Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thinking back

After 25,430 kilometers, and a few months to think about the voyage, here are some thoughts:

Library in Chinguetti. Who knows what lost treasures are here!
We had a wonderful experience, met many interesting people, and had interesting adventures. All along our road we found that people were expecting change. Not always for the better, not always happy about it. In some cases their countries were about to begin with oil exploitation, and they were worried about the implications and the corruption that would follow. In some cases they were, on the back of the Arab Spring, determined to get involved in bringing about change in their countries.

Mr Pa, conservator of the Wassu memorial, a wise man!
In some centrally controlled countries we saw the controls crumbling, and fresh, vigorous developments taking place. And in some countries we could see the establishment of a cult around new leaders.

We saw people, in most of Africa, work hard at producing food and other crops, and were convinced that, with not much in the way of mechanization, food production could be increased dramatically. In many countries we saw vast tracts of land unused, and so the talks of Africa running out of food is more a political problem.

Filling station attendants in Ghana. The one on the right was celebrating her
birthday, and wanted to share that with us.
We found the people, almost universally, friendly and welcoming. We saw surly officials in most countries, but the ordinary people, at the filling stations, the shops, villages, hotels and camping sites were all interested in our voyage, eager to talk about it, and eager to welcome us and show us their towns. In only a few places did we feel that we might be in danger of being robbed. In fact, we felt that the ordinary people were more likely to protect us from danger.

A word on begging: In most countries the only foreign word children know is "money" or "cadeau" or gift. We became very irritated at being asked for gifts by all sorts of people, and we thought about this. After all, in India a pilgrim is more likely o beg than be begged from? Should a visitor not be welcomed with a gift, instead of being begged from? And, in fact, at Mopti a young guy insisted on giving me a straw hat, so I would remember meeting him!
Friends we had met for the first time!

Kids in Cameroun asking for 'cadeau'
We clearly saw that this begging complex has been abetter by some travelers handing out gifts, so people expect this. In the end we came to the conclusion that, in many cases, what the people really wanted was some contact, some engagement with us, and once we started talking to them, and gave them our card, they were happy.

And is this not why we travel? To get to know people, to meet and talk, share ideas and experiences?

My Cruiser and our Turbo tent.
Gearheads will want to know how the vehicles held up. My old, 1988 Land Cruiser, an FJ62 petrol model, needed the most work, mostly because the preparation was not done well enough. In fact, I have just done some work that should have been done before we left. Not that I did not ask for it to be done, and paid for it! So, I have come to a few conclusions: Trust nobody, and if you are not prepared to repair something yourself, do not have it with you. On my Cruiser, we had problems with the oil seals on the front driveshafts, and had them repaired in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Here we did some work on the brakes, and the guys did half the job, I finished it back home. We had radiator problems all the way, and I have now had a new top tank constructed for the radiator. The car used about 5 000 liter of fuel, and only hesitated when we fuelled from a dirty jerrycan, despite having a filter in the car, and clogged the fuel filter. I had problems with the brakes, and only now is the problem resolved, I hope. But she is ready to do the trip again!

My BFG AT tires worked well, and we only had punctures where the labels inside teh tires rubbed against the inner tubes. I learnt to put baby powder in the tires!

Stephanus' Cruiser pickup and Alucab
Stephanus had a new Cruiser pickup with an Alucab and Hannibal awnings. He had no problems, changed oil in Mali and again in Tsumeb. He had one problem: A fuse connection was badly soldered, and so his electronically controlled diesel engine refused to run. A shade tree mechanic in Nouakchott soldered it back, and that was that, except for a bad smell in his aircon towards the end of the trip. He used Bridgestones, and also had no problems, in fact his vehicle handled the worst roads the best. He had two punctures, kilometers apart, while we were racing the dark to Ouagadougou. Both made by 6mm bolts! We joked that he had run over a bicycle, and that we will find tooth marks on the tires as well.

Hans with his Land Rover Puma
Hans had a Land Rover Puma. This heavily modified vehicle usually led the way and did very well. However, on the bad Mamfe road, breaking trail, he slid into the ditch twice, and the clutch packed up completely in Gabon, causing a major drama complete with 300 km tow, parts being ordered from all over, and then a mad dash to catch up with us before the Angolan visas expired. A rear wheel back plate cracked and took the traction control sensor with it, threatening the brake pipe. We had this brazed up in Tsumeb, and found that the other side backplate had also cracked. Clearly not up to the job. But that made me think: Did the bad road holding in the mud not have something to do with the traction control? His BFG Mud tires worked very well, and he had no punctures.

For camping, we had a Turbo tent, with an alternative arrangement to sleep in the car. For the rest we had 12 ammo boxes and a 32 liter Engel fridge, a Cobb stove and  Jiko petrol stove. The Jiko worked twice, having to be cleaned up both times half way through the cooking, so spent the rest of the trip in the crate. The Cobb worked well, but needed a lot of cleaning. I had two three-legged cast iron pots, which I sold in Mauritania, they were just too unwieldy and hard to pack. Our setup was not ideal for this sort of trip, where we often had to break camp, drive all day, set up camp and sleep, only to have to do the same tomorrow. We considered a rooftop tent, and while this would have been more convenient, I still wonder if the climbing up and down would have been worth the trouble.

Stephanus had the Alucab rigged to sleep inside, and their awning worked well. Setting up and knocking down took maybe ten minutes. They had South African gas bottles that could be refilled, although the stove was not happy with the quality of the gas.

Hans had the Landy rigged up with an 'upstairs' bedroom, and that was very comfortable. Combined with an awning they were well set up for overnight camping, and could pack up in ten minutes or so.

A lot of people had asked me what we are going to do next. Well, mentioning this to my wife makes her hair go curly! What about the silk route to Samarkand? No, in all probability we will do the Kruger or Kgalakgadi parks next year. And maybe a diving expedition to Mozambique? Who knows?

1 comment:

  1. I really like your work, very well done & nice site. Just keep it up guys