wrong ( or was it the dark coloured underwear).

5. JEEP
Now that we’re in here do we exit by transiting the National Park (130 kms) or going back the way we came (50 kms of 1st gear driving plus 160 kms of tarseal). No-one seems to be able to tell us the state of the road through the national park and stories vary. One minute its good road thats just been graded and the next it will take us upwards of ten hours. Lonely Planet does not recommend the route and nor does M’s GPS system. We do however have a landi (and a mitsubishi) and the camel trophy beckons … alas we wear clothes emblazoned with the word
“jeep”.

6. THE STING
Landi alert, shes sliding on the corrugations – miles from nowhere we’ve snapped the track rod end. After an initial hissy fit M ties it all together with good old no. 8 wire and cable ties and we limp on into Lusaka. Next morning we venture forth to find a spare part, and on heading back to our campsite we are stopped by the local constabulary. Lets see now …. its K150 for reckless driving. (I had just overtaken a car doing 40 kms per hour) and K 185 for speeding. (it didn’t seem to register that I was doing 68 kph in a 100kph zone just like it didn’t register that K150 plus K185 does not equal K305 ( USD 75).

M: Can we discuss this?
PO(female): Yes but… I’m not sure what will be coming out of your mouth.
M: The fine’s a little harsh for the offences committed.
PO: I can offer you a discount and reduce the fine to K200.
M: K50 seems more reasonable
PO: Ok if K200 is too much, you can just pay K100.

The deal’s done.

7. WHITE HUNTERS – BLACK HEARTS
In game viewing terms South Luangwa is billed as the best thing since sliced bread. Beautiful but overrated in terms of critter viewing – (unless you’re into dead hippos)… but wait… it is the start of the rainy season (to which we can attest after a cloudburst that left the inside of our tent sodden) so the critters are moving away from the river. Our night drive (the 4 of us and 2 Italians) had its moments: our driver stalled between an irate elephant and the mango tree it wanted and then we saw it …. “a leopard” but far far away. The Italians morphed, Jekyll became Hyde before our eyes. Suddenly there were cars, spotlights a running leopard and us bringing up the rear – our guide wouldn’t take the direction the Italians instructed to short out the other drivers (there was a river there) and boy was there a big time dummy spit – we were gobsmacked.

8. DIESEL
At USD2 per litre this is an expensive country – it’s off to cheaper climes.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Botswana a la Ian

Chapter 1 – Meet spot
Meeting seasoned overlanders somewhere in Africa is a harrowing experience – you think you’ve reached an agreement, booked your flights, and arranged your rental car and accommodation – the meet spot changes! Even when you’re on the continent, fine tuning meet spot details is demanding – sometimes international roaming works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes there’s internet sometimes there’s not. C’est comme ca.

Chapter 2 – Friends
One would be lost without them – big thank yous to Ruedi/Eunice and Tony/Denise.

Chapter 3 – Things that go bump in the night.
Braii time at Xakanaxa (Moremi) and Milan’s cooking up a meaty feast. Suddenly he’s running towards the darkness on the edge of camp stomping his feet.
Ian: What was that Mil?
Mil; I don’t know but it ran away (as he prods the steak)
C: It was black!
Mil: Can you bring me the maglite Louise?
AAAAHHHHH – hippos (one in front , 2 behind) – vooom, we’re in the landy before you can blink.

Chapter 4 – Photography
The name of the game is creativity. You go game driving at sparrow’s fart or dusk because the light is best and you photograph things like eyeballs, tusks and birds in flight (wings up not down of course). The trick is to get the birds to fly and game park etiquette would indicate that it is unacceptable to honk one’s horn but acceptable to slam one’s door or risk becoming lion’s brunch by leaping out of the landy and playing silly buggers. The perfect shot of two fish eagles looms, cameras are focused, door slamming fails and as Louise leaps from the landy C starts muttering, “the focus on my camera is fuzzy, very fuzzy, — it’s gone, eagles are flying. Mil’s camera clicks a squillion times. We’re all left wondering why C turned her camera off.

Chapter 5 – Tourists
A visit to Okavango Delta is not complete without a sunset cruise. There are two boats for hire – USD 50 per hour – seats 12. C decides to canvas the campsite for other punters only to find she’s too late as a group had already formed. The ferryman decides that we should join the initial group as they are four persons short. Boy did the ferryman get the bums rush. His horror was matched only by ours as this group of German tourists outright refused to allow us to join their party. (we were looking rather like “locals” by this stage of the game). The wharf became even more of a circus with the arrival of a group of South Africans just as the Germans were pulling away. The Germans had commandeered the double-decker boat that the South Africans thought they had booked.

Chapter 6 – Gravy
Lessons in the art of photography are generally followed by cooking classes. Tonight is gravy making class. C is in charge of soaking rather expensive shitake mushrooms while Ian is in charge of chopping up onions, garlic and ginger. All ingredients are tossed in a pot for M to deal to. After an agonising wait for the gravy to simmer M finally decides it has passed the taste test — he lifts the gravy off the fire “s—t” was all we heard. “Tucker F anyone?”.

