8 May 2013
Eindhoven, North Brabant, The Netherlands.
Our expedition has come to an end so it is time to sell our beloved ‘Landy’. Our 1996 Land Rover Defender 110, station wagon model (5 doors) with a 300 TDi engine, carried us around Africa for about 58,000 kilometres. It has a cleverly designed interior that is suitable for two people, is equipped to deal with the roughest terrain imaginable and is altogether a very suitable vehicle for even the most serious overland expedition. We will sell the car with all of the expensive sponsored upgrades, expedition equipment, rooftent and a whole lot of advice on maintenance, overlanding and caring for our ‘Landy’. This Land Rover is ready for its next adventure – one life, live it!
If you are interested in purchasing our Land Rover, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can provide you with such things as a maintenance history, detailed photos, a price indication, a list of upgraded features and equipment up for sale.
6 May 2013
Sint Odiliënberg, Limburg, The Netherlands.
Suddenly we were home. After slowly driving through Europe for a week, we arrived back right into a welcome-home party complete with flags, banners, loud music and lots of people. A storm of emotional reunions, congratulations, handshaking, gifts, family, friends, more congratulations and questions met us. It’s somewhat unreal to be home after spending over a year on the road. After our departure I wrote: “you don’t immediately take it in that our departure has become a reality, instead of the dream we had planned over the past few months; something that carries such weight and with so many implications takes several days to sink in.” It was the same here, accompanied by mixed feelings of our adventurous lifestyle ending (for a little while) and sheer happiness to have made it and be home. An abundance of food and drink was waiting for us and our guests.
We would like to thank everyone who played a part in our expedition in any way. Whether it was a friendly email from time to time or as a sponsor or fellow traveller keeping us sane, without your support what we have achieved would not have been possible. Thank you.
5 May 2013
Eindhoven, North Brabant, The Netherlands.
White men and women go to Africa to help it and its people: to develop it, grow it and civilise it. During their stay in what they may dub “uncivilisation”, they find a freedom and a simplicity. Time is no longer perishable, productivity is determined by temperature, everyone should be included in long talks with tea and what doesn’t happen today might tomorrow, God willing. The well meaning Samaritans are put in their place and have no choice but to conform to the African way. Any attempt to resist it will only lead to frustration on their part, and it almost always does. This collision of worlds often made me wonder if progress is indeed progress. Contrary to the image portrayed in the media, it seems that everyone in Africa is always smiling; they have their place and purpose in society, they know everybody in the village personally and have plenty of time to enjoy life for the simple pleasures it provides. Moreover, the people in “uncivilisation” are often a lot more civilised than those who claim to live in civilisation, particularly with respect to hospitality and humanity. In a
developing society people are challenging their place in it; they don’t know their neighbours and simple delights are replaced by a constant urge for more, newer and more expensive. By imposing our solutions on Africa through volunteers and NGOs we assume that what works in the West will also work in Africa, and sadly we impose our values on them too. In reality, these solutions have unexpected side-effects, mixed success due to African diversity and rarely lead to the desired result. So, I must preach once more: African solutions for African problems.
3 May 2013
Eindhoven, North Brabant, The Netherlands.
Africa is spread out over 71 different latitudes. Each of them, in combination with a raw geography shaped by unimaginable forces, produces a different landscape and ecosystem. It seems that every animal is perfectly adapted to the elevation, climate and terrain in which it lives. This is particularly noticeable in ants, which vary dramatically from tiny harmless black dots to huge red warriors with a vicious bite. Africa perfectly adapts its inhabitants to the harsh conditions it poses. The same goes for humans; despite our common ancestry, we evolved over millions of years into Himba, Kikuyu, Somali, Berbers, Pygmies, Europeans or Arabs. We are truly as different as the ants we find on the forest floor. Some may crawl on your leg to explore; some find a way around you but rarely bite your toes when you mean no harm to them. Accidentally step on an ant nest though and you may regret your carelessness when biting ants crawl up your legs to courageously fight a war they will never win. I once had an ant walk up my leg to my knee, but when I tried to get it to walk onto my hand it jumped like a skydiver. Relatively speaking, the distance he fell to the ground would have been equal to the distance travelled by a skydiver jumping from an aircraft, except the ant didn’t have a parachute, but just landed on his feet and walked off. That is what Africans do: they struggle and struggle to build a life for themselves with the few resources they have, but when trouble arises they leave it behind and walk away to build a new life elsewhere. Rarely do they fight to replace their corrupt leaders, and, if they do, then another power-hungry leader will soon take his place. Perhaps Africans are used to the harsh conditions they live in and are more equipped to deal with them. Perhaps we are the ants that end up losing unwinnable wars and they are the ants that just jump ship, brush off and go on with life on their terms.
30 April 2013
Eindhoven, North Brabant, The Netherlands.
