Okay so it took me a while to put this post together since it’s been hectic sorting out practical things after our return – and I didn’t have that many questions sent to me (what have you guys been up to, ehrrm!?). But I’ve got a few and have put them together with some other questions we’ve been asked several times by different people during and after the trip. Also, the interview with PickPack was kind of like an FAQ on the trip, so I figured I’ll just translate that and post it here as well for all you English readers, but it will be some repeating for those of you who have already read it…
How much money do you need to do a trip like this?
It totally depends on what kind of trip you want and how long you want to be out for. It depends on if you’re going with sponsors or not. It depends on how much money you’re ready to spend on your vehicle. If you’re planning something similar to our trip – a good car that’s kitted out nicely and an average way of travelling, low budget accommodation and rather spending money on activities – you’re looking at about 300 000 SEK total (vehicle, preparations and trip costs). We definitely felt we could have had more money though. There is always unexpected expenses that you need a buffer for. Towards the end we had to think thrifty but that was mainly due to our own bad planning. Overall, we didn’t feel like we had a low budget – but if we had had more money we could have done more things, it’s as simple as that.
What was it like living together 24/7 in a confined space?
I never thought of Africa as a confined space, but sure… ;) No but seriously, when you’re out travelling you can’t always just go for a walk when your tempers are rising… It wasn’t always easy on our relationship but I think we were hardened by the fact that we are used to spending a lot of time together. It’s probably more difficult for couples who aren’t used to that. You need to know, accept and talk about your characteristics and differences – because they will show. And then you just need to work around them and compromise. Generally it was fine living together in a confined space for such a long time but sometimes we, naturally, were desperate to socialize with other people too. You meet quite a lot of people on your travels, whether it’s the people running the place where you’re staying at, other overlanders or backpackers or just random locals. As for living in a car in general, the longer time you’ve done it, the more you get used to it and we really enjoyed it. It worked really well for us, sleeping in the tent was cozy, cooking was fun, there was always something to do or work on… We really didn’t mind living in a car at all.
Which is the best country you visited?
We don’t like this question much as it’s almost impossible to choose one. All countries have their good sides and bad sides. And Brian usually goes “Am I allowed to say Zimbabwe?”. Needless to say, we had a really good time there, it’s a gorgeous country with lots of fun things to do and it’s nice to see it somewhat recovering slowly. Somebody once asked us to give our Top 3 and that was a little easier. For Brian that was Sudan, Namibia and Jordan. For me it was Jordan, Malawi and Namibia. I think. It’s still a difficult question! We’ve had so many cool experiences in so many amazing places.
Anna looking out over the slopes running down to Lake Malawi.
Were you ever scared or in any dangerous situations?
Very few times. The number of times we were in realistically, potentially dangerous situations can easily be counted: 1. And I wasn’t even there. Brian accidentally ended up in the middle of a shoot-out in South Africa, but luckily he came out of there unharmed, just properly shook up. But the times we (or rather I) have been scared, rationally or not, are obviously a few more. Like when the hyena visited us after dinner in Mana pools. Or when we slept in a small city in South Africa and someone told my brother there were lots of break-ins in cars at night in the area and I ended up bringing an axe into the tent with me… But I still can’t say I was scared very often at all throughout the trip. When you think about it afterwards, there were situations that easily could have changed into something more serious but for one reason or another didn’t. So no, it’s been a pretty safe, smooth and risk free trip. Except for the small detail that we spent almost every day in a car on the roads of Africa… Before the trip I was quite worried about us getting sick or injured. We got away with being food poisoned once each and later getting a cold…
Would you do something like this again?
Definitely. Absolutely. No doubt.
The interview with Pickpack translated from Swedish to English:
Tell us a bit about the background of your trip!
We met in Mozambique, seven years ago, where Brian, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, lived, and where I, Anna, came to work as a volunteer. We have lived here in Sweden since then but visited relatives and friends in southern Africa each year. Early on we discovered that we had a dream in common – to drive through the whole continent of Africa. We decided to try to realize this dream but it took many years before we could finally make the trip. In February 2011, it became official that the project had started and we left Sweden in September 2012, so we had about a year and a half to prepare for the trip. Preparations are hugely important to make a long trip like this stay together all the way. It often involves an enormous amount of work and a lot of stress but is also great fun. It kind of feels like the actual trip becomes a bit of a reward for all the hard work!
