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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Out of Africa

We are now safely back in Melbourne and our African adventure is over. The trip was a wonderful experience, totally awesome. It was a once in a lifetime experience, the time commitment was huge and it is not something one would do twice. Which is a pity, as it would be good to apply the lessons learnt and “do” the trip again.

Vital statistics include:
·           According to the Odometer, we had covered 90,968 km since we started on 5/9/2011. The GPS shows ~ 4,000 km more. This may be due to inaccuracies in the odometer, plus we used slightly oversized tyres for a time. Also we had hired vehicles in Morocco and South Africa and went on tours in Chad and Tanzania. So, our overall kms probably approached 100,000.
·           We used ~ 13,022 l fuel, giving an overall usage of 7 km/l. So, assuming our record keeping was accurate, this was not too bad at all.
·           48 countries, including 5 in Europe.
·           Our initial thoughts were to try and visit every country on the African continent (not the Islands).
·           We decided it was too hard to get visas for Equatorial Guinea, there was nothing really to see there and apparently the authorities are not all that welcoming to Overlanders.
·           We gave Nigeria a miss as we wanted to drive around Lake Chad. Also, there were serious security issues on there. (Ray has previously visited Nigeria on a number of occasions for work).
·           There was a coup in Guinea Bissau a few days before we were due to go there and they closed the borders.
·           It was too hard to get into Eritrea. You needed a travel permit from the moment you crossed the border and this was only available in the capital!?
·           Lesotho, we ran out of time!
·           We left Australia on the 14th August 2011 and arrived back in Melbourne on 22nd May 2013.

Africa musings…
We left Australia with the thought we would have a great time, see fantastic scenery and enjoy the game parks, which we did. What we did not anticipate were the wonderful people we met along the way and the new friendships. The interest in our trip, the assistance we received in all manner and people’s generosity were stunning. 
Of course the biggest thanks go our family and friends in Australia who keep the boring administrative tasks under control.

For us it seems that Africa remains a fragile continent. The economic/financial press are now writing glowing reports of the continent. We are probably more pessimistic. With most African countries there remains significant levels of corruption. The impact is most serious at the political level: theft, fixing of contracts, siphoning off revenues, cronyism & nepotism etc. With the police and government officials there is endemic and continuing petty corruption/extortion.

A further serious issue is the population growth. This seems to be at its worst in Ethiopia where we heard that the average family had 7 children. However, on most of the continent, there appeared to be large numbers of children. Unfortunately, most of the kids will be born into a life of hunger and poverty.

The final negative is the volume of litter in most places.

Route
We are reasonably happy with the route and timing we took. We seem to have seen/visited most of the highlights etc.
Chatting to other overlanders, it seems that along the west side, the route south to north is easier from an officialdom perspective, than north to south.
At the start we could have left southern Africa a week or two earlier and missed all the wet season in the Congos.
In hindsight, we spent way too long in Cameroon. The tourist hype does not match the situation on the ground.
In west Africa, we were a bit worried about the wet season as we went north and probably rushed a things a bit from Ghana to Senegal. Reading travel blogs meant we overestimated the difficulty of driving from Guinea to Senegal. This turned out to be quite an easy road. The non-overlander blogs seem to think it is necessary to make the trips sound difficult and have lots of drama.  
We were rushed in Southern Tanzania and Zambia. It would have been good to have had another 6 – 8 weeks in these areas.
We used
·           T4A (Tracks for Africa) in our Garmin 60CSx. We found this map set to be invaluable. The power cable for the unit failed towards the end of the trip. Luckily the unit can also be supplied by a normal USB connection
·           Garmap Africa maps in the Kenwood mounted unit and a Nuvi. These were nice to have. As commented on previously, the Kenwood unit is not all that good. The maps performed well, in the unit. The Nuvi was OK, but its internal power supply failed toward the end and we could not charge the unit.
·           We used maps freely available off the internet for Morocco and Tunisia.
·           We purchased a mapset for Egypt off the internet.


Bribery.
We did not start out with any plan not to pay bribes, rather to resist to a sensible point.
We gave a couple of policemen some food in Angola.
Ray had money grabbed from his hand by the police in DRC – but this does not count. We had to pay the officer who took our statements after the crash $ 20, but apparently this is standard practice. Note: all requests for a bribe start at $ 250 in DRC!
By our standards we did pay a bribe to a policeman in Benin (we were 100% in the wrong, it was late in the day and we did not want the hassle of messing around for a few hours).
We did give the immigration police in Togo a can of coke to rush us through.
Entering Burkina Faso from Mali we sat for 3 hours refusing to pay a charge until the local post manager gave way. It would have been a lot easier to pay, but we resisted because they annoyed us.
The paperwork fixer at Aswan in Egypt forced us to pay to have our carnet stamped.