Chapter 7 – Meltdown
We’re leaving Botswana – it’s hot – very hot. C and L have both melted down and it’s I’s fault. No one’s talking to I anymore. We fill out our leaving forms at window 1. C uses red pen, L uses green pen, I uses blue pen (M guards the cars). We all pass the test and are allowed to leave. Now we have to check the cars out at window 2. I has no carnet de passage and has to fill out a temporary export form. In the confusion of moving from window 1 to window 2 Ian ends up with a red pen in his hand and fills out the form under the watchful eye of “Big Momma” behind the counter. On completion “Big Momma” takes the form, looks at it and says “eesch all official forms must be completed in blue pen – do it again”.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Namibia

As Edmund had suffered a few injuries on our way through the last countries, the first thing we had to do was to drive down to Windhoek and get him fixed up properly. Arriving in Windhoek felt like driving into a New Zealand town and not Africa at all. It was clean and organised, modern buildings and everything looked new. The first night we ended up staying at The Cardboard Box which was an ok place for us as they served food and cold drinks, although it seems to be more of a back-packers place for teenagers who want to score in the evenings. The next day we moved on to Puccini House which was a lovely self catering place and since we left Edmund in safe hands for the next days with The Landy Center just around the corner, we stayed in a room which was a nice change to the tent for the next week. We hired a little Toyota to cruise around the lovely town for the next few days so we could pick up some bits and pieces for the second chapter of our trip. Arriving in Namibia was so different from all the previous African countries we have travelled through so I like to call it the start of the second part to our trip.

We picked up Edmund after a few days and this had been done to him; new clutch (ouch – pricey!), front corner was re-welded, rear shocks were modified and various bushes were replaced and a full service, they even washed the seat covers. All in all is was quite a good price for all of that, knowing that back in Switzerland all of that would have cost an arm and 2 legs. After doing huge piles of washing in the first washing machine of the trip (luxury!!), stocked up on food, having dined out at wonderful places in town, we were ready to explore Namibia good and proper and the first destination was Etosha National Park for 4 days.

After having seen the lack of wildlife all throughout Western and Central Africa it was fantastic to finally see so many animals! It’s currently the very dry season in Namibia (also very hot!) so you have a very good chance of seeing lots of animals at the artificial waterholes in the park, rather than being spread out. We mostly saw elephants – they are great to watch as they have such personalities and the little ones are just too cute. We were also very lucky to see a small leopard on the side of the road next to his kill which was up a tree, and we also saw a black rhino at dusk at one of the camps waterholes. Our four days in the park was up and we headed down to Khorixas via the Petrified Forest and Vingerklip. We were a little disappointed in the Forest as I think we were expecting a forest of petrified trees, hence the name, however we were shown 3 trees that were around 260 million years old, so nonetheless it was nice to see, but we wouldn’t do it again. The Vingerklip on the other hand, is a 35m-high pillar of limestone and said to be around 15 million years old, and it stands surrounded by only beautiful landscape in the middle of nowhere.

We decided to head up to northern Namibia by Angola, to see Epupa Falls, drive over Van Zyl’s pass and to track the desert elephants in Purros before heading down to Swakopmund and the dunes at Sossousvlei via the Skeleton Coast. On our way up north we stayed at Porcupine Camp in Kamanjab. This is a new camp run by mother and daughter of German descent. They have their pet turkey’s, ostriches, dogs, ducks etc walking around everywhere so you have to be careful where you put your feet. They were both hilarious and cooked us a very nice meal which we enjoyed whilst watching the neighbouring porcupines come for a feed only a few metres from us. The camp was lovely and we highly recommend it!

Next morning we headed up to Ruacana which is just by the Angolan border and we stayed in a nice camp called Hippo Pool which was recommended to us by 3 German interns in Windhoek. The camp overlooked the Kunene River and it was very calm and peaceful. This is also where we met Ralf, a German overlander, and it was funny to realise that we had met a lot of the same overlanders throughout the continent.

The North-Western part of Namibia is called the Kaokoveld and it’s a vast area of desert mountains that is crossed only by sandy tracks laid down by the South African Defence Force. It’s often described as the last true wildernesses in Southern Africa. It is also home to the Himba, a group of nomads in which the women never wash and cover themselves with a mixture of ochre butter and herbs and animal fat to protect themselves from the sun.

We didn’t get very far the next day, only 40km’s or so to Kunene River Lodge. This was a beautiful camp next to the river hidden in the tall trees around us. This is where we met Christine and Dudley who are very ;o) keen bird watchers and were on the hunt for the very rare Cinderella Waxbill (a bird). We were both heading in the same direction and decided to meet up the next day at Epupa Falls. The camp was right next to the falls and theoretically you didn’t need to have a shower because every so often you got sprayed with water from the falls. The location was yet again stunning. Christine and Dudley showed up and after much conversing about cameras (also very keen photographers and divers) and diving, we decided to drive down Van Zyl’s pass together. The track we were about to tackle was labelled as ‘Not Recommended’ on our GPS and nowhere to be found in any guide books, so we decided it be best to meet them at the top and drive the descent together. Little did we know, however, that the drive to the top was quite (!) tricky as well. It was sandy and rocky and steep most of the time. When we reached the top we saw Dudley changing his tire – they’d gotten a flat. A quick change and some lunch we began the climb down. The average speed we had was about 8kms/h or thereabouts and very hair-raising at some points – the track is only allowed to be done from east to west, as its very narrow and steep going down, driving it the other way would be suicidal. I had to get out a few times because it was too steep so I thought taking pictures of the car was a better option than being strapped in your seatbelt and holding on to something for dear life. Thankfully Milan managed the drive very well and we celebrated with cold beers at the top end of the Marienfluss (a 50 km long plain surrounded by beautiful hills).

We decided to stay a few nights at the camp in the Marienfluss to decide what the next step was going to be. Since Milans parents were joining us in mid October for 6 weeks we decided to join Christine and Dudley for the remainder of their time on an extensive holiday by going to Purros and then to the Caprivi Strip for further game viewing, and just good old fun, and then meet C and Ian in Botswana. We will come back to Namibia in a few months again to do the south of the country.

Only an hour into the drive south towards Purros and the Landcruiser got stuck in sand. Having done this before we got them out with the winch in no time and we carried on the track which was labelled ‘Aggressive elephants and flash floods’ on our GPS. Being the dry season we thought that flash floods were highly unlikely but the danger of elephants was of course there… It was a fabulous drive through the dried out sand banks and on our way into Purros camp we spotted our first desert elephants having a play in the water. After 3 nights at Purros we headed out early in the morning down the Eco-Trail through the sand banks of the river through a gorge. We spotted recent elephant prints and followed them for about an hour or so until we saw two young males playing just metres from us. It was amazingly beautiful to see them. We were also very lucky to see a brown hyena that morning!

