22 December 2012
Windhoek, Khomas, Namibia.
From sunny Namibia we would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2013. We would also like to thank everyone for all the support we’ve received this past year, in particular from friends and family. Meanwhile, we have started our return trip along the challenging west coast of Africa. We hope to be back in the Netherlands in the spring.
Dutch: Prettige kerstdagen en een gelukkig nieuwjaar
Arabic: I’D Miilad Said ous Sana Saida
Dagbani: Ni ti Burunya Chou & Mi ti yuun
Afrikaans: Geseende Kerfees en ‘n gelukkige nuwe jaar
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi EmnandI Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo Namathamsanqa
Zulu: Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle Nonyaka Omusha Onempumelelo
French: Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
Swahili: ºKrismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº
Egyptian: Colo sana wintom tiebeen
English: Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
Somali: ciid wanaagsan iyo sanad cusub oo fiican.
14 April 2012
I am frequently asked why we are undertaking such a madcap adventure through a, currently, particularly unstable Africa. However strongly I try to explain it, nobody puts it better than one of my personal heroes, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858 – 1919), probably the only American President to outgrow the office through his personal achievements and exuberant personality. In a speech at the Hamilton Club in Chicago in April 1899 he said: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Roosevelt is probably the only Republican on my list of heroes, but this can be easily explained by his attempt to move his party towards Progressivism, which was characterised by social activism and political reform between the 1840s and the 1920s. This is closely related to his personal slogan: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, which is an African proverb. In political life, it meant using civil, peaceful diplomacy while subtextually threatening with real power (e.g. military).
Roosevelt was an outdoorsman and naturalist, with a favourable attitude towards conservation. When he left office in 1909, he toured East and Central Africa and Europe to get away from politics, and was replaced by his friend, William Howard Taft. He travelled from Mombasa, Kenya to the Belgian Congo before following the Nile River to Khartoum in modern Sudan. For over a year he hunted for specimens for the Smithsonian Institute and the American Museum of Natural History, a common practice at that time for acquiring scientific knowledge of the natural world. Roosevelt collected over 11,000 specimens ranging from insects to elephants and white rhinos. As a conservationist, he clearly had reservations about killing animals, but cleverly deflected criticism towards institutions which were hard to condemn: “I can be condemned only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned.”
From time to time, he was joined by Frederick Selous (1851-1917), a British explorer, officer, big-game hunter and conservationist, and another of my personal heroes who explored the African continent. Roosevelt also interacted with land-owning families, native peoples and local leaders. His exploration is described in his book ‘African Game Trails’.
When Roosevelt returned from Africa he fell out with Taft, which led to a different kind of progressivism in the form of a new political party known as the ‘Bull Moose Party’. While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloon-keeper, named John Schrank, shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 page) single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and so declined suggestions that he go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were: “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
For me, Roosevelt represents a rugged, modern cowboy with progressive ideas. Like Ernest Hemingway, he enjoyed boxing and hunting, as well as the outdoors. There are numerous stories about Roosevelt: he was a cowboy in North Dakota; hunted down outlaws on the Little Missouri River; formed a volunteer army to fight in Cuba; and climbed Mont Blanc. He thus managed to combine an esteemed career as a politician with that of an explorer.
7 April 2012
Today, my eye was drawn to an article about the unrest in Mali caused by the coup d’état and Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. It seems that in early April, the Tuaregs entered the town of Timbuktu, which has long been a place of mystery for the rest of the world. Timbuktu grew quickly as a result of trade between the Sahara Desert in the north and the Niger River Delta in the south. Historic descriptions of the city prompted several European explorers to try to find the exact whereabouts of this mysterious city and its fabled riches. In 1824, the French Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc prize to the first non-Muslim to reach Timbuktu and return with information about it. As far as I can ascertain, at least two people took on this challenge and set off for Timbuktu: the Scottish explorer, Alexander Gordon Laing (1793-1826), and French adventurer, René Caillié (1799-1838).
Like many early explorers in Africa, Laing originally set off with the goal of identifying the source of the Nile River. Although he cannot be credited with the honour of finding it, he did pinpoint it with relative precision. Laing left England in 1825, and travelled via Tripoli to Ghadames in modern Libya under the southern tip of Tunisia. He then ventured to In Salah, where he was well-received by the Tuaregs. In January 1826, he left In Salah and made for Timbuktu across the desert. There, he was plundered by another group of Tuareg, and his journal describes being wounded in 24 places and losing his right hand. He did, however, manage to reach Sidi Al Muktar despite having no equipment or money. There, he joined another caravan which eventually did reach Timbuktu, making Laing the first European to cross the Sahara desert, north to south. Nothing more was heard of Laing from that point onwards, although it is certain he left Timbuktu three days later and was murdered around the 26th of September 1826.
