On the Move – The Unwritten Rules of the African Road

On the Move – The Unwritten Rules of the African Road

  

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

 As a broad generalisation people seem to have the impression that Africa is a lazy continent. The belief is that, like the Spanish, the midday siesta is a common part of the African agenda, the only difference is the African “Lala,” lasts all day. In our experience, like many generalisations, this one is not entirely correct. In this regard, our experience is that our continent is actually an oxymoron. Africa is a large, vast and generally densely populated place. While it is true that many people, men particularly, can be seen day and night simply sitting under mango trees waiting for the fruit to fall, the opposite is also true. It is also a place where people, again men in particular, frequently work far from their homes and families in order to earn a living to provide for those they love. It is often a tough place, where despite the generalisations, many people have to work and fight hard to survive.

For most Africans, like most people in the third world, owning cars is a pipe dream. The financial barriers to entry are simply too high. Alike most places where this is true, organic solutions to the transportation conundrum have manifested into a chaotic looking yet highly functional system.

The omnipresent piki pikis of Africa. Look closely and you can clearly see these ones are Rwandan; they have helmets.

Because of the higher cost of bigger vehicles, they are far rarer than in wealthier countries and continents. Particularly in the rural areas, bicycles and motorbikes, called Piki Pikis, Bora Boras, Motos and any number of other names depending where you are, outnumber cars like ants to antelope. People use them for absolutely everything from transporting their entire family to moving half their village banana plantation and charcoal supplies the 20km to the main road to sell.

I only realised how ridiculous this actually was when a local girl dropped the bike she was riding while trying to let us pass on the narrow rutted back road we were driving on. Seeing she was struggling to lift the bike, I stopped and jumped out of our little Suzuki, Badger, to help her lift it. It took every ounce of my strength to lift the bike and what turned out to be three GIANT bags of charcoal. The whole ensemble likely weighed about 60 kilograms! Having felt the weight of the bike I have no idea how riding it was possible… andhers was far from the heaviest bike we saw.

An example of the hundred kilo bicycle. The huge white bags are all filled to the brim with charcoal. This guy is probably riding 20km minimum.

After the smaller vehicles comes the three wheel motos, which you don’t see often but when you do are EVERYWHERE, horse carts, cars, minibuses and small trucks. Most of these vehicles except the small trucks are used for transporting people and they follow but one rule; fit as many people as possible before you go anywhere. Motos are also a very common local taxi and tourist vehicle. Other than in Rwanda where a hard maximum of two helmet wearing people is permitted per moto, as many people as possible with no helmet are usually jammed on board.

Life on three wheels, packed into a three wheel moto on the way back from seeing the Livingstone mango tree in Kigoma, Tanzania.

The last group is the one to be wary of. They work on the “dog eat dog,” principle that big trumps small, ALWAYS! They drive where they want, when they want, in spite of road conditions, speed signs or other commuters. If you want to survive the African Transportation system you better learn to move out their way. QUICKLY! They are the big fish in the African pond. They are the trucks and buses.

Like most systems, African Transportation works by a set of rules. Alike most things truly African, these rules have likely never been clearly defined and are unwritten, yet understood by all involved. Enjoy the ride… its likely to the be the most exciting and chaotic one of your life :).

Team Tane

Vehicles aside, there are many other things that characterise the unique nature of time on the African roads.  For a start, there are the roads themselves which vary from sections of surprisingly decent tar to tracks which animals like cattle would struggle to move on. There are corrugations so deep and persistent that only aftermarket suspensions like Tough Dog can handle them. There are no street signs and speed limits which change according to the local policeman’s whim on the day.

One of the many big fish in the African pond. A local truck packed TO THE BRIM with everything you can imagine.

Finally an unmissable fact in Africa is that the roads and tracks which Africa uses for transportation are not just for vehicles. Far from it. Being the paths of least resistance in places where thorns as thick as fingers await shoeless feet and hooves, the roads are used by every manner of creature imaginable to move. People are often walking everywhere, weaving between traffic. Tiny children traipse to school playing with balls and each other often abruptly running into the roads. Domestic animals like pigs, chickens, goats, cows with horns like lances, dogs and cats play chicken with moving vehicles at every turn. Think that sounds crazy? Well wait until you nearly plough into a herd of elephant, a hippo or a pack of wild dogs. Trust us all of these things are very possible.

