Gail's Diary

December 10       December 31      February 10
December 19       January 15        February 21

CAPE TO CAIRO: Garth and Gail travelled 14 000 kilometres from Cape Town to Cairo on a BMW 1150 GS motorbike. 6 weeks.
SOUTH AFRICA TO GABON: Garth and Gail stand next to their Landcruiser onto which they have built a fully contained camper with all amenities. Travelled through Namibia, Angola, Cabinda, Congo, DRC to Gabon and back via Zambia. 14 000 kilometres in 6 weeks.
2007 ______________________________________________________

The next adventure begins .....

"So, where to next?" ask my friends.
"North West Africa, this time," I reply.
"Why North West Africa?"
A deep frown forming two wiggly waves on previously creaseless foreheads. "Well, our group has travelled the full extent of Africa and this is the remaining bit of Africa we need to explore," I expain.
"But Africa is dangerous, isn't it? Don't wars happen all the time ... and bribes, how do you cope with bribes?" they ask.

"Sure, but there are more reasons to travel through Africa than there are to worry about. A trip through Africa is so awesome and rewarding, that those possibilities are taken in our stride as they occur," is my answer. Cape to Cairo on a motorbike with my husband 5 years ago was a life changing experience for us both. How can we forget the Isiolo Road in North Kenya rated as the worst road in Africa. The surface was covered in volcanic marbles like lotto balls. Goatmilk cappucinos at a dingy motel/medical centre in the Nubian Desert - so vile that a starving peasant would not consume it. Where in the world would you ever sample a goatmilk cappucino? Velvet green Ethiopia forever forming a carbon copy of beauty in our minds with visions of the Queen of Sheba ruling gloriously over her people always bringing back wonderous memories. Her relationship with King Solomon and their resultant union rising to the birth of Menelik.

This is not just a story, it is real and we have been there. This is what makes us travel. We have read about these mysterious historial events and the diversity of cultures and religions, but now we want to experience them. The desperate poverty of North West Africa will come as a shock as it does in any part of Africa, but as we leave the cities the traditional architecture and ethnic groups that we interact with will take our breaths away as can only happen in Africa. The deep etched smile on the face of a little child as we give him or her a book and pencil or a tee shirt is something to be wrapped in a silk handkerchief and held close to one.

My African cloth collection always needs adding to, and is treasured as I look through my collection and remember exactly where and when I bought it. I am looking forward to bargaining toughly with a merchant to procure cotton cloths dyed with indigo or red mud and march off triumphantly when I have knocked his price down .. secretly knowing that he won in the end..

Music, music and more music ... West Africa's musical traditions have become world famous and I can see my vehicle traveling over copper coloured desert sand beating a rhythmic Western sway.
The vehicle is packed with food and clothing and spares, and together with four others, will make up our group. The vehicles are in Cape Town and are ready to be loaded into containers, finally finding their way onto a ship which will take them on the first stage of their journey to Cameroun. We then fly into Cameroun to take delivery of the vehicles and set off into the desert, our first country after Cameroun being Nigeria.
Stay with us ........
10 December 2007:

Although I have known for the past three weeks that we will fly to Cameroun on the 11 December, it sort of floats around in my mind like balls of cottonwool. It is final, the vehicles should arrive in Douala, Cameroun on 14 December and we need to be there to take delivery.

The final sorting out of my home, my accounts, food for the domestics, food for my beloved cats, food for the koi fish and the trillion pieces of threads that need to be drawn together to create that word "home" begin. Shopping, shopping and more shopping goes on and on like an endless tune and never comes to an end. The packing of a few changes of clothing which we will need in Cameroun to tide us over the few days until our vehicles arrive are put into a large duffel bag. Electronic equipment, the all important folder with all our documents and other odds and ends go into our hand luggage.
At this stage we cannot even remember what we packed into the vehicle. Of course the usual happens - the safe door jams and we cannot get our foreign exchange currency out and then the alarm system goes on the blink. At this stage I am too scared to make a cup of tea in case the kettle blows up. I do not need this now. I will get everything ready tonight - wash hair properly for the last time, do my nails and be up bright and early tomorrow morning to begin my long adventure into the countries of North West Africa where the desert rules.
Au revoir all. Back to top
December 19

