1994-96 Around Africa (Landrover) 20 Months
In 1994 I bought a Landrover 110 Defender and converted him to a long distance travel vehicle. It was purpose built, no fridge, no air con, no solar, but a basic fuel range of 3600km and the equivalent on water supply to go this distances in the desert.
For the first part of the journey, a very remote part of the Sahara desert from Algeria to Mauritania, for safety reasons I was looking for people with their own 4wd to travel with . At this time internet was not well known so I put an ad in a travel magazine and surprise I found two couples who been interested in going the same way, they had the same car, the same timeframe, experience and very importantly the chemistry between us was good. Weeks later we met in Algeria again, fueled up, stocked the supplies and off we went to an unforgettable 3 week and 2500km desert crossing without any support. It was the first time for all of us to use GPS for navigation, very basic at this time but very helpful and easy compared with conventional navigation. We had a lot of rain on this trip, long parts of the route we had to drive around water filled flats or flats with dry surface and mud underneath but the landscape and the remoteness was stunning! As we arrived in Mauritania we had to make our official entry to the country which went surprisingly well. Soon after we arrived in Mauritania our travel group split up, we were all heading for South Africa but wanted to see different countries on the way.
I wanted see more of West Africa so I went to Senegal and further on to Guinea which was less travelled. I went up the Futa Jallon, had many encounters with very friendly natives, went to the coast which was a bit disappointing because of too many Mangrove swamps which blocked the access.
My next destination was the Ivory Coast where I celebrated Christmas on the coast. I also met other travellers there and as we had different goals for now we arranged to meet six weeks later in Ouagadougou. My way brought me to Ghana, one of the few English speaking countries in West Africa. I visited the biggest market of West Africa in Kumasi, saw the slave castles on the coast where sadly the slavery trade had it's peak, and went on to Burkina Faso. In Ouagadougou I met my friends Angela and Joern again and we travelled together to the Falaise du Banfora and further on to Mali and the hand of Fatima a famous rock formation, Mopti and Djenne with the biggest clay mosque in the world. In Ouagadougou I also met Gundel and Rolf by chance again who I knew from 1986 on my way through Zaire (now DRC), for now they had different goals but we all decided to meet in Cameroon again and decide there if we would drive together for a while.
For safety reasons we couldn't drive directly to Niger so went back to Burkina Faso and arrived via a little detour in Niamey, there we looked for visas to Nigeria, hard ones to get! We spent nearly two weeks in Niamey and couldn't get the visas. Nine years earlier the embassy was in an ordinary house and I got a visa the same day, but it was now in what resembled a palace without any possibility of passing the main gate at all, things are changing all the time in Africa! So the only way for us was around lake Chad and through Chad territory. We didn't want to go there for two reasons a) the whole area was not very safe because of bandits on the way and b) very soft sand there because of the retracting lake and the shortest way is through the old lake bed. Long story short we got Chad visas but Angela and Joern wanted to stay in Niamey for now so I went on to Chad alone.
In the last town before the Chad border which was also the last town before the Nigeria border I met a German development worker who told me to check with the Nigerian border officials. The border post was about 20km away, literally in the middle of nowhere, I didn't want to go with my Landrover for safety reasons so I left everything apart from my passport and took my new friend's motorbike to find the border post. The officials there were keen to help me with my visa problem and after two days of negotiation I took a courtesy officer on the passenger seat of my Land Rover and off we went without visa and after a long days driving arrived at the Cameroon border. Nothing is impossible in Africa!!! Angela and Joern repeated this one week later before we caught up in Yaounde. During this week I had been into the Waza Park where I saw a few elephants but not much other wildlife. On the way south I visited Roumsiki/Kapsiki where I had been in 1986, a landscape which is famous for its extinct volcanos. I thought after such a long time in dusty and dry landscapes it was time to hit the coast again, I went to Douala which is also called the graveyard of the white man because of its high humidity, no surprise it is only a few kilometres away from the equator, then to Kribi south of Douala, enjoying the seafood and the relaxed locals.
I then went to Yaounde to meet with my friends and to sort further visas. I was keen to try the West route down to Namibia which was not travelled at this time because of a long war in Angola. 1994 to 1998 was a short time of no fighting and it seemed possible to enter the country. Angela and Joern expected a friend flying in and wanted more time in Cameroon. Gundel and Rolf been very keen to try this way through Africa so on a nice sunny day like it is mostly in Cameroon we dressed in our best clothes and I and Rolf went to the Angola embassy, surprisingly we got a reception with the Ambassador himself who was not very keen to give us visas because of his safety concerns for us. We worked on him and after a while the ice was broken and we got the visas, nothing could stop us now. We also got visas for Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo. Our timing wasn't the best, the rainy season had already started but wasn't in full gear so it looked not to bad for us.
