The Nature of Africa

The Nature of Africa

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane

Most people living outside and many residing within our home continent, view Africa with trepidation and fear. Labelled ‘The Dark Continent,’ Africa is often subconsciously seen in the same light as the bogey man. The real question is, “what is the truth about Africa?”

This is one of the key questions which led my wife Tarryn and I to creating “Suzuki Africa Sky High,” our expedition which is scheduled to take about eight months as we travel through ten African countries in our tiny but mighty Suzuki Jimny called Badger. Whilst we have numerous aims including climbing Africa’s five highest mountains, which we have recently completed, and encouraging minimalist 4x4 overland travel, our key goal is to show Africa as it is without modern media’s  hype and bias, the ‘Real Africa.

Today, with four and half months, 8 countries, over 12,500km potholed kilometres of African roads and Africa’s 5 highest peaks behind us, we are pleasantly surprised by what we have found. We have never felt threatened, not been robbed or forced to bribe despite venturing into some infamous places. Places like Karamoja District, Uganda and Northern Kenya which, like the African continent in general, do not deserve their negative reputations.

In trying to find the true nature of Africa we have met amazing people like this Karamojan man and his cute son.

It seems to me that Africa is suffering from a public relations disaster, judged for the historical actions of despot politicians, committed some twenty or more years ago. Whilst localised unrest is still present in some areas, this is also true throughout the world, especially in the form of increasing terrorist attacks in Western Countries. Ironically, today you are probably safer climbing the Rwenzori’s on the border of Uganda and DRC, than you are in Europe.

Finally, it must be emphasized that geographically Africa is a BIG place. Not going to Tanzania because of elections in Kenya, is similar to avoiding France because Spain is having violent protests. If you perceive the risk in a country to be too great, do as we did during the Kenyan election period, avoid it.

With the show stopper security concern resolved in our minds, we now see the ‘Real Africa.’  We see the smiles of the people, the innocence of the remarkably cute children, the magnificence of the mighty animals and wonder of the wilderness. We hear the birds singing, feel the wind breathing and sense the continent’s excitement for just being alive. We encounter adventures we hardly believed real and scenes we never imagined. It’s not all roses though; at other times we choke on the dust, gag at filthy toilets and go crazy at getting swindled yet.

To imagine uncut Africa, you have to understand all of its different facets. Plains of endless untouched savannah interminable seas of yellowing waist high grassland interspersed with flat top acacias all sporting thorns big enough to pierce right through your foot welcome you to the wilderness. This realm is home to the big five, all matchless and far more impressive in the wild than in a zoo or on TV.

On the other side of the African coin sit the cities and towns which can be described by two words; “organised chaos.” With Dala Dalas (minibus taxis) dashing everywhere erratically blaring ear-shattering beats at 200 decibels and jam-packed with opportunistic entrepreneurs bargaining a buck on every corner, initial perceptions are that of complete pandemonium. Despite this image, however, they function in their own unconventional way. Beat up buses following ever-changing routes successfully get their passengers to their destinations, buyers and sellers make deals and somehow life in the city works out.

Welcome to the big smoke, Lusaka, Zambia. Crazy, confusing and overbearing, it still works.

Between these worlds, connecting the real Lion’s Kingdom to the modern world are the ‘roads.’ Mostly merely sections of cleared bush, the transport arteries often  look more like the craterous surface of the moon than the neat transport channels the first world is used to. Every kilometre we drive on these ‘roads,’ we thank the universe we have a Suzuki Jimny, Tracks4Africa tracker, SmartGrid sat phone and International SOS policy to back us up! On Real African roads, there are no local backup plans.

A real Africa road. Deep in the Serengeti, hundreds of kilometers of car-eating corrugations and no backup.

The truth about the nature of Africa is that for those seeking unbuttered reality, it is the rarest and most alluring kind of rough diamond.

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

Africa cannot be categorised within perceived Western first world norms. Here, the realm of ‘normal,’ extends to seeing a super luxury sedan driving 20kph on terrain which should only be attempted by vehicles retrofitted by Wizerd and Opposite Lock. Here, it is ‘normal,’ to see a Maasai warrior garbed in traditional cloth and holding a Seme ((Maasai knife) and ginormous traditional spear standing in the middle of a bustling metropolis accessing Facebook on the latest smartphone. It is ‘normal,’ to meet people who by Western world standards appear to have nothing yet are more genuinely joyous than most people you know.

This is the enigma of Africa, its soul exists outside of our cultural confines. My view is one of Africa’s biggest challenges is that it is constantly being told it needs to change. As a result, Africa is constantly fighting itself in a futile effort to fit into the sleek image which, they believe the Western World demands.

The new world meets the old world. Badger meets the Hadzabe hunters.