Reading Robinson Crusoe kindled in René Caillié a love of travel and adventure, and at the age of sixteen he voyaged to Senegal where he learned Arabic and converted to Islam. He started his voyage to Timbuktu in April 1827 from Kakondy, near Boké in modern Guinea. He travelled the Rio Nuñez River, passing the head streams of the Senegal River and crossing the upper Niger. In a place called Time, near the Kong Highlands, he was held up for five months by illness. In January 1828 he reached the city of Djenné in modern Mali, which was about 500 kilometres from Bamako. From there he continued his journey to Timbuktu by water and became the second European to reach the city. He spent considerably longer there than Laing; about a fortnight. He then joined a caravan crossing the Sahara to Morocco, reaching Fez in August. Once there, he returned to France where he received the order of the Legion of Honor, a pension and other such distinctions. He then published his book ‘Journal d’un voyage à Temboctou et à Jenné dans l’Afrique Centrale, etc’ in three volumes in 1830.
Laing and Caillié each represent a very different type of explorer. Laing, like many in his day, was supported by black porters and soldiers, and greatly romanticized his journeys. Caillié, on the other hand, spent years learning Arabic and studying the customs and the Islamic tradition before setting off on his journey. He travelled both with a companion, and later on his own, living as the natives did. Moreover, Caillié, unlike Laing, described Timbuktu for what it was: a small, unimportant and poor village with not a hint of the fabled riches.
3 April 2012
Our imminent departure and the wonderful weather of the last few weeks reminded me of a quote from Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) from his 1964 book ‘A Wonderful Feast’: “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest”. Hemingway is one of my personal heroes. He is revered as a writer by many and repulses others. Some celebrate his lifestyle, while others detest it. But even the youngest generations, to which I belong, recognise him as an icon, perhaps on a par with Che Guevara. In Cuba, which I briefly visited in 2008, he is to this day certainly recognised by the locals as a charismatic figure. I visited Hotel Ambos Mundos, La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita in Havana. Hemingway often stayed in the first of these and wrote at least one of his novels there, while in the latter he drank his famous mojitos and daiquiri cocktails. Meanwhile, the walls of La Bodeguita display the words of thousands of people, myself included, but it is the thoughts of Hemmingway that are perhaps the most famous: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita”.
Hemingway, inspired by another of my personal heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, visited East Africa twice during his life. In fact, during his first trip he was guided by Philip Hope Percival, who had also been the guide for Roosevelt on his safari 24 years earlier in 1909. His first visit in 1933, in the company of his wife Pauline Pfeiffer, provided him with material for the novel ‘Green Hills of Africa’ as well as the short story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’. During his trip, he contracted dysentery, which caused him to be evacuated by plane to Nairobi, an incident that is used in the aforementioned short story. During his second visit in 1952, he was nearly killed in a plane crash that left him in pain and ill-health for the rest of his life.
Hemingway was probably the man who introduced the word ‘safari’, which means ‘long journey’ in Swahili, to the English language. Indeed, during his time in Africa, he spent a great deal of time hunting, which later established the image of the ‘Great White Hunter’, a term used for professional big-game hunters who make a living either by taking paying clients on safaris or from the sale of ivory. Although the term White Hunter has obvious racial and colonial undertones, it also evokes a romantic image of stalking game and back-to-basics living on the African savannah. This image is wonderfully depicted in the 1985 film ‘Out of Africa’ with Robert Redford (Denys) and Klaus Brandauer (Bror). Many aspects of Hemingway’s life can be described as romantic, in particular his love of travelling and adventure, fishing (especially for sailfish, kingfish, swordfish and marlin) and big-game hunting. But his life also knew many perils; his family had a series of accidents and endured health problems in the years following the Second World War, he survived two successive plane crashes (the second in the Belgian Congo), endured a series of serious health problems, some of them caused by his years of heavy drinking, and suffered from severe depression towards the end of his life. In 1959, Hemmingway moved from Cuba to Ketchum in Idaho where, in April 1961, he took his life with a bullet from his favourite shotgun.
Hemingway proves to me that writers need not be dull and home-bound. Their stories need not be dreamt up in isolation in a dark attic, but can be experienced by a man and his determination and quest for adventure. Reality really can be more exciting than fiction, although sometimes it needs some spicing up…
6 March 2012
Birdie is desperate to come with us on expedition. Whenever I take the Land Rover for a drive he wants to come with and stand on the cubbybox or with his head out of the window, and he likes wearing the Buitenmens.nl buff, Courteney Boots, Hoggs of Fife hat and new Nike Siege 2 sunglasses from Eye-Wear.nl. Today he was even checking out the new Stagefreaks.nl flightcase and survival tin from HettyKat.nl. However, Birdie is my folks’ dog, so he has to guard the fort until I get back. Besides, he gets scared when he sees little white dogs, let alone African wildlife. The only dog we would consider taking is a well-trained Rhodesian Ridgeback, the African dog used to hunt lions, which is immune to insect bites and can run 50 kilometres uninterrupted!
Short film about Rhodesian Ridgebacks after the break. Lees meer »
5 March 2012
How is your geographic knowledge of the African continent? Test your “Traveller IQ” here.
4 March 2012
28 May 2011
Drachten, Friesland, Netherlands.
Africa is a lot bigger than many people think. The projection many cartographers use causes certain parts of the world to look much bigger or smaller than they actually are, and Africa is a good example of that. Africa is in fact larger than all of the United States, China, Indian, Japan and all of Europe together! The underneath image illustrates this well, click to enlarge. Lees meer »