First we went to Bata (Equatorial Guinea) which was basically only one dirt road in and the same out again. Equatorial Guinea had been heavily logged, its a shame what humans do to nature, we saw many logging trucks loaded with sometimes only one big tree exceeding the weight and measurement limits of the truck. With the logging comes erosion of the soil and destruction of the habitat for many animals for example the lowland Gorillas. We left EG and found ourselves on very good dirt roads leading towards Libreville. Libreville at this time was one of the most expensive cities in the world, why I don't know, it looked like any other big city in Africa but it was certainly very expensive!
We made our way south and passed through Pointe Noire where we met a French couple in a 2CV, Cyril is now famous in France for the GPS books he publishes. From here the hard part started, we made our way into Cabinda an enclave of Angola, we passed through many roadblocks and it was never clear to which side of warlords the soldiers belonged, a few cigarettes were always appreciated but no doubt the trigger of the guy's AK47 was polished from many years of use. We arrived in Cabinda and soon realised we were stuck, there was no way to drive south of Cabinda where there was still fighting! Anyway Cabinda is the support harbour for the offshore oil rigs so we thought we could get a ride with one of the support ships belonging to International oil companies but there was no way, this was a completely different world and everything was strictly organised, no way for an 'African' solution. The local oil rig workers were paid in food, mostly canned food from the US, not really for their tastebuds so they sold this food on the local market and we lived a very good life there. Everyday we went to the market taking another plastic bag of money with us, the merchants didn't count it they just looked how thick the bundle was and the deal was perfect. We stayed two and a half weeks in Cabinda making many contacts and finally found a local boat which would take us to Luanda. So Gundel and Rolf had a 14 ton truck and I had a Landrover and the ship was a tiny one but the real problem was that the harbour was so shallow the ships has to be loaded offshore with a ship crane, meaning if anything went wrong our vehicles would lie on the seabed of the South Atlantic, not a good outlook but we had no choice. Everything went well … nearly, the heavy truck was not easy to handle with the crane and got damaged. In Luanda we had to unload but could load the vehicles again for transport to the southernmost harbour of Angola called Namibe. As they unloaded in Luanda the truck got damaged again and Rolf saw no way to put the truck on the ship again which was a good decision in the end. I decided to go on by ship it looked ok to me, I had a great time with the crew and in Namibe the only crane in working order could only lift a Landrover, no way to unload a truck there. I drove two days till I reached the border to Namibia …. the West route was opened. Gundel and Rolf stayed in Luanda and in the end they got a ride with a big ship to Canada where they live now.
For me the fun part started now, as I enjoy wildlife photography, south of Africa is the perfect playground for it. I made my way through the national parks at a time when they were affordable and turned into a semi pro where the animals dictated the rhythm of my day. Not to forget a visit to Lesotho for the second time in my life and one of my favorites.
I drove back via the east side of Africa visiting the highlights, too many to name them all afterwards and my journey got interesting again in Eritrea. I wanted to go through Saudi Arabia which is very difficult to get a visa for so I started to apply for one in every country I visited from Zimbabwe on and Eritrea now was the last possibility! So here we go, I had a fellow travel couple from the US and Ireland who I met in Nairobi with me and the visa game started again.
Dialog with the visa officer in Asmara:
Officer: We can't give you a visa because you have no visa for the next country you probably want to stay in Saudi Arabia.
Me: My next country would be Jordan and I don't need a visa for this country
Officer: that doesn't matter because we can't give you a visa if you don't have a visa for the next country in your passport.
Me: ahhhh yes …...
That was it for the day, my fellow travellers had about the same experience, we soon figured out there is no Jordan Embassy in Asmara but there is one for Yemen! So we decided to get a Yemen visa and confront the Saudi visa officer with it and the required letter of recommendation from our own embassy. He had no choice, in fact he was speechless, he gave us three days transit to Yemen so we took the ferry boat from Massawa to Jeddah and drove on to Yemen which I had desperately tried to reach years ago and now I visit by mistake!
In Sanaa the next visa marathon, I needed a visa for Jordan, a country I don't need visa for, that can be tricky. I talked to the Ambassador and he understood my problem so he gave me a visa but wouldn't charge me for this because "you don't need a visa" he said ... made sense to me and of course I appreciated! ;-)) Next stop the Saudi Arabia embassy which went smoothly and I got another three day transit visa. We liked Yemen which had only just reunited and took a rare opportunity to visit the south as well. From the traveller perspective it is not easy to travel there, not many people speak English, the people are proud, traditionally chew a drug called Khat and every man carries a loaded gun, hmmm very authentic but also very challenging in combination with the drug. We went on to Jordan, visited Petra which is completly carved out of sandstone, luckily I did it at this time as years later an entrance ticket was more than $100.
It was time for me to drive on. Over 20 months I had circumnavigated Africa. One of my most impressive journeys so far had come to an End.
During this trip I had Malaria three times, drove about 80,000km, had 25 flat tyres en route to South Africa and none on the way back, hit a bull in Kenya and made about 9,000 slides.