Friday, 30 December 2016

An overview on my time through Africa (the pre-shipping post!)

Sitting back in the UK, its dark already and its only 5pm, and with Charles still in SA, has made me reflect on my time overlanding.. well it was actually sitting on the plane home with a screaming baby which made me realise that driving was a whole lot more fun! I still remember the day we left.. finishing work, madly having a shower and sitting on my bed thinking do I really want to do this? Charles was convinced I would walk, which, to be honest wasn't a wildly inaccurate assumption! You see I had read the news, formed my own preconceptions and created a list of the most horrifying things that could go wrong that kept me up most nights and had slowly turned me off the idea! How glad I am I went, and whilst there has often been that uneasy feeling about a new country or driving into the unknown, I am beyond happy I went. The moral of my ramblings is that travelling makes you - forces you, to form your own opinions.. yes every country has its difficulties, not so nice people or places, and its problems but, like EVERYWHERE (yes, good old Europe included), this is the minority and how will you know unless you try! That for me has been the biggest lesson this past 14 months! 

Travelling is a very personal thing and what works for some may not work for others! We have met many people travelling through Africa in many different ways: bicycles, motorbikes, overland trucks, Toyotas, hitch hiking and even some other crazies in Land Rovers! You can do it so differently.. hotels, wild camping, camp sites, AirBnB or just a sleeping bag under the stars, and no way is right or wrong. That is what I have loved about this experience, and also one of my biggest gripes; the perception that certain ways are more easy, or not correct or hard core enough! I really feel no way is right or wrong, and no ones adventure or story is less or more interesting.. as long as people are travelling they are breaking down cultural barriers and perceptions, and just widening their horizons.. surely that's good however you do it..??

Since the conception of this idea to drive to South Africa there have been a couple of articles which have really stuck in my brain.. and I have read quite a few! One was sent to me by Mandy before we left, and was named 'How Travelling Abroad In Your Twenties Will Ruin Your Life' (http://thesavvybackpacker.com/how-traveling-abroad-will-ruin-your-life/) and the other in September, by Ollie who we met in Togo, named 'Bugs, Sweat and Tears: What No-one Tells You About Overlanding' (https://www.thelifenomadic.com/travel/overlanding-problems/). Both articles have their place and both have some valid points, but now being at an end of our trip I have some rather different perspectives!

The first article really interested me before we went, and now after coming home. It basically states that travelling in your twenties ruins your life because you come back a different person and expect home to have changed to match your new found experience.. that you come back to nothing that grounds you and you are forever going to have that bug (it seemed to portray having the bug was a bad thing). It is very tongue in cheek and I can see where they are coming from.. however surely having the bug is a good thing..! It is interesting to come back to it now, and not necessarily agree with a lot of it.. yes you are a changed person but not, I feel, enough that you can't integrate back into society.. but, perhaps that's just me! I have loved coming home, getting back to work and embarking on new challenges.. I have slotted back into life, seeing friends and leaving where we left off. I never expected it to be any different, or feel any different, or have any grand notions of me being a changed person so perhaps that is why it has been so easy. Yes, you can never explain in reply to a 'how was Africa' the magnitude of that answer, but a 'fantastic' will often do!

The second article is another light-hearted article from a new traveller who is complaining (rather amusingly) about some of the less glamorous parts of overlanding.. and trust me there are many moments not put on facebook for those reasons! These are often, however, the bits you talk about! I have used some of their sub-headings but added my own comments (please read the article first!)

There Will Be Bugs

Yes, there were MANY bugs but some more annoying than others..flies are fairly ok.. they don't bite at least and they disappear when the sun goes down. It's the mosquitoes that for me were the worst.. the noise - especially at 3am in the tent when you are using your Kindle light to locate and kill it, then wondering whose blood it has sucked this time (a surprise in the morning), the fact that you have to go up to the tent some nights because they are so bad, how in certain countries they are immune to certain repellents so you have a variety by the 4th country, the multiple itchy bites in the morning,  and because you have to take malaria pills (they gave me crazy dreams and sun sensitivity!). They are definitely the number one worst bug...! Tsetse flies are also up there but we only had them 3 times so they don't quite get the number 1 spot!!