We followed the Eco-Trail towards Sesfontein and planned to stay at Porcupine Camp in Kamanjab that evening. The track was a little trickier than we had anticipated and we got stuck twice each that day in the sand bed of the dried river. As the evening dusk crept upon us we decided to bushcamp before Kamajab. The next day was a long days drive up to Rundu, by the Angolan border once more just before the Caprivi Strip. We drove to Popa Falls and stayed at what Lonely Planet names as Namibias best camp site. Another lovely camp site just on the Okavango River where we could lounge in the pool in the river, which was a fenced floating area in the river close to the hippos and crocs. Early morning bird watching boat ride was organised with Christine and Dudley and we have now been officially converted to bird watchers. Next stop was further into the Caprivi, Bum Hill, where we slept in the trees for the first time. We went out for fantastic game drives in the early mornings and late afternoons and enjoyed numerous sundowners at Horse Shoe Lagoon looking at all the elephants wander down for their drinking sessions. One evening we counted up to 150 elephants!

After Bum Hill we crossed into Botswana and said our goodbyes to Christine and Dudley in Kasane.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Yaounde to Windhoek

As Milan was still not 100% from the malaria, we took it easy out of Yaounde and stopped in the southern town of Ebolowa where we stayed at the lovely Hotel Port Jaune. The next day we crossed the border into Gabon and decided to stay at Hotel Ngue in Mitzic for the night. We arrived quite early so we walked down the street to get a drink and relax a bit. This is where we found a bottle for sale called ‘Gin & Tonic’ – since the locals drink from morning to night we decided to join in with a beer and a G&T and watch them down a milk carton of red wine in ten minutes, get back in their car again which was loaded with goats and chickens and drive off.

We carried on to Lopé from where you can go on mandrill and lowland gorilla treks. Having been to eastern Africa before and knowing how good the wildlife is there, we decided to skip any upcoming national parks and not take the chance of being disappointed with the western/central Africa NP’s. We had the coordinates of a well known overlander bushcamp just after Lopè, S00 09° 110, E011°44.449 on top of a hill overlooking the surrounding savanna. It was a beautiful location and we watched the bush fires burning the dry grass in the distance. Next day was Franceville, then Lekoni where we were searching for the well known canyons which are supposed to be about 10 km’s after you exit the town. We drove around for hours trying all the small tracks off the main track but without any luck. We gave up and found a bushcamp in the middle of the hills with nothing around us at all – it was so peaceful. Little did we know that once the sun goes down, lady bug looking things come alive and millions of them fly around in the air. We quickly packed up and escaped into our tent, where it sounded like rain drops where hitting our tent all night, but it was in fact the little bugs.

We continued the sandy track to the Congo border, and thought we had gone back to Europe when we entered the town of Oyo. We later found out that this is where the president was born and hence is full of European looking houses, street lights, fancy motor boats and jetties on the river, its the Chinese invasion. We carried on early and on our way to Brazzaville we met Pawel, a Polish cyclist who has been travelling from Morocco to Congo in 5 months, the same as us. We had a chat with him on the side of the road and said we would meet again at Hippocampe (Vietnamese hotel and restaurant where overlanders can camp for free) in Brazza in a few days. When we arrived in the city we met a German/Austrian retired couple who have driven their Magirus from Europe to Brazza in 2 years(!), so they like to take things very slow. We applied for a transit visa at the Angolan embassy but gave up after realising we were not going to get it since only 2 visas have been issued by them in the last 4 years!

Pawel showed up on the Friday and together we attacked the Brazza (Congo) – Kinshasa (DRC) ferry / border crossing the next morning. We had ‘pre-booked’ fixers on both sides of the border to help us get through. Many travellers get turned back on the Kinshasa side with their visa for DRC cancelled, without any reason. The officials claim that this is because you don’t have a visa for onward travel, meaning Angola, but currently the only way to get the Angola visa is either in Nigeria or in DRC Matadi. We were particularly nervous that we would not get off that boat on the other side. The whole endeavour took almost 9 hours and we witnessed officials beating people for no reason, and the Red Cross people just turned a blind eye to it. It was the worst thing we had experienced on this trip so far. Luckily we made it together and we arrived at the Catholic Mission St. Anne and celebrated with a few local beers! Note for other travellers – the Brazza side is so much worse than the Kinshasa side, and on the Kinshasa side they will spray your car for health and safety reasons which costs around USD 50. Glad to have made the hardest border crossing in Africa, we went to bed in good spirits with smiles on our faces.

Wanting to reach Namibia as soon as possible we headed for Matadi the next day where we applied for the Angolan transit visa, it’s a 5 day visa and the only one they issue apparently. We had heard from other travellers that the visa is issued on the spot, this was unfortunately not the case for us. After filling out the forms and having an ‘official’ interview with them, they said we should come back tomorrow for the visa. Happy to have that done we were well tired by this point and decided to spoil ourselves by checking into Hotel Ledya which is USD 100 per night.
Next day we headed to the embassy only to be told that the visa was not ready and we should come back tomorrow. Having no patience for their embassy bollocks anymore, we argued and argued with them, the crying trick didn’t work either unfortunately. The visa cost USD 80 each and all they need to do is put a silly sticker in your passport. Could we at least have our passports back please so we can leave Matadi and explore some surroundings? No this was not possible, they did not have the key for that safe. We returned to the hotel where we found out that the Hotel Director knows the Angolan Consul in Matadi. We spoke with him the next morning where he called his friend and we were told we would get it that afternoon. The Hotel Director was an extremely nice man who said we did not have to pay for the coming night’s room and dinner, since it was not our fault that we were still in Matadi and could not leave.
At 4pm we could pick up our passports with the visas in them. We have no idea where our passports had been. Had they been flown to Angola to get stamped, or Kinshasa? We got them finally and left the staff without any thank you’s – they were the rudest and most unhelpful people we had met. We don’t know any consulate where the staff is watching ‘24’ during working hours. Maybe our voodoo dolls can come in handy here….