 

The roads of Africa are a busy place. They are capable of frazzling the toughest inexperienced African explorer into being more nervous

Sick of riding uphill? Follow these guys, grab a lift.

than a teenager on a first date and making them drive slower than their Grandmothers.

 

Aside from the specifics which categorise the African Transportation system there are overarching truths. Firstly it can be said ‘If it moves it grooves,’ in other words ‘it does not matter what the condition of the vehicle is if it can go it will be taking someone somewhere.’ Secondly and most importantly ‘only the strong survive:’ if you want to get anywhere you better grow a thicker skin quickly. Niceties mean nothing here other than that you are prey ready for the taking.

Like most systems, African Transportation works by a set of rules. Alike most things truly African, these rules have likely never been clearly defined and are unwritten, yet understood by all involved. So long as you learn these cardinal rules; big beats small, assume no other vehicle on the road has working breaks and make sure you look and act like you know who’s boss, and watch for the million things that are likely to run into the ‘road,’ you’ll get through it just fine. Enjoy the ride… its likely to the be the most exciting and chaotic one of your life ;).

Check out the additional photos of what can be found on the African roads below. 

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The Mighty Rwenzoris

The Mighty Rwenzoris

 

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

This is a brief summary of our epic trip to climb three of Africa’s five highest summits in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Full accounts will be published in the Getaway and Sawubona Magazines in the coming months and posted to our articles page. Don’t miss the summit gallery, trip info and video at the end! Hopefully, this wets your appetite for more ;).

Sitting here, bouncing our way in Badger on yet another potholed dirt road, it is difficult to believe our trip to the Rwenzoris was real. It is similarly difficult to believe that despite the odds; the variability of weather, possibility of sickness or fatigue stopping us, we made it up all three mountains. Mt Stanley (5,109m), Mt Speke (4,890m) and Mt Baker (4,844m), respectively the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest mountains in Africa, are under our belt. It feels like a dream. I suppose in many ways for Tarryn and I, it is the culmination of part of our dream.

The mighty Rwenzori Mountains; the mountains we climbed. From left to right Mt Stanley, Mt Speke and Mt Baker, the 3rd to 5th highest mountains in our continent.

We are under no illusion that we had support in getting to the top. From our friends, family, amazing sponsors, our guides and most importantly the great Rwenzori Mountain God; Kitasamba. Anyone who knows big mountains, knows there is never a guarantee and some level of luck is involved in summiting, thus we thank our lucky stars.

However, in addition to luck, summiting the Rwenzoris took many other things which I am very proud of our team, including Tarryn and adventure buddy Immo, for possessing. They required physical and mental toughness, intense determination and a desire for adventure.

Heading toward the top of Mt Stanley, shown in the background. Once at the summit, the weather closed bringing with it freezing winds.

They also all required high tolerance to ridiculously frigid conditions, something Tarryn seriously lacked but our great Mont Bell clothing helped with, early alpine starts and most importantly an unnaturally high level of tenacity.  This last requirement Tarryn showed in absolute abundance on all three mountains as she pushed through fatigue and constant mild hypothermia to get to the summits. These feats of determination earned her limitless respect from all of us there and the nickname “Suzuki,” for being small and tough as nails.

In spite of, maybe because of, the often harsh conditions; never ending bogs, frequent black ice and rough terrain, the hike was mind-blowingly awesome! The entire range is an other-worldly assortment of strange plants and animals, like the three-horned chameleon and scenes which appear to have stopped evolving somewhere in the Jurassic period.

The being from the other world; one of the strange three horned chameleons we met on our journey in the mystical mountains.

The mountains themselves were incredible and well worth the toil required to get to them. In general what can be said is that all the mountains were more technical than we expected and provided a proper adventure. From crampons and ice axes, to gloves, walking poles, gaiters and harnesses, our Black Diamond gear was put to the test. We are happy to say the gear performed with flying colours.

This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m, Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.

“in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry…” If you want to experience these mountains in all their glory, get there fast.

