Friday, 30 May 2014

Permiso por favor? (International Driver’s Licence)

IDP for the 1968 Convention
If you driving anywhere on your travels, it’s almost certain that you’ll be asked this question “Driver’s licence/permit please?” Not necessarily in Spanish but you will be asked to produce that little favourite fetish of all traffic cops around the world. Unless, you’re European and driving around Europe, South African driving in Southern Africa, (or other similar regionals allowances) you’ll need an International Driver’s Licence (IDP).

“That’s simple!” you say. Oh, of course - if you’re travelling only to one or two countries or by coincidence, countries that have all ratified the same international Convention on Road Traffic. Thing is that if you’re deciding to travel your way around and through a continent the chances are slim that the one IDP will be valid for all the countries.

Where do I get an IDP?: In South Africa this can be done through the AA (Automobile Association) who have various Travel Shop’s throughout the country - except in North West Province for some odd reason! Thus in other countries, if there is an AA or other equivalent Automobile Association, contact them for information on IDP’s. Worst case, they’ll tell you where you can get the IDP. Keep in mind that this is one document that can only (officially anyway) be issued in your country of residence.

How much will it cost?:  In South Africa, and now May 2014 when I went to get my new IDP’s, it cost ZAR 265 each, so c.US$20 each. As far as I know this more or less the average price for an IDP in other countries too.

List showing countries of the Americas and which conventions they've ratified.

Which IDP?:  Getting my IDP for South America turned out to be a similar ‘debacle’ where no matter how I tried to work around it, there would be at least one other IDP for Brazil and Uruguay. Two conventions i.e. 1943 and 1968 are applicable here. The former also being the one will help you through most of the America’s. The countries that ratified the 1968 convention (very handy one this as it’s validity is up to 3 years, subject of course to the expiry date of your driver’s licence from your country of residence) overlap some of the 1943 signatory countries - what to do? Well, get both! So once again I embark on a trip with two IDP’s with one valid for 12 months and the other till August 2016 when I need to renew my South African driver’s licence.

IDP for the 1943 Convention
Checking your IDP:  Before you leave the issuing office, you have to check that all details have been entered and the relevant stamps applied to the umpteen spots requiring rubber stamps. Ensure that you’ve signed your IDP - the consultant will show where the dotted line is. Your photo must have at least one rubber stamp that is over the edges of the photo edges, and then the relevant vehicle class(es)/codes will be stamped. In some IDP’s, every category that you’re qualified for has to be stamped.

Expiring IDP while travelling:  Going back to your home country to get a new IDP every 12 months is royal pain in the proverbial! In case you think you’ll be out of your home country around the time your IDP expires, leave certified copies of your driver’s licence, passport, national ID and some passport size photos with a friend or family member. A month before your IDP expires, you set the wheels in motion to let the friend/family member apply for your new IDP which they can then send you wherever in the world you are.

Safe driving! Remember to make sure which side of the road you have to drive too!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Most Potent Type of Sorcery!

Impromptu performance at Streetbar Called Desire
(John's Place) Tofo, Mozambique
It’s a great pleasure to be doing this first interview for #followadream with such an inspiring (and all-round nice guy) with James Keo, musician & songwriter. We spent some great times together in Mozambique and now I can share a glimpse of what makes him tick. I’m also honoured that this is his first official interview, which turned out to be even more fitting for the project; James was telling me that his first gig been in Cusco, trip to South America being the inspiration for #followadream)

(follow Keo & the Movement on their Facebook page at

Hi James, I met you and Tess in Praia do Tofo, Mozambique toward the end of 2013. We had some great times over a beer or a wine with you pulling out the guitar and giving all present, a rendition of the music that you’re so passionate about.

MC: As a bit of background; how old you are now and where do you live at the moment? 
JK: Well …. currently I am living in Brixton, South London with my girlfriend Tessa, who studies Medicine at UCL. I don’t know how it happened but I am 24 now! I love being 24 actually, in my experience people start treating you more like a ‘real’ adult and less like a student lay-about. It does wonders for your self-esteem too - Quite odd the bearing that a few numbers can have on your life. Anyhow, I digress. I spend my days either in the studio writing, playing then listening back to very loud music with my band, “Keo & The Movement" or I spend my days reading about philosophy in my pants - Its a kind of 70:30 split.

Tessa & James with their
ever present smiles. 
MC: Tell us what makes James Keo a happy and contented guy?
JK: I am certainly ‘getting my kick’ when I play music. To this day I feel that playing music with others is the most potent type of sorcery. It helps that Music was one of the few things my phasic mind actually committed to, so these days I am quite confident in my abilities and in that respect it is certainly one of the most immediately rewarding past-times.

However, in general terms, I am the most happy when I am being useful. I define ‘useful’ mainly as living up to my own potential, i.e. not just spending EVERY day lying in the sun (not that I get a great deal of time for that in England) but making sure I am using my youth and energies for something productive or to get something I want. In my limited experience on this planet I am sure that the worst type of suffering is self-inflicted - saying “I want a tuna sandwich!” but never actually going into the kitchen just seems foolish to me.