Douala simmers and we wait …… we have been waiting for the ship to deliver our vehicles since 12 December .    Each day Juno and the chaps take a taxi, which is dilapidated and would be scrapped by our cops, to the Shipping Agent and each day just as we imagine our ship will dock soon, some hurdle is thrown in our way to delay the vehicles’ arrival and we wait. 

The latest news from MSC Shipping is that the ship will arrive tomorrow morning, 19th and that our vehicles will be available on Friday afternoon.  A place to keep the vehicles safely during the day so that the chaps can check them after their long voyage needs to be organised and the parking of the vehicles safely overnight has been arranged.  

On our arrival in Douala we booked into a Catholic Mission which had the bare essentials needed for accommodation but when one of our group moved to an hotel, Brother Dennis became belligerent and decided that the Mission was booked up for the next few days which put us onto the street and we moved into The Arcade Hotel with Juno and Moon, providing **accommodation.  Everything is basic, we are safe and we can get a reasonable meal.   A room costs us about 32000 cfa per day which is about R500 per day. 

We took a tour to Limbe, a coastal town where we ate fish with the locals, swam in the tepid waters of the Gulf of Guinea and visited the Zoo where we saw all types of monkeys and the very threatened drill ape.  The Botanical Garden with spicy and perfumed trees and shrubs was most interesting.  These were started by the Germans and continued by the English.  Now the Camerounians maintain them. These are maintained in an acceptable condition and were enjoyable. 

Douala is a frenetic city. It is kept swept clean but is maintained poorly.  Buildings are never painted and roads and pavements have their share of potholes.  Traffic rules do not exist and it’s a free for all with cars, motorbikes and big four by fours pushing their way around in no particular system.  But its fun in true African style.  Its what we came for. 

We spend our day chatting, reading, eating and in the evening meet in the dingy bar and have a drink before going out for a meal.   We have eaten good pizzas at a restaurant called Segal run by a Lebanese and had a good Chinese dinner too.  There is a computer room and we have the use of the Internet here.    

Today we visited a Score Supermarket and bought meat which the chef has kindly offered to freeze for us.  Score stocks everything and we could buy lamb, fillet, pork and chicken.   

The Camerounians are smart people, nicely dressed and polite. We have never felt scared or threatened.  We met people today who had come from Italy to buy palm oil but it was a scam and they were lucky to note their situation and got out of the deal quickly.   Never do any business in North Africa. 

So, we relax patiently in Africa until the ship arrives, spits out the vehicles and we hit the road through Cameroun en route to Nigeria.

    islands gorilla size palm oil fruit
           Islands                            How big is a gorilla?                       Palm oil fruit

Garth with carvingcarving Return to top
31 December
The last day of 2007 is upon me and I reflect back on this exciting year.   So much has happened that I cannot even recall it all.
Our extensive family of sisters and brother with their extended families of spouses and children have moved the chess pieces on the family chess board and moved from their long occupied homes into smaller dwellings and even taken the giant step of moving to other countries.

Basil and Donna, Belinda and Drew produced wonderful little children and our dear Mother has remained in her comfortable home to which we are always welcomed with outstretched arms.  

Garth and I decided to travel from Cameroon to Morocco a journey of approx 20 000 kms because we love the cultures and challenge that this kind of travelling presents.

We wish you all the wonderful New Year filled with happiness and good health.

The journey to date has been difficult since leaving Douala but most interesting [see the update].  We have passed through tropical South Cameroon where fruit formed a colourful tablecloth on rickety tables with people looking healthy as this is part of their diet.