The saddest  example I have encountered during Suzuki Africa Sky High was understanding how people like the Maasai, Himba and Hadzabe, some of the World’s most authentic indigenous people, are forced into schools and institutions by their own governments because by modern standards, “it’s the right thing to do.” According to Abdul, who introduced us to the Hadzabe, “the local kids hate it and do everything they can to escape school to return to their bows, the bush and the light of a camp fire.” We need to stop seeing Africa for what we think it should be and start accepting it for the amazing place it is.

All of this is Africa. It is a land of contrast. A place of extremes. Here excessive wealth and heart-breaking poverty, unimaginable natural beauty and unsightly shanties, unlimited hope and utter despair all live side by side. The truth is, however, in our opinion, the scales are imbalanced towards the positive. Experiences like witnessing the Serengeti migration, journeying through the Jurassic Rwenzori Mountains and hunting with the untainted Hadzabe Tribe are worth every hardship, every pothole, every cold shower and even the mosquito bites. They are worth so much more. Africa is raw, Africa is real, Africa is Africa, don’t try to change it, experience it, love it!

The truth about the nature of Africa is that for those seeking unbuttered reality, it is the rarest and most alluring kind of rough diamond. To really appreciate this, you need to allow Africa into your soul. Embrace its authentic, unedited, foreign nature. Do this and you will never want to leave.

Allow Africa into your being and you never know what wonders you will find.

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Twelve Black-Magic African Border Tips

Twelve Black-Magic African Border Tips

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane – Make sure you check out the SUPER useful table below!

Crossing African land borders is a notoriously infamous undertaking. Unfortunately, the truth is the reputation exists for a very good reason; it’s a HUGE pain in the ass. Its time consuming, hot, intense and exceptionally confusing. There are people in your face pushing semi-aggressively to try and ‘help,’ you, intimidating officials who occasionally want bribes and rules and prices which change depending on the colour of your skin.

Don’t despair though, there is good news! Firstly, in general, it’s not as bad as the stories would suggest, and secondly, we can help. While solutions to the root causes of the issues remain utterly elusive, there are remedies which like modern western medicine, can help alleviate the painful tooth-pulling symptoms experienced in attempting to the line. They won’t magically get you from Botswana into Zambia instantaneously but they may help you reduce frustration, limit how often you get swindled and lighten the awaiting agony. Alike all things African, they are inexact and change depending on the situation. They require a touch of finesse and bucket load patience to work, but like black-magic, they work if only you believe.

Some African borders, like the one above where nothing but a tree marks the border between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Parks, require nothing but a decent 4x4. Lucky we had our baby Suzuki Jimny, Badger!

I have to thank my university engineering education for the first tip. While I recall almost nothing from the time I served there ten years ago, the words of my Project Management lecturer fortunately stuck; “The first rule of Project Management; proper planning prevents piss poor performance.”  As it turns out, the first rule of Project Management is also the first remedy. The day before going to any border we quickly research and write down key information for the coming crossing, it’s the best thing we have done. Knowing what to expect before you reach the border WILL save you time, money and having to listen to the lies peddled by the sharks at the borders. Here’s what you need to find out, make sure you check out the summary table below;

Resupplying and checking up on the regulations before we cruise to yet another African nation.

  1. Visas: Do you need a visa, if so, how much does it cost and how long does it last? Often officials will give you however many days you ask for up to the limit for that country, usually 1 or 3 months. Ideally ask for more days than you need to give yourself flexibility. Make sure you have enough pages in your passport;
  2. Carnet de Passage: Does your car need a carnet de passage, effectively a car passport, to enter the country? You can check if you need this on the table we have prepared for you below, if required you will need to organise before leaving SA. Carnets are not mandatory for most Southern and Eastern African countries though they can be very helpful for reducing waiting times and other costs. We opted to get one and are thankful for it, our humble suggestion is you should get one for any extended overland trip in Africa;
  3. Third Party Insurance: Is this mandatory in the country you visiting and roughly how much should it cost? As a rule almost all countries will require this insurance. Cost varies depending on country and how well you bargain, be sure to do so as the vendors will almost definitely try swindle. In most places the smallest period you can buy is a quarter (3 months) but if you are in the country only a couple weeks, you can negotiate the price on this basis. A very useful tip is that in COMESA countries (http://ycmis.comesa.int/) you can buy one 3rd party policy to cover all in the union. Doing this will save you a lot of money and effort in having to get a new policy in each country you visit;
  4. Other Documents: What other documents or permits do you or your car need to get in to where you are going? Common examples of things you might need include; carbon tax, road user tax and temporary importation permits for your car and yellow fever certificates for yourself;
  5. Money Matters: What is the real exchange rate in the country you are visiting and how does it relate to your home currency, what currency are the various fees due in? Try to find this out before entering any new country. A tip is to carry USD with you as you can convert it almost anywhere in Africa for the local currency. Banks will often give you better rates than guys on the street. If you can get some currency for the country you are entering before hitting the border.

