AFRICA – MOROCCO to CAPE TOWN Nov 13-April 22, 2017.
For my 2016/2017 travel season, I am traveling overland from Morocco to Cape Town, South Africa. This is a trip I first heard about from a young English fellow in a hostel in Jakarta. He was very excited to have just finished the “most amazing trip of his life” and upon hearing the beginning and end points, I knew this would be in my near-future travel plans.
When I travel, I get many travel ideas from fellow travellers and West Africa remained a blank. I honestly didn’t believe that I could easily travel anywhere south of Morocco until Namibia. As a solo, older, independent traveller, there just seemed there would be too many dodgy places, pickpockets and muggings, too many visas to get on the road, too much baksheesh. After 10-years on the road, fear rarely enters my mind.
But this was a tour – on a big truck, with camping and cooking our own food. Oasis Overland (www.oasisoverland.co.uk) has decades of experience offering overland travel everywhere in the world. Visas are obtained on the road (for Canadians, only a Ghana had to be obtained at home before travel). I love to sleep in a tent, but wondered if 5½ months would cure me. I also love to cook especially when hiking and kayaking and like good tasting food.
For many reasons (mostly passport related), I delayed Africa to do the Silk Road in 2015/2016. For Africa, my initial plan was to do the Oasis – Morocco to Cairo trip through 26 countries over 40 weeks. But the Canadian passport (with only 29 stampable pages and a long 4-week renewal process) would not get me through the whole trip. When I obtained a new passport in 2016, I actually was okayed for 2 passports but declined when they cost twice as much and only lasted 2 years. The only reason to get one would be the safety factor as one passport would be more than adequate for the Morocco to Cairo portion with only 16 countries. Many countries supply two passports.
It is also difficult to stay outside of Canada for longer than 6 months and I wanted a 2-year exemption starting in 2018 (allowed only once every 5 years, it would have been prohibited if out of the country for longer than 6 months in the previous calendar year).
So Morocco to Cape Town was the trip. The date offered by Oasis Overland in 2016 was from November 13 to April 22, 2017. I knew far ahead and paid my deposit of 400£ before January 9 to get the trip at 2015 prices, 400£ less.
Oasis Overland cost. 3,550£ (including deposit)
Visas: 900€ + 606 US$ + Ghana visa 100 US$
Local Payment (to buy food and cover group expenses): 1,350 US$
Personal Spending Money: 1,200€ + 1,400 US$
Total Cost (approximate): 7,900£ or 9,400€ or 10,600 US$ or 13,600 C$ (www.xe.com September 2016)
Extras often not included in the organized itinerary are pre-trip expenses like flights, travel and medical insurance, cost of exchanging money, vaccinations and drugs. Add another 1,600 C$. But this is an all-inclusive price with few or no unexpected costs.
At approximately 1,900 US$ per month not including pre-trip costs, this is a relatively inexpensive trip. But, as you can see, it is expensive to travel if you are Canadian.
Besides the main Oasis payment, all money was to be carried in cash. ATMs were not to be counted on. Money needed to be approximately evenly divided between Euros and US dollars. Small bills were recommended. So I left home with 2700€ and 2700 US$. In small bills, it made quite the wad.
Flight. I got an incredible deal on WestJet at 384 C$ one-way from Vancouver to London Gatwick on November 11, 2016 arriving on the morning of the 12th. The Oasis trip was to leave from Gatwick on November 13. I got a hotel at the airport.
Extension at end. After leaving the Oasis trip in Cape Town, the plan is to see the rest of South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, more of Namibia and hopefully Mozambique. The dream finish would be to also get to Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Reunion.
Mandatory: Routine (polio, tetanus, diphtheria), typhoid, hepatitis A, yellow fever
Optional: Rabies ($600), meningitis, hepatitis B.
Malaria Prophylaxis. I opted for mefloquine for ease of taking (once a week), effectiveness and cost. Mefloquine has a bad reputation for side effects but the hallucinations everyone mentions at any mention of the drug are not common and I wasn’t too concerned. The other issue is the need to start 2 weeks before and continue for 6 weeks after.
As important is adequate mosquito prevention: bed nets, long pants and shirts, socks and lots of DEET (the only effective product but one not commonly available for purchase).
Packing List. Besides the usual stuff, I also needed these additional items:
Sleeping bag – Western Mountaineering MityLite down bag. Only warm to +4°C, it should be adequate. Packs very small.
Sleeping pad – Exped down mat with Snozzle™. This mat has a hand pump and it gets laborious to do every night. The Snozzle allow inflation with a large air-tight bag and is fast and easy. Easily the most comfortable mat on the market.
Mosquito net – Camping is in provided shared tents, but free-standing mosquito nets were mentioned several times. After looking at the available products that all looked exactly like my MSR Hubba, a one-man tent, that is what I am bringing. And I get to sleep alone (will also bring the fly) and my sleep mate gets a two-man tent all to himself.
Plug-in inverter. My Mac Air does not have USB charging. Rechargeable batteries also require a plug in charge.
Begin in Gibraltar and meet the crew. Cross the Straights of Gibraltar by ferry to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African Coast. In Morocco we visit Chefchaouen – set in a fertile valley of the surrounding Rif Mountains – where we will camp on a ridge overlooking this picturesque town with its white roofs, blue alleyways and narrow streets. Wander around and visit one of the old hammam bath houses. The Roman City of Volubillis is a remarkably well-kept reminder of the Roman presence in North Africa 2000 years ago. Fortress city of Fez, known for its huge covered bazaar with narrow winding alleys, crammed with craft workshops, restaurants, food stalls, mosques, dye pits and tanneries.