But being useful is not confined purely to self-obsessed achievements, living for yourself is just one side of the coin, but I take pleasure being useful to others. Can I be there for others? Can I balance the scales between myself and others, even when the rewards are not immediately obvious? It can be a trial sometimes but it is a nutritious bite of slow-releasing happiness for the soul!

MC: Ok, you have one wish only - what would that wish be right now?
JK: Ok, well right now it is raining outside and I just wanna say … “To live in sunshine for at least 300 days of the year” but lets go for something a bit more ambitious. How about the ability to clone myself so I could make an album and go travelling the world all at one time, whilst retaining the ability to enjoy, relish and remember both those experiences simultaneously. That would be great! 2 lives - capitalising on earthly time!

MC: I noticed you’ve been doing a few gigs (performances) since we last met in Mozambique. What’s been happening music-wise to you since then?
JK: Since I last saw you on those golden shores I have found a great band of players and we have been doing the hard slog playing a load of shows around London, some to hundreds of people and some to just a bar man! But through a total chance meeting with a manager early this year we have been given some financing to make our debut album which is a wonderful opportunity to take my songs, open them up and stitch them back together giving them a whole new life. We have tracked 4 of a potential 12 or 14 tracks which will be making their way to your ear drums imminently. The next step for us, once recording and mixing and all that jazz is finished, will be touring. Possibly Europe? Possible America? In fact we applied to play at Lake Of Stars Festival on Lake Malawi for a laugh! Would love to swing back through Tofo with the band in tow this time.

MC: When did you start playing guitar/singing publicly in front of more than just casually with friends? Where was this?
JK: I was eased into public singing when I was just a young boy, around 10. I sung in my school choir and after finding I had a natural singing voice was asked to do solos in the choir, then individual performances and then I guess it just spiralled from there. I performed musical theatre stuff for a little while until I became a teenager and it suddenly became very ‘uncool’, plus my acting was awful - so I picked up a guitar and just carried on doing the ‘bandy’ thing.

MC: You were part of another group before “Keo & the Movement” that even random tourists in Mozambique seemed to know about. Tell us about that...
JK: Indeed, I am sometimes spotted when I meet the Dutch! Before my time with the Movement I played in a band called “Will & The People” for almost 3 years and we had a hit song in Holland called, “Lion In The Morning Sun”. It was through playing for the band that I got a taste of the highlife, so to speak, and conversely the hard work and self-belief that it takes to ‘make it’ in the Music industry these day. I must say that the being-recognised bit was always the bit I liked the least. It is certainly difficult to have genuine interactions with people who hold this false belief that you are some kind of worship figure. It can really distort your psyche to get so much adoration but so little connection.

MC: How are people now getting hold of you or finding out about your music?
JK: At the moment people hear about us through the shows we play, it is very difficult to cultivate a media platform for yourself until there is a record out but with all of that in the pipeline we are looking forward to putting ourselves out there. There is always Facebook if anyone out there wants to take a listen.

MC: #followadream is about finding out what people’s dreams are and how they are working towards them. What dream is at the top of the list for you - how does your passion for music fit in with it?
JK: Good question. (*long pause for thought*). My dream is to explore and understand as much as possible about this world of ours. Mostly I see that dream realised when I travel, so in a material sense my dream is to travel the world and learn about it’s people. Something which I’m sure you can relate to also Marcell. It’s about pushing the limits of your own comfort to learn something incredible about yourself and possibly about something outside yourself. You never know what that may be either, perhaps it will inspire you to go on and be the next Einstein or at worst just have the time of your life! Either is positive.

Music helps me follow my dream in two ways. Firstly, in the hope that people from all over the world might pick up on our sound, enjoy it and then I will get my traveling kick when we tour there! But secondly, playing Music professionally offers me the chance to supersede the expectation I have of myself - being able to get up and play to 40 or 50 thousand people take big balls in my book and I know as I succeed in reaching these goals I will expand my idea of what I am capable of. I am fortunate because Music is my solace as well as my mountain. Anything that seems like a mountain is worth climbing, just to see if you can reach the top. But, if you don’t, it was still good for the legs - if you catch my drift ...

MC: What have you done/are you doing to achieve your dream or at least get closer to achieving it?
Live performance at The Music Box, London, UK
JK: Aside from Music I am currently looking to volunteer at a school in Sierra Leone this summer, just doing a bit of building and teaching perhaps. A perfect opportunity to give back and explore a new part of the world. I have also decided to re-apply for education and have been excepted to study Social Anthropology and Music at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London come September. The course looks really interesting, I love learning about the ways in which people and cultures interact anyway but as a bonus the course focuses on pretty much anywhere outside Europe, which will feed my hunger for the exotic. I’m sure the chance to learn instruments like the Kora and the Mbira will also inspire some pretty great music too, we already have some very strong Afro-Carribean influences in our music as it is. I am also hoping that my final qualification will enable me to travel more and work all over the world, especially throughout Africa.

MC: Are what you doing now getting you closer to that moment where you can stop for a moment and say “This is my dream!”

JK: Definitely, I am on track and excited for the next steps! Even what we are doing right here on this page …. “This is my dream!” Thank you Marcell.

