Navigating through Africa
By Stan Rogers
Curious and reticent, locals will walk by with a straight face.
Thirteen weeks and 14,000+ kilometres later I have managed to travel through six countries of Southern Africa.
When you tackle an expedition like this, you encounter snippets of information that would’ve been extremely useful to know before embarking on such a journey. So, from my brain to yours, here are a list of things to know about Africa, before you travel.
Africa is huge, and if you try and cram too many things into a short space of time, you’ll miss the little things. Rather travel less to experience more. By this I mean, don’t spend most of your time driving between destinations. Rather cut a country out of your itinerary and spend more time smelling-the-roses in the other countries.
With varied road conditions which include potholes and corrugation on African roads, distances should be measured in hours, not in kilometres. For example, in Zambia, it took me 3 ½ hours to drive 100km between South Luangwa National Park and Chipata because of road conditions that called for a slow speed.
Don’t try and drive for an entire day and arrive in the dark. Pitching a tent in the dark is no fun. Arriving at your spot at about 3pm gives you enough time to pitch your tent, sort your spot and crack a cold one.
One of the important things to know about Africa is that if you intend on driving at night, you’ve lost your marbles! Cattle, donkeys and warthogs cross roads at night all the time in Africa, making it extremely dangerous.
With driving all day and sitting down to drinks around the campfire in the evenings, you may not be getting enough exercise. Be as active as you can without endangering yourself. Wild animals roam in Africa so unguided nature walks into the bush may start with the good intention of shedding a few pound, but if you encounter a hungry wild animal you may lose more than you were hoping to.
Parasites, bacteria love travelling with you so it’s best to try and wash yourself and your clothes every day to avoid spreading the nasties.
One of the few very important things to know about Africa is that Malariais real and it takes lives. Malaria carrying mozzie hover around waiting to bite the unprepared, so use DEET repellent and remember to take your anti-malaria tablets. If you aren’t keen on taking a chemical anti-malaria compound, there are herbal equivalents available. Only yesterday, we were told that five staff members working at the Wildlife Camp Luangwa where I was staying had been whisked off to hospital with malaria – so no-one is immune.
There’s no room for being blasé’about wildlife. There’s nothing like the awake up call of hearing that four people have already been killed this year by elephants in South Luangwa. When you’re out in the bush you’re in the territory of elephants, hippos and hyenas, and more. If they feel threatened or annoyed by your presence, they’re going to do something about it. If you happen to have a close encounter, just stay where you are quietly and they will generally leave you alone.
Travelling in Africa gets more expensive than you think- especially some of the National Parks. You can expect to spend about USD$100 per day on everything. On some days you can easily spend more than USD$100 if you include National Park fees, a game drive, the odd curio and a meal at a restaurant. Being prepared for this is one of those things you should know about Africa before you decide to travel.
Fuel (diesel) averages USD$1.45 per litre. In Zambia USD$1.65 per litre. It is a major expense when you are travelling long distances. My Land Rover Defender is averaging 11.5 litres per 100kms and has so far used 1,665 litres of diesel.
Botswana and Zimbabwe are quite a bit more expensive than Namibia, Zambia or in fact South Africa. In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, you’ll pay close on R200.00 for a Spur chicken burger and a dom pedro – a meal that you’ll find for half the price in South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, ATM’s are often out of cash. Banks don’t cash travellers cheques, and stores don’t accept them. Western Union money transfer does exist if stuck. So bring enough cash (in USD$’s) to last the trip. Also, bring at least $100 in single $1’s – you will need them to make life easier.
Even though the people I have encountered have been great, it is always important to watch yourself and your belongings in cities and large towns. All it takes is one bad egg to ruin your feeling of safety. Don’t give them the opportunity.
Street vendors hang out at supermarkets and outside traveller accommodation where rich “muzungus” are targeted as potential buyers. All you can do is be polite, firm and walk on by. You can’t please everyone all the time.
When at a border crossing, remember to be patient, friendly and polite. Officials are easily annoyed and will decline you entry if you give them the slightest bad attitude.
One of the funny things to know about Africa is if you think you’re stopping in the middle of nowhere, with no trace of life for the last 50 kilometres, black faces will appear in the bushes within 10 minutes of stopping – Phineas’ Law.
Curious and reticent, locals will walk by with a straight face. However, once you’ve broken the ice with a wave, smile or greeting in their language it’s all smiles and hospitality.
Officials and borders
Those working at borders are often friendly, but can also be indifferent. We have traversed, 27 police road blocks so far and have not had too many hassles. Mostly they just wave a foreign vehicle through. Having all the necessary paperwork and requirements met for each particular country is vital. For example, in Zimbabwe, you need to have white reflectors on the front of your vehicle and red reflectors at the back. In Zambia you’ll need a yellow safety vest, two red warning triangles and two fire extinguishers. In Mozambique you need a yellow triangle sticker.
Patience is the key at border crossings. It’s just one of those very important things to know about Africa if you want to travel without hassles.
We have not paid one bribe so far, nor will we if we can help it. (This meant a threat to wait all day at Chirundu if we had to). Cigarettes don’t count – have a pack or two even if you don’t smoke – they go a long way. – Discover Africa