Bad Things Happen To Your Body

Yes, bad things do happen.. but it definitely gives you something to talk about. I have often said you know your an Overlander when you can talk to someone about your toilet habits comfortably but not know their name. There are no barriers and things are shared which, in real life you wouldn't even touch upon. Coming home I have had to sensor and minimise the information shared!

1: Bugs and illness

You can laugh but it has happened to every one.. you eat something bad, or that you aren't used to and you know about it the next morning (and often the morning after that!). I commented to Mandy this Christmas that at least they were spending the evening in the toilet like her and Charles did last year in Senegal.. it happens at random and when you least want it. The worst thing is is that it normally strikes when there are not even basic sanitation facilities, or you are driving 9 hours that day.. I won't tell my experiences of that but luckily we got good at pulling over into laybys fast! There is little you can do but drink water, which in itself is a mine field as again when you are driving you often have to go at the side of the road... many a time I flashed at the locals or passing drivers, it is just life. 

2: Sweat

Africa.. HOT! You get used to sweating all the time and are constantly looking for shade! Nigeria was so hot and humid you would need a shower just attempting to get dressed from your first shower! It was the smelly kind of hot, constantly wiping your brow on your tshirt kinda hot.. it is just one of those things but you do smell and so do the car seats. That coupled with the fact you are hand washing, and often in dirty water makes things interesting.. we had a saying.. it's not clean but at least it smells fresh. A lot of the time we were kidding ourselves but at least we had a go! I will never complain again about using a washing machine! You begin to rate campsites on their showering facilities and are often glad they have running water, cold or hot! It really is the small things, even now getting to a posh campsite (they were all posh in Southern Africa) the first thing I do is check the shower!!

You're Going To Fight: Often

This is the paragraph in the article I don't agree with or relate too.. we were very lucky. Charles is very laid back, and me not so. I get worked up and he ignores me or calms me down, he gets frustrated and I tell him to move on. We were very lucky, and quickly realised that food was often the answer.. we realised we would get a little bit funny around lunch time especially when driving all day, the solution.. eat! We were getting hangry which never solved anything! I am going to extend this to all relationships.. we were very lucky to have Rob and Mandy with us for the first 6 months which, at times, had its great moments and more difficult. It was a very steep learning curve - compromise, team work and communication (I do feel, and I think also Mandy feels, we should have done more communicating). You learn very quickly what makes people tick, when to give people alone time, and when you need alone time which is also very important. Being with more than one person diffused tension, gave us something to talk about and divided up responsibility.. every one had their strengths which we soon learnt to play on. I think it made Charles and I grow up a lot, learn to rely on each other, share experiences and problem solve together. I totally feel that they way to survive is not blame the other one.. if something goes wrong don't point fingers, don't cause agro because you are in it together and can solve it better if you are at each others throat. It has probably been the best pre-curser to marriage we could have asked for!

You'll Wonder What The F*** You've Gotten Yourself Into

Yes, yes, yes.. I only agree! Again I am a panicker and over thinker, as I said earlier I will go over every single far fetched ending to a scenario, settle on the worst, panic about it all night.. then realise once it's over its all fine. I did this A LOT on the trip.. at least once a week. It's just me.. has the trip stopped me doing it? No, but I have realised that I can maybe settle for the second worst option when in panic mode.. no, seriously it has taught me to not worry about it! Before each country it was the apprehension of what was next, what was coming, would there be issues? This was mainly in the more riskier counties and invariably they were fine so why I didn't learn not to panic I'll never know. There were at least 2 points where I was ready to fold.. the first was whilst I had a rather bad stomach bug in Western Sahara and all I wanted was a shower.. we arrived at a campsite and the toilets were full of rat poo, and the showers were copper pipes churning out cold brown water with no shower curtain. If there had been an airport near I would have been out of there..! The second was in Nigeria.. I was again ill, homesick and things had got tricky with visas. At this point going home was an option, but I realised that Nigeria was the place we would get the Cameroon visa so going home would have meant opting out for a month or so and I couldn't do that. Everyone has their lows, but they are outweighed by the highs many many times!