The traffic consists mostly of motorbikes with four passengers on each one.  There are no robots anywhere but everyone gets by and is patient.  We have to remember to drive on the right side of the road.   The people are polite and friendly.  I have learnt to say a few words in French and get by with gesticulations.

The roads have been mostly gravel since leaving Douala but very challenging and on entering Northern Cameroon have become worse than ever.   We have covered a distance of 1400 kms in 8 days which is very slow going and experienced all kinds of road conditions.  Each night as we arrive at our bush camp we are covered with dust from travelling in clouds of red dust from passing vehicles as well as from the convoy all day and as water is very scarce we cannot always wash our clothing.

As we entered North Cameroon the people became Muslim and a new world opened like biblical times as men and women floated by in traditional Arabic robes.   I had to tie a wraparound round my waist to hide my shorts as Garth and I filled up our car at a waterpump.

Buildings and palaces are in a shoddy state and never maintained.  Although our Hotel Transcam is rated as a three star all fittings in the bathroom are broken and falling off.

Our best is to bushcamp at about 4.30 each day have a shower using our tree shower, spray ourselves against mosquitoes and start preparing dinner. A whiskey or cold beer ends a hard days driving.   We rise early, and normally find a group of people gathered at a distance to view the aliens.

The electrics on our car started to give us problems and we had no lights inside, pumps or fridge.   Garth and Slowie managed to find that a food box had been disloged in the cupboard and broken the switch and they were able to fix it. 

Tomorrow we leave for Waza National Park further North and then head up to Nigeria.

We wish u all a lovely Old Year's Eve and miss u all. Return to top

15 January
The ring road in Cameroun has really tested both the vehicles and ourselves.   Red dust wafts up around us and we make our way through a red world.  I am constantly dirty.

waza game park          waterfall          bushcamp
Wazu Game Park         Waterfall in north Cameroun          Bushcamp in Sahel

There are no camping areas and we have to bushcamp along the roadside.   My shower is tied to the side of the car when it is dark and I have a shower.  My tracksuit is my refuge as I reappear feeling like I have visited a Spa. 

I prepare a meal of pork chops bought in Douala with smash, tomato and onion and toss a salad of  tomato and onions bought along the road.  The girls and I stroll into a village along the way while  our guys help the localsreconstruct a bridge out of planks and chains.  Women and children carry water for kilometres on their heads and I herald their resilience.  How spoilt we are. 

I am looking rather worse for wear now.  Not the normal groomed person that I pride myself in being.  My hair needs doing and my heels are like sandpaper but I can only do my best.  Africa is tough on the body.     

The  best way to keep washing under control is to wash four bits every day.  Water is scarce and that is all we can spare.   

Our entry into Nigeria is a shock to the system.  As we enter at Banki we are met with a dustbowl of talc powder brown sand, hundreds of people and goods of all kinds for sale.  People crowd us and we feel unsafe.    Kano is an environmental nightmare – overcrowded, dirty  with traffic rushing back and forwards at an unbelievable rate.     

I do not really enjoy living in the grounds of a dilapidated hotel but it is the only choice we have when we stop in a city.  We need to be safe.   We sleep in our car and use the terrible toilet and bucket for washing that comes with the unuseable room. My vehicle becomes my haven .. it is my bedroom, kitchen, lounge and bathroom.  I will not stay in dingy rooms.   

The waiting for visas for Niger was a tedious time, but we had to persevere.  We never gave up.   My time at the Touriste Campe in Kano was not too bad as we had meagre bathroom facilities which at least gave us privacy.  I do enjoy the company of the people in the group.  

Our eventual entry into Niger was a great experience because it was so different from Cameroun and Nigeria.   The Sahel desert stretches before us and there are no crowds.   Camels dot the landscape and mudhouses of Hausa Moorish design are pleasing to the eye.   The Muslim religion gives the people a kind, well mannered nature and they are respectful to us. 