 

Enock

Head Guide, Rwenzori Trekking Services

 

The calm before the storm, literally. Sharpening, checking and fitting our crampons. As with anything, in mountaineering “proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.”

This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m,

The start of mighty Margerhita glacier. Now receding further up the mountain each year the start of the glacier is very steep and technical. Notice the specks; they are people.

 

Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.

In our eyes though, Margherita Peak of Mt Stanley, who at 5,109m (Africa #3) is the undisputed King of the Rainmakers, stole the show and our adventurous desires. With two glaciers enroute to the top, Mt Stanley is a true adventure to climb. Unfortunately due to effects of climate change and environmental degradation, these beautiful ice rivers are predicted to be gone by 2025. Enock, Head Guide for Rwenzori Trekking Services who we walked with said “in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry.”

Our hike to the Mountains of the Moon took ten days and covered about 108km. We went with the local company Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS), based out of Kilembe, Uganda. Both the hike and the company we used were superb. RTS even went as far as offering hot water bottles at the end of each day’s hike! Considering their highest camp, ‘Margherita,’ is approximately 4500m high and bloody freezing, this was a pleasant and in Tarryn’s case, necessary, luxury. The mountains of food provided at each meal time were also awesome and their guides friendly, well trained and super knowledgeable. They even supplied us with high quality Black Diamond crampons and ice axes for the Margherita climb. While we generally like to carry our own packs in this case it was great in this case it was great to only have our lighter Osprey mountaineering packs for the strenuous hiking while porters carried our large packs.

Some mountains are made of food. The massive meal provided to us by RTS on the first night of our hike.

It must be understood that the hike will cost a bit of money. Once you get there is it very clear where it goes. In addition to the above, RTS provides really high quality huts at nearly every camp and well cut and maintained trails. Moreover, from what we understand a lot of money is funnelled into community development and conservation and provides a huge amount of local jobs.

The Rwenzoris is another world. A world of wonder, intrigue and adventure. We would recommend it to anyone, ideally without a fear of heights, who is looking to experience true mountains in the heart of Africa. If it sounds like your thing then get there fast before the magical ice rivers melt.

Don’t miss the EPIC summit gallery, information and video below!

Tips on Getting to the Rwenzoris?

Lets face it, who wouldn’t be interested!! Its the best hike we have done and one of the coolest places we have ever seen.

Important Notes: Unfortunately you can’t hike alone and must use an operator. Having been there we KNOW this is a good idea anyway. Unless you like swimming in mud do your best to go in the dry season (Jan – Feb and June – July), you’ll swim in less mud in season. Get fit, the hike is relatively strenuous.

Contacts: We went with Rwenzori Trekking Services (http://www.rwenzoritrekking.com/, rwenzoritrekking@gmail.com). All prices on their website, our hike was around $1520 per person for ten days. It is a bit more expensive if two people or less. Note that prices exclude Ugandan Wildlife park fees ($35US per person per night in the park) and optional tips (totaling about R1000 per person for a ten day trip if you follow suggestions).

Happy Exploring :)!

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Light is Fast!

Light is Fast!

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

“Light is Fast,” the motto of our apparel partner Mont Bell, is an idea which is close to our hearts and one of the key themes of Suzuki Africa Sky High. To us, in three words the apparently simple pun manages to sum up a very important philosophy; ‘minimalism.’

To most people, the idea of minimalism involves being overly stingy and having less than what you actually need. In our minds, however, it is about having exactly what you need and no more. For example instead of carrying a huge amount of cutlery and crockery on our expedition with us, we have two plates, two bowls, two spoons, two of everything. We don’t need or have space for spares, “just in case.”

A “light,” lunch on the road side is our most common type of midday meal…

On a mountaineering expedition, you can only carry what you need to survive. Food and water is hard to decrease in size but having light Sea to Summit titanium cutlery and fold up bowls, 350g down jackets and other lightweight multi-purpose clothing from MontBell, a small Jetboil stove and hiking equipment from Black Diamond rather than bulkier equipment significantly helps curb space requirements.