In just over 370 days we did what many thought would be impossible: crossing Africa in our circumnavigation of the African continent. We drove through the Sahara on both sides, worked our way through the Central African jungle, saw countless kilometres of Sahel and savannah, and climbed mountains and forded rivers. We met people with worldviews more distant from ours than you can possibly imagine, but even after all that time I still don’t understand most Africans. A wise missionary who worked in Africa all his life once said he would give a lifetime of work in exchange for an hour in the mind of an African. I understand him now, for Africans are truly incomprehensible, from their political philosophy to their spiritual beliefs, and even after a year I have to admit that the mind of an African is still a mystery to me. I will hold Africa, with its endless hospitality and boundless variation, close to my heart forever. Although I will always merely be a guest on the land of the people I cannot understand, I am happy to be so.
21 April 2013
Imlil, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco.
We spent a few days driving around southern Morocco along the coast towards Agadir. We then turned inland to take a road that would lead us straight to the Atlas Mountains. The views from the narrow, windy road were stunning with mountains all around us, often one after the other in different shades of grey, and the sun setting behind them in a deep orange glow. Some of the peaks were even covered in snow. This is the roof of North-Africa with many peaks above 3,000 and 4,000 metres. After our accomplishment conquering Mount Cameroon (4095 metres) a few weeks ago, we felt like taking it one step further and attempting Mount Toubkal (with an altitude of 4167 metres above sea level), the highest peak in the Atlas and thus all of North-Africa,. We read about it in our travel guides and it seemed feasible, in particular because we were in the right season; according to the Lonely Planet it is not “unbearably hot” yet in these months. And it certainly was not!
When we arrived in the village of Imlil, the usual starting point for climbing Toubkal, it turned out that there was still a lot of snow on the mountain due to recent heavy snowfall, meaning that we needed some serious alpine equipment: thick jackets, insulated hiking boots, crampons to walk on ice, walking sticks and even ice-axes. We started having doubts about whether we would be able to reach the summit, particularly given our lack of alpine experience. Stories of a Spanish hiker who died on the mountain a few months ago increased our anxiety, but luckily did not deter us.
We met our guide Saïd and immediately started our ascent to the refuge hut where we would spend the night. The route started off easy enough through the last villages and up the mountain pass to the ‘shrine’. There were a few shops where we could eat and drink, and a large white rock that is regarded as holy to Muslims; the sick are taken there by mule to be healed. It seems that every mountain invokes spiritual feelings in the local people. From there the hike got somewhat tougher and the first snow was visible around us. I struggled with my rented boots, which gave me huge blisters on my heels, before I finally switched shoes with Saïd. Eventually, after hiking for about five hours, we reached the refuge at 3200 metres. It was a much bigger building than we expected with dormitories, private rooms, heated sitting areas and even hot showers. Our meals were included, so that night we dined with our fellow alpinists, all of whom seemed to be more experienced than we were.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early to get our equipment in order, eat a hearty breakfast and start our ascent to the summit. The refuge was at snow-level, so we immediately walked out into the white landscape on crampons, which are metal spikes attached to your boots that enable you to get a grip on snow and ice. The equipment was a bit old and worn out though, so the crampons kept coming loose, forcing Saïd to re-attach them about a dozen times per person. To deal with the lack of oxygen in the air, we adopted a ‘slow & steady’ pace again, but still seemed to be going faster than the other teams. Meanwhile, Saïd nearly doubled his estimated time of arrival at the summit, saying we were “slow”. Twan struggled with the altitude during the final ascent, but got through. Eventually it took us less than four hours to reach the summit. There we found stunning views all around, and could see Toubkal’s neighbouring peaks, some above 4,000 metres. We also found a group of Dutch police-officers who made it just before we did.
We walked down fast to the refuge where we rested, had lunch and re-arranged our baggage. Soon we were ready to descend back to the shrine and then Imlil. We kept a fast pace the whole way and arrived back at the car at just after six o’clock, tired but proud of our achievement.
18 April 2013
The Africa Expedition is nearly over. Right now we are in Morocco to relax and enjoy the African continent for a few more days before we take the ferry to Europe on the 20th of April. Two days later, on the 22nd, we can pop open the champagne because it will have been a year since we departed. We will arrive back in Molenweg in Sint Odiliënberg (Limburg, the Netherlands) six days after that on the 28th of April around 15.00 hours. Everyone is welcome! Send us a brief e-mail if you want to come.
18 April 2013
Cape Bojador, Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra, Western Sahara.