Normally we would plead ignorance, make the person who wanted the bribe to repeat the request e.g. we could not hear, speak French etc at which point the request normally fades.

Personal Security:
We tried to avoid places where tourists are targeted and to use common sense. We also ensured we had up to date information. Probably DRC was our worst experience.
Other places we did not go to:
·         Nigeria; others have driven through the north of Nigeria and had no issues
·         Nth Niger. You can go to Agadez but need a full escort to go to the Air Mountains. We saw no need to see another desert town but would have loved to have seen the mountains, however we had tyre issues at this time plus the $$ of course.
·         the road out of Niger to Gao (we drove 60% of the way up it),
·         Nth Mali,
·         Guinea Bissau due to the coup
·         Sth Senegal as there is an active independence movement. We did have a couple of unpleasant experiences with rastas in Senegal.
·         Southern Algeria, we were very, very keen to do this, but the security situation was just too bad
·         The desert/oasis route in Egypt. This was probably OK, but locals warned us off
·         Anywhere off the main, tarmac road in South Sudan
·         Somalia – we did go to Somliland and it was safe. The religious intolerance was a bit off-putting, particularly being criticized while walking in the street.
·         Eastern DRC.

Theft
We had 2 towels stolen when we left them out to dry in Angola.
Our camera was stolen by a game ranger who we had allowed to ride in the cab in CAR
A collapsible shovel and wheel brace were stolen in the market in N’Djamena
Don’t mention Spain.
The vehicle was broken into beside the security hut in a hotel in Tobruk. A gas lighter and torch were taken.

So overall, not too much was stolen. When it was, it was probably because we let our guard down. We went to considerable lengths to try and make theft difficult . Most items in the vehicle were locked and not visible from the outside (e.g. our tray had a compartment where tryes were locked etc). This added weight and we still wonder if all the precautions were needed.
Probably the main reason not too much was stolen is because most folks are fundamentally honest.

Only the camera with the pictures of Dzanga Bai hurts. There were a number of occasions when there was opportunity and nothing went missing and on at least one occasion, a stolen item was returned.


Vehicle
We were happy with our choice of vehicle and overall set-up. Toyota has a good range of service centers throughout Africa. CFAO in west Africa is a stand out. Their service is excellent. Not much went wrong, so we did not struggle for spare parts. We needed a new rim in Niger and the local CFAO/Toyota had one in stock.
Local mechanics have a good understanding of the Toyota and so could fix any minor niggles e.g. the fuel leaks (which seem to have resulted from the fuel return line being pinched between the vehicle and the new rear 150 l fuel tank, probably when the new tank was installed)


