Helping Hands

Helping Hands

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

At some stage or another, we all need a helping hand. Moments when we are incapable of helping ourselves without the aid of others. Times like, while lying with a broken back on a mountainside, hanging unconscious on a cliff while a rope strangles you or running out of fuel in a place even Tracks4Africa has not yet mapped. In my personal experience, long expeditions like Suzuki Africa Sky High, situated in exotic lands, on remote, poor quality roads and aimed at adventure, severely concentrate the frequency of these moments. While we feel a lot more confident with our SmartGrid sat phone and International SOS just a phone call away, sometimes you just need a helping hand.

Though we haven’t talked much about it, the last month and a half of Suzuki Africa Sky High has presented Tarryn and I with more helpless moments than the four expedition months before put together. Fortunately, these sh*tuations have also introduced us to more good Samaritans and helping hands than we could ever have hoped for.

Like most true problems, our month of misadventures started with a “BANG!” It followed with a “clunk, clunk, scrape and stop.” We were in the middle of the Serengeti and justifiably, based on the saturation of dangerous animals, not overly keen on getting out of our Suzuki Jimny, Badger. However, we had no choice.

The problem smacked me in the face. The shock mounting bracket had snapped off the axel causing our Tough Dog shock to hit ground then the stabiliser, bending both. We were not surprised. We had covered over 12,000km crazy African roads, the worst of which was the last 300 kilometres of Serengeti car-eating corrugations. Moreover with our whole life and adventure cupboard in Badger, we were SERIOUSLY overloaded. After removing the shock We managed to keep going, but within 20km the compromised bar gave way rendering us stranded.

Into this moment of need stepped first saviours, new friends, couple Wessel and Judy, Martin from Explore Africa Adventures and Sagit, the manager of local balloon safari operation, Aloft, a complete stranger. As if a mirage, Sagit arrived in a cloud of dust while I was still under the car and offered his workshop free of charge to weld the damaged bar.

Before we knew it, we stood alone with two proffered cold Castle Lagers, cold water and snacks while everyone else took off save us. Wessel and Judy headed one way to weld the stabiliser at the offered workshop, Martin drove to camp to organise a backup lift and Sagit left in the opposite direction promising to return in an hour to check in.

Tarryn under the acacia tree, completely unphased of the potential lions.

We sat, back to back under a leafless acacia tree, with pepper spray and Masai machete for lion protection and International SOS umbrella for sun protection, making a pot of coffee in the middle of the Serengeti. Tarryn was absorbed in her book apparently completely unconcerned for her safety.  ‘Not worried about Lions?’ I asked.  “The grass is too long for us to see them so there is no point worring,” she replied matter of factly.

Thankfully, within no time our friends arrived with our repaired stabiliser and two very enthusiastic welders who insisted on finishing repairing Badger. Ten dusty minutes later, after Sagit returned to inspect his welders work, we astoundingly were back on the road.

It may be hard to believe but our miracles were only just beginning. A day and a half later, after crawling over 250km back down the same corrugated roads that caused the calamity, we reached Karatu and emailed our sponsors Suzuki SA, Opposite Lock and Wizerd asking for support.

We are not just helping you because of the sponsorship, we would do the same for any of our clients.

Charl Grobler

Marketing Manager, Suzuki Auto South Africa

Within an hour all parties involved had responded with a game plan. Suzuki would send a new stabiliser and some additional maintenance spares to get us home safely, Opposite Lock would send a new shock and Wizerd would provide the necessary instructions on how to fit the shock. We were blown away by the eagerness of everyone to help. ‘Sure they were our sponsors but this was above and beyond,’ we thought. In response to our repeated thanks, Suzuki said simply “we are not just helping you because of the sponsorship, we would do the same for any of our clients.”

A week later everything we needed, including some spare zips from Front Runner, arrived in Dar es Salaam with Stew Brogden, the local importer of Opposite Lock and Front Runner equipment. Along with his wife Marion, Stew proved to be the biggest helping hand received from anyone not involved directly in our expedition to date.

After climbing Kilimanjaro (check out ‘King of Africa,’ story) our plan was to head to Dar to refit the shock and stabiliser in a day or so before checking out Zanzibar. Fate had other ideas.

The crew from Aloft Serengeti, some of who helped weld our stabiliser

In our absence Badger had mysteriously developed a croaky misfire which was very unlike his usually bullet proof constitution. Hardly phased I figured the most likely cause was dirty spark plugs, thanks to countless tanks of dubious quality African petrol, however, sparkly new Suzuki genuine plugs didn’t help. We phoned the Wizerd, Monty for advice. The prediction was dire. The old plugs looked corroded, coolant was disappearing and there was a misfire, “it sounds like a blown head gasket,” Monty replied. “Oh bugger.”

The crazy thing is that despite the apparently pessimistic situation, as always, things worked out. Stew, who we had never met, kindly arranged a truck to transport us and Badger to Dar and offered us a place to stay for as long as required. As with all experiences in Africa, the promised truck became its own adventure. Another story for another time.

A night’s sleep on dusty couches behind a hotel and a 14 hour drive spent sitting on the trucker’s bed later, we arrived in Dar. With a home cooked meal, warm shower and comfortable bed waiting for us, we could not have been more grateful to anyone than we were to Stew and Marion in that moment.

Loading Badger into the smugglers truck in Moshi

While we checked Badger at Stews workshop and fitted the new Tough Dog shock Opposite Lock provided, Suzuki SA arranged for us to drop Badger at Suzuki Tanzania for the necessary repair. Needing to thaw out after the time on Africa’s Big High Five Mountains, we headed to the tropical paradise of Zanzibar.