The produce markets alongside the road make for wonderful vegetable and fruit shopping and we cook up very nourishing meals.   Bushcamps are our favourite choice of accommodation and most enjoyable.  
                 Old city of Kano                  shopping for onions 
                 Old city of Kano Nigeria                          Shopping for onions at the market

The collages of interesting things that we have seen so far is unbelievable – just anywhere you look you find a photo.  The people live in Africa as they did 100 years ago and their lives are difficult. The way that they use nature is astounding.   Everything they make is made from something grown or provided by nature. 

Cars have their problems at times, but these the men have been able to fix. Radios break, GPS’s go wrong, satellite phones pack up, people get hurt or feel sick and so on but we cope. 

Note from Garth: 

We should receive our new sat. phone tomorrow so use it.   We successfully welded the radio transmitter using a
poprivet as the soldering iron. The GPS has some problem which involves plugging the power in two or three times before it will work but once it is on it is fine

The weather is perfect – 25 degrees C. The Saharan Hamattan winds are not blowing as yet in our area.

The car has been serviced very well in Niamey Niger by Toyota.  The winch came loose and we have been able to rebolt it.  The car is going like a dream and is economical at the 60 to 80 kmph that we travel.  We are averaging 44 kmph in total so far.

The fridge is working perfectly from the alternator and solar panel. We are on our way to Benin on Friday.  

        garth  garth  palace
                 Garth fixing radio          Garth at Sultan's Palace         In the Palace

                 Tuareg Wrestlers
                          Tuareg                           Wrestlers in Nigeria
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February 10

When we travel in Africa, I always feel as if my world has shrunk.  I possess just so much money and so much clothing – nothing less and nothing more.   When I lose something it becomes difficult to replace it.   One cannot just jump into a car and go the nearest shop and buy it.     

.....Bush camp......... Gail getting hair tint

We have been out of touch with civilisation for two weeks and have only been able to buy fruit – imagine that.     I saw spring onions for sale and got quite excited. The farmer pulled them straight out of the ground, washed them and put them into a packet.  They tasted wonderful. 

I become worried when our vehicle has an electrical problem or we have GPS problems but Garth seems to be able to fix these up quickly.  We just have to fix them.   When a pipe from our water tank broke, I thought we would have a problem as water is not always available.  Garth was able to seal off the break and we are now looking for a little part to fix it. 
We fill our water tanks wherever we can find water – usually at waterpumps or wells.   We buy drinking water anywhere it is available.  

clean car 
Garth cleaning car....... Garth doing repair

It has been very encouraging to see the crops that the people grow in West Africa such as rice, millet, bananas, tomatoes, watermelons chillies and many other things.French bread which is made everywhere is available along the road in any little village which is astounding. 

Travelling on the ferries is very interesting as we travel with goats, chickens, people, children and vehicles of all kinds.   Little children wait for us as we get off the ferry and grab our hands with little hands hard as leather and snotty noses and tattered clothing that make you want to just care for them and give them a better life. 

ferry  kids

I often think of my two little grandchildren in New Zealand when I see the little two year old’s carrying little babies themselves.  How lucky our children are. 

The jewellery and fabrics fascinate me and I would love to buy a myriad of them and take them back to South Africa to sell.   I have bought some beautiful jewellery which I wear with my safari clothes when we stay in a hotel.  

The desert is harsh and dries our skins like sponges soaking up water.   At night we shower and cream our skins thoroughly.    The cream disappears into the dryness and is replaced by salt as we sweat.    

The desert is wonderful to camp in in the afternoons under the shade of sparse trees.

When we think that we have found a remote spot, you can be sure that a little herdboy will bring his cattle or goats near our camp and see us and soon he has brought a whole village of children to stare at us.  This drives me crazy, but imagine a group of people arriving in a field out of the blue with such interesting equipment. 
Our visit to the Dogons and Timbuktu was most interesting and it is hard to believe that I have actually been to these mystic places.   The things that we saw there are unreal

Our arrival in a town to stay in a hotel is often a blessing but we get tired of this after two days.   We are then ready to stay in the bush again.  

