Rob and Dee Overland in Africa 2014 – 10,000 miles – 4 months – 10 countries

Traditionally the African safari vehicle of choice was the iconic Land Rover. However in recent times the Toyota Land Cruiser has proven to be the most dependable vehicle throughout Africa. Pictures of Land Cruisers fording swollen rivers with water over the hood and the air intake snorkel extending above the roof are common symbols of the Land Cruiser’s ruggedness.Our Toyota Hilux
Slightly less capable in really rough four wheeling conditions but perhaps more versatile is the Toyota Hilux 4×4 truck.

There are a number of companies that rent Land Rovers, Land Cruisers or Hilux trucks fully equipped with roof top tents, 2 spare tires, dual battery systems, long range fuel and water tanks, shovels, axes, camps stoves, tables and chairs and more. These vehicles are perfect for a 2-4 week self drive camping safari, but at $130 per day they were too expensive for our 4-month trip.

Our initial thoughts were that we would arrive in Africa and try to source a Land Cruiser already outfitted for serious camping and if we were unable to find such a vehicle then we would go more bare bones with our usual camping tent, sleeping bags, backpacking stove and an ice chest.

Several weeks before our departure I started looking at online classified ads and found that the privately owned vehicles did not have much camping gear and outfitting them fully would be both costly and time consuming. Fortunately I did find several retired safari rental vehicles that were fully equipped and had been resold to folks like us looking for vehicles that they could buy, use and resell at the end of their trips.

I found a German couple that was ending their trip in mid April just when we were starting ours and they were selling a Hilux truck that had been used in rental and was just what we needed. I negotiated a bit with them about buying their vehicle even though I thought their price a bit high. At the same time I wrote to the rental companies I found online, asking if they were selling any of their used rigs. Bushlore, one of the companies I liked best from their website responded that they had sold most of last year’s crop but still had a few left. One of them was exactly what I wanted. It was similar to the German couple’s vehicle but was a year newer, had less miles on the odometer and best of all the company would give us a 30 day warranty.

Specifications:

Toyota Hilux 2.5 TD DC 4X4. 2011 Model with 185,000 kms.

The canopy is by Alucab and features opening sides that fold out to become kitchen prep tables. The back opens up to reveal a drawer (like a giant file cabinet) that slides out the back and contains storage boxes for all our gear. Above that also on a sliding rail is a 40 Litre refrig/freezer. There is also a stove and 20 lb propane bottle.

On top is a solid roof rack that holds the Eezi Awn tent that folds out and is set up in seconds. The tent has a full mattress with blankets so we can sleep in a bed rather than our individual sleeping bags, and all the bedding just stays in the tent so nothing to pack up each day. Being off of the ground is a bit safer way to sleep in the African bush.

Other features:

  • Dual cab
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • Diesel fuel in long-range 160 litre tank (41 gallon)
  • Radio/CD/MP3 player
  • 4×4 High and Low range with rear diff lock
  • Dual Spare tires
  • Air-conditioning
  • Roof rack with roof top tent
  • Air compressor – (so you can deflate the tires in sand and mud for better traction then easily pump them up again.)
  • Fresh water tank- 60 litre (15 gallon)
  • Camp shower, sink and toilet
  • Gas Stove and Bottle
  • BBQ grate
  • Fridge/Freezer – 40 Litre
  • Dual battery system to power refrig and other items
  • Stove, kitchen gear, utensils, etc.
  • Table and chairs
  • Lanterns, flashlights
  • Awning
  • Tow strap, jumper cables, safety gear, tools, tire patch kit, fire extinguisher
  • Shovel, axe, hi-lift jack
  • First Aid kit
  • Sand ladders for getting un-stuck from sand
  • Grass seed net to protect radiator

Other gear we will bring or add

  • GPS with tracks4Africa maps
  • Safe for valuables
  • Extra fuel and water jugs

This vehicle will be for sale in Cape Town in
mid August of 2014 if anyone is interested.

Vehicle

Traditionally the African safari vehicle of choice was the iconic Land Rover. However in recent times the Toyota Land Cruiser has proven to be the most dependable vehicle throughout Africa. Pictures of Land Cruisers fording swollen rivers with water over the hood and the air intake snorkel extending above the roof are common symbols of the Land Cruiser’s ruggedness.Our Toyota Hilux
Slightly less capable in really rough four wheeling conditions but perhaps more versatile is the Toyota Hilux 4×4 truck.

There are a number of companies that rent Land Rovers, Land Cruisers or Hilux trucks fully equipped with roof top tents, 2 spare tires, dual battery systems, long range fuel and water tanks, shovels, axes, camps stoves, tables and chairs and more. These vehicles are perfect for a 2-4 week self drive camping safari, but at $130 per day they were too expensive for our 4-month trip.

Our initial thoughts were that we would arrive in Africa and try to source a Land Cruiser already outfitted for serious camping and if we were unable to find such a vehicle then we would go more bare bones with our usual camping tent, sleeping bags, backpacking stove and an ice chest.

Several weeks before our departure I started looking at online classified ads and found that the privately owned vehicles did not have much camping gear and outfitting them fully would be both costly and time consuming. Fortunately I did find several retired safari rental vehicles that were fully equipped and had been resold to folks like us looking for vehicles that they could buy, use and resell at the end of their trips.