Monty had been right, the head gasket was blown. However, strangely enough the mysterious misfire was a symptom of a loose electrical connection and an independent problem. This knowledge almost certainly confirmed my suspicion that the gasket had actually blown way back in Botswana in the first week of our trip when we crossed the flooded Makgadikgadi pans. Not only had Badger never overheated since, but the coolant had been disappearing since that day. Crazily enough this had meant that we had driven probably around 11,000km with a blown gasket, hence providing yet more evidence of the hidden toughness of our petite Suzuki Jimny.

Saying goodbye to our main man Stew after our stay.

Thanks to excellent support from Suzuki SA, Badger was fixed a couple of weeks later and we were back on the road. Stew and Marion welcomed us in their house for over two weeks, treating us like family. We left Dar es Salaam in a daze with a knowledge that miracles really can come true.

The truth is that no matter how hardcore you think you or your car are, if you tackle Africa for long enough, something will happen. Life here might be tough, but the driving conditions are far tougher. There is only so many knocks, dodgy litres of fuel and dusty kilometres any car can handle. More than 90% of the overlanders we have met on extended trips here in Africa have been in the workshop once, most of them far more. Only when these situations occur do you find out the true nature of the people and companies you have associated with and you better hope you picked well. Thankfully, we could not be happier with our choices.

Above: A large part of the incredible team behind us with Suzuki Africa Sky High. Left to Right: Ryno (Suzuki Bryanston), Monty (The Wizerd), Megan and Charl (Suzuki SA), Jaco (Front Runner), Darrell (Opposite Lock)

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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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White Nile Water

White Nile Water

  

Words by Shane Quinnell, Photos by Shane Quinnell and Raft Uganda and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

My heart doesn’t pound too hard too often but it is POUNDING now. I can hear it in my ears. “Forward,” comes the command! We stroke. Forward we go. I can feel our speed increase as we move into the main current. The background drone of thousands of litres of White, both in name and colour, Nile River water pummelling into submerged rocks and itself grows until it becomes a deafening ROOOOAAR!.

“FORWARD!” The water changes. The boat rocks. Violently. Water sprays. “GET DOWN!!”

With that command we hit a maelstrom of white madness. Down a chute straight into a 3 meter wall of white water. Our boat from Raft Uganda, which previously looked and felt very substantial, is tossed with a ferocity which rocks us all. The boat spins like a feather in the breeze. Bang! We stop. On the edge of a waterfall. Oh bugger…

Slowly the current grabs hold again, the boat moves. Without warning the current attacks, pulling us into the waterfall… backwards. Oh shit!

Tarryn and I Ioving the white Nile waters!

We all grab on for dear life as we hit free fall. We hit the water. I hit Tarryn. The water hits us. in the face, up the nose, on our heads, everywhere. We are on the verge of being submerged, our entire raft full to the brim with the Nile River. We are stuck in the water regurgitating at the bottom of the falls, known in white water terms as a hole. The water keeps coming until eventually as if the Nile decides we have taken enough of a pounding, it lets us go. We realise we are at the mercy of this river.

Somehow, despite the craziness, we are all still there. In one piece, in the raft. We didn’t capsize.  WHOOOOPPP! The built up tension comes out. “That was fricken AWESOOOOME!” We scream in relief and excitement. That was the first rapid done, three more to go!

“This part of the Nile is one of the safest places to raft. Unlike the Zambezi there are no crocodiles, hippos or other dangerous things.”

Juma

Raft Guide, Raft Uganda

When people think of the Nile they generally think of Egypt, the pyramids and Tutan Khamun. They also often associate the river with giant man eating Nile crocodiles. Very few thoughts are spared to the source and what can be found there. In this case Uganda’s second biggest town; Jinja, which is home to the source of the Nile, some absolutely BAD-ASS rapids and Raft Uganda.

As usual, the generalisations are not true; as our guide Juma proudly told us, “this part of the Nile is one of the safest places to raft. Unlike the Zambezi there are no crocodiles, hippos or other dangerous things.” While technically this is correct, some folk may consider hitting the Grade 5 rapids found on the way down the river in a blow-up rubber boat slightly risky. Nevertheless, it was great to see our guide was confident. Having worked on that section of river for over 20 years and visibly possessing great skills, he had reason to be.

As an aside you may be interested and saddened to hear there were once crocs in that part of the river but no more. The story there is actually quite crazy and goes something like this. During his reign, Uganda’s infamous 20th century dictator; Idi Amin, used to take disabled people and those he disliked to the river at lunch time. As he ate his food he would order the people to be fed to his reptilian friends as personal lunchtime entertainment. Unfortunately, as the people could not get rid of their tyrant leader they instead exterminated his favourite vacuum cleaners; the crocodiles. In all honesty, while I am saddened by the story, at the time I was rafting the river I was secretly ecstatic to know they were not around.

Our half day experience spent rafting down the Nile River with Raft Uganda was simply awesome. The Raft Uganda crew, from our raft guide Juma to the safety kayakers, were super proficient and very experienced. We had an insanely cool day out meeting the white water of the White Nile head on. Definitely something for your bucket list!

Check out the awesome video of the epic White Nile action!

How to Paddle the White Nile Waters…

For those looking for something to get the blood pumping and experience an African adventure, rafting the Nile is a GREAT thing to do. Here are some details to save you time in trying to figure out how it all works.

Location: Trips leave from Jinja, Uganda. Only an hour or two from Kampala and worth a visit.

Contacts: We went with locally owned and operated Raft Uganda (http://raftuganda.com/, info@raftuganda.com). All prices on their website but in general there are three options; half day ($125), full day ($140) and a family float for the little ones. Both the half and full day trips do multiple Grade 5 rapids. We were really happy with the service and expertise and would happily recommend Raft Uganda.

Enjoy the ride!!

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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

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. 

Other AWESOME Articles…

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