Anyone wanting to overland in a Suzuki Jimny needs embrace the concepts of mountaineering and hiking. They need to understand minimalism is not just a hippie concept; it is biblical law. The Jimny being the Jimny, there simply is not space for overindulgence or carrying excess useless cr@p. This is part of the beauty and draw of the Jimny; it forces simplicity.

Our philosophy for Suzuki Africa Sky High came from our other world’s of hiking and climbing. Pack light is the idea as you have to carry everything. Taken from the top of a climb up the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town.

Anyone wanting to overland in a Suzuki Jimny needs embrace the concepts of mountaineering and hiking… This is part of the beauty and draw of the Jimny; it forces simplicity… For this reason a large amount of our gear is from hiking and adventure brands like Black Diamond and Sea to Summit, who live by the minimalist ideal and specialise in lightweight equipment.

Team Tane

However, minimalism is not just a concept bred for small car aficionados. It is something we can all benefit from on overland trips, while travelling and in general life. There is a large amount of tangible research which correlates an increase in happiness and reduction in anxiety levels from having less stuff cluttered around us. Thinking about it, it’s really a simple concept. The less we have, the less we have to worry about, the easier things are to find. For us on Suzuki Africa Sky High, less stuff means we can actually move our chairs back as there is space under the seat. If you are interested a book called “Stuffacation,” covers this topic in far more detail.

Hanging out in comfort with nothing other than what we have in Badger… And in a Suzuki Jimny, its not that much.

With all of this in mind we have some ideas we would like to suggest trying to help reduce clutter particularly when packing for a trip:

1.Think Up Not Down: When we were packing for Suzuki Africa Sky High we constantly found people saying “you will NEVER fit what you need in that Jimny.” Undoubtedly the people were owners of large 4x4s comparing our little pocket rocket to their monster trucks. Our response was always “it is bigger than a motorbike or our Osprey hiking packs.” This was our secret, we compared Badger to things smaller than him. We were thinking like motorbikers or hikers not Overlanders;

This is our playground and the birthplace of our mentality, we think up from what we can carry in our Osprey Packs as we climb with our Black Diamond gear to what we can fit into our Suzuki Jimny.

2. Pack Light: It is important to understand that like all tools, outdoor equipment is made fit for purpose. For this reason a large amount of our gear is from hiking and adventure brands like Black Diamond and Sea to Summit, who live by the minimalist ideal and specialise in lightweight equipment. Clothing also takes up lots of space so try pack versatile, lightweight and easy to clean clothes. It is for these reasons we partnered with Mont Bell. Opposite Lock also stocks some great camping equipment which packs down well. Just remember think light; instead of buying the giant cast iron #3 potjie, buy an Aluminum #1. Also, the less clothing you pack, the less items you need to clean!

3. Compartmentalise: There is NOTHING more frustrating than spending hours trying to find stuff in your car or backpack while in the bush. You need to be pedantic about where stuff goes and always put it back in the right place. It really helps if things have a specific place rather than just leaving them to roll around. Draw systems, dash covers and bags like those supplied to us by Wizerd and plastic boxes which you can buy from any plastic shop are great for this purpose.

Tarryn showing off our awesome draw system and bags which compartmentalise and organise our life on the road. The big plastic boxes sit on top.

4. Cut the Cr@p: As I eluded to earlier part of being lightweight is simply having less stuff. A contact called Coenie from Cederberg 4x4 once said to me “when packing for your first overland trip lay all your stuff on the ground, cut it in half, then half again. Keep the remainder.” Take only what you need and need only what you take. You will learn “what ifs,” are generally not necessary;

5. Use the Space: All of it. We pack under the seats, behind the seats, on the roof, next to the draws, everywhere we can. See space for what it is. If you need it use it.

Following this principle of minimalism and embracing the ideal of living simply has been a big part of our success up till now. Not only did it allow us to fit our lives and entire adventure cupboard into our Suzuki Jimny Badger, it has also kept us sane over the first 1.5 months of our trip. Trust us, whether you live from a car, backpack or house; light is fast.

Hanging out in the bush can be comfortable with little other than what we have on our back.