I found a German couple that was ending their trip in mid April just when we were starting ours and they were selling a Hilux truck that had been used in rental and was just what we needed. I negotiated a bit with them about buying their vehicle even though I thought their price a bit high. At the same time I wrote to the rental companies I found online, asking if they were selling any of their used rigs. Bushlore, one of the companies I liked best from their website responded that they had sold most of last year’s crop but still had a few left. One of them was exactly what I wanted. It was similar to the German couple’s vehicle but was a year newer, had less miles on the odometer and best of all the company would give us a 30 day warranty.

Specifications:

Toyota Hilux 2.5 TD DC 4X4. 2011 Model with 185,000 kms.

The canopy is by Alucab and features opening sides that fold out to become kitchen prep tables. The back opens up to reveal a drawer (like a giant file cabinet) that slides out the back and contains storage boxes for all our gear. Above that also on a sliding rail is a 40 Litre refrig/freezer. There is also a stove and 20 lb propane bottle.

On top is a solid roof rack that holds the Eezi Awn tent that folds out and is set up in seconds. The tent has a full mattress with blankets so we can sleep in a bed rather than our individual sleeping bags, and all the bedding just stays in the tent so nothing to pack up each day. Being off of the ground is a bit safer way to sleep in the African bush.

Other features:

  • Dual cab
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • Diesel fuel in long-range 160 litre tank (41 gallon)
  • Radio/CD/MP3 player
  • 4×4 High and Low range with rear diff lock
  • Dual Spare tires
  • Air-conditioning
  • Roof rack with roof top tent
  • Air compressor – (so you can deflate the tires in sand and mud for better traction then easily pump them up again.)
  • Fresh water tank- 60 litre (15 gallon)
  • Camp shower, sink and toilet
  • Gas Stove and Bottle
  • BBQ grate
  • Fridge/Freezer – 40 Litre
  • Dual battery system to power refrig and other items
  • Stove, kitchen gear, utensils, etc.
  • Table and chairs
  • Lanterns, flashlights
  • Awning
  • Tow strap, jumper cables, safety gear, tools, tire patch kit, fire extinguisher
  • Shovel, axe, hi-lift jack
  • First Aid kit
  • Sand ladders for getting un-stuck from sand
  • Grass seed net to protect radiator

Other gear we will bring or add

  • GPS with tracks4Africa maps
  • Safe for valuables
  • Extra fuel and water jugs

This vehicle will be for sale in Cape Town in
mid August of 2014 if anyone is interested.

We realize that there are many folks out there reading our blog to assist them in planning their own trips- with that in mind I have prepared a series of posts with the type of nitty-gritty detail that will help others intent on their own adventures. I have placed this series under the pre departure or preperation tab on our website.

Driving in Southern Africa

First off I have to say that doing our own self-drive safari was fantastic. In one or two places we did commercial safari drives like 95% of the foreign tourists do and there is no comparison to the type of experience you have. Self-drive was for us a far better experience. A good guide will likely spot the game from farther away and will undoubtedly see one or two things you miss, but you will see plenty on your own and the experience of sitting 15 feet from a lion with no one else around is awesome.   If you are serious about taking pictures as I was, being able to stop EXACTLY where you can frame your shot properly makes all the difference between snapshots and quality photographs.

Best advice- don’t plan on driving too far each day. 350 -500 kilometers a day on average is great. And as you will read everywhere- NEVER DRIVE AT NIGHT IN AFRICA.   There are black people in dark clothes walking everywhere all the time. DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT.

The actual speed you drive will be dependent on several things- mostly how good your eyesight is and how tall you are- REALLY. On many roads there are potholes that will destroy your vehicle – I found that given my mediocre eyesight and short stature if I went no faster than 100 kph I could see a pothole ahead and swerve or slam on the brakes fast enough to avoid destroying my front end. You also need nerves of steel, and good spatial judgment.

Many of the roads are barely wide enough for two trucks to pass each other and there is no shoulder at all. A typical driving moment will be looking ahead and seeing a truck doing 120 kph coming at you slightly in your lane, a bicycle going your way at 15 kph and two ladies just ahead walking with water jugs on their head. You have about a millisecond to determine whether you can swerve around the ladies walking, then cut back into your lane before the huge pothole ahead, then decide if you need to speed up or slow down to not pass the truck at the same spot in the road where you will encounter the bicycle.

In many countries you may pass 20 or 30 people walking per kilometer and not see another vehicle for half an hour. Potholes will always keep you on your toes. Even if you have not seen another vehicle for half an hour it is critical to continually check your rear view mirror. On one lonely road where I had not seen a car for 45 minutes I started to swerve into the other lane to avoid a pothole and at that exact moment another car that I had not noticed was starting to pass me. We nearly collided- and it would have been my fault.

In Tanzania the roads are really atrocious. The asphalt is sometimes only three inches thick and the trucks are so overloaded that they sink into the asphalt. On the hills they sink in the worst and the road from Tunduma to Dar es Salam is so bad that your tires are riding in deep grooves like mini toboggan runs. The ridge between the two grooves may be six inches higher so changing lanes or diving off the road when the oncoming buses take your lane is very hazardous.