The bush where there is no traffic, no people ,  just sunsets and sunrises and showers in the open and bushfires that set the ambiance for glowing evenings. 

bushcamp  timbuktu
.........Bush camp............ Lunch break.........Timbuktu at Timbuktu

We have travelled 9 500 kms so far and still have to get to Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco. 

The trip has been very exciting despite arguments that do occur.  Everything has to be discussed and God help everyone if this is not done.    Things then explode. 

The trip is tiring and difficult – but that is part of the adventure 
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February 21

MAURITANIA 21 February
When we enter Mauritania, it is like entering another world. The Sahara desert spreads as far as the eye can see and Mauritanian people dress in flowing robes called jellabayas. This is the world of the Arabs. Their features are different.

We enter the world of nomadic people, camels and sand dunes. This is what we have come for. We stay in an Auberge (Camping facility with bathrooms) in Nouakchott to where we hope our passports with our Moroccan visas will be sent. It is a dusty, sandy village but our visit to the souk produces some good shopping opportunities. We park our cars in the driveway of the Auberge for three days and camp. The heat is blistering and we take cold showers all day to keep cool. I tint my hair again.

We cannot leave Mauritania without sampling oodles of Tangine which is the local food of meat and veggies cooked in the pyramid tangine dish. This is delicious. When our passports arrive from South Africa with the Moroccan visas inserted we are overjoyed and know that the gateway to Morocco is now open for us

The force of the wind across the Sahara Desert as we make our way thru Mauritania is unbelievable and the sight of nomadic Berber tents rising out of the desert like mushrooms make wonderful pictures. Camels dot the desert and feed on camel grass while Berbers lead their camel trains across the desert carrying their goods to the village markets. The desert villages through which we pass are made up of houses built of sandbricks plastered with sand. The conditions in the Sahara are desolate and dry and I feel so sorry for the way the people live.

tents  wave dinner
Bedouin tents...........Gail waves to passing train...........Mechouie dinner

Our stay at campsites along the way introduces us to other crazy travellers who give us loads of information on roads and other campsites and this proves to be most helpful. We meet mostly Europeans as it is easy for them to travel from Europe to North West Africa. Some are on motorbikes, bicycles, motorhomes and others in Overlanders.

My heart often breaks over the way the animals are treated in Africa. They are no more than workhorses – but what can I do. Hundreds of goats, sheep, cows, dogs, Donkeys, horses and cats roam around and eat plastic and left overs.

Our trip over the Adrar mountains is a trip I shall never forget. It was testing and dangerous as we twisted and turned around and over the great Adrar. This took a whole day. One of the campsites I enjoy immensely is Chinquetti in Maritania where we stay at an oasis campsite built in the traditional Arabic style. A tangine dinner in the courtyard in the open is delicious once more. I buy jewellery from the vendors here as they had expected the Dakar race to pass through their town and had large stocks. Their disappointment that it had been cancelled could be felt.

Bushcamps in the desert are something to be remembered and locked away in secret places forever. We camp in the middle of nowhere. We are surrounded by nothing or no-one but sand – not even a tree. Garth makes us fires and we cook fillet in foil. The wind blows our vehicles and ourselves around like ragdolls and flies bug us at times, but that is Africa. Our experiences during the five days we spent crossing the Sahara can be classed as unbelievable, frightening and a test of the amazing feat we have undertaken. One thing I must admit is that I am not afraid and always know that we can overcome problems when they arise. At times our vehicles stuck fast in the sand – at one time Juno was stuck deep for 8 hours. We push and we pull but we never give up.

We are surprised when we find four young Polish people lost in the desert. We tow their Landrovers out of the thick sand, give them water and assist them in finding their way back to the nearest town. When we took the wrong desert road, we took a day to go back from where we started from and take the right track into the desert. The desert turns cold at night and often a shower in the evening can chill one to the bone. Sand gets everywhere and the saltiness on one’s body is so intense that you need to take a shower when you stop at night to camp.