You'll Wonder Why You Didn't Do It Sooner

This is  totally true.. I kick myself for not doing it earlier, but then would I have done the trip through Africa?! All things happen for a reason! It definitely makes me want to do it again!

*an addition* The People You Meet

I have added this subtitle because I think it is important to acknowledge the different people we have met. From locals to other overlanders each one has brought something different to our trip. Of course there are some remembered for the wrong reasons.. the countless police (mainly a couple in Nigeria and Cameroon), the over zealous sellers and idiots on the road. But it is the people who helped us and could provide us with interesting conversation who I will remember! Many names... many people! In particular; the guys on the Oasis Overland Truck who every time we met them gave us a good party; Marlane and Gill our travel parents; the guy in Morocco who showed us around Fes; Kars and Simone, and Patrick and Kris who we met in Togo and a few places after who were like our family for those days; Andi who gave us a lot of  back chat but made us laugh every time we saw him; Ego and her family who was so hospitable and gave us such a fantastic look into Nigerian life in Lagos; the students in Benin, Nigeria, who we partied with drinking African Guinness; the NGO in Cameroon who took us in, gave us food and let us sleep outside their home when we had no where to stay; to the village elder who did his best to placate us when we couldn't get past the padlocked barrier in the DRC; a HUGE thank you to Andrew who got us into Angola when he didn't know us, then showed us an amazing time in Luanda with Kelse (plus planning our route!); to Gill and Roger for coming out to Zambia and challenging my Mum to come too! To my parents also for treating us to Kruger, and doing things we wouldn't have otherwise have done, and to Gill and Roger for that amazing view and their company in Gordon's Bay; to my parents for surprising us; to the guys on the road who tried their best to help Rob with his wheel bearing; to the police who let us get of a speeding fine (a rather dubious looking camera which was definitely reading wrong) because we were tourists, and then suggesting we make a t-shirt of our trip; ALL the Malawians as they were friendly, welcoming and so interesting; Heiko and Ursi for a great few days in Botswana having someone else to travel with (their blog is very good!); Jasper on the farm in Namibia for his hospitality and sneak peek into his life; to Charles' Uncle and Aunt, Rob and Ronel for putting us up in Pretoria for as long as we needed; to every single car guard who has stood in the South African sun for very little money, especially the one from the DRC, with whom we had a great conversation with... you don't meet many people from there; to Nev and Jen who have treated us to some of South Africa's 'off the beaten track' experiences; to my friends at home for providing encouragement the whole way, and to Richard and Lizzy and Rachel who made my first night back easier to get through.. to anyone we have met who took us in (and let us use their washing machine), and anyone I have missed (I need to read my blog to remember!), and to those who have read my blog... I look at the statistics every week and am astounded (1500 hits from America this week!!). Finally I should really thank Charles who put up with me for 14 months, tried to stop me worrying and who pushed me into challenging my comfort zone! 

In conclusion I guess the message I want to broadcast from this blog is travelling or overlanding is personal.. I believe there is no right way and can be suited at any comfort level. If you are reading this debating whether to take the plunge, I can only say do it! Your new house can wait, there will always be another job, children can arrive later, you can save over a few years.. there really isn't an excuse to not do it if you want to. Especially in your twenties.. the travelling bug is a good thing to have, it takes you out of your comfort zone, gives you an appreciation for other people and in the words of an advert travel yourself interesting..

And finally... I was reading something recently which made me think of my own journey these 14 months..

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore (Andre Gide)



**Shipping blog will be up around the middle of February once the car is on dry UK soil - it left Cape Town today so fingers crossed it is floating around somewhere as I write!**