Thanks for giving us some of your time for this interview and in the words of that old ELO song..."Hold onto your dreams..."


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Mouthful of Decadence (Restaurant review)

Being a bit of a foodie, I just can’t resist raving about a good snack, meal and the establishments that provide me with these almost indecent palate orgies. Come on, is there really much that beats sitting back with a bite you’ve just taken and delighting in the flirting, touching and teasing over your taste buds!?! Finding an owner-run restaurant here which offers something off the beaten track from ‘standard’ menus can in the least be described as refreshing.
(Thing is, this town has a lot of restaurants and take-aways which is also a bit dominated by a variety of franchises ranging from family restaurants to some well known American fast foods.)

Deep fried Cape Malay Bobotie Spring rolls
with red onion marmalade.
(couldn't wait to indulge)
This is what I gave a little time for today at Decadent (follow link to their Facebook page), a coffee shop and restaurant in Potchefstroom, a university town (officially a city apparently) in the North West Province, South Africa. I’ve been driving and walking past this place numerous times over the last couple of months as it’s close to where I’ve been living at the moment. Asking anyone about it, the response is invariably that it’s very good but that’s the sum of the descriptions I get - maybe some people are just not as passionate as I am about good food?

My light meal was the “Deep fried Cape Malay bobotie spring rolls with a our decadent red onion marmalade” ZAR38 (c.$3.60) The pastry is lighter than than many spring rolls I’ve encountered, almost similar to what you’d get in Thailand (from my experience anyway). The tasty spicy mince that makes up the bobotie has your taste buds pleading for more. Add to that the red the onion marmalade...this is where I get lost for words!! Just simply salivatingly gorgeous!

Seductively delicious cheesecake
It was my lucky day as they had their own baked cheese cake available. This enormous slice of indulgence clocks in at a mere ZAR27 (c.$2.60). The smooth cheese just caresses your mouth with a full taste and a tiny hint of tart. Need I say more - I think in this case my lack of adjectives may be carried out by the photo. (thanks to Dorette, the waitress, for recommending this!)

Setting: as an annex to a large plants nursery, Garden Pavilion, it’s set in a garden with most of the seating outside with some tables almost hidden away in little plant nooks. In summer rains this can be a bit of a problem but they do have tables indoors and another covered area in the garden. On a warm winters day like today, you can either sit in the shade or get a winters’ “tan” at a table in the sun. In case you’re in the area and the kids are with you, bring them with as Decadent has an area where the kids can play (obviously under adult supervision).
Feeling the need to do some work online while letting your taste buds play? They have free wifi available to their patrons as well.
Menu (meals): the menu has been compiled to suit a variety of tastes ranging from breakfast through to main meals and including light meals and snacks if you’re there to settle down with a book (certain snacks specifically recommended for this - ingenious!) 
"Meal from a Hat"
The one meal that caught my eye was “Meal from a Hat”. You draw a main course from a hat and will only know what you got when it arrives at your table. The menu also says “for the adventurous” and I totally agree, what a great way to pick a meal when you can’t decide between the variety of mouth-watering dishes. The price will be an average of the main courses, so sometimes you’ll get a down-right bargain and sometimes pay a bit more. (these average around US$5-6.50/dish)
The "front" outdoor area with a view of the main
covered dining area.
Menu (drinks): some great coffee for the connoisseurs with Vossie the owner doing some roasting on-site. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do some coffee tastings but hey, maybe in this week before I leave I’ll go and do that. Decadent is also fully licensed, so you can enjoy a variety of drinks.
Prices: very, very reasonable! In fact, most of the prices below or at worst equal to similar items at inferior establishments in town. When you see and taste what’s on offer here, you’ll realise it’s a steal for the culinary delight you’re being treated to.

This review is totally independent and the restaurant was unaware that I would be reviewing them.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Sharp End of a Needle

This post is in no way intended to be an expert medical opinion or advice. Please refer to your nearest medical professional and/or travel clinic for up to date advice and recommendations. (See end of post for details of the Travel Clinics I visited)

Inside holder information and Yellow Fever vaccination details
Checking whether your vaccinations are up to date is the nightmare of some with visions of rows of syringes and needles awaiting them, never mind the hole being jabbed into your hard saved trip funds! Today, as every time I go (last time was 2011), the number of lined up syringes and needles get less and less. The price has surprisingly not gone through the roof although admittedly the hole in your funds is still equivalent to what it would’ve been 10 years ago.

Writing this here now, my left arm is not liking being moved much after 2 jabs. “Only two!?” you say. What happened to the regular updates and boosters that did at times require returning for more the next day and/or having two arms punctured; admittedly the worst is prior to the first time you travel abroad. Then, it just depends on where you going and when the various shots expire or require the next booster.

My two jabs actually covered 6 shots including boosters and updates. My hepatitis A was due to expire in 2015 and my meningitis and typhoid shots expired June 2014, my Tetanus shot had expired 2013. Already in 2011, the vaccine for 4 meningitis strains had been combined into one shot. Seeing as I’m heading off to South America, the meningitis shot is not required with the high risk area only being roughly the equatorial belt through Africa.