DayS 15 to 28
The capital Rabat is spent organising visas. Todra Gorge where – massive red and orange cliffs rise a thousand feet on each side of a sandy river. Cross the Sarhro Mountains and follow the Draa Valley past numerous scattered Kasbahs – Ait Benhaddou being one such example that has been the inspiration for many a Hollywood film set. The old capital of Marrakech – a few days to wander around the Jema el Fna – a square alive with activity through the day – storytellers, snake charmers, water sellers and musicians. At night, hundreds of food stalls transform the square into one of Africa’s largest local eating areas. The fishing port of Essaouira is the last major stop in Morocco before we head south following the rugged Atlantic coastline towards Mauritania and the Sahara Desert.
Days 29 to 42
Mauritania. Desert city of Nouadhibou. Depending on the current travel advice, option of two routes from Nouadhibou.
Option1: Leave civilization behind and travel into the desert proper, toward the capital, Nouakchott. Drive off-road for hundreds of miles, occasionally having to dig the truck out of very soft sand where the use of sand ladders will be our only way forward.
Option 2: Drive south on a sealed road. Passing small isolated villages surrounded by vast desert, herdsman with camels in search of water, before reaching the capital, Nouakchott. Very infrequent traffic and no food crops, a harsh desert life.
Nouakchott – spend a few days reorganising the truck and life. Slavery was only abolished here in 1980 and still continues in some outlying areas. Travel south through a remote border into Senegal, passing along the piste through Diawling National Park.
Senegal. Enter sub Saharan Africa by crossing the Senegal River into St Louis, West Africa’s first French settlement. Senegal has a very different feel: vibrant food and music culture, colourful fashion and markets,bad roads, ‘interesting’ local driving styles and a mixture of modern West African cities as well as some fly blown and remote border posts and villages.
St Louis is at the mouth of the Senegal River. An interesting place to visit, we spend a couple of nights near town camping within the national park ‘Langue de Barbarie’, well known for its fauna rich with various species of birds. You can take a pirogue trip and bird watch, relax and swim on the sandy beach, try your hand at fishing and much more.
Lake Retba (or Lac Rose) – can float in the pink lake. Its salinity content compares to that of the Dead Sea and during the dry season it exceeds it. From here you may have the opportunity to visit Dakar. Like any large city in the world Dakar has its undesirables so compared to the laid back country side and small towns, in large cities.
Tambacounda, a bustling market town at the junction of many trade routes. Option of two routes from here. Option one takes us through Mali and option two through Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Days 43 to 63
Option 1: Driving through Sahel scrublands, we head to the border and cross into West Africa’s centrepiece – Mali. Kayes, dubbed as the hottest town in Africa, follow the Senegalese and Bakoye Rivers to Bamako. Passing the region’s remote villages and absorbing the Malian way of life, Western Mali contains some of the country’s most scenic area of hills, wooded escarpments, rivers and rapids.
Capital city, Bamako: lively bars, cold beers, markets full of fresh fruit and vegetables and people with different culture, language and dress. The town overlooks the Niger River – stretching over 4,000 kms long the river is Africa’s 3rd largest. Explore the river on a pinasse to experience rural life in the villages dotting the riverbanks.
Leaving Bamako, travel through southern Mali via Sikasso with its lively market before the border with Ivory Coast, more commonly known in its French form, Cote d’Ivoire.
Option 2: From Tambacounda, travel to the border with Guinea. Although one of the poorest countries Guinea Conakry (as it is usually called in West Africa) is also one of the proudest in West Africa. Its people have stood together and survived the always difficult post colonial era of independence without resorting to tribal conflicts or civil war. The first colony to gain Independence from France they stated they preferred ‘freedom in poverty, than prosperity in chains’. We can appreciate Guinea’s spectacular tropical forests and waterfalls as we cross Fouta Djalon plateau and the beautiful hilly hinterland before crossing into Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone – Famous for its diamonds, fortunately Sierra Leone recovered from its disastrous civil war and became one of the safest countries in which to travel. However, its roads are still abysmal so it can be slow going on our drive to the coast with serene palm fringed beaches and remote camping on the coast south of Freetown.
Crossing back into Guinea and back onto the challenging dirt roads through remote small villages this is where the food stocks on our overland truck get put to use. Near the Liberia border at Bossou, trek to see wild chimpanzees. Enter Cote d’Ivoire.
Both options bring us to the city of Yamoussoukro. Built by President Boigny, one of the classic ‘Big Man’ dictators it was an expensive and vane project to glorify himself with six lane highways leading nowhere and a huge Basilica built to copy St. Peter’s in Rome.
Abidjan, one of West Africa’s modern cities with skyscrapers and flashy restaurants, ostentatious wealth side by side with abject poverty.
Heads east to the frontier with Ghana. For the first time in two months, English is the main language. Mole National Park in northern Ghana to game walk with an armed ranger – to view elephants. Making our way to the coastline we stop off at Kakum National Park for a canopy walk, or walk through the nature trails in the forest. Following the coastline, pass the castles of Cape Coast and spend a couple of days relaxing on the palm-fringed beaches before making our way to the capital Accra.
Days 64 to 69
Several days on the beaches near Accra for great seafood, and cold drinks. We will need to obtain several visas in Accra before travelling onto Togo.
Days 70 to 87
Travelling through Togo and Benin doesn’t take long as they are only 50 miles wide. Lome the capital of Togo, more visas.
In Benin take canoes to Ganvie village – built on bamboo stilts on Lake Nakoue.
Nigeria, with 100 million people. More hectic. Drill monkey (primate closely