“Where are you now? In which country?”, asks the clerk at the fuel station in the middle of the desert between Dakhla and Boujdour. A trick question with two answers, but only one is right. I look at him and think for a second. He looks scruffy, unshaven but his eyes are fierce – not secret police; all the police here are cleanly shaven with perfectly trimmed moustaches. “Sahara Occidental”, I answer. He shakes my hand furiously and talks about how different his language, culture and history is to that of Morocco. Yet, the flag outside the government building across the street suggests otherwise; it is deep red with the green star of Morocco. There are many flags here – too many even for Africa. Ater two long, boring days in Mauritania I am now in the bit of disputed land between Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco – the Western Sahara (or in French: “Sahara Occidental”). Between 1884 and 1975, it was a Spanish colony known simply as the ‘Spanish Sahara’. After the Spanish pulled out, Morocco conquered the country and now considers it to be its southern province. In 1976, an independence movement known as Polisario declared (with the support of Algeria) the country to be independent under the name of ‘Arabic Democratic Republic of Sahara’. Even the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in favour of independence. Yet, despite international support in the early years, economic relations with Morocco took precedence over justice and sovereignty, leaving the Polisario out in the cold. Today they control only about a sixth of the former Spanish Sahara, which is separated from the rest of the country by an earth wall put in place on the orders of the former Moroccan king, Hassan II.
We drove through the country in three long days, or if you prefer, we spent three extra days in Morocco. The road is long, mostly straight and surrounded by, you guessed it, the Sahara. That means lots of sand and rock, while you occasionally get a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean out of the left window. When we crossed the Eastern Sahara in Egypt and Sudan it had been blazing hot, reaching temperatures of 54 degrees inside the car. This time it was chilly during the day, and bitterly cold at night. Temperatures dropped not far from freezing with an icy wind-chill. We spent those three days driving during the day and just before sunset would find a place to camp and quickly get into the shelter of our tent. If nothing else was Moroccan, the food certainly was, with delicious tajine, plates full of colourful salad and good meat. For 30 Dirham (3 euros) you get more than you are able to eat.
17 April 2013
Serrekunda, Banjul, The Gambia.
We crossed the border with Guinea and drove into Senegal. To us, after roughing it in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire for over a week, this was civilisation: the roads were suddenly excellent, sponsored by the generous people of the European Union, we started meeting other overlanders, and luxuries like internet were available once again. We then headed into the Casamance, a province that fought for independence for decades, and soon the impeccable roads turned nasty; this province obviously hadn’t earned roads with more asphalt than potholes. We tried to go north into The Gambia, but the ferry across the Casamance River was charging extortionate prices, which were in retrospect worth the money to avoid the horrible road to Ziguinchor. The road was so bad that at one point we contemplated swallowing our pride and going back to the ferry. Eventually though, we reached the capital of the South of the country and were rewarded with a wonderful campsite that is run by a friendly French woman. From here it would be an easy drive to Gambia, the tiny country enclosed by Senegal. We didn’t need a visa for either country, and there were few bureaucratic complications. In the 1980s, Senegal and Gambia even tried to form a confederation called ‘Senegambia’, which never quite got off the ground.
We made our way to Gambia, where we were invited by a German woman (Anna) to camp on her compound. She was very hospitable and immediately phoned a mechanic when she heard we needed one. We were able to wash our heaps of dirty clothes and bedding, and got a chance to thoroughly clean the car. The Gambia thus provided us with the facilities we needed to get our affairs in order before we headed up to Mauritania and the unforgiving Sahara Desert. We got our Mauritanian visa in Serrekunda: a transit visa for just three days. For the application we had to pinpoint our exact date of entry. The three-day visa saved us half the price of the regular one (€45 instead of €93), so we picked a safe date on which we would enter the country.
The last day before we left we got a chance to enjoy Gambia in the way that most people do. Gambia is a tourist paradise synonymous with male prostitution, marihuana and endless numbers of bumsters (hustlers). The tourists are mostly lower-class Europeans looking for some fun with the locals. Middle-aged women hire young black men for sex, sometimes even taking them home and marrying them. Female prostitution is less common, but for 500 Dalasi a day (less than €15) you can have your pick of the most beautiful women in West-Africa. In reality, most people are very poor and desperate, and tourists are an excellent, if not the only, source of income.
14 April 2013
Labe, Labé, Guinea.
Forgotten by the rest of the world, yet proud to be Guineans. Richly endowed with resources, yet among the poorest countries in the world. Upon independence, they said “au revoir” to France while President Ahmed Sékou Touré steered the country in a socialist direction, isolating it from the rest of the world. He ruled until 1984 when a military coupe d’etat put an end to his rule. The isolated state of the country, as well as corruption, has led to a situation where Guinea, although suffering from crippling poverty, has received very little development aid in the past. Recently though, the country has started opening up and the construction of Chinese roads now connect this country that is roughly the size of the United Kingdom. The roads themselves often do not appear on a map, and if they do their paths and surface are completely different. Almost nobody goes there on their own, so why would Michelin or any other carthographer bother? Outside the capital of Conakry, there are very few facilities other than the most basic, and off the main roads people have rarely seen a white man and speak no common language. We mainly stayed with locals on our way through the country, who were always friendly and interested. The geography in Guinea is astonishingly beautiful, with thick forests, impressive mountains and arid savannahs. We saw baboons, bushbabies, leguanas, monkeys and, just before we hit the arid part in the northwest of the country, a chimpanzee that ran across the road with two babies. We left the country puzzled as to how such a beautiful, rich and friendly place could at the same time be so poor and forgotten.