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Big City Life

Big City Life

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

The road in front of you moves with the speed, volume and apparent randomness of an ant’s nest. Motos (bikes) laden with anything from one person carrying what looks like sixty kilograms of something to an entire family, appear from every direction. Some pass right, some pass left, some head straight for you. Trucks and cars jostle with each other and their smaller rivals including the aforementioned motos and the bicycle taxis which are complete with retrofitted, rainbow coloured backseats. People are everywhere. Winding through the madness and darting through the traffic like hares. It’s a dog eat dog world where the big dogs drive straight. If you are the smaller dog, and you want to survive, you weave your way around and out of the way.

Looking out from Badger into the the jaws of Kigali traffic. Photo: Tarryn Quinnell

There is a heavy scent of diesel fumes from the trucks and buses, mixed with the scent of dust which seems to permeate every major third world city. It is LOUD! Cars are revving and hooting, music is playing and the countless people are talking. Invariably as we pass, people start yelling, cheering and then shouting. Sometimes they yell “MZUNGUU! (White),” sometimes “GIVE ME MONEY!,” and often they shout things in their own language which are completely alien to us while  giving a giant thumbs up to show they think Badger is awesome. Heavily armed cops and security guards stand on corners in their suits, rifle in hand or drive through the city keeping the peace.

This was the first impression we had of Kigali. We drove in on a Monday afternoon after having first had to swap to the right side of the road. Oncoming traffic was now on the left; it was daunting. As with most large African cities, it is large, busy and hectic. Upon arriving, driving through town and even simply being there seems to require a level of bravado similar to what Tarryn possesses. As they say “dynamite comes in small packages.” She took on the adventurous challenge with a slightly crazed delight saying, “It’s like learning to drive for the first time, again.”

Welcome to the carwash. Actually the basement of an uncompleted building it is now a hive of activity with over 30 people washing cars of all variety’s, mostly expensive.

As with most experiences though, “things are not exactly as they first appear.” Scratch a little deeper, spend a few more days there and try to relax and the “Big City Life,” in Kigali starts to make sense. The sharp edges begin to smooth.

Shane Quinnell

Team Tane

As with most experiences though, “things are not exactly as they first appear.” Scratch a little deeper, spend a few more days there and try to relax and the “Big City Life,” in Kigali starts to make sense. The sharp edges begin to smooth.

Our guardian angel and friend. Fabrice welcomed us with open arms to his house, country and culture.

We were fortunate to be given not only time but the real local experience by our new friend and host Fabrice, whom we found on Couchsurfing. With Fabrice we hit the local markets and spots, got Badger washed and repaired at locals workshops and even went to a party with his family and friends. We soon learnt to anticipate a large crowd around our little Jimny, Badger, each time we stopped. Sometimes, the crowds were so large we could see nothing through all the faces gathered around.

Shane shows photos of Badger in action to one of the minor crowds we have become accustomed to. This time at an Engen service station.

With the gift of time and understanding we realised that life in Kigali is really not that different to life in any other major city in the world. People are moving and shaking. Going to work, making deals, earning money and trying to stay afloat. Stepping into the party we went to with Fabrice, which celebrating the 19th birthday of Fabrice’s soon to be Brother-In-Law, was like stepping back in time. It was almost an exact replica of the parties we used to have at university; people singing, dancing, drinking beer and hurling hilarious abuse and just enough recognition at the birthday boy in impromptu speeches.

Frabrice’s soon to be Brother-In-Law’s 19th Birthday party, Kigali style.

Some things are different. The water at Fabrice’s often intermittently turns off for a day or two meaning that you have to use a bucket to wash and flush the toilet. Fabrice also hides his smart flat screen TV in his bedroom every night while he sleeps as apparently sometimes people dig through house’s concrete walls to steal them. Go figure. Finally houses have an indoor and outdoor kitchen and appliances like washing machines are very rare; most clothes washing still being done by hand.

The elements which at first intimidated us remained but as we came to understand and more importantly accept them, they lost their edge and we lost our apprehension.  Yes, the roads are a bit nuts and it is loud but this is just the energy of Africa talking, singing. It is a reminder that Africa is unlike most other continents in the world, it is more alive.

Badger being repaired. Note in true African style no welding goggles are used. At least this guy is wearing sunglasses… Sigh. A typical crowd can be seen behind.