Inside pages noting other vaccinations.
Today my tetanus shot (this is probably the jab I dislike the most due to level of pain you have to deal with later the day; only Voltaren competes with this) included boosters for polio, whooping cough and diphtheria. My required typhoid jab included the Hepatitis A update thus resulting in only two jabs. The other “update” was the “Cholera Exempt” stamp, dated and signed by the nurse; this signified that she had shared the relevant education, tips and advice on avoiding cholera contamination with me.

The bill for the actual jabs took my breath away but then realised that considering how many vaccines and boosters were included, this was not much different to what I’d paid in the past. In fact, it was probably cheaper than before!

I’d be telling a lie if I say I find my visits to Travel Clinics boring, on the contrary, it’s always been very informative and down right interesting. (Thanks again Sarie at Kampus Travel Clinic!) These professionals are up to date with the latest advances in travel health, medicine and the relevant legislation. Granted I’ve only been to 3 different ones in the space of 14 years (two part of the same group). Today was no exception and the nurse told me about a couple of new and future changes in requirements relating to Yellow Fever vaccines. 

The new Yellow Fever Certificate as required
by World Health Organisation (WHO).
Yellow Fever
Apparently the latest research has shown that the Yellow Fever vaccine is good for life, thus the 10 year repeat jab will not be required anymore. Note: this has not been incorporated into legislation yet (or is in progress) and for now the 10 year update is still required by most countries. (as published by the World Health Organisation in International Travel and Health)

Yellow Fever & Vaccine card
The “old” yellow card that folds open is apparently also not valid anymore. The medical professional at your travel clinic can transfer your current vaccines and jabs onto the new yellow booklet as per the International Health Regulations (2005). Oh and by the way; NOTE that any corrections and/or alterations on and in the booklet renders it null and void! So if you’re going through passports pretty rapidly, rather leave that space open on the front cover.

Travel clinics I recommend

United Kingdom
Nomad Travel  8 Travel Clinics throughout the UK. I’ve been to two in London. There service and advice was just brilliant, and consistently so!

South Africa
Kampus Travel Clinic (incorporated into Kampus Pharmacy) Situated at Cachet Park near the North West University in Potchefstroom, North West Province.

Post Note

  • Any inaccuracies that may be present relating to WHO requirements, vaccine contents etc are purely my own because of a crap memory and/or my layman’s language and understanding.
  • I did not receive any benefit in any form from the named travel clinics and/or institutions and my recommendations are based on the superior service and advice I received during telephonic and one-on-one consultations.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Faces of Africa (Africa Day 25 May 2014)

Africa is probably the continent with the most nicknames but is a landmass revered by some, feared by others and dreamt about by many. Nowhere in Africa would you feel like you’re in another part of it, it’s that unique. In this diversity of its appearance, are the diversity of people that make up the Africans - people born and bred on this continent and call it home. A continent about which the question “Where are you from?” is often answered with “From Africa…” or “I am African.”

Yes, I am African (with a mother from Zambia and father from South Africa, as African as it gets!) as well and love this continent where, as per my own motto I accorded it “...the only thing that is consistent, is that nothing is consistent!” This post is a short celebration of this amazing continent.

With the advent of technology, mobile phones have found their way into the hands of powerful, rich right down to the subsistence farmer and fisherman.
Traditional meets technology
Fisherman on Lake Kivu in eastern Rwanda.
Hard manual works remains a very real part of most people's lives in Africa.
Young boy loading mud bricks onto a donkey cart
Segou, Mali
Water, like elsewhere, a precious and treasured resource and innovative ways are found to have it available as fit as possible for human consumption.
Girl in Dakar drinking purified water sold in little plastic bags.
Dakar, Senegal
 Of course, the wildlife is probably one of the aspects that Africa is most famous for!
Elephant browsing in Queen Elizabeth National Park, south-western Uganda
Gladly the traditions, including traditional dancing of many are being retained not only for tourism/visitors but also for future generations.
Traditional Rwandan Intore dancers in Kinigi, north-west Rwanda 
Africa does of course cater for the adventurous and the adrenaline junkies on (amongst many locations) the great Nile River in Uganda.
Dima Rainer working his way through a Grade 5 rapid at Bujagali Falls, Jinja, Uganda
(This rapid no longer exists due to the new controversial dam built at Jinja, downriver from the first dam. )
Wars and rumours of wars are sadly what some perceive as a "normal" part of Africa.
Tank from wars of the 60's,70's and early 80's at Cuanza Bridge, Angola
Many will warn you about the dangers of this Dark Continent but, bring your flashlight along - open your mind and embrace what Africa has offer. One warning from me though...BEWARE that Africa will get into your blood and not let you go!
Old sign at the now non-existing Bujagali Falls at Jinja, Uganda
When the day ends in Africa it is with such splendour that "African Sunset" has become a well-coined term with all travellers and Africans alike. Then quoting the National Anthem of South Africa (also a well-known song throughout Africa);

Nkosi sekele iAfrica
God bless Africa
Sunset over Lake Kivu at Gisenyi, Eastern Rwanda


Saturday, 24 May 2014

Stop Often and Experience - Prepare to be Amazed

Something that is a bit of a mantra when I’m out and about whether walking or driving. Stop and see what happens around you - it’s as if after about 5min, ‘normal’ activity around you resumes. This is especially true when out in nature, whether a large national park or just your garden - your movements have stopped, creatures perceive the danger or risk to be over and resume their activities.
The horse starts a slow walk towards me,
keeping its eyes on me all the time.
 The photos of the horse are from an encounter in Rooisand Nature Reserve in the Overberg (Cape Province, South Africa) where wild horses roam the area. This individual started walking to me after I’d been sitting on the grass for awhile, eventually grazing about 2metres from me.