Breakdowns and wrecks are everywhere. It is not uncommon to see a truck broken down on the road with the crew camped out for days awaiting parts or alternatively seeing them rebuilding entire engines or transmissions right on the road where it died. On our last day in Tanzania we counted 10 wrecked semi tractor-trailers. Ten, in one 200-kilometer stretch of road! These were entire trucks tipped over on their sides or rolled completely onto their backs and looking like a dog with its paws in the air. One was still smoking as we passed it, another had a load of clothes and there were dozens of people gathering up clothes and trying them on right on the road. Another had come down a hill and at the bottom of the hill was a huge pot hole across two thirds of the road. Just past the pothole was a curve and the truck either swerved to miss the pothole or hit the pothole and lost control and rolled completely over as he hit the curve.

Despite the carnage you will see everywhere, in general African drivers are quite good. Specifically they are good at judging clearance on their narrow roads. In the US if two drivers approach each other on a narrow road both usually slow down, but in Africa they will often pass within inches at 120 kph never letting their foot off the gas. In cities they may follow another car separated by only a foot or two.

African drivers in many countries are blessed with X-ray vision. This is clear from the fact that they will often pass on a completely blind curve. You see this more often in Tanzania and other Muslim countries where they believe in “inshalla” or the concept of “God (Allah) willing”.   If it is your day to die you die and if it is not your day to die you don’t die- it is up to Allah, not you, so passing or not passing on a curve has little to do with it.

In Africa you will usually see the bicyclists leap off of their bikes and dive off of the road as soon as they hear you coming- I always thought this strange – did they think I would run them over if they did not get completely off the road? The answer is YES. In Africa size equals right of way. The trucks and busses would definitely not swerve, slow down, brake or take any other evasive action- it is incumbent on the bicyclist to get out of the way. This is nowhere more evident than in Tanzania.

In our first few hours in Tanzania I was run completely off the road three times. Usually you will see a truck coming your way and then a bus will pull out from behind the truck. The bus will see you and flash his lights- this is a signal that he is taking your lane and you better get out of the way. They think this is nothing unusual. The bus is bigger and he now owns your lane. All three times this happened to us on our first day I was forced to slam on my brakes and dive off of the road into the ditch. As the roadbeds are usually raised with no shoulder this meant driving off about a one foot drop into the ditch and getting completely off the pavement- the alternative was a head on collision with a bus doing 100 kph. I do not use the term “run off the road” in a figurative sense- if you do not exit the pavement you will likely be killed. In one of these instances I had to use four-wheel drive to get back onto the road.

In almost every country there are a number of hand signals that you will see and you might want to ask local drivers what they mean.

One common signal is that as you come up on a car or truck in-front of you moving slowly he will signal with his left turn signal. In Tanzania and Zambia this means you are clear to pass, him and there is no traffic ahead. Unfortunately, in So. Africa they use the right turn signal to mean the same thing- this is confusing as if a truck were planning on a right turn to a side road he would also use his right signal- in which case that means don’t pass. I found it best to only pass when I personally could see ahead rather than trust the trucks signal.

One signal I never did figure out was often when approaching a vehicle of a similar size going the opposite direction they would put on their left turn signal. As if to say I may be taking part of your lane so move over. I think the first one to signal has the right of way- but about this one I am unsure.

A few other tips:

Speed bumps are everywhere and often unpainted. They are large enough to wreck your front end. Make sure you get in the habit of looking for the signs indicating speed bumps or rumble strips and slow down well in advance. Many places have two sets of rumble strips that will jar your teeth loose if you go over them too fast, then these are followed by serious speed bumps, then you go through town slowly and at the other end of the town you may encounter two more speed bumps and two more sets of rumble strips.

In many countries you are required to carry small red triangles to put in the road if you are broken down to warn drivers coming towards you to slow down. You may also be required to have yellow traffic vests to wear if you are stopped on the side of the road. Other items are fire extinguishers, yellow triangle decals on your bonnet (hood) and tailgate or boot (trunk).

In Zimbabwe there are police checkpoints every 30 or 50 kilometers. They may ask to see your driver’s license or check your brake lights, triangles, vests, fire extinguishers, etc.

If you see a bunch of recently cut tree branches on the edge of the road this is a signal that a truck is broken down ahead of you and you had better slow down.

Speed Traps

Speed traps are very common – especially in Tanzania where you may see one every 50 kilometers or more especially on the road from Tunduma to Iringa.   As you approach a speed trap the drivers going the opposite direction will likely be flashing their lights at you to catch your attention, this may be followed by a hand signal with a downward motion signaling you to slow down, or some of them may extend their arm out the window and rub their thumb and forefinger together indicating cops wanting money.

If you are not VERY careful you could spend a fortune getting nailed at a dozen speed traps in a single day.

Here are a few suggestions:

If you are entering a town and the trucks which normally go like a bat out of hell are suddenly going slowly – DO NOT PASS THEM- there is a speed trap just ahead.

If a combi (mini-bus) driver signals you with flashing lights or the hand signals mentioned above- just slow down and be patient. If you slow to 30 kph for five or six kilometers just about the time you get really impatient and speed up again is where the speed trap will be.

The speed traps are just that – traps. None are on the open highway as in the US, they are all where the speed drops from 100 or 120 kph to 30 or 40 kph for a village or planned village or something similar. In a day of driving you may hit 50 villages where the speed drops from 120 to 30 kph, but it is the village where the 30 kph sign is barely visible behind a tree that the cops use for the speed trap. If you see the 30 or 40 kph sign it will not be enough to remove your foot from the gas and coast yourself down to 40 – by then you will be past the sign. Rather you will need to brake very aggressively to get down to 40 by the time you reach the sign.