Happy to leave Matadi we headed for the Songololo border early. It was an easy border crossing and our impression of the Angolans was good. The Angolan roads are known to be the worst on this continent and only too soon did we realise the damage to Edmund. The 2 shock absorbers on the back right had come off. This was not such good news as that meant that we would only drive on the worst roads possible with 1 shock on each front side and 2 shocks on the back left. Spirits were down but we carried on driving 30 km/h on the sandy road and made it to Nzeto for the night. Up at 5 we drove and drove, through the capital on the day of elections (no problems at all – it was good to see they all wanted to vote) and found a place next to the road, in a dug out area, for the night, S10°50.261, E015°02.266. Having a huge landmine problem from the recent war we decided it probably best not to go off road and be blown up in the process.

Angola turned out to be an extremely beautiful country which could be a great place for tourism. The nature is stunning and would be perfect for hiking, rock climbing etc. Angola was a bit of a shock to our system as this is the first country we have visited which was Portuguese. This was also the first country we had travelled in where the people in the villages were asking us for food. After 4 days of early starts and early nights, we crossed the border into Namibia on the 7th and were extremely happy campers! (The Chinese are building the roads in Angola so a lot of it is brand new tar).

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Embassies and Borders

This is only a quick note to update everyone on what is going on. We will provide full diary and photo updates once we get to Namibia in a week or so.

We’ve been here in Matadi for the last couple of days waiting for an Angolan transit visa, seems that the saga for overlanders getting an Angolan visa continues, we have hopefully been rescued by the hotel director where we are staying, he happens to know the Angolan Consul here. So later today we may get our visas. For all other travellers coming through here they will issue it but it may take some time. Abuja seems to be the only place issuing tourist visas, we will only get a transit visa for 5 days. Since we left Yaoundé, after having discussions with embassies there, we had a quick no stop dash straight to Brazzaville. We attempted the Angolan embassy in Brazza, but gave up when the owner of Hippocampe told us they have only issued 2 visas in 4 years. The ferry/border crossing between Brazzaville and Kinshasa was the most nerve racking experience we have had so far, we managed to get through after 8 hours of discussions and negotiations, with the aid of fixers and other travellers that we met in Brazza.

After spending most of Monday discussing at the Consulate, we were exhausted and annoyed at their rudeness and inefficiency, its incredible here, we decided to stay at a nice hotel for the night to calm our nerves. We went back yesterday as instructed hopeing to get the visas, only to be told to come back tomorrow, without any reason. They refused to give us our passports back so we were also unable to leave Matadi. This morning, before going back to the Consulate, we spoke with the hotel director who was nice to call his friend and we will go back this afternoon again and should hopefully get the visas. He said that since this is not our fault we can stay at the hotel one more night for free, including lunch/dinner/drinks. What a sweety! He had done his hotel school apprenticeship in Zurich at the Carlton and the Old Inn.
Wish us luck and hopefully we can get back on the road again tomorrow morning!

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Original Touring Africa Diary – Garoua to Yaoundé

We headed for a Toyota garage in Garoua which we knew stocked Yamaha parts and could possibly help with Anne and Reiniers falling apart bikes. Once we were on the street of the garage, we stopped for a quick chat to let the bikes go first since they knew the name of the garage. As we were about to leave a serious looking officer walked over to us and demanded our passports. Thinking this was a normal police check we handed them over but after 10 minutes of not knowing what was going on and no sight of the officer, Milan walked into his office to ask what was going on. It turned out he was going to fine us for stopping in the middle of the road. After a lot of hot air from Milan and Reinier had been exchanged with the officer and possibly a lot of foul language, we left the station with Anne receiving a warning for the wrongful parking. It makes no sense at all we know!

We found the garage just up the road where they ordered the parts they needed with pick up in Douala. We found a so-so hotel in the town, the only one open out of the 3 available, ready to carry on the next morning. As we were getting new car insurance with AXA, we got a call from Reinier that Anne had fallen off her bike. It turned out that in the rain, she had slipped and her bike had fallen on her foot. We caught up with them in the hospital and after a lot of waiting, buying medicines, bandages, etc etc, Anne was allowed to leave with her broken leg. Being Africa it seems they do not stock anything in the actual hospital, the patient/friend has to take the list of items the doctor writes down to a pharmacy in the town and buy them over the counter. We went to four pharmacies before we found crutches for her as well….. This caused a bit of a crisis to their travels. What to do next?

After a lot of discussions they decided to courier their bikes down to Yaounde and they would take the train, then see what to do once they were there. While they were packing together their belongings and separating what they needed and didn’t need in the coming weeks, Milan decided to add to the fun and get malaria again. We went to a clinic to get tested but at that time of night (19:30!!) they couldn’t do tests anymore, but the nurse was sure it was malaria and said he should start with the treatment and come back if it doesn’t get better.

Coartem it was and a very feverish Milan spent the next few days in the room. Not getting much better and starting to get kidney pain we decided to take him to hospital and see what the experts say. He didn’t want to go to the same hospital Anne had been to – too many fat mozzies and looking like it was a Russian hospital from a 100 years ago. We took him to a private clinic where he was put into an air conditioned room, had blood taken to run tests and eventually had a drip stuck into his hand with quinine, painkillers, vitamins, antibiotics etc.