·         Suspension: the old man emu suspension has held up all the way through the trip - very well. However, the Firestone airbags installed by OppositeLock at Mile End in Adelaide failed very early in the trip. We think this contributed massively to the ongoing brakes and tyre issues we have had.
We were disappointed when the rear axle housing cracked in Morocco and we had to have some serious work done to fix these cracks.
·         Tyres were an ongoing hassle. Any blog reader will know our thoughts on the BFGoodrich tyres. We found them to be very poor for our application. We had many wall failures (bubbles in the walls) and a large number of punctures. Other tyres did not give the same issues. Our original BFGoodrich 4x4, LT All Terrain tyres failed after a short time in Angola. From then on we could not buy new tyres and the 2nd hand car tyres were not really up to the task. The Dunlop tyres held up very well, until the steel was showing through the rubber.
We could only buy BFGoodrich in Spain (where it was essential to get new tyres) and again in Egypt. We finally managed to get non BFGoodrich in Kenya and South Africa.
In hindsight, maybe the all-terrain tread was too aggressive and caught on embedded stones protruding from a road surface. We probably did not do sufficient off road driving to justify an all-terrain tread.
·         Brakes; we have used a lot of rear brake sets (at a guess 7 sets) . This maybe due to our weight and using brakes originally designed for 3 tonnes to stop 4 tonnes! The good news was with all the Toyota service centers, replacement parts were not an issue.
·         ARB Diff Lockers; both front and rear. Actually, we hardly used these. Maybe it is our driving technique, but even when both the front & back are locked, the power still goes to the end of least resistance and so you still get some wheel spin.
·         Diff and gear box breather extensions seemed to have worked well. We replaced the oil on a regular basis and it never looked as though it had water in it.
·         The vehicle winch. Not used in anger. Very rarely is there a tree where you need it. There may have been one or 2 times when, if people had not been around to assist, it may have come in useful.
·         Vehicle electrics: The main battery (from Battery City, marine quality) failed after 12 months and we fitted a standard Toyota battery.
 Ctek D250S battery isolator and charger. 2nd (Optima) battery fitted. Hella driving lights. No issues with any of these.
·         Kenwood GPS and general entertainment system. This was a big disappointment. It was very temperamental and often disconnected from the iPod.
·         Rear parking sensors did not like the mist & rain and so gave a false reading under these conditions
·         Reversing camera worked well. It suffered from a loose connection from time to time.
·         Tyredog tyre monitoring system worked well. The batteries lasted the advertised 12 months and Tyredog sent us replacements. They also replaced a faulty sensor. We would recommend this system. The system saved us from driving on low pressure or leaking tyres on a number of occasions.
·         Bonnet & head light protectors and side window windshields all well worthwhile. They were chipped in a few places but protected the lights.
·         Internal roof console was good, but we installed way too many 12 V cigarette lighter points. 2 would have been plenty.
·         Seat covers are essential. They need to be easily removable for cleaning!
·         Window tinting  should have been darker.
·         150 litre long-range fuel tank was really not needed. The standard 90 + 90 would be plenty. The trick is to ask around to find the people who have fuel. Often it is not obvious. As per the comment above, the installation of the 150 l tank was probably faulty and caused the many fuel leaks we had.
·         The fridge in the front cabin was a real winner. However, it seemed to work best when there were some frozen items in it. Fortunately, we had a freezer in the other fridge.
·         ARB roof rack was great
·         Custom steel tray/cupboard unit, as you would expect, held up very well. It protected us in the DRC crash and when we slipped in the mud in Gabon. Also it provided good protection from theft. However, the issue of theft was probably not as great as we imagined prior to leaving Oz. We could probably have cut out a few 100 kg by reducing this aspect
The unit is probably massively heavy and contributed to the tyre and suspension issues. Maybe we should have used aluminium – surprisingly, we found lots of places that could weld aluminium.
The caches that hold the under tray draw were a weak point and failed, often. We did a modification on this in Morocco.
·         Honda generator was used in anger for the accommodation (when we had earthing issues after the DRC crash) but was not needed for any vehicle problems.
·         The water treatment system worked very well – we did not get any water-borne illnesses.
·         4 x underslung tool boxes, we lost one in the DRC crash.
·         The 2 permanently wired ARB compressors in one of the tool boxes were OK. The idea of permanently mounted, ready to use compressors is worthwhile. But, this may not be the best configuration. The diff locker compressor gave off a little oil every time the engine started, so the compartment was quite messy.
·         Spares: we took very few spares parts. Mainly because we did not know how to use them! We took spare fuel & oil filters, which we brought back home. We purchased a spare set of rear brake pads along the way. We had a collection of fuses, globes, various nuts & bolts (including some threaded bar and nuts, Bars leak etc.)
We did use a few nuts and bolts, a lot of cord (to assist others, for clothes lines). With the fuel leaks, we used a number of Jubilee clips.
We carried a set of spanners, screw drivers, pliers etc. These were needed as a lot of the local mechanics have very limited tools.
·         Trayon camping unit was overall good. We were fortunate that the weather only forced us to spend time in the unit on 2 or 3 occasions. We spent most of the time outside.
·         The electrics: Ctek M300 battery charger, 1,000 W inverter, marine quality circuit breaker panel (not fuses), 120 amp hr deep cycle battery (red River ??)  all worked well. The only issue we had was with the earthing connection. It took some time to work out why the batteries were not holding charge, but it turned out to be the earthing. Maybe the Inverter was overkill - we could have done with a lot smaller unit.
·         The additional hold down points we installed to keep the Trayon unit in position were successful, and necessary. The unit did not move substantially on the tray.
·         We did not really use the accommodation unit sound system as we had iPods, radio, speakers etc)
·         Secure compartment with safe worked well.
·         The canvas did not hold up all that well and remains very hard/ impossible to pin down when wet.
·         The water storage system is not user friendly at all. The inlet is way too small and hard to put a hose in. The outlet is plastic and the design means it needs to be bent every time it is used and so it failed. This necessitated moving the whole accommodation unit to get at the connection and mend it.
·         The chemical toilet was not commissioned! We could have used the space for other items. Generally we camped at places with a toilet. For blokes, it is not that hard to find a place for some “incidental stops”
·         Solar panels - unfortunately, we seemed to have purchased panels that need direct sunlight to perform well. We should have researched this a bit better before we started. 
·         Camping Equipment: we were disappointed with some of the camping equipment, in particular the Colman branded stuff was generally corroded by the end of the trip (including the “Stainless steel” cutlery) and we left most of it in Arica
We took 4 x cutlery & (melamine) plates. That was heaps. We very rarely used more than 2.
We took good, heavy, non-stick, kitchen pots & pans and this turned out to be a blessing. It made cooking easy and washing up less of a mess.
·      Directors camping chairs. Colman, corroded and the side table on one chair broke
·      Dual fuel stoves (Colman fuel & unleaded petrol). These performed OK, but by the end of the trip they failed to light properly and gave off a lot of carbon/smoke