You may need to crawl along at 30 or 40 kph for a long time and even when you get back into open country, wait until you see the end 30 kph sign before resuming your normal speed. The end 30 sign is a 30 with a slant line through it. If you slow down in time and drive slowly for the length of the spread out village and then get back into open country and think, “OK I can now speed up there is nothing around me”- don’t speed up yet. There is likely a speed trap just around the bend—wait until you see the end 30 sign.

Despite these warnings you will likely get stopped. The police honcho will be sitting on his ass in a chair under a tree with a radar gun and his underling will walk into the road , stand on the center line and flag you down.   Arguing will get you nowhere, their only purpose is to collect money. We heard that some of the police buy their own radar guns and receipt books. They always offer you a receipt so I think this is probably true. I was stopped a number of times and at first I paid the fines which ranged from $10- $35. Finally I got tired of it. I honestly don’t know if I was guilty of speeding or not but I decided I was not paying any more, especially when I saw locals or combi or truck drivers going faster than I was pass on by. After that I pulled over where indicated. When the cop approached my window I simply told them I was not paying and drove away. The first time I did I had been stopped by a woman police officer who told me I was still doing 100 kph when I passed the 30 kph sign. The fine would be over $130 US. I told her I was not paying it and to have a nice day. I had no idea what to expect as I drove away- would she be drawing a pistol and steadying her two handed grip to blow out my tires? Was she sprinting to her car to give chase or radioing ahead for a roadblock? What I saw was comical- I watched as her mouth dropped open and her shoulders slumped forwards in disappointment. She was crushed. I’m sure she already had a new dress picked out with the fee she was going to charge me.

After that I did the same thing several times. At one place by a dam I was stopped by a military guy who struggled to invent an infraction of which I was guilty. After he came up with an imaginary breach of the law, I told him it was Saturday and I never paid bribes on Saturday, then I walked back to my truck and drove away.

Later I heard a number of clever methods other overland drivers had used to avoid being taken.

In Mozambique bribes are a way of life, but in other countries they are trying to crack down on them and gently threatening the cops that you are going to report them sometimes makes them back off.

One guy had his wife start crying and the cop got so worried he let them go. Another started stuttering and mumbling in his foreign language and was let go.

Spells and curses are still a big part of Africa-less so with educated people like cops but still a part of life.   One guy kept pointing his finger at the cops and muttering incantations in his native language while he rolled his eyes in his head- the cop beat a hasty retreat.

Someone suggested making a bunch of fake copies of US $20 bills and telling the cops you can only pay them in US dollars then giving them the counterfeit money. Pretty funny but don’t make them good enough that the US treasury would think you were really trying to counterfeit.

The best one we heard was a guy who had an official looking form that he said was from his home country and his country REQUIRED him to report any violations he got overseas. The form had to be signed by the African officer and a picture taken. Needless to say none of the local cops were willing to sign his form and all of them thought a warning would be sufficient.

Have fun.

Rob

 


Traditionally the African safari vehicle of choice was the iconic Land Rover. However in recent times the Toyota Land Cruiser has proven to be the most dependable vehicle throughout Africa. Pictures of Land Cruisers fording swollen rivers with water over the hood and the air intake snorkel extending above the roof are common symbols of the Land Cruiser’s ruggedness.Our Toyota Hilux
Slightly less capable in really rough four wheeling conditions but perhaps more versatile is the Toyota Hilux 4×4 truck.

There are a number of companies that rent Land Rovers, Land Cruisers or Hilux trucks fully equipped with roof top tents, 2 spare tires, dual battery systems, long range fuel and water tanks, shovels, axes, camps stoves, tables and chairs and more. These vehicles are perfect for a 2-4 week self drive camping safari, but at $130 per day they were too expensive for our 4-month trip.

Our initial thoughts were that we would arrive in Africa and try to source a Land Cruiser already outfitted for serious camping and if we were unable to find such a vehicle then we would go more bare bones with our usual camping tent, sleeping bags, backpacking stove and an ice chest.

Several weeks before our departure I started looking at online classified ads and found that the privately owned vehicles did not have much camping gear and outfitting them fully would be both costly and time consuming. Fortunately I did find several retired safari rental vehicles that were fully equipped and had been resold to folks like us looking for vehicles that they could buy, use and resell at the end of their trips.

I found a German couple that was ending their trip in mid April just when we were starting ours and they were selling a Hilux truck that had been used in rental and was just what we needed. I negotiated a bit with them about buying their vehicle even though I thought their price a bit high. At the same time I wrote to the rental companies I found online, asking if they were selling any of their used rigs. Bushlore, one of the companies I liked best from their website responded that they had sold most of last year’s crop but still had a few left. One of them was exactly what I wanted. It was similar to the German couple’s vehicle but was a year newer, had less miles on the odometer and best of all the company would give us a 30 day warranty.

Specifications:

Toyota Hilux 2.5 TD DC 4X4. 2011 Model with 185,000 kms.

The canopy is by Alucab and features opening sides that fold out to become kitchen prep tables. The back opens up to reveal a drawer (like a giant file cabinet) that slides out the back and contains storage boxes for all our gear. Above that also on a sliding rail is a 40 Litre refrig/freezer. There is also a stove and 20 lb propane bottle.