After 2 nights in hospital he was allowed to leave, but had to continue taking quinine tablets for some days. Still feeling quite weak the next few days we took it easy to get down to Yaounde. Anne and Reinier hopped on a bus to N’Gaoundere where they would catch the overnight train to Yaounde. We met them there for some lunch and waved them goodbye, before carrying on another 30km’s to stay at a very nice place called Ranch De N’Gaoundaba. The next day’s drive was really beautiful through the rain forest, it was just getting denser and denser. We stayed overnight at Hotel Montagnia in Bertoua, and carried on early next morning to Yaounde. The only place you can camp in this city seems to be the Presbyterian Mission (N03°52.770, E011°31.344), which is a bit unfortunate because it’s run by a witch and her family and they lock the bathrooms in the evening which can cause certain issues, you can imagine. Nonetheless we could camp in their large garden which was away from all the traffic and noise of the city. The next day we thought we would get up early to do some visa shopping at the Gabonese embassy and the DRC embassy. Unfortunately it was Assumption that day and everything was closed, so we spent the weekend with Anne and Reinier and went to the restaurants in town to eat pizza’s, pasta, Indian, Chinese… yumm!

At this point Anne and Reinier had decided to fly back to The Netherlands to let the leg heal and continue with the trip once it was all ok again. A bit sad to leave Africa like this but happy to definitely come back on better terms, they decided to leave their bikes in storage for the coming months and pick them up a few months later.

Come Monday and we decided to attempt another shopping excursion at the embassies. ‘No problem no problem, pay a little extra and it will be done express for you’ – great lets do that so we can hit the road again! For DRC it was easy but the Gabonese were at this moment of our trip the rudest and most useless we had ever encountered, little did we know it could get worse! We wanted to pick up our passports in the afternoon but unfortunately the lady who stamps the visas was not there, she would be back later. When later? Just later, you just have to wait like everyone else. We waited for 3 hours out on the street with everyone else until we got fed up and decided to come back the next day. We came back the next morning only to be told the same thing again. We waited for a few hours again, got fed up so went to have some lunch and do some emailing while we were waiting. By the time we got back to the embassy our fellow visa appliers where not on the street anymore so we thought something must have happened. We walked in and were given our passports back by the gardener. Very happy but oh so fed up with their politics we went back to the mission and decided to leave Yaounde the next morning.

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Original Touring Africa Diary – Cameroon: the north

We entered Cameroun at the very north at a small border town called Kerawa, it was getting late so we hunted around for customs, only to find out that they couldn`t stamp the carnet. So we headed off towards Mora in the dark, after crossing a few overflowing rivers we found Mora and what seemed to be the the only hotel in town. A few hours after we arrived, two ford fiestas pulled up full to the brim with crap and 5 brits. To our surprise they were part of the Africa Rally Challenge and had made it to the north of Cameroun in 15 days from London, www.battlestarafrica.org is their website.

After visiting the Sunday Market in Mora, on Monday we headed to Waza national park, where we were greeted by a beautiful landscape, giraffes, jackles, topis and other antelopey type things. We spent the night in the camp at the gate in the rain. The following day involved a short drive and a rather long hunt for a bush camp in the very beautiful hilly area just south of Maroua. The next day we headed for Garoua, read the next post to find out all about this hell hole.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Nigeria

Nigeria, Nigeria where to start, well everyone has seen the news and read the papers, the horrors of this fearsome country full of thieves, kidnappers and other evildoers waiting for any white man to venture into the unknown so they can do him harm. Well how wrong the media is. Just because one part of a country has a bad reputation doesn’t make the whole place terrible. On the contrary Nigeria and Nigerians are great.

Arriving at the Nigerian border buildings, we quickly went about the business of trying to get some stamps in various documents, having been warned about Nigerian officials being corrupt etc etc… We were a little apprehensive but to our astonishment they were friendly and didn’t even request a bribe. We changed a few dollars at the worst exchange rate ever just so we had some local currency.

Once we left the border officials the road deteriorated to a slow crawl with some very big puddles every few KMs, much to our amusement our biking companions occasionally had to go straight through and got a tad wet.

We didn’t make it very far, and we nervously started looking for a bush camp having been warned by previous traveller’s websites not to bush camp, we were rather surprised that once we set up camp a happy group of farmers approached us with their kids and had a great conversation in some unknown language. We offered them our usual stash of promotion V6 sponsored by our dear Anina in exchange for some photos of the beautiful forest dwellers. The next morning we set out at a lightning pace of about 10KM/H. After a few hours of driving Louise and I got that strange feeling in our feet like the suspension was broken again after a quick check; sure enough the Malian weld was no longer holding. Quick decisions were made and the next village with a welder would be fixing the car. We pulled up at Kaiama at about 3.30 and set about looking for a mechanic or welder. We found one that felt like it was bang smack in the middle of the market. Since he was only a welder, Reinier and I pulled apart the car while the girls stood guard over the gear as we were surrounded by 50 odd curious kids and men. For the next 3 or 4 hours under the careful instructions of Reinier the welder constructed a plate that was fitted above the existing suspension area to strengthen the whole thing. As we were putting the suspension back in a big storm started to brew, within minutes a torrential downpour soaked us to the bone. With the car back together we asked our welder friend if there was a hotel in town. Sure enough there was and we had a night out of the rain in some cheap rooms.

