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Riding the buses » Adventure travel, Africa, Around the world, Memorable moments, Must reads » Travel at its worst? From Morocco to Cape Town overland

Travel at its worst? From Morocco to Cape Town overland

At age 53, Ron Perrier ended his career as a Canadian medical doctor to travel the world. I met him on a mini-bus trip to the India-Pakistan border for the closing-of-the-gate ceremony. I had neglected to bring my passport and after being told that it would be required by security, I pretended Ron was my husband, like one passport could cover the two of us. I don’t think Ron had a clue that I was doing that but it worked, probably because we were about the same age and had white skin (I think it is called ‘white privilege’.) Ron and I had been travelling for some time on our own and it was nice to spend a few hours chatting with someone from home. I’ve since followed his travel blog and featured some of his trips on this website. Ron now has 89 countries on his been-to travel list, several of which I could not imagine going to. 

Last year Ron travelled overland though 23 African countries for what he thought would be his “biggest adventure yet”: Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Angola, Democrat Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa.

Most of the journey was with Oasis Overland, a company out of Britain. There were 22 passengers in all, some young, others not so young, all willing to be part of a group because independent travel in West Africa is difficult. Even so, this trip would not appeal to many, says Ron: 

“Sleeping in a tent for over 140 nights, doing your laundry by hand, cooking over a fire, bush camping and shitting in the woods in not for everyone. Traveling independently in your vehicle would be difficult but having to depend on public transport would be next to impossible, so this tour is practically the only viable means of seeing this part of the world.”

The vehicle they travelled in was strange looking but comfortable, says Ron, and attracted lots of attention. Ron described it as being a very large Renault truck with compartments on the outside that held the cooking gear, stools, water, and firewood. Inside were 24 comfortable seats and space to stretch out and walk around. Lockers were placed under the seats to hold their belongings and the food was kept in storage areas under the floorboards and behind the seats.

The leader and driver was a Brit by the name of Steve, a capable sounding person who had been leading trips like this for 40 years. Steve did all the vehicle maintenance and repairs, was skilled at expediting border crossings, was “fair-minded” and had “great people skills”, says Ron.

There was much to see along the way:

  • little kids with “ready waves and big smiles” who would yell “white people” in their local language
  • men who were “absolutely filthy”
  • women carrying large buckets and plates on their heads
  • older women “with colorful loose, long dresses and head scarves and young women with tight-fitting tops/long dresses showing shoulders, cleavage and bums”
  • roads that were a greasy mess
  • ditches filled with plastic bottles 2-3 feet deep
  • 80m high Tinkisso Falls
  • public health signs: “Knockout 4 Aids – Testing is Free”, “Early Sex Can Destroy Your Future”, “Coughing? Get Checked for Tuberculosis”, “Ebola Survivors are Safe – Accept Them”
  • Monrovia, a town in Liberia that everyone loved – “no merchandise being sold on sidewalks, little garbage, no touts hassling you to buy stuff”
  • Taï, “a dense 5000-sq-km reserve that is perhaps the region’s best-kept secret”
  • the Tofinu people of Benin who live in bamboo huts on stilts on Lake Nokoué
  • Bafut Palace and Oku on the Ring Road, Cameroon
  • Six Mile Beach with its “gorgeous fine black sand” and “no undertow”
  • spectacular Kalandula Waterfalls, “the 2nd or 3rd tallest in Africa”
  • the “completely authentic” Himba village
  • Etosha National Park, one of the “world’s greatest wildlife-viewing venues”
  • “28 wildebeest and one zebra, 7 giraffes in the distance, 2 separate groups of ostrich, a herd of sprinkbok, 20 zebra, and several impala”
  • “at least a hundred elephants, some very close, a water buffalo, many warthogs, zebra, kudu and several kinds of antelope”

Whew… And that’s just a taste of what he saw.

Ron most enjoyed Ghana, Cameroon and Angola: “Angola is the landscape highlight with more natural beauty than all the other countries put together.”

Boundless patience was needed when crossing borders, like arriving at the border and finding out it was closed for the day, spending the night camping in a nearby clearing, being up and ready to go when the border was to open early the next morning, made to wait around for 4 ½ hours in a stuffy truck with hundreds of flies swirling about before being processed.

Border officials might be dissatisfied with photocopies of visas and insist on scanning every passport, which took tons of time. There was a “moron” police officer who insisted on checking all passports for every entrance/exit stamps for each country they had passed through. One police would not even start processing until Steve gave him a bottle of booze.

At one border the authorities would not accept the insurance they had for the truck and Steve had to take a taxi 100 km to buy what they wanted while the rest of them sat waiting in no-mans land.

Food seemed to be an ongoing annoyance since Steve, who purchased all the food, would be “happy eating dog food” and was unwilling to indulge in finer items such as pepper and mayonnaise, says Ron. So Ron and some others bought their own and when the  “cheepos” wouldn’t contribute they stopped sharing, which caused resentment. And so started the “mayonnaise war”.

Bad feelings went beyond mayonnaise. “Tammy does not eat noodles,” wrote Ron, “and had canned vegetable stew from the truck. This pissed everyone off as the noodles were awful and we resented her ‘special’ treatment.”

As time passed, relationships deteriorated further, Ron declaring that “one would have to be a masochist” to go on a long trip like this, stuck with the same people. He described in painful detail the time he propped his legs on a cooler that was in front of him, taking up just a “few inches on one end,” but in doing so touching the legs of a fellow passenger who also had her legs on the cooler and “pissing her off”. “Wow, go figure. I feel like I am on a separate trip,” was his conclusion.

Ron seemed most annoyed by the Brits with their clipped “Queen’s English” and hay fever. Not surprisingly he eventually wrote, “I am so totally tired of this trip. I can’t wait to leave.”

And so Ron left the Oasis trip after Windhoek, Namibia “missing the seven-day straight through drive to Cape Town”. He rented a car, albeit with some misgivings because he had not driven a manual for years, found driving on the left side to be difficult, and was nervous about falling asleep at the wheel.

Finally on his own, he had a grand time until “shit befell me”. His vehicle struck a rock: Two rims were bent and two wheels flat. All who stopped said he was “screwed” and “could expect to sit there for a couple of days”. But his “lucky fairy” arrived and, using a sledgehammer, straightened both rims and had a compressor to inflate the tires. The journey ended a few weeks later at Kruger NP where he saw the Big Five in one day, “a highlight”.

Getting all the necessary visas is what makes travel in West Africa so challenging, says Ron, and he provides suggestions to expedite this. He also has recommendations about currency and denominations, camping equipment and clothing, travel insurance and vaccinations (he arrived back in Canada with malaria). Be forewarned, though, that Ron incorporates pages and pages of other writer’s stuff (cut-and-paste) that he does not credit. 

Since  reading Ron’s blog I’ve been thinking about seeing more of Africa, going to the less touristy places like he did. The itinerary would have to be much shorter and facilities upgraded. You see, I travelled overland through Asia in the early 1970s so I’ve ‘been there, done that’ and don’t need to repeat it. Still it has its charm… 

By Sylvia Fanjoy
© ridingthebuses.com 2017

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