On top is a solid roof rack that holds the Eezi Awn tent that folds out and is set up in seconds. The tent has a full mattress with blankets so we can sleep in a bed rather than our individual sleeping bags, and all the bedding just stays in the tent so nothing to pack up each day. Being off of the ground is a bit safer way to sleep in the African bush.

Other features:

  • Dual cab
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • Diesel fuel in long-range 160 litre tank (41 gallon)
  • Radio/CD/MP3 player
  • 4×4 High and Low range with rear diff lock
  • Dual Spare tires
  • Air-conditioning
  • Roof rack with roof top tent
  • Air compressor – (so you can deflate the tires in sand and mud for better traction then easily pump them up again.)
  • Fresh water tank- 60 litre (15 gallon)
  • Camp shower, sink and toilet
  • Gas Stove and Bottle
  • BBQ grate
  • Fridge/Freezer – 40 Litre
  • Dual battery system to power refrig and other items
  • Stove, kitchen gear, utensils, etc.
  • Table and chairs
  • Lanterns, flashlights
  • Awning
  • Tow strap, jumper cables, safety gear, tools, tire patch kit, fire extinguisher
  • Shovel, axe, hi-lift jack
  • First Aid kit
  • Sand ladders for getting un-stuck from sand
  • Grass seed net to protect radiator

Other gear we will bring or add

  • GPS with tracks4Africa maps
  • Safe for valuables
  • Extra fuel and water jugs

This vehicle will be for sale in Cape Town in
mid August of 2014 if anyone is interested.

We realize that there are many folks out there reading our blog to assist them in planning their own trips- with that in mind I have prepared a series of posts with the type of nitty-gritty detail that will help others intent on their own adventures.  I have placed this series under the pre departure or preperation  tab on our website.

Rob

Border Crossings

Border crossings on the roads of Africa are rumored to be nightmares of bureaucracy and bribes. While I won’t completely contradict that notion I will say that on our recent trip we made over a dozen border crossings and while most were not fast we never had any serious hassles, never got more than a cursory look inside the vehicle and the only bribe we paid were two warm cans of Coke which I offered freely.

Disclaimer: My wife and I previously made travel films for a living and routinely crossed borders with a dozen heavy cases of camera equipment.  We also sailed around the world on a 40-foot sailboat and have visited over 100 countries.  In all we’ve been through several hundred immigration and customs interactions-so we are not new at this.  As with any endeavor experience helps.   What follows are my tried and true methods, which have worked both in Africa and throughout the world.

If possible get some of the currency of the new country you will be visiting at a bank or exchange office in a large city before you head for the border.

When you pull up to the border there will likely be a very long line of trucks- just pass this line and head for the border – you will probably be waved forward by a horde of “helpers” anxious to navigate you through the system. They will wave you past the trucks to the front of the line and indicate where you can park.

Take your time- be confident, unhurried and in control. Park where indicated. Exit your vehicle and lock everything. At this point you will have a dozen men screaming in your face about what you should do. I calmly and quietly pick the most sedate, soft-spoken, polite and nicely dressed guy. If he has any kind of laminated badge so much the better. I then tell him he is our guy and I tell the others that I am working with this guy and to go away.

This usually ends the mass chaos except for one or two moneychangers who may hang around- more about them in a minute.

Next I ask the guy I have chosen his name – if he has a laminated badge or card, which some of the legit agents do, I get the info from it.  The next step is critical – I pull out my phone and tell him I want his picture, which I then take. I even push a few buttons as if I am emailing it. He now knows that I have his name and his likeness and he could be identified.

I have never had any of these guys try to run off with my passport or paperwork, but I think knowing that I have their picture does tend to keep them on their best behavior.

I also have never had any of these helpers ask for money up-front or even had them discuss the cost of their services, though other travelers report being quoted fees of $50 or more at this point. In Africa where decent wages are $ 5-$10 a day and they spend maybe an hour with you I pay accordingly. But I never pay anything until I am through with the entire process and on my way out the final gate.

Once I have chosen my guy I trust him- but I do stay as close as possible. In dealing with the helpers I am always polite, firm, calm and completely in control. I never argue or debate with them- especially about paying them. While I follow them from building to building and office to office and take their advice I remain in control and close to everything. I do not let them go off anywhere out of my sight and I do not do or permit anything I am the least bit uncomfortable with.

When you go inside the immigration building take with you your passports and all your automobile papers, as well as a stack of passport photos and a stack of copies of your passport photo page and your driver’s license.  Copies of your vehicle registration can be handy too. To speed things up when filling out the inevitable forms have a blue or black pen for EACH person in your group.

Usually your helper will navigate you to the front of the line and get you the forms you need. Sometimes there will be a scruffily dressed guy who hands you a form and expects you to pay him- ignore them and just pick up your own form off the counter.

The procedure is first go to immigration, then customs, then any road fees, then customs inspection, then 3rd party insurance, then exit the border post.

Before you go inside, a word about who you are about to deal with. In your country customs officers may be minor functionaries- in these countries they are bigwigs with government jobs. Take off your hat and sunglasses, speak politely, give them some respect. Don’t get huffy or be in a hurry.