The following day we headed in the direction of Abuja where we bush camped one night before arriving at our intended destination, Abuja. Now this is such an un-African city. It has been planned from the start and is only 30 odd years old, it’s what Nigeria’s oil money has paid for. We stayed at the Sheraton (N09°03.791, E007°29.136) for a few nights for free, apparently the manager is South African and he allows overlanders to camp in the back parking lot for free, though who knows if that is true. We met 2 Dutch couples travelling north and exchanged info on the roads ahead. Louise and I are really starting to wonder if only Dutch people travel overland. Maybe Holland is just too small to host a large population of orange lovers? While in Abuja we attempted to get an Angolan visa, that was a no go unless we wanted to wait a few weeks, so we headed over to the Zambian embassy to get one of their visas, we think we can use this to circumvent the “you don’t have a visa for onward travel” situation at the DRC (Zaire) border. The embassy couldn’t issue us a visa but provided us with a letter stating that our visas will be available at the border when we drive there. Once we got that in our hot little hands we were quick to decide it was time to get out of Abuja. Though Reinier delayed that by a few days with a mild dose of malaria.

After some extra days of R&R at the Abuja Sheraton we bid farewell to a large group of Dutchies and set out towards the northern border of Cameroon. Our first night was a bush camp somewhere just before Jos (just after Akwanga: N09°09.808, E008°25.321), the next one being after Jos 40 km’s before Bauchi (N10°12.738, Eoo9°31.868).

The latter bushcamp will forever be in our memories as we were enjoying a pleasant dinner in the bush Louise started to make a strange quiet but somewhat screaming noise and in a flash jumped out of her seat and hid behind Reinier. Suddenly everyone noticed what had caused her to freak out – a huge bug about 15cm long had crawled up on her chair and was taking a nice break on the arm rest! Everybody started to scream! What the hell was it!? It was massive and had pincers, so naturally nobody wanted to touch it. We all huddled together with our eyes focused on the monster while Milan found a big stick and played baseball with it. We ate our dinner as quick as possible so we could hurry into our safe tents when Milan felt something on his foot. He jolted up from his chair and screamed, everyone followed in unison of course. This time Anne decided to play a bit of golf with the bug until it was far far away from us. Such a monster bug – horrible.

That morning before leaving while going through the usual check the car business, I noticed a new crack in the suspension, but this time on the other side, not only was that cracked but a bolt on the rear suspension had sheared off. Once again it was time to find a welder. Luckily enough we quickly found an excellent welder on the outskirts of Bauchi, after quickly removing the suspension, as you can imagine we are quite good at it now, and setting the welder to work, I was taken into town by the owner of the welding shop to find a bolt to replace the broken one for the rear suspension. We have now removed the extra shock in the front suspension as we fear it may be the cause of the cracked chassis. It may not be long before the rear ones get removed as I am getting sick and tired of doing up the bolts.

Suspension fixed again we headed to Yankari National Park, Nigeria’s premier tourist destination. We spent a night in the car park, and were disappointed that we had to pay to camp there. They do have lovely crystal clear warm springs that made up for the lack of other facilities. Valid note however, the place has a lot of baboons and they like to climb on Landrover’s early in the morning peering into the tent. Another valid note, baboons don’t like bright lights in their faces, which is when a Maglite comes in handy, it can also be used to smack them in the face if they peer through the mosquito net of the tent.

The next day we were still heading in a north-west direction, the roads up until here had been very good, we decided to turn of the main road at Dumboa and take the shortest route to the border. It was yet another one of these famous, once was tarred now mainly potholed African roads. We slowly plodded along until it was getting a little late and decided it was time to look for camp. The bikes sent me out first and within 100 yards I had left the road heading for some trees off in the distance, the next thing you know we are stuck in the mud up to the chassis nearly instantly. Time to finally use that winch on the front of the car, hard ground is only about 5 metres away. It turned out to be the slowest 5 metres Edmund has ever done taking about 3 hours. The first 4 metres were done within about 20 minutes of winching and we got the front wheels on hard ground. This is when we realised the winch had wrapped the cable around the wrong side of itself and continuing to use it would mean no more winch. We started to dig and this was the heaviest thickest mud any of us had ever seen, after about 2 and a half hours and in pitch black we finally got Edmund out of his hole.

The following day, we got up extra early to fix the winch, a successful endeavour. The bad roads continued and just a few kilometres down the road from the mud fiasco from the day before was potentially an even worse one. The road was washed away and the only way was going straight through mud that looked just like the stuff from the night before. Expecting the worst I reluctantly headed for what looked like the best way through, this time being prepared made it a lot easier and even though I misjudged the track and drove over a large tree, Edmund passed triumphantly, lifting everyone’s spirits. We ended up walking the bikes across. As the day progressed the roads got progressively worse all the way to the border, having to cross a dry river bed just before getting to the Cameroonian border post. While we were taking care of official business the dry river bed became rather wet as water started thundering down from the hills.

Now in Cameroon the road got considerably better it was a reasonably good graded track but we ended up passing more and more water passages, either having to drive through rivers or very long puddles, the final one was the deepest, longest and had the strongest current, the bikes were walked across by Anna and locals while Reinier chickened out and sat on Edmund’s roof in his boxers and a singlet. We slowly plodded across the river having to constantly steer up river as the current tried to push us downstream. We ended the day driving around Mora at about 8 in the evening looking for accommodation. The 1st of August definitely marks the day of the trickiest roads so far having had to navigate sand, mud, potholes, rivers and swamps.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Togo & Benin

It seems that the last entry for Ghana tempted fate. We were set to cross the border into Togo on the 9th but due to ‘the machine’ at the Nigerian embassy being broken somehow our visa pickup was delayed by a few hours and we left Accra later than expected on the 9th of July. We had a great plan to stay at a lovely beach resort by Ada which involved the last stretch of road being a sandy beach. Milan was confident enough to drive through on the beach, ‘we’ve driven through worse sand than this – it will be a piece of cake!’. Sure enough we only managed a few metres on the beach and then we were stuck deep in the sand and Edmund wouldn’t budge. It seems the whole village came to us as within a few minutes we were surrounded by big eyed little kids and local fishermen, all the kids telling us they would help push and we would be out in no time. Louise took a few photos of the incident but they weren’t very happy about that as one woman came up to her, stared at her while saying something over and over again, I think it was a curse….. A few men helped us dig and we were out after 2 hours just before it got dark. Unwilling to continue to the beach resort we drove back to the solid ground and decided to stay in the hotel for USD 80, which was Louise’s MasterCard moment and it was well worth it after all that drama.