In cities and towns, it appears that everything that is happening at a pace, slows down especially for your benefit - all that’s happening though is that you’re noticing details, seeing faces, gestures and reactions. This is one of the reasons that when there’s a coffee shop/restaurant with tables and chairs on the sidewalk, you’ll find me sitting there watching the passing parade - not reading or even like some, facedown to their mobile phone. You’ll be surprised how relaxed you become watching, listening and becoming the proverbial fly on the wall. A bonus is that you’ll very likely end up learning something new about the place and people where you’re at.

Out in nature the stopping and watching has directly resulted in some of my most amazing encounters, albeit nerve-wracking at times, with wildlife wandering to a spot within meters of me, or right up to me. Even when scuba diving, settling in one spot culminated in one of my most memorable wildlife moments ever; a Giant Manta swimming a half meter from me and after what seemed ages, but were probably a few seconds, moved away and that was when I realised I’d not even been breathing for that moment!
And a mere 2 metres from me albeit never taking
its eyes off me.

Sitting next to a trail with clients and studying some small insects or tracks in the sand, I hear a sharp intake of breath from one of them and look up - a bull elephant had walked right up to us, well 2-3m away from us. The soft sand had made enabled him to walk up unheard till the client happened to look up. We sat frozen in time, me saying very softly through my teeth “Don’t move!” Trust me, this is the hardest thing to do when your mind is telling you to get the hell out of there although admittedly, the legs would probably not be working all that well.

This is also something which photographers will usually subscribe too, especially wildlife photographers and filmmakers who can all attest to the rewards of days and weeks waiting for the animal to appear, for the hoped for interaction to take place.

When something large/obvious is not turning up next to you, the therapeutic effect of momentarily merging into the surroundings is more than just worthwhile. Anybody who’s sat quietly around a campfire, on a rock watching the ocean breakers or atop a peak letting the panorama absorb you, will remember that moment of tranquility that slowly envelops you.

Had any experiences while sitting quietly somewhere? Share it below in the comments.

The culmination of a day sitting, observing and experiencing the closeness of Nature.
(this was the same day as the encounter with the wild horse above)
Rooisand Nature Reserve, Kogelberg Biosphere, Overberg region (Cape Province, South Africans) 


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

This is a War Zone!!

(Extract from my diary of my trip from Harare, Zimbabwe to Bamako, Mali 2011 - soon in eBook "10(k)m to Mali")

“...adversity favours the versatile…”
History of the World” - Andrew Marr

3 Sept 2011 (Banki, Cameroon to Kari, Nigeria)
My passport was processed by 7:30am and I set off with Lawan to the Nigerian side. The passport took awhile, not because there was a problem with my visa but because the visa said “30 days” and “transit” and apparently it was law that transit visas were not allowed to be valid for longer than 7 days. The long hanging around and constant opening/closing of the passport I think was in lieu of extra money (that I never paid) for which I would then get the 30 days. Anyway, 7 days it was then.

Then the Health Officer took me to his office with my Yellow Fever Certificate which he told me was fine but his office needed something. Oh ffs! My Nigeria visit was not off to a great start. He said that “officially” he needed to do a health check but he could see I was healthy and also had several other vaccinations. This was the 1st of what I realised appeared a common trait of many Nigerians of stating the obvious as many times as you could bear and then at least one more time!
I still had to wait for the senior Customs officer who would process the carnet and although there were 2 customs officers there, they were apparently not “allowed” to process it. It was just after 7:40am and the guy eventually turned up around 8:20 after I’d had two large mugs of delicious local tea. We then set off and also with the wife and (her baby) of a cop who was getting a lift to Maiduguri.
Route as per GPS from Banki, Cameroon to Kari, Nigeria via Maiduguri

It was slow going winding around bad sections and then also a section past yet some more trucks that were stuck on the road. The 1st 20km probably took us almost 3 hours to do and weren’t even near Bama yet - this also made me realise that staying over at the border was a really good idea. The road gradually got better in that there were less potholes but this also meant the mad Nigerian drivers could show-off their lack of care for any other vehicle passing or approaching for that matter. Also a heap of barriers where an array of uniformed (and un-uniformed) people hung around with their AK47’s slung over their shoulders. The array was made up of police, traffic police and security police (in civilian clothes). All were quite friendly except the traffic police who seemed to go out of their way to be twats of note by shouting about random issues they made up re safety equipment.

 Most of the stopping by police though were friendly chats and I think more out of curiosity or for conversation than for anything else. That was when I could understand their english though, sometimes I had no idea even what language they were speaking before it turned out that it was indeed english or some odd form of it anyway.