Accommodation
The nightly stops are recorded in our blog. We were probably a bit more cautious than most other overlanders who prefer to “wild camping”. Mostly we found places with facilities to shower; from a brothel (?) in Angola to luxury camping in Marrakech.  However, we did wild camp quite often and enjoyed the experience.
We found guide books very unhelpful and struggle to recall an occasion where we got decent accommodation from them.
To find accommodation we read other peoples blogs, chatted to local folks, put other overlanders through an intense grilling (to see where they had stayed), asked at a camp ground if they could recommend a place further on, asked the police for help etc. all the seemed to work quite well.

Water
As stated above, our water purification system worked very well. Typically we filled up our, 100l, tank at camp grounds. But along the way we filled up from wells and rivers.

Food
Along west Africa, there was only a small selection of produce. Normally we purchased fruit & veg from the local markets. Generally, these were not on the main roads, but tucked away, out of sight in a village. There is usually a market or maybe just a few stalls in most villages. We would ask around to find the right spot.
We did not buy much meat along the way. We filled up the freezers in RSA and then with minced meat in Cameroon and that was about all. Why, well generally the butchers do not look all that clean and the meat is covered with flies. Also we could not identify a lot of the wild meat offered at the side of the road. And, we did not want to encourage poaching.

We also keep a good selection of tinned and dried food, which we replenished when we got to the main cities.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

RSA... to the conclusion.


Day 23 to Day 25 – 25/4/13 to 27/4/13
After returning from our “final” driving and camping run, we spent a few days in Pretoria cleaning the vehicle. Knowing that the Australian customs are rigorous, we removed everything from the vehicle and cleaned it thoroughly. We took the vehicle to vehicle detailers – twice!! We removed the accommodation unit and cleaned the tray etc.
Every nook & cranny in the vehicle was cleaned at least twice.
We suspect this will not be sufficient – but we gave it our best shot.

Day 26 – 28/4/13
We drove down to Durban. We had forgotten what a pleasant drive this was – after the flat Highveld. The hills were very scenic and in the distance the Drakensburg Mountains already had snow.

Avril driving; S 290 49’ 11.9’’ E 0310 01’ 17.7’’

Day 27 – 29/4/13
THE day. We drove to yet another vehicle detailing place, recommended by F.A.T.S and had the vehicle cleaned – again. It was then sprayed with an enzyme solution(?!). We drove to F.A.T.S premises to drop the vehicle off. The folks at F.A.T.S were again fantastic and took care of all the details.
After lunch we flew back to Johannesburg.

According to the Odometer, we had covered 90,968 km since we started on 5/9/2011. The GPS shows ~ 4,000 km more. This may be due to inaccuracies in the odometer, plus we used slightly oversized tyres for a time. Also we had hired vehicles in Morocco and South Africa and went on tours in Chad and Tanzania. So, our overall klms probably approached 100,000.
We have visited 48 countries (including 5 in Europe)
A proper conclusion will follow later.



Day 28 to Day 30 – 30/4/13 to 2/5/13
Some days relaxing in Pretoria. We caught up with John Durant who travelled with our group in Angola. He did not expect to see us again!!