Next morning we crossed the border into Togo and arrived at Chez Alice in Lome (N06°10.083, E001°20.425) just as the Dutch bikers Anne and Reinier were packing up to leave. We persuaded them to stay one more night so we could catch up while drinking a few beers with Matt the truck driver who we knew was buying Big Milly’s in Ghana and would have useful information for our next stretch. Quoting Matt on Nigeria as he said it too many times after a few Castel’s: ‘It’s just different’ and ‘it’s f’ing cold in Nigeria’. He knew some of the truck drivers who Milan had met on his last trip 15 years ago and told us we could find Pineapple Doug at Karen’s Camp in Nairobi, Kenya.

We left Togo for the Benin border on the 12th only to be surprised that the border was 20 km’s before the GPS marking which we would have easily driven past if we had not asked – the border is here N06°14.413, E001°37.731. We drove along the coast until we found Auberge de Grand Popo (N06°16.766, E001°49.776) which Milan has such fond memories of. It was indeed a lovely spot right on the beach. The first night was so windy that we decided to try our ground tent the next night, which was absolutely brilliant. Thanks to all our friends back home for giving us this magnificent little house! Anne and Reinier also showed up at the beach and we teamed up the next day in Edmund on the hunt for the Congolese visa in Cotonou. Matt had given us some vague directions on how to find it but after driving around in the rain for a few hours asking every zemi-john (moto-taxi) where the embassy was and nobody knew or pointed to the other side of the river, we thought that perhaps he had given us wrong information in his drunken state that one evening. After 6 hours driving around the flooded, muddy, polluted streets of the city we finally found the embassy just in time to get our visas on the spot (N06°22.093, E002°29.601 – CFA 20’000) – yippie!

With our visas in our passports we headed north to Abomey where we bumped into Ellen and Erik and had a nice dinner with the 6 of us at Chez Monique. We checked out the Musée Historique d’Abomey which gives you a good insight into the gory history of the Dahomey kings and the Amazon warriors where we witnessed one throne which stands on top of 4 skulls of the kings enemies. Seeing all we wanted to see in the town we carried on with Anne and Reinier, as we were anyway going in the same direction, heading north towards the border town of Nikki. Leaving Abomey was a little trickier than we had anticipated as Anne’s bike would not start. Finally it did and we were on the road.

We pulled off the road just after Dassa in a place called Tchachegou and asked a lady if we could camp further up the little road. Of course we could and we would sleep beautifully! We drove first up the hill trying to find a suitable spot where Edmund could sleep, only to notice that the bikes were not following us. We turned back and Anne’s bike would not start again. We decided to camp there and when we turned around to park a little further towards the hills, Milan reversed Edmund into a big hole in the ground. It was the end of the day for the locals that had been chipping rocks into small pieces, so of course 4 whities trying to get a heavy vehicle out of a hole must have been an amusing sight for them. Naturally they all stayed and looked and helped us and after much laughter we were out and we set up camp. The locals were still really curious and surrounded us for some hours I’m sure. Anne and Reinier figured out that the air filter was blocked on the bike and that was what was causing the problem. The funny lady we had spoken to before arrived and we had a great laugh with her, Adele – we think she was the village loon. The rain came down and we sat under the awning, or as Reinier calls it – the yawning, until late playing cards. At midnight Anne and Reinier sang Happy Birthday to Milan from their tent which was really nice! Early next morning we were awoken by the same local people chatting and laughing at us, they must think us whities are really strange.

We left our special lady Adele and the lovely people of Tchachegou and headed for Parakou where we found a lovely bushcamp (N09°37.920, E002°39.587) for Milan’s birthday, where he made a really nice sponge and pineapple cake in the Dutch Oven!

The next morning we wanted to tackle the border into Nigeria at Nikki, which we found from turning off at N’Dali at N09°51.783, E002°43.129. Customs at Nikki: N09°55.651, E003°12.558. Police post at Tchikandou: N09°50.087, E003°21.613.We were warmly welcomed by the customs officials in Nigeria and we entered the country on a very positive note, plus it was English again!

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel

Original Touring Africa Diary – Ghana

As we arrived at the border formalities on the Ghanaian side Erik and I were a little shocked when we were asked to present the ladies, this was the first border crossing of the entire trip where they actually wanted to see the girls, all the other borders merely wanted to see their passport and valid visa.

After getting through the formalities we kept heading south, the quicker we travelled the quicker we could get to the coast we thought. The transformation of the landscape at this point was amazing, it turned from a sandy tree dotted landscape to a lush green vista with tall trees and grass. We managed to get a little bit past Tamale when all of a sudden the dutchies pulled over and decided they wanted a room instead of another night of bush camping, fair enough we thought, so turned around and found suitable accommodation in Tamale. TICCS guesthouse to be precise.

The next day we continued our speedy route south to Kumasi, we arrived late and started driving around looking for accommodation before it got dark. The first place didn’t allow camping even though previous overlanders were allowed to camp there, the next place was full, across the road was our hotel, Lahana Avon, opposite Four Villages Inn. This place was like Faulty Towers. The room was nice, one of the best we had stayed in thus far. The service was fine though I did have to go and have a discussion with the chef to make sure we ended up with at least one vegetarian dish, two burgers and some chicken. The burgers turned out to be toasted sandwiches. The price we had negotiated for the room and breakfast was under scrutiny for nearly the entire evening. The man that was dealing with us kept on returning to us once in a while asking us to pay for breakfast, at each of these attempts to get a little more money out of us I simply replied that we had agreed for 30 Cedi per room with breakfast, and he simply said “oh yes yes” and walked off.