When travelling as we do there are three mind sets I must have when we stop for the night.
1. Bushcamp where we only have our own facilities
2. Campsites where there are mostly awful ablutions
3. Hotels which are reasonably priced in cities – must have safe parking (not often chosen).
We always prefer bushcamps but often have to find facilities to do washing and fix vehicles which would be at a campsite near a town.

The road between the Mauritanian Border and Moroccan border is classed as No-Mans land and the area off the road is mined. We must stay on the road. This part of the Western Sahara is still under dispute by the Polisario (rebels) and the Moroccans as to who owns it. The police stops are numerous and bug us.

The scenery is beautiful with the Sahara on the right and the Atlantic Ocean on our left. I begin to enjoy Morocco as we pass petrol stations with small cafes serving Arabic Café, something we haven’t had since December. (I am missing Ninos) We realise that Morocco is beautiful and clean unlike the countries we have passed through on our expedition. It is very civilized. The big towns are built in French style architecture and the people are a mixture of modern Arabic people and Berber people.

Our stay at the Bedouin Campsite in the desert is another experience I shall never forget. We ate olive and lamb tangine in a huge nomad tent sitting around a low table and drank Moroccan wine – beautiful. Our journey over the Atlas mountains on our way to Marrakech took us back in time 100 years ago as we passed villages built of sand bricks and mud set into mountain crevices and rock faces. Berber villagers ride donkeys and wear very warm woollen clothing as it is only 11 degrees when we pass through the mountains and up steep passes. The Berber ladies sitting on rocks tending their goats and sheep swathed in clothing and headdresses turn away from us as we pass indicate that they are a shy lot.

bedouin nomads  timbuktu
Bedouin campsite........... Garth and Gail go nomad........Timbuktu stuck in sand

Our drive through the Atlas Mountains enables us to see the peaks covered in snow and it becomes very cold. We put the car heater on. We travel from the heat of the desert to the cold of the mountains. We pick up four little abandoned puppies along the way and Pam puts them into her car. What do we do with them, we ask. We ask at all the villages we pass but no-one want them. Eventually the owner of a mountain café takes two. Two to go.

We reach Marrakech on 6 March and book into a hotel. Marrakech is a bustling city – one section being the old walled city and the other the newer section. We visit the Souks and buy odds and ends. We bargain and bargain for everything. A tour of the city on the open tour bus proves to be a good idea. Our attendance at the Fantasia Show where horseriding prowness and dancing accompanied by a meal called MECHOUIE , a baked Moroccan lamb dish which we enjoy. Pam is able to take the two remaining puppies to a Animal Protection Society where they will be looked after and given to good homes.

Our final trek to Casa Blanca through the Atlas Mountains via Fes alerts us to the fact that the expedition is over and a sense of relief yet sadness overwhelms me. We arrive in Casa Blanca on 11 March and it’s a case of finding shippers to take the vehicles back to South Africa and organising the best flights back to Johannesburg. The vehicles will probably leave on 18 March and we will fly on 17 March.

At this stage, I feel like I have been living my life as another person – a person with no responsibilities other than to travel to a new place every day and try to remember what I have done and seen each day. Sometimes I cannot remember whether I am sleeping in my vehicle or in a hotel and I have to find my bearings. I feel like I need a GPS to plot my route.

I have captured my trip with my camera and in my notebook but I know that is just a minute bit of what I experienced. The diversity of the countries and the people we came across and how different they are just mystifies me.. How is it that our customs, dress, food and requirements can be so different? It was a pity that I could not keep my diary up to date on a regular basis but locations with internet were not easy to be found.

I have completed our adventure from Cameroun to Morocco – a distance of 16 400 kms in three months. It is a big achievement. I will see everyone back in Johannesburg shortly..

Gail relaxes in the desert

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