Most Africans are flattered you are visiting their country. I always start with a genuine and disarming smile. I tell them I have come all the way from America and am very excited to be visiting their country. This usually results in a thumbs up gesture and they say “Obama.”- to which I respond with words on how much I like him, which I do. (They assume most whites are So. African, so if you are other than from RSA mentioning it may get you a bit more co-operation).

Depending on your country’s relations with the country you are visiting you may only need a passport stamp- this is usually easier than a visa. Some places will require you to get a visa in advance at a consulate but many will issue them at the border- make sure you’ve checked before hand. The other information that is valuable to know beforehand is exactly what each country requires for vehicle importation. Lonely Planet is a good source of this info as is the country’s own website.

Immigration will often ask you how long you intend to stay- get longer than you have planned just in case you have a breakdown or love the place or whatever.

Make sure you check the date they stamp in your passport.

If you need a visa (or sometimes just for a stamp) you may need to fill out some immigration paperwork, then take the immigration form to a payment window, then take the payment receipt back to the immigration guy to get your stamp or visa.

Visas are official paper seals that they glue into your passport. Many of them take up a full page of your passport. Make sure before your trip you have lots of pages available.

Then customs paperwork on the vehicle is usually next. Make sure your paperwork shows the weight of your vehicle and even if it is a truck stress that it is a passenger vehicle not a commercial truck. At one border crossing we watched the people next to us in the same size baakie as we were pay a fee of over $150 unnecessarily. Their helper guided them to the window to pay this fee, while my wife asked a supervisor if it was required of us and was told “NO.” We got the supervisor’s name and after that we had to assure several other bureaucrats at that border post that supervisor so and so had said we did not need that extra permit which only applied to heavier trucks.

Most countries have some fees for a “TIP- or Temporary Import Permit.

At most of these windows things will go faster if you hand your paperwork and money to your helper- I do this but I always stand pretty close.

We bought a So. African registered vehicle and went as far north as Tanzania without needing a carnet. Tanzania did ask for it and we had to spend some time getting an additional piece of paper and show that we had traveled through all those other countries enroute without one, but eventually we got what we needed and were on our way. I believe you can also get into Kenya without a carnet but you will need one north of there.

Some countries will have miscellaneous road taxes and fees and in others they will want to physically see the VIN number on your vehicle. Know in advance where the VIN plate is on your vehicle and to be helpful have another piece of paper you can hand to the inspector so he can just quickly verify the numbers match without having to really read them off the plate itself.   Copies of your registration showing the VIN, Engine number, license registration, driver’s license, etc, can also be handy.

The customs inspection is usually the next hurdle after your customs paperwork and road taxes etc.   Be polite, open what they ask- keep in mind they really do not want the headache of searching your vehicle. Don’t be in a hurry, show you have nothing to hide. We never had more than a cursory look inside.   Often they will ask for a bribe, which we usually politely declined to give. Your inspection will go quicker if the things on top of your load that they can see are nothing that they are personally interested in.

In Tanzania when they were still deciding if we could enter without a carnet, the big boss came outside to look at our truck. He noticed we had a 6 pack of Coke so I gave him one quickly- I gave it as a gift while we chatted amiably, rather than as a bribe under coercion. He was then my friend, and once the big boss had decided we were OK, all the other paperwork fell into place speedily and we were on our way.

Often the last stop will be the 3rd party insurance. In many countries you can avoid the individual country’s 3rd party insurance by having a COMESA insurance policy which covers a number of countries, but we did not have this.

The insurance vendors are usually set up in shacks next to the border. Your helper will do this for you and often you will find that your helper was waiting for this moment as he gets a commission here. Our first few border crossings we went from one insurance shack to the next competitively shopping but we found they were all exactly the same and thereafter we just trusted our helper and went where he suggested. In all cases the prices were what we had read online or elsewhere. Usually the insurance results in them applying a sticker to the windshield and then you are good to go.

Your last bit is just the guard who monitors the boom gate to let you out of the border. He may check your papers or have you sign a book and note your car registration.

Do not pay your helper until you are through this last stop and onto the exit road. At this point I double check that we have our passports back, have all our original vehicle documents back and have our TIP or other papers. Do not be rushed and forget something.

Now I pay my helper, usually using my last bit of change from the country I have just departed from. We usually paid anywhere from $3 to $10. The response from the helpers was predictable.   The vast majority of them took whatever I gave them and smiled and said a sincere thank you. A very few said it was not quite enough and could I give a bit more. Depending on how much I had given them and what they had done I might give a bit more from the currency of the new country- but only a bit. A very few took the notes I put into their hand stuffed them into their pockets without even looking and immediately asked for more. These I ignored. I thanked them and drove away.

In all cases our helpers really did help us get through quicker and with less hassle and using these methods I never had any issues with the helpers themselves.

 

 


Traditionally the African safari vehicle of choice was the iconic Land Rover. However in recent times the Toyota Land Cruiser has proven to be the most dependable vehicle throughout Africa. Pictures of Land Cruisers fording swollen rivers with water over the hood and the air intake snorkel extending above the roof are common symbols of the Land Cruiser’s ruggedness.Our Toyota Hilux
Slightly less capable in really rough four wheeling conditions but perhaps more versatile is the Toyota Hilux 4×4 truck.

There are a number of companies that rent Land Rovers, Land Cruisers or Hilux trucks fully equipped with roof top tents, 2 spare tires, dual battery systems, long range fuel and water tanks, shovels, axes, camps stoves, tables and chairs and more. These vehicles are perfect for a 2-4 week self drive camping safari, but at $130 per day they were too expensive for our 4-month trip.