On Saturday we left Faulty Towers knowing that this would be our last drive with the dutchies. Honestly at this point it was really time for us to go our separate ways as moods were starting to clash on the odd occasion. The dutchies headed off to stay with some expat friends of theirs in the thick of Accra. We headed to the wonderful Big Milly’s, where we have now spent a total of about 20 odd days. In truth the first stint at Millys lasted 11, we finally met other travellers, firstly there was Paul and Johanna, and they have backpacked from Dakar to Accra and are continuing all the way to Gabon. There was Josh and Mellanie who packed everything up in Gambia, bought a van and have driven this far to find a new home, they have no real concrete plans. We met plenty of others but Paul and Josh helped me figure out that I had malaria.

I didn’t feel all that bad, just a little rough and weak, Paul and Josh both had malaria and as they were describing the very early symptoms, I realised they were doing a better job at describing how I felt than I was. So off to the clinic we went had the local doc prick my thumb, 10 minutes later he said “You are plus 1”, “plus 1, what’s that?” we replied, “oh you have malaria, but no cicling” was his response, we never did find out what cicling was. The clinic then prescribed me some DRUGS, that’s what was written on the prescription at least. Got some of the locally available meds and headed back to Millys, Josh took one look at these things and headed off to the pharmacy to find me some better stuff. He returned a few hours later with what seems to be the new wonder drug from Novartis, Coartem, good on the Swissies for providing cheap medicine to Africans. It only cost 15 USD for this stuff, we are sure it would have cost a couple of hundred back home in CH. Anyway the first night of being “ill” I felt pretty good and slept happily in our tent, the next morning I got up and just muttered to Louise “need a room” in true man feeling sick mode. I progressively got worse that day but never broke out in a fever I was just very weak and had to use the loo a lot. The following day was much the same thing and on the fourth day of malaria I was starting to recover. I was still quite weak for a few days after that, which prolonged our stay at Milly’s for some time. On the 18th of June we left Milly’s and did a very long drive of 80 KMs to see the Cape Coast Castle.

Cape Coast Castle is the old English headquarters for the slave trade; they have a pretty good museum for African standards and the tour is reasonably informative, though the guide likes to point out that us whities are responsible for the death of so many African slaves and he the poor African managed to survive by hiding in the bush, or something along those lines. Listening to him for an hour got boring after about 30 minutes. Some of the things that were done by the slave traders are atrocious but to blame us now is a bit daft. We spent that evening in Cape Coast at Oasis Guest House where we could camp for 4 Cedi per person and met Matt, an Australian that had ridden his KTM from London. His girlfriend Claire had flown in to spend a few weeks in Ghana with him and we had a great evening chatting with them.

On the 19th we did another little drive to Kakum National Park where you can do a canopy walk in the tops of the Ghanaian rainforest, very interesting though seeing wildlife would have been quite a novelty as the Ghanaian tourists that were there made so much noise it even frightened the cockroaches away. That evening we stayed at Ko-Sa (7 Cedi), another European run bungalow, camping type place, it happens to be just past Elmina which is where the Dutch slave headquarters was. This was very much the same spiel as the Cape Coast Castle, though a slightly more impressive building. The gruesome part about this place was the story behind the Governor and his rape victims. Above the female dungeon the Governor had a balcony where he could pick his rape victim for the evening; the victim was then given some food and a wash by the guards in front of all the other prisoners before she was taken upstairs to the Governor, charming.

From Elmina we headed a little further along the coast to Dixcove to a place called Green Turtle Lodge (N04.45.503, W02.01.268). Yet another European run beach place where camping is possible, we ran into the Ellen & Erik again, they had stopped at Millys for a night while we were there, and this is where we thought our paths would not cross again for a while, as the plan was for us to ship the car to South Africa, and they were going to drive it.

From Green Turtle Lodge we headed back to Accra, to Tema where we planned on organising shipping.We stayed at Akwaaba Beach Guesthouse, 15 Cedi for camping which is run by a lovely Swiss lady from Erlenbach, if you don’t know where Erlenbach is, Louise’s parents live there. We went to a shipping company, chatted with them for a while and decided which boat and when we would ship. We then headed back to Millys, partly to do with the price and partly to do with the vicious German Sheppard that ‘owned’ the house. From Milly’s we headed to Hohoe which is in the eastern Volta region.

We stayed at the Waterfall Lodge in Wli, again another European run place where you can camp, anyone noticing a pattern here? We went for a short walk to the bottom of the falls and were discussing how great it will be to be in southern Africa so soon. And how we will see Vic falls in the near future.

After spending the weekend in Wli we went back to Millys yet again and met the Dutch bikers Anne and Rainier, we have been bumping into them since Western Sahara. This is when the shipping plan started to turn to shit, the boat seems to be constantly late and still is. Rainier did a good job at trying to convince us to drive, so we went from “ok we’re shipping” to “ok we’re driving”. Also tempting fate with coin flipping sessions, pros and con lists and endless discussions with anyone that wanted to listen. Finally the decision was made that we are going to drive it, we are sick of waiting for a boat and every time we speak to someone there is an additional cost for this or that. Once we had made up our minds another Land Rover drives into Millys. Anneliese and Stewart have driven from South Africa to here and have given us loads of info on the road south that it has just boosted our confidence and has confirmed that we can make it in one or perhaps two pieces. The two pieces is obviously the car.

On Monday the 7th of July we headed for Accra to get a Benin and Nigerian visa and then start the muddy section of the trip. The steering rod was straightened by yet another brilliant road side mechanic (N.05.38.082 W000.10.587). We will head to Togo on the 9th.

Posted in Africa, Original Touring Africa Diary, Travel