Day 31 to Day 32 – 3/5/13 to 4/5/13
We drove (hire car) to the Klaserie Game Reserve, on the border with the Kruger National Park be part of the celebration of James & Cheryl’s marriage ( Cheryl is the daughter of Avril’s bridesmaid, Jenny). It was a truly stunning affair at their private lodge.
We camped at Gary Freemans safari camp on the banks of the Klaserie river. Gary took us on a number of game walks and drives. We were lucky enough to see elephant, impala, lions, squirrels, buffalo, giraffe (including a very new born calf), warthog (on the way out) and hyenas. Other couples at the camp were keen birders, so there was an emphasis on this.




Day 33 to Day 34 – 5/5/13 to 6/5/13
Again bludging on rels in Pretoria!

Day 35 to Day 37 – 7/5/13 to 9/5/13
We flew to Cape Town, hired a car and drove to Swellendam. The mountain scenery to the east of Cape Town is almost as spectacular as that to the north. We drove through some high mountain passes that gave excellent vistas across the country. Interestingly, the rain fall here is not that high ( ~ 15”/annum) so we passed through mainly grass lands and scrub. Most of the land is cultivated for grain and sheep.
We stayed with Koos and Marlene, friends from the trip through Angola, in Swellendam.
Swellendam is the 3rd oldest town in RSA. It is set in the Breede River Valley and is very pretty. It is also blessed with excellent infrastructure and tourist facilities, restaurants etc. We of course had the very best guides. Koos took us to the local Bontebok National Park. We were surprised at the amount of game in the area. It seemed that the farmers had left tracks of indigenous vegetation along the valleys, hill tops and rocky non-productive areas and game has survived there. We saw a grysbok, a zebra, springbok and a rabbit.

We went on a scenic drive to Barrydale high in the hills, via another spectacular mountain pass. We also took the opportunity to visit the father of Australian friends, who live in this area.
Koos drove us to Cape Aghulas the most southerly point on the African Continent.
One evening we dined with Christo & Salome, who are also friends from the Angola trip.
We had a great time catching up and we hope that we can welcome them to Australia one day.






Day 38 to Day 40 – 10/5/13 to 12/5/13
We spent time in Cape Town catching up with friends and relatives.
Val (a good friend of Avril’s from uni days) & her husband, Keith took us to the fabulous Uitsig winery/restaurant. One gender set managed to drink a bottle of wine each. The other gender set… chauffeured.



Day 41 to Day 47 – 13/5/13 to 21/5/13
A time of reflection and relaxation.
We met up with Rod & Tamara Cassidy, owners of Sangha Lodge in CAR. They were forced to leave during the recent coup there. They escaped to the Republic of Congo and were classed as War Refugees. Fortunately their lodge has survived the looting, so fingers crossed they will be back in action soon.
On a not so good note, without the National Park officers and WWF, Dzanga Bai has become a killing ground with poachers from Sudan moving in to slaughter the elephants for the ivory. You may remember when we were there, we saw 110 elephants in the bai at the same time, socializing around the water holes. We feel sick when we think about what the poachers are doing, to say nothing about the agents transporting the ivory worldwide
Rod and others have started a petition to try and do something about this:
http://www.avaaz.org/petition/STOP THE ELEPHANT GENOCIDE IN WORLD HERTIAGE SITE DZANGA CLEARING CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

On 21 May we flew from Johannesburg landed home on 22 May: 647 days after we left.

RSA Summary
We loved our time in RSA. The people we met were friendly, hospitable and generous. After the indifferent to appalling roads in the rest of Africa, the roads in RSA were (with a couple of exceptions) in very good condition. It was wonderful to be able to drink the water, flush the loo and flick the light switch and get … light! The camp grounds we stayed in were all very good, well appointed with good abolitions & hot water.
The food is fantastic, with great ingredients from the shops (brilliant meat) and the restaurants were generally well presented. Of course, the wines have a well deserved international reputation. And: with the strength of the A$, the prices for were ridiculously low.
There is a free and robust press.
There is a vibrant and very active theater scene and Graeme took us to many shows.

It does appear there is a significant break down in law & order. This starts at the top with some outrageous political corruption, cronyism & nepotism (at all levels of the political system from the President to local councils). The police appear to be corrupt (with discussions on just how much police perjury there is) and dysfunctional. There continues to be significant personal safety issues. At the lowest level, there is basically no adherence to road laws, with speeding and talking on the phone whilst driving etc endemic.

The country is totally obsessed with race. It is a pity that RSA does not seem to be able to avoid the path that most other African countries followed when they obtained democracy. It seems they will need to go through the cycle of “big men”, corruption, effective disenfranchisement of the population, poverty (relative to what could have been achieved) before the leadership look for what is best for ALL the population.