Our initial thoughts were that we would arrive in Africa and try to source a Land Cruiser already outfitted for serious camping and if we were unable to find such a vehicle then we would go more bare bones with our usual camping tent, sleeping bags, backpacking stove and an ice chest.

Several weeks before our departure I started looking at online classified ads and found that the privately owned vehicles did not have much camping gear and outfitting them fully would be both costly and time consuming. Fortunately I did find several retired safari rental vehicles that were fully equipped and had been resold to folks like us looking for vehicles that they could buy, use and resell at the end of their trips.

I found a German couple that was ending their trip in mid April just when we were starting ours and they were selling a Hilux truck that had been used in rental and was just what we needed. I negotiated a bit with them about buying their vehicle even though I thought their price a bit high. At the same time I wrote to the rental companies I found online, asking if they were selling any of their used rigs. Bushlore, one of the companies I liked best from their website responded that they had sold most of last year’s crop but still had a few left. One of them was exactly what I wanted. It was similar to the German couple’s vehicle but was a year newer, had less miles on the odometer and best of all the company would give us a 30 day warranty.

Specifications:

Toyota Hilux 2.5 TD DC 4X4. 2011 Model with 185,000 kms.

The canopy is by Alucab and features opening sides that fold out to become kitchen prep tables. The back opens up to reveal a drawer (like a giant file cabinet) that slides out the back and contains storage boxes for all our gear. Above that also on a sliding rail is a 40 Litre refrig/freezer. There is also a stove and 20 lb propane bottle.

On top is a solid roof rack that holds the Eezi Awn tent that folds out and is set up in seconds. The tent has a full mattress with blankets so we can sleep in a bed rather than our individual sleeping bags, and all the bedding just stays in the tent so nothing to pack up each day. Being off of the ground is a bit safer way to sleep in the African bush.

Other features:

  • Dual cab
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • Diesel fuel in long-range 160 litre tank (41 gallon)
  • Radio/CD/MP3 player
  • 4×4 High and Low range with rear diff lock
  • Dual Spare tires
  • Air-conditioning
  • Roof rack with roof top tent
  • Air compressor – (so you can deflate the tires in sand and mud for better traction then easily pump them up again.)
  • Fresh water tank- 60 litre (15 gallon)
  • Camp shower, sink and toilet
  • Gas Stove and Bottle
  • BBQ grate
  • Fridge/Freezer – 40 Litre
  • Dual battery system to power refrig and other items
  • Stove, kitchen gear, utensils, etc.
  • Table and chairs
  • Lanterns, flashlights
  • Awning
  • Tow strap, jumper cables, safety gear, tools, tire patch kit, fire extinguisher
  • Shovel, axe, hi-lift jack
  • First Aid kit
  • Sand ladders for getting un-stuck from sand
  • Grass seed net to protect radiator

Other gear we will bring or add

  • GPS with tracks4Africa maps
  • Safe for valuables
  • Extra fuel and water jugs

This vehicle will be for sale in Cape Town in
mid August of 2014 if anyone is interested.

A whole series of interesting events have transpired lately. Serendipity, luck, coincidence, who knows?

On our way into Serengeti we had briefly met a wonderful So. African couple, Mike and Hester, who we later ran into a second time at a campground in southern Tanzania. We enjoyed each other’s company so much we made a plan to meet a week later in So. Luangwa game Park, but a delay for our broken front wheel caused us to miss them.

When we did arrive in So. Luangwa Game Park we meandered around looking for leopard and lion and passed a number of other vehicles doing the same without bothering to stop and chat. Late in the afternoon, and for no particular reason we did stop to talk to another couple in a Land Cruiser- I have no idea why we stopped to speak with only this one car out of the dozens we passed, but we did. It turned out they were also from So. Africa and were friends of our Mike and Hester whom we had just missed. We later had drinks and a wonderful evening with them, learning about their lives and experiences in unpredictable Africa.

Two days later when we went to leave a campground in Chipata, Zambia the campground owner asked us if we could deliver her daughter’s passport to her in Lusaka where we were headed next.   We agreed of course. Unfortunately the road as so many here was badly potholed and one particular bounce broke a bracket on our roof rack holding our spare diesel jugs and spare tire.   After that I drove very carefully the rest of the day to keep the rack from bouncing against the truck’s roof.

Along the way we passed a westerner on a heavily loaded road bike. I passed him then stopped and got out of the truck waiting for him to come abreast of us. When he stopped we offered him, food water or any tools or help he might need, all of which he turned down. He was from Switzerland riding the length of Africa- a very formidable task. I finally offered him a giant chocolate bar I had and he shrugged but grinned hugely when I shoved it into his hands.   His home, Switzerland is known for some of the best chocolate in the world and, I apologized for handing a Swiss person a bar of Cadbury but he laughed and said it is energy and calories make the bike wheels turn.

We wished each other well and went our separate ways. A few hours later Dee and I rendezvoused with the daughter awaiting her passport. As a thank- you she handed us a giant bar of fine Lindt Swiss chocolate.   Our two minor good deeds had resulted in swapping cheap Cadbury chocolate for fine Swiss chocolate.