IMPORTANT TABLE NOTES: Visas specific for ZA Citizens, Rec. = Recommended, TIP = Temporary Import Permit, IDP = International Driving Permit, ZA sticker, registration papers and affidavit from owner if vehicle financed assumed compulsory for all countries. Source: https://www.aa.co.za/insights/preparing-for-the-holiday-cross-border-carnet-de-passage.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to deliver you across African land borders completely hassle-free. However, while these tips may seem superfluous, they are far from it… In general, remember that ‘attitude is everything,’ so bring your smile and enjoy the ride.

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

Planning aside, there are many other things you should and should not do to increase your chances in having a peaceful crossing. Here are seven which we considered the most important.

  1. Be Nice and patient: No matter how rude or slow people are being, don’t lose your cool or drop your manners. Our approach to officials is to make jokes and tell them about “how amazing the police and officials in their country are.” Call it what you like but it works, instead of being aggressive people laugh and smile. With unwanted salesmen, be polite but firm. You are in Africa on African time, expect to wait. Take a book and relax, enjoy it;
  2. Learn the Lingo: Language is the key to breaking barriers and cultural stereotypes. Just today while bargaining with a guy in Zanzibar for Kiting lessons in Kiswhaili the instructor turned to his boss and said in Swahili “he is not a Mzungu, he speaks our language, give him the local rate.” You don’t need to know sentences but at least try learn the basics, it shows respect and in turn breeds respect;
  3. Bribery? Sadly its true, bribery and corruption can get you through Africa quicker. However, and this is a big BUT, there are serious drawbacks. Tarryn and I have a strict ‘no bribe,’ policy as we inherently disagree with the practice. We have seen what corruption has and is doing to our own country and hate it. Even if the morals don’t bother you, be aware many countries are trying to clamp down on this and serious fines and even jail time are possible if you try bribe the many honest officials;
  4. Don’t repack at the border! If you need to repack anything, i.e. meat or fruit, so it doesn’t get taken, make sure you do it well before the border. As we found out when moving things in our Wizerd draw system before entering Rwanda, there are many undercover plain clothed cops around and if you try do anything at the border they will get very suspicious;
  5. Shop around and Bargain; If you want to save money don’t just accept what the first guy offers. We have saved thousands of rand by walking the extra meters to ask others. When you find a trustworthy vendor, bargain like your life depends on it. Your wallet certainly does;
  6. Know the Rules; What is and is not allowed in the country you are entering, what is the speed limit? Certain countries have specific rules for vehicles. For example, lightbars are problematic in some countries, fortunately, Opposite Lock knew of this and provided us Lightforce Spotlights, a great alternative. Zambia and Zimbabwe each require reflective strips of certain dimensions and colours front and back, you can get pre made strips at Outdoor Warehouse. Mozambique and many other countries have rules on reflective vests, fire extinguishers and triangles. You need to know what you need because when you don’t have them you will have issues. Fortunately there is a full list of the requirements on our table and the AA website provided;
  7. Follow the Rules: You know the rules… make sure you follow them. Deviations will make your life tougher than desired. The extra 10kph is not worth dealing with slippery police.

The infamous Kazungula Ferry crossing from Botswana to Zambia. You can see the hundreds of vendors about to launch onto me from behind. Photo; Debbie Stevenson

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to deliver you across African land borders completely hassle-free. However, while these tips may seem superfluous, they are far from it. They are tried and tested by yours truly over many hours of time spent waiting at African land borders and dealing with local police, and they do work. In general remember that ‘attitude is everything,’ so bring your smile and enjoy the ride!

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Climbing the King of Africa; Kilimanjaro

Climbing the King of Africa; Kilimanjaro

  

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane

Our hands burn. Our lungs heave. Our heads ache. Our stomachs backflip. We step, one at a time. We don’t walk; we don’t have the strength. “Why are we here? Why are we doing this?!” The answer is simple; we are here to meet the King.

In every land, every realm there is a ruler, a King. In the sea there is the Shark. In the skies, the Eagle and savannah, the Lion. In Africa, there is Kilimanjaro.

At 5,985m Kilimanjaro is almost 700m higher than the next largest African heavyweight; Mt Kenya. As the highest mountain in Africa it is one of the mighty seven summits, a group of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.  To summarise, it is rather massive.

“Its just a hike,” we said. “We have done harder,” we thought. “She’ll be right,” we felt. The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Physically we were mostly ready. Our bodies were relatively acclimatised thanks to the previous mountains, four of the five highest in Africa. However, the month at low altitude since Mt Kenya had reduced our readiness, our bodies were also tired, our reserves depleted.