About 30km before Maiduguri, Karen called and said that Ousman had arrived at a bus-station in Maiduguri and I should get the guy with me to call him and in french find out where he was. It was one city I was not going to be hanging around or just simply driving around. It turned out well though with the particular bus station Ousman was at, being along the road we’d be entering on. Entering the city we went through 3-4 heavily armed and sandbagged control points with soldiers in full combat gear and also a variety of automatic weapons pointed at us, including at least one larger calibre at each one - this was a war zone!

Author Note (2014): Maiduguri has since gained even more coverage and notoriety in the international media as the base of the "Boko Haram" group and extremist violence. According to locals, a few hundred people had lost their lives in the 2 weeks preceding my arrival in the city. The recent abduction of a large group of schoolgirls is just the latest of a string of events that have focussed the world's attention on this region.

At the bus station we managed to find Ousman and then Lawan negotiated with a taxi to lead us via the safe routes (this changes every day!) to the other side of the city and out onto the main road to Bauchi and Kano. From here the road got even better and eventually a little bit less roadblocks although the traffic police didn’t get any friendlier.

In Potiskum we filled up with fuel before setting off for Kari, our target for an overnight stop. We reached the town/large village just as the sun went down and very quickly we’d secured a safe parking spot at a service station. The security guy and the manager sorted some water for us to wash and use for the toilet before we walked into the village and got some meat and yam for dinner.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Machete, the Translator!

(Extract from my diary of my trip from Harare, Zimbabwe to Bamako, Mali 2011 - soon in eBook "10(k)m to Mali")

4 Sept (Kari to Kano)

Kano City, Nigeria
View of Kano City from the top of Dala Hill - northern Nigeria
Today’s drive was all good and a relatively quick drive from Kari to Kano. On the outskirts of Kano we were stopped by the traffic police which I had personal experience of being some of the worst authorities to be stopped by due to them being extremely rude and hugely corrupt. They were checking whether I had all the emergency requirements like reflective triangles and fire extinguishers etc.

After not being happy with the extinguisher I had in the cab, I mentioned that I had yet another one in the back passengers’ section. The one guy was intent to the point of rudeness, that he wanted to see if it worked i.e. I had to use it! My protestations initially went ignored until one of the more senior guys came in and told the guy it was fine and he should just let it be. This was only after much shouting by the former guy and alternate bouts of arguing and pleading. Any “fines” he mentioned I refused to pay as he specifically also said that if I paid I could go, thus clearly yet another bribe he was used to getting.

Just as I was about to set off, he came to the truck and said I had illegal spotlights on. I turned the truck off again and got out, the pettiness proceeded at the front of the truck. He insisted that I remove the spotlights even though I repeatedly told him the vehicle had a road-worthy test in Zimbabwe and that it conformed to the requirements of Zimbabwe; it was also impossible to change the truck to every traffic officer’s whims in every country I drove through. Eventually the discussion moved to where their vehicle was parked with the senior officer. After once again refusing point-blank to pay them (having no money, specifically no Naira, and being a 1st time visitor was my main contention), I was eventually allowed to leave and continue into the city. Little did I know my traffic police encounters were not over for the day.
Kofar Mata Dye Pits in Kano, Nigeria

At a traffic light in the city, a guy opens the passenger side door and tells Ousman to move onto the middle seat and shouts at me to park on the right just past the traffic light on the other side of the junction. This guy had no insignia on his shirt or anything resembling a uniform and I started shouting at him to get the f… out my truck. He didn’t make any attempt to leave so I grabbed the machete on the ground next to me and with my right arm against Ousman, held the blade against the guy’s throat and telling him to get out. At this stage, the lights turned green and I drove across and pulled off to the right at the traffic police. The moment I stopped, this guy opened the door and flew/fell out at speed, he even managed to slam the door shut! I saw in the rearview mirror a very senior traffic police officer walk up so I waited as he came up and opened the passenger door. 

Rather brashly he told me that his officer had told him I had chased him out the truck while threatening him with a machete. I didn’t deny it and mentioned that this was an unknown person with no obvious uniform or insignia and that I had been warned about potential criminal elements at traffic lights. At this he actually visibly softened and started apologising for his officer’s behaviour and asked if we knew our way around Kano, or needed directions. I told him that we were looking for Kano State Tourist Camp and didn’t know our way around upon which he promptly gave us very detailed directions.

Eventually finding Kano State Tourist Camp, we settled in and Mohammed was hugely helpful and assisted us in paying the correct rates for camping. He then organised some of the guys there to wash the truck and do our laundry. Chatting to Mohammed, I mentioned that I had read about Mohammed and another guy at this campsite that all the overlanders referred to and praised them for how helpful they were. He told me that they had sadly both passed away and that he had now taken their place.

After sitting at the very nice Lebanese restaurant on the premises, I went back to the truck which now looked like new. I think my jaw dropped visibly as the guys had done a sterling job of getting her clean. It was then time to go and catch up on some internet which was next door at another take-away and restaurant complex. 