After the passport delivery we continued on to the campground where I was hoping I could find a mechanic or welder who might be able to fabricate some kind of bracket to strengthen our roof rack. The piece that had broken was specially made to go into the roof of our Toyota truck and as it was 4 pm on Saturday afternoon finding the correct spare would be impossible.

As I was pondering the broken bracket I remembered an incident that had taken place when we purchased the truck.   Behind the broken roof rack is a separate rack that holds our roof top tent and I had pointed out to the truck outfitters the tent brackets were very rusted. They went in search of brackets and came back with a set of new brackets in a box but upon inspection they were not the tent brackets I needed. The guy helping us just threw the box into the truck and said, “Well, maybe you can use these for something”.

When Dee and I sailed around the world I carried enough spare parts to just about build a second boat, but since I knew we were going to only own the truck for four months I did not want to invest in spares. Dee was quite shocked when the only spares I brought with us were an oil filter and a diesel fuel filter. In addition to the filters literally the only other spare parts were the box of “incorrect” brackets. I did not really remember what the brackets we had were, but I decided now to open the box and see if there was some way we could use them to our advantage.

To my surprise they were the exact “2011 Toyota Hilux truck roof rack brackets” we needed.   In no time at all I had the entire rack repaired with the exact bracket designed for it.

So of all the hundreds or thousands of nuts and bolts and specialized pieces of a truck what are the odds that the one single spare item we carried was the one that broke?

 

Rob

 

 

 

 


Traditionally the African safari vehicle of choice was the iconic Land Rover. However in recent times the Toyota Land Cruiser has proven to be the most dependable vehicle throughout Africa. Pictures of Land Cruisers fording swollen rivers with water over the hood and the air intake snorkel extending above the roof are common symbols of the Land Cruiser’s ruggedness.Our Toyota Hilux
Slightly less capable in really rough four wheeling conditions but perhaps more versatile is the Toyota Hilux 4×4 truck.

There are a number of companies that rent Land Rovers, Land Cruisers or Hilux trucks fully equipped with roof top tents, 2 spare tires, dual battery systems, long range fuel and water tanks, shovels, axes, camps stoves, tables and chairs and more. These vehicles are perfect for a 2-4 week self drive camping safari, but at $130 per day they were too expensive for our 4-month trip.

Our initial thoughts were that we would arrive in Africa and try to source a Land Cruiser already outfitted for serious camping and if we were unable to find such a vehicle then we would go more bare bones with our usual camping tent, sleeping bags, backpacking stove and an ice chest.

Several weeks before our departure I started looking at online classified ads and found that the privately owned vehicles did not have much camping gear and outfitting them fully would be both costly and time consuming. Fortunately I did find several retired safari rental vehicles that were fully equipped and had been resold to folks like us looking for vehicles that they could buy, use and resell at the end of their trips.

I found a German couple that was ending their trip in mid April just when we were starting ours and they were selling a Hilux truck that had been used in rental and was just what we needed. I negotiated a bit with them about buying their vehicle even though I thought their price a bit high. At the same time I wrote to the rental companies I found online, asking if they were selling any of their used rigs. Bushlore, one of the companies I liked best from their website responded that they had sold most of last year’s crop but still had a few left. One of them was exactly what I wanted. It was similar to the German couple’s vehicle but was a year newer, had less miles on the odometer and best of all the company would give us a 30 day warranty.

Specifications:

Toyota Hilux 2.5 TD DC 4X4. 2011 Model with 185,000 kms.

The canopy is by Alucab and features opening sides that fold out to become kitchen prep tables. The back opens up to reveal a drawer (like a giant file cabinet) that slides out the back and contains storage boxes for all our gear. Above that also on a sliding rail is a 40 Litre refrig/freezer. There is also a stove and 20 lb propane bottle.

On top is a solid roof rack that holds the Eezi Awn tent that folds out and is set up in seconds. The tent has a full mattress with blankets so we can sleep in a bed rather than our individual sleeping bags, and all the bedding just stays in the tent so nothing to pack up each day. Being off of the ground is a bit safer way to sleep in the African bush.

Other features:

  • Dual cab
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • Power steering
  • Diesel fuel in long-range 160 litre tank (41 gallon)
  • Radio/CD/MP3 player
  • 4×4 High and Low range with rear diff lock
  • Dual Spare tires
  • Air-conditioning
  • Roof rack with roof top tent
  • Air compressor – (so you can deflate the tires in sand and mud for better traction then easily pump them up again.)
  • Fresh water tank- 60 litre (15 gallon)
  • Camp shower, sink and toilet
  • Gas Stove and Bottle
  • BBQ grate
  • Fridge/Freezer – 40 Litre
  • Dual battery system to power refrig and other items
  • Stove, kitchen gear, utensils, etc.
  • Table and chairs
  • Lanterns, flashlights
  • Awning
  • Tow strap, jumper cables, safety gear, tools, tire patch kit, fire extinguisher
  • Shovel, axe, hi-lift jack
  • First Aid kit
  • Sand ladders for getting un-stuck from sand
  • Grass seed net to protect radiator

Other gear we will bring or add

  • GPS with tracks4Africa maps
  • Safe for valuables
  • Extra fuel and water jugs

This vehicle will be for sale in Cape Town in
mid August of 2014 if anyone is interested.

Well the internet died after I typed a page story about this experience. Here are a few photos – I’ll rewrite the post later.