Mentally, we left much to be desired. We had been climbing mountains for two months, traveling for four, living in our Suzuki Jimny, continuously camping. It was amazing but truth be told it was also tiring. Long days driving, a lack of home comforts and moving house daily, one campsite to another. First world concerns for sure but tiring none the less. Our minds were already on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar… until reality quickly pulled them back.

The gates to Kilimanjaro are held by a beautiful tropical rainforest… Not what we expected on Africa’s highest mountain.

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

Our crazy crew, from left to right; me, Musa, Tarryn, Julian, Sanaga, Gui.

Both time and kilometres slipped quickly by. Presently we approached the base of the Lava Tower, 4,642m, having risen from about 1800m within only 2.5 days. The invisible tower eluded us, shrouded in the hazy fog. The fact that we were high, however, was unmistakeable. To be blunt, our team looked terrible. At lunch, Tarryn sat head in hands nursing nausea, Julian grimaced through a headache looking more like an apocalypse survivor than a happy hiker and Gui sat motionless trying not to further unbalance his body. “Welcome to the world of big mountains,” I said, “you’ll probably feel worse than this for the next two days.

Musa, our head guide from Climbing Kilimanjaro, waits for us to shuffle down from the Lava Tower.

Unfortunately for all of us, I was right. Sitting drinking coffee at 11;15PM waiting to commence our summit attempt, we all looked and felt like apocalypse survivors. Our anticipated elation at finally leaving the tent to head for the top was cold to say the least, frosted over by the 15 degree ambient temperature.

Within hours we had deteriorated into the living dead. The unmistakeable sound of high altitude lumbering melded into the cacophony of howling wind. We were no longer walking, we were zombie shuffling. Tarryn fared worst of all. Her tiny frame rocked with her dropping core temperature. Seeing the situation unfolding, Musa jumped in to save the day by removing his own jacket and giving it to Tarryn. ‘This is the Real Africa,’ I thought, ‘where people help each other to survive the harsh world which awaits them. In reality while an exceptional act of kindness, this was common with our team from Climbing Kilimanjaro, they constantly went above and beyond to help us.

Unfortunately, despite the help, Tarryn continued to shiver and then to collapse. It was clear; she was broken. We stopped and waited. I froze. Pain moved through me from my fingers to my hands and up my arms. The higher we got the slower she went. Until she could go no more.

One of our freezing yet comfortable camps high on the King of Africa. The green tent in the foreground was our dining hall; fit for a King.

At 5,650m, only 250 vertical meters short of the summit, Tarryn fell for the last time. She was done. Frozen, exhausted and starting to show signs of pulmonary problems, she could go no longer. It was a tough decision but there was no choice. We embraced. A long deep embrace full of emotion. My eyes watered. We had come so far together; 4 of Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete, but now I was alone.

 

“I’m happy I didn’t make it… I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” Tarryn said. I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

 

In the light of the rising sun I watched her and Sanga turn back. Dejection was clear but exhaustion was clearer. She looked tiny compared to the looming mountain. I was reminded ‘we do not conquer mountains, they merely allow us to stand on them for a time.’ With that I turned, it was up to me.

An hour later we shuffled around the last bend, there it was, Uhuru Peak. We were finally there, wobbling in the presence of the King of Africa. We had made it, Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete. It was mind-blowing. It was bittersweet. Tarryn was not with me. I was reminded of the words of John Supertramp from ‘Into the Wild,’ infamy: “Happiness is only real when shared.” I shrugged off the feeling. She was with me, I could feel her spirit. With a smile I headed down.

Two days later I sat with Tarryn back in Moshi staring at the peak. She had been quiet since the peak, distant. She turned to look at me the haziness gone from her expression, replaced with a look of contentment. “I’m happy I didn’t make it you know,” she said. “I didn’t deserve it, I didn’t want it badly enough, I was already on holiday in Zanzibar. I may not have gotten to the top but I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

You’ve read the account, now see the action!

How to organise an audience with the ‘King of Africa’

Route Options and Locations: There are many routes up to the summit of Africa. Some of the most common options include Machame (our route), Lemosho, Marangu and Rongai. Different routes have their own character and challenges and differ in length and number of days required, with longer trips costing more. We took the Machame as we understood it to be one of the more scenic routes and was achievable in only six days. Most hikes are organised from around Moshi in Northern Tanzania.

Contacts: We organised our trip from South Africa with the renown operator ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro’ (http://www.climbingkilimanjaro.com/, info@climbingkilimanjaro.co.za ). They have numerous options to choose from including; routes, trip durations and quality, all prices are on the website provided. We were really happy with Climbing Kilimajaro’s service and expertise and would highly recommend them for Kilimanjaro expeditions.

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Overland Adventure Packing

Like anything else, overland packing comes in all shapes and sizes. This blog intends to help you decide what to take and where to fit it on your own Overland adventure. In addition, it tells you how to get our FREE overland packing list! You don’t need to pack like this to fit!

read more