Breakfast local way on a sidewalk
Kano, Nigeria
It was actually quite funny when I walked in as one of the Lebanese owners was at the door and very angrily and loud asked “Americain?”. I said no, I was South African at which point his whole demeanour changed completely and with a massive smile hugged me and welcomed me to Kano. 

The previous day the South African president had apparently made a statement saying it was wrong for the west to intervene in Libya and this contributed to this guy being so happy to meet a South African. Anyway, I was subsequently always greeted very warmly by the owner and his friends/relatives when I went into the complex over the next few days.

I have to mention here to any other potential future visitors; no alcohol can be purchased or used on the premises as they are under Shari'ah Law (the Shari'ah council was next door to the campsite) as was the State of Kano, or most of it anyway, as I understood it. This wasn’t a problem for me as drinking hadn’t exactly been a main item on the menu the last few days.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Water was my Omnipresent Ghost

(Extract from my diary of my trip from Harare, Zimbabwe to Bamako, Mali - now in eBook "10(k)m to Mali")

17 Aug (Mbie - Leconi, Gabon) [Independence Day in Gabon]

From the tree it took 5 hours
The morning started off with finalising formalities with the police, customs and immigration. Then the gendarme wanted to check all my documents were processed first and latched onto the fact that my Congo Brazzaville visa had expired. At this stage though, the chief of police had already put the relevant exit stamps in my passport on behalf of the immigration guy who was off somewhere in the village.

The gendarme was now throwing his toys out the cot and after going off at me, went off at the immigration officer who had returned in the meanwhile. The latter promptly pushed the blame onto the police chief who had stamped the passport without him being present or whatever. The police chief seemed to be saying that I was leaving now so there wasn’t any problem. Typical gendarme style, the gendarme refused to budge and then the immigration guy called me into his “office”/hut with the chief of police and said that because my passport had been stamped for exit already there was nothing else he could do other than just give me a penalty, (trust me that it wasn’t as amicably explained by him as it appears here) and that would be CFA 20,000 (c.US$40). What could I do other than hand over the money. After this I also gave the police guy CFA 10,000 (c.US$20) for copping the blame.

Eventually after the odd to and fro at the whim of the gendarme whom I was starting to get very irritated with, it was time to leave. The niece (very petite 18yo girl) of one of the police and her little girl was coming with me to Leconi. They did also remind me that it was Independence Day in Gabon and the border might very well be shut; will cross that bridge when I get to it. I was under no illusion as to how difficult the day might be road-wise although everyone said from that from here the road was “good” and with the truck I’d get through fine. It was 25km to Akou, the official border post of Gabon although the 2 countries’ border was somewhere in between.

Now I had to check the exit out of the village which started immediately with thick sand. The explanation of which way to go sounded dubious to me at best but it was the best of the worst options. 10m away and Bang - stuck! Digging out and then eventually one local joined (the other just stood and gave orders and/or looked) and helped me dig out. Another false start and then after another couple of diggings we were out with warnings to watch for alternative routes when then there was thick sand ahead. The alternatives would usually be through bush and/or along grassy verges.

It wasn’t far at all until one of our “alternative” routes took us right into woodland where we ended up with a local who turned up going ahead and chopping down branches and/or trees so we could get through and eventually back onto the road. There were several sections where I had to dig us out and use the sand-mats at least once. Getting out onto a better surface then meant I had to walk back all the way to carry the sand-mats and spade to the truck, anything between 50-200m. After a while it all starts adding up as fatigue sneaks up on me.

With some slow going we got to one section that looked deceptively fine but got us stuck in very fine and thick sand. This little section of c.30m was to take us (only me digging etc though - girl was in the cab with her 2yr old) over 5 hours to get out!

At this stage I was quite knackered already (over and above all the work the day before) and I was going through various emotions and talking to myself. Needless to say that sod’s law entered the equation and as I started digging, the clouds drifted away and the sun came out in all it’s fury. I only had one bottle of water in the cab and two in the fridge in the back and was very much aware of the heat and thirst inducing physical work of digging and setting the sand-mats. When I got back in the cab, the truck only went the distance of the sand-mat and then dropped deep into the sand again. I had to go ahead of the truck as well and dig away at the centre section as the diff and spare wheel kept digging into it the moment the wheels went a little deeper than the surface of the sand.

Pic I took later of how tap had been ripped out
of the truck's drinking water reservoir
By the 4th or 5th time, I was getting seriously frustrated, depressed and thirst was becoming an obsession whilst I was also trying to save my water because I had very little and didn’t know when I’d get out of here. I was also reaching a point of physical exhaustion where I had to sit down for a few moments between different parts of the digging and sand-mat process and just try and blank my brain so I could carry on in some sort of automaton fashion. This wasn’t always possible and already my mind was kindly painting me pictures with me featuring in the well known cartoon of a guy crawling through the desert looking for water. Water was now the omnipresent ghost on my mind.