Without the fog of apprehension, you soon realise Kigali is clean, free of waste and generally highly functioning. Even the plastic packets which plague most third world cities are missing thanks to laws against them. Some of its ways may be different to what we are used to but they work. They are no worse and no better, simply unalike. The truth is, in many ways Big City Life in Kigali is like life most other major cities in the world city, Joburg, Sydney and Vancouver included. It has the same energy the same vibe. It simply shines these through a different cultural light.

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Love Don’t Need

Love Don’t Need

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

One of the most gratifying things when doing an expedition in the style of Suzuki Africa Sky High, i.e. sharing it with the world, is actually getting responses from that world. Since starting our trip we have had some amazing interactions with our friends and followers, including inspirational messages and notes on our how adventure has inspired. In addition to these we have had some great questions, many of which had caused us to stop and think to find the answers.

Lekhubu island with some of our loves; our Flexopower panel from Opposite Lock, Power Traveller panel on left and shower skirt on the Front Runner tent can all be seen,.

This blog is inspired by our friend and follower Vic Rundle who recently asked “Now that you have been on the road for a while can you tell us what you didn’t take that you needed, what you took which you didn’t need and what you took which you love.” Here is our go at a response:

Need – What we forgot but have needed – Fortunately the list is pretty short but has some key items:

  • Mont Bell Soft Shell jackets or a similar mid-layer: we only have thermals then puffy jackets and waterproof layers;
  • More canisters for our Jetboil cooker: they are hard to find North of SA;
  • Goggles, Snorkels and Pillows: Wish we had these but simply did not have space;
  • Tracks4Africa SD Card: As explaining in Dawn Part 1, forgetting this was a big balls up but thankfully we have since replaced.

Life’s a beach. Chilling out making coffee on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, Kigoma. Shown are our Sea to Summit fold up pot and cups, our Jetboil and the peculator and flask give to us by my Brother and Sis-In-Law.

Don’t – The things we took but haven’t used: Even shorter than the last list… its hard to overpack useless cr@p in a Suzuki Jimny:

  • Solar Shower: It’s a nice to have that we haven’t used. Call us grubs but we don’t shower often when facilities are scarce. In the interest of hygiene we tend to have “wet wipe baths,” and only shower every 2-3 days or swim in a river;
  • Mountains of Medicine: With the best of intentions, Tarryn packed enough medicine to look after an army; around 5 bags full. Seriously considering dropping half of it at the nearest clinic so we can properly move our seats back.

One of the many views we have seen out Badger’s front window throughout the thousands of kms travelled. You can see Wizerd’s dash protector.

Love – The bits and bobs which put smiles on our faces:

  • The mini perculator and flask from Shane’s brother Dylan and our Sister in Law Siobhan, thanks guys!
  • Two laptop batteries: very useful for doing blogs and videos on the road;
  • Solar Panels (Fold up panel from Opposite Lock (OL) and Power Monkey Extreme: The OL panel keeps our battery charged and fridge cold while we are stopped for numerous days and Power Monkey keeps our devices and camera charged;
  • Fold-up Pot from Sea to Summit: Tarryn begged for this for months until I eventually conceded, have now realised it is EPIC for space saving;
  • Spray skirt attachment for our Front Runner tent: I begged for this for months until Tarryn eventually she conceded. She now acknowledges it is great in SO many ways; it is our changing room, shade, shelter and private storage unit among many other things;
  • Our Hammock: Don’t need to explain this one;
  • Wizerd Dash and Door Pockets: They give us so much more space than we would usually have and are absolutely amazing for storing small items which would usually get in the way.

All in all we are pretty happy with our packing and can live with our decisions, what we packed and did not… The only thing we are still mourning is the fact we forgot to download the second and third audio books for the “Discovery of Witches,” series. There is NOTHING quite like being left hanging deep in Africa.

Hanging out in arguably the coolest hammock spot in Africa, on the edge of the Lumangwe Falls, Zambia.

 

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Gliding on Water

Gliding on Water

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

Don’t miss the awesome short video at the end which captures this story. 

It was still early when the giant, extended wheelbase Landcruiser, our ride to the Okavango, rolled off the main road from Maun and onto the dirt road towards the village. Along with Tarryn’s folks, Grant and Debbie, we were the only people filling the twelve seater.