How closely have you planned your route before departure? Did you make any major changes to your plans along the way?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to drive down along the eastern side of Africa. Originally, we had hoped to be able to drive “all the way”, through southeastern Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, but as the situation worsened in Syria, we started to look at alternatives. We decided to cross the Mediterranean and had intended heading off directly towards Egypt but the rules and regulations of the ferry company didn’t allow that. We therefore had to ship the car to Israel, but it meant that we could also make a little side trip to Jordan, which we wanted to visit. As for Africa, we simply put a map on the wall and began to draw up different options of routes based on the places we wanted to visit, how other overlanders had done their travels, our budget and schedule.
Along the way, we did one slightly bigger change of route. When we were in Nairobi, Kenya, ready to drive inward the continent and round Lake Victoria, we were told that Uganda recently had new outbreaks of Ebola – a highly lethal virus that is apparently not only contagious by contact but was now airborne – and that unrest in DR Congo affected the security situation in Rwanda. It was not an easy decision to make but we decided to skip Uganda and Rwanda and continue south towards Tanzania.
What kind of paperwork is needed to drive through Africa? What about driving license, visa, insurance and carnet de passage?
Undeniably, it requires a bit of paperwork to drive through this many countries but it also varies a little between regions. Obtaining an international driver’s license to show with the original is of course a first step. For most countries, you can buy a visa when arriving at the border, but some require that you have a visa in your passport in advance. In our case it was Sudan, so we got those visas in Stockholm before the trip, and also Jordan, which we fixed at the embassy in Berlin. Visas for Ethiopia, we also had to get in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. All other countries accepted without problems that we bought a visa on the spot. Some countries don’t even require a visa for us Europeans! It is also important to ensure that you get the insurance (third party) and any other documents required for bringing a vehicle into each country – you can get a fine if you get stopped on the road not having it. But having our car and our stuff insured was out of the question, who would be able to afford the cost of such a high risk insurance … It’s one of the risks you have to take with a trip like this. But of course we had a good travel insurance that would cover any illnesses or accidents.
To travel within Europe and Israel you need an insurance called Green Card. To travel in North Africa, you need a carnet de passage. It’s kind of like a car passport and it’s an assurance both for us and for the country we visit that the car entered but also left the country. Many countries have strict import regulations and this means that you pay a high deposit for your carnet de passage. If the car remains in a country for some reason, that country can charge the issuing organization (in Sweden is the Automobile Association, Motormännen) as compensation for the importation fees. If you come home with all the stamps in the document, you get your money back. In eastern and southern Africa, you don’t need a carnet de passage, you pay for a TIP, temporary import permit, at the border.
Once in southern Africa and Zimbabwe you didn’t entirely take the shortest route to the final destination in Mozambique, but a “slight detour”. What was your thinking behind that?
Zimbabwe was a bit of a milestone on the journey because we wanted to visit relatives and friends and knew that the family would gather there for Christmas. Thanks to hurrying up a bit through Eastern Africa and skipping Uganda and Rwanda we made it there on time and the family was super happy to see us of course. It became a slightly longer break than we planned but we appreciated the break from driving so much. Then we continued west – we also wanted to visit Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. When we put together the route, we decided to start on the east side but then cross over and go around the entire southern Africa to cover all the places we wanted to see. It was definitely a strange feeling standing at the shores of lake Malawi and seeing Mozambique in the distance on the other side, knowing we could be there in a couple of days but that we instead had several countries and months on the road still!
A rough sketch of our route that I put together quickly, a more exact one will come later!
What car did you choose to travel in and what were the requirements for it?
We chose a Toyota Land Cruiser in the 80 series because it is an extraordinarily good and reliable car. Many think that a trip through Africa should be done in an old Land Rover – but then they should also be prepared to work on the car quite a lot, it’s no myth that they often have problems. We chose a slightly older Land Cruiser, which would facilitate finding spare parts if needed and since few workshops in rural Africa are equipped for modern, computerized cars. Workshops and garages are usually pretty few and far between so it’s good to have some mechanic skills yourself. In addition to a powerful engine, the requirements were equipment for off-road driving (extra fuel tank, winch, sand ladders etc) and equipment to live in the car and be “self-sufficient” in periods. We slept in a tent on the roof, had plenty of drinkable water in the tank, food in the fridge, hot water for showers, cooking facilities and so on.
Brian doing car work in Cairo.
Are you satisfied with the car in hindsight?
Absolutely. The Land cruiser was steady as a rock with only minor problems that Brian could fix and only a couple of visits to workshops on the entire trip. The Land Cruiser is an immensely popular car throughout Africa, making it easy to find spare parts if necessary. I’ve lost count on how many times we got the comment, “Well, you’re driving a Land Cruiser, no wonder it’s going so well!”
Did you live in your car at all times? How did it work to have the car as your home?
We stayed in the car everywhere except on rare occasions when there was no camping facilities and in Zimbabwe we stayed with friends and relatives of course. (Although it was really nice to sleep in the tent, it was good to sleep in a bed for a bit!) Living in the car was great – you get used to it and it becomes normal after a while. After the end of the trip, we left the car with Brian’s family in Mozambique and flew home to Sweden and it really wasn’t fun being separated from what had been our home for over half a year! You almost become one with the car, sleeping and eating, reading and talking in it. You quickly learn where everything is and the best way to store your equipment. You learn exactly what the car sounds like and hear immediately if there is something wrong. It sounds silly but it actually feels like there were three of us on the trip, Brian, me, and the Land Cruiser…
Was there a big difference in road conditions in various parts of the trip? Which areas had the best and the worst conditions?
If we include Europe the autobahn tops the list of good roads of course. In Africa several countries had surprisingly good infrastructure – in certain areas. Quite often a wide and smooth road would without warning turn into a road without shoulders and full of deep potholes… Northern Kenya is considered to have the worst stretch of road in Africa. The road itself is in very poor condition and if you have problems with your car, you are at the mercy of what’s in your toolbox and your own hands because there are no villages or towns along the way. Before there was also the risk of encountering road pirates but the region is at least much safer these days. Namibia surprised us with their main national roads being poorly maintained gravel roads, while South Africa as expected had quite alright roads for the most part. The funniest road challenge was Sani Pass, a distance of about 9 kilometers with a climb of about 2,000 metres from the bottom to the top, located in no man’s land between South Africa and Lesotho.
Imagine driving a two-wheel drive small car instead, how much of the trip would have been possible to do in such a car?
It may sound impossible, but the truth is that it is totally do-able to make a trip like this with a “normal” car. We heard that the stretch of road in northern Kenya is the last stretch of non-paved road on the entire route from Cairo to Cape Town but it will likely be paved in a near future and that means there will be a tarmac road to drive on through the whole of Africa.
Brian set out to fish as much as possible on the trip. How did it go? Do you have any good advice on exciting fishing and good fishing spots?
Brian was unable to fish as much as he had hoped to, it turned out to require too much time and money to get to all the places he wanted to go. But yes, he has been fishing a lot still! In the Nile, the lakes of Zimbabwe, in the Okavango river… There are plenty of good fishing spots across Africa, both in freshwater and in the ocean. Deep sea fishing off the Mozambican coast can offer really fun action with fish such as swordfish, yellowfin tuna and blue marlin.
Brian fishing in the Nile with new fishing buddy and friend Rob Roy.
Did you cook most of your food yourselves? Was it otherwise easy to find places to eat along the road?
During the first part of the trip we were probably a bit overwhelmed by all the impressions and had not fully come to grips with how we best kept all the cooking equipment to do it as quickly and smoothly as possible. This meant that we often bought meals and just cooked our own food sometimes. The second half of the journey this all turned around, however. We had found a good system for the equipment and were really inspired to cook more of our own food. Which was good since the money also started running out towards the end… And it was great fun! The thing is that from Kenya and south, we felt more at home in the food culture and grocery stores. In North Africa, we were not as familiar with the ingredients (or the language on the labels!) and it made it a little harder to cook without it becoming quite monotonous. We also wanted to try the local food so that was another reason to eat at local eateries! The further south we got, the easier it was to find good grocery stores and restaurants.
Anna cooking in South Africa.
Photo: Fredrik Hagvärn
Which was the most difficult border crossing?
It’s a tie between Italy-Israel and Egypt-Sudan. To get a car into Israel we knew would mean going through an intense and costly inspection (we didn’t have much choice because we couldn’t go directly to Egypt from Italy) but we had no idea just how hard it would be… Unfortunately, we managed to show up in the middle of autumn’s religious holidays, which meant we had to wait for six days, spending time at hotels and in a friendly family’s apartment with the car locked up in the harbor. Had we known how long it would take, we had of course taken the opportunity to go to Jerusalem for example, but we were constantly told that the inspection might happen the next day. Eventually it was time for the infamous inspection which took eight hours, where Brian unpacked all the equipment out of the car while I ran around with a fixer (who spoke Hebrew but not much English) and sorted out all the paperwork. They demand that you empty the car on every little gadget that is then being x-rayed before they finally x-ray the entire car. With equipment for six months on the road, it took a while to empty it and then pack everything in again. After eight exhausting hours in the heat, we finally got the green light – and they did this thorough inspection without even commenting on our axes and knives, electronic equipment, prescription drugs, or pork that we have forgotten in the fridge… The whole circus cost (including hotel nights etc) over 1 000 USD so we recommend everyone to fly to Israel if they want to visit the country.
There’s only one way to travel between Egypt and Sudan; by boat across Lake Nasser. The roads that cross the border are still not open to foreigners. If you have a vehicle you have to put it on a barge while you yourself go with a passenger ferry. We had heard many horror stories of a barge that sunk or caught fire and wondered indeed if we would ever see our car again. But firstly, we had to make the boat trip happen and here we managed to pinpoint a religious holiday again; Eid. Because of it we had to wait in Aswan in southern Egypt for a week and a half before the ferry business was running again and we could get tickets. When it was time to go, we had all sorts of hassles and we went to the harbor three days in a row, thinking that we would now get to load the car onto the barge, but having to return to the hostel each afternoon. Eventually, the car was on the barge and we rushed to the passenger ferry with some hastily packed belongings for the next few days. The ferry took about a day before we arrived in Wadi Halfa in Sudan, the barge was supposed to show up the next day. Three days and all sorts of phone calls and gray hairs later, we finally saw the barge glide into the harbor… Along with our fellow travelers we felt like eager cows being released into the meadows in spring time when we finally got to head out on the road again!
Which country had the best petrol stations?
Egypt because the diesel cost just over 1 SEK/liter… We could carry nearly 300 liters of diesel in total and in Egypt we didn’t hesitate to fill up full!
Which country surprised you the most on the trip?
Difficult question. I think we had read so many other overlanders blogs and done so much research that we knew what we could expect in most countries, although some countries of course had little surprises for us! I think many people have been a little surprised when we mention Sudan as one of the best experiences – people seem to think that the whole country is a war zone. On the contrary, Sudan was probably one of the quietest areas we drove through… I was surprised by Namibia’s amazing diversity. I knew it was a country where there is plenty to see and do but nevertheless I was in awe with it’s diverse landscape, the wide range of activities and its beauty.
Something that you would do differently if you could do the trip again?
There’s probably quite a lot that we would do differently with the trip in the rearview mirror – while on the whole we are very pleased with our trip. More money had of course meant more time, which in turn would have meant more detours on impulse, more spontaneous meetings with locals, more fishing and a slower pace in general. It didn’t feel like we had to rush, but it definitely felt like we spent many days whizzing through villages and past places where it would have been very exciting to stop.
Last question. It’s impossible to interview someone who has traveled throughout Africa without mentioning animals and nature. How many of the animals in the “Big Five” did you see? What nature experiences do you remember best?
Since we are both animal and nature lovers we feel that some of the wildlife experiences have been some of the highlights of the trip! And with Brian, who grew up in the bush in Zimbabwe, I had my very own safari guide. We spotted four of the big five: elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion, but never got the see a leopard. One memorable experience was when we sat by the car after dinner at the campsite in the national park Mana pools in northern Zimbabwe. There are no fences so the animals can come and go as they please – and they do. I’ve heard about people who turn into jelly when they become afraid but didn’t know what it felt like until a hyena came walking just a few metres away from us in the dark. In a faked calm tone, I informed Brian about this, whereupon he scared it away. Hyenas are much bigger when you have left the safety of your car and is sitting in a camping chair and smell like food…
We have seen a fantastic diversity in nature, from rainforest clad mountains to moon like deserts and from the water lily covered Okavango delta to the tropical waves of the Indian Ocean. One of the places we were surprised and stunned by was the mighty Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia – the world’s second deepest canyon after the Grand Canyon!
The cruiser by Fish River Canyon in Namibia.