In the distance some rains had started and I was thinking/hoping that it would reach us even if only for a few minutes to cool things off and settle the sand a bit (although more than a few minutes would be needed for the latter). No idea what kept me going but thoughts of just sitting down and waiting crossed my mind several times. I was also dehydrating at a phenomenal rate and even more frustratingly recognised all the symptoms of heat and dehydration in myself. This was when it was sit down time again for a few minutes before carrying on. My mind also started playing tricks on me (damn, was I this far out of it already?) and reminding me of all the things that happened to people stranded in dry, hot areas without any water and wondering when, if ever, there be another vehicle and/or people. Across the hills there was no sign of any other life in the form of people or even a hut.

The 2yr old then started asking her mother for water! I could maybe hold out on the mother (just because she’s silly not taking any water or something to drink with) but I couldn’t on the child. Her mother helped her drink a few mouthfuls of water that seemed to satisfy her that all was still well. When I did get out onto more solid surface and dared to stop, I had to trudge back to go and get the sand-mats although only about 50m this time.

After this there was one more section where it seemed we’d be stuck but the truck managed to crawl through in 1st gear and diff lock and it was here that I noticed that according to the gps we were in Gabon already. This was brilliant news as I knew Akou was not far from the main country border. Then all of a sudden, a new tar road and an open barrier with nobody present. We’d arrived in Gabon!! (it had taken me 10hours to do 25km to this point!) Driving on a little way we found a shop/bar where I had a huge Fanta and the locals first expressed their surprise at me doing the road alone (as is usual it seems whenever I arrive somewhere) and then pointed me in the direction of Leconi. 

Getting to the edge of Leconi there was the 1st gendarme barrier and a rather rude guy who just straight out told me that the frontier was closed for Fete National (national holiday). He even denied my requests to stay over for the night nearby as it was past 5pm already. Then he took to interviewing/interrogating the girl that was getting a lift with me and after about 20min gruffly told me to go ahead to Leconi. Apparently customs and immigration were there but I could only do formalities in the morning.

Overnight stop in Leconi, Gabon
I dropped the girl off in town and carried on to one lodge/hotel where they had no room but a guy there said he would show me another place. The next place was also in the throes of festivities but the owner immediately came and got me sorted out with a room with en-suite bathroom and said that later the night I could park the vehicle inside their walled compound. I emerged from a very long shower and ready, in a knackered sort of way, to go and find a Gabonese sim card, airtime and a bit of food and let people know where I am.

It was almost surreal being in a town and thinking what I’d worked my way through the last 2 days. Just to add insult to injury, I tripped into a ditch and slammed my right knee real hard - or is that adding injury to insult? A nearby shopkeeper brought out something he had in the shop and rubbed my knee painfully hard amidst my protests that it was a bruise and not just a pulled muscle.

Back at the hotel, I had a beer then pulled the truck into the compound. I slept like a log that night, once or twice waking up confused not knowing where I was.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Follow a Dream

Breakfast local style (Kano, Nigeria)
(read more about how to support my initiative at the dedicated page here)
I'm really excited about this project and actually think it will become an ongoing theme through my future travels, after all my travels have all been me living and realising my dreams, virtually every day. Interviewing people will at times be challenging no doubt with mainly language being the main challenge but these are minor hurdles really. I think the main challenge might be to keep it as diverse as possible and getting people involved from a large cross-section of walks of life. 
This in itself will most likely also give one better insight to local cultures, traditions, values and most of all, how relative our dreams are to what we perceive are achievable in life. The great thing is that through publishing these interviews on blogs and with eBooks, it might actually open opportunities for the people interviewed. There are some who will read the interviews that feel they can help make a dream reality for somebody and I'll be there to put them in touch with each other. I get goose-bumps thinking of getting messages or mail from somebody telling me how their dream has been realised because of the interview - I couldn't ask a greater reward for my travels!
Hopefully I can eventually get some corporate/company sponsors involved which would make this an even greater and wider spread project. Working on a logo/brand for the project, sponsors could then get coverage and exposure for their involvement internationally.
Follow and Share this post widely please; remember to Like & follow ExpedEvac on Facebook as well.
Excerpt from the project outline at  (follow this link for the full project outline)
"This trip to South America is a childhood dream being realised, as many of my other travels to date has been. I have only purchased a 1-way ticket and will be finding volunteer opportunities and hopefully work as tour leader and/or photographer. Landing in Brazil, I will go onto to Peru 2 days later (the World Cup makes Brazil much more expensive at the moment) and from there start my continent exploration and travels.
In a small way, at least, I'd like to contribute to somebody else's dreams being realised. I will be interviewing a different person every day about their dream in life is, plus then get at least one photo of them and possibly some about their dream is about. In return, give them $10 as a start to following their dreams. In the event of a lack of funds, I will see give a bit less $-wise or else have a meal with them. As the interviews will be with a diverse range of people, the value of the contribution might be more in the interview and motivation than the actual financial. I want the $ I give to be a token of a start following the dream more than actually funding their dream.
These interviews will be published on my blog in addition to compiling a book of these interviews; even thinking of a series by country or by theme.
This is an ideal opportunity to motivate and contribute to somebody else's dream coming true. Through the interviews I will obviously take note of each persons details. Readers who feel they identify with the particular dream of a person interviewed can then follow up in whichever way with that person - I will introduce the person to interested party via the internet or phone and will not take any part of direct contributions made to such people."