The Okavango Delta is a huge marshland area in Northern Botswana. A very important area naturally, the area hosts a huge variety of wildlife from birds to the giant African mammals like the Hippo, Elephant and Giraffe.

Tarryn and I scoping out the Okavango and looking at the giraffe on the far side of the river. Photo: Grant Stevenson

Within a short distance from the road we came across the first of many water crossings over the veins of the Okavango. From first sight it was clear the Okavango’s reputation for wildlife was well founded. Life was everywhere. In a minute we spotted numerous bird species including Pied Kingfishers, multiple species of Herons and Cranes and Fish Eagles. The lush landscape glinted in the morning light from the moisture in the ground and local people moved on the banks looking for fish. It was beautiful, it even smelled pristine.

 

We drove on and after a few water crossings deep enough to submerge half of the Landcruiser, making its exhaust sound like a submersible, reached the village. We were happy we didn’t bring our Jimny, Badger, on this excursion. He might be tough as nails but we didn’t want to drown him.

The village we were at was one of the local polling stations, a hub for Macora activity in the area and a gateway to the Okavango. Macoras are the local name for the dugout canoes which the locals throughout the Northern Botswanan and Southern Zambian regions use to navigate the waterways. Rivers and swamps. Though traditionally made from trees, in Botswana, they are now commonly fibreglass in an attempt by the Government to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable tourism. From what we saw they were 3-4m long and on average only 50cm wide with a flat bottom to enable them to move in shallow water. Rather than using paddles as you would in a Kayak, they move the boats by using wooden poles to push off the swamp floor as they are much more effective in the shallow water. This has led to the guides being given the name “polers.”

From the first moment we met our polers, Heaven and Leon, we were impressed both with them and the initiatives set up around the Macora tourism. It was clear the guides were exceptionally knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and cared about their impact and conservation. “This is our home and our lives, we need to protect it,” said Heaven.

 

It was clear the guides were exceptionally knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and cared about their impact and conservation. “This is our home and our lives, we need to protect it,” said Heaven.

Heaven

Poler, Okavango Poling Trust

Hanging our with our Polers; Heaven left and Leon right.

With guiding principles and introductions aside, we poled off. Once we were out from the reeds and into the open water Heaven found his rhythm. He pushed off the ground with strong but graceful thrusts, smoothly propelling us forward in rhythmic bursts. We were not moving through but gliding on the water.

It wasn’t long till we heard and then saw our first pod of hippo. There were about three to four of them in the water, their eyes and snouts visible above the water line intermittently as they bobbed up to catch a breath. Hippos being her favourite animals, Tarryn was in her element. “They are like oversized cuddly piggies, but demanding the respect of space,” she says.

We moved on, pausing often to view birds, photograph scenery and chat. We soon heard more hippos. Heaven, now understanding Tarryn’s affection for them, paddled in their direction. This time we found far more than previously; probably sixteen in two different pods.

We sat and gawked at the gigantic animals in amazement. Keeping about fifty meters between us and the hippos, our guides kept a close eye. It might sound a long way but when you consider we were in a tiny canoe watching and a bunch of Africa’s most dangerous animals, you realise it’s not that far at all.

Tarryn’s cuddly friends; Africa’s deadliest animal. The dicotomy pretty well sums up my wife ;).

Once we were safely away from the Hippos I asked Heaven for a turn at poling. Miscalculating how tippy the boats were, I nearly capsized the Macora before I even started. Shortly afterwards I managed to accidently smack Heaven on the head with the pole which caused an eruption of laughter. Luckily things improved from there and though I can’t claim I was ever graceful, I got us around for about twenty minutes without giving myself or my passengers unwanted swims.

We stopped at a large island for lunch and an informative walk where the poler’s taught us about local plant, animals and showed us how to track using prints and dung. We found some giraffe and zebra which we watched for a time before moving off.

With that, our day was drawing to a close, it was time to go home. We turned and headed back. We had been privileged to have an amazing day and meet some of the incredible animals who call our continent home. We left happy knowing that Botswana and the polers were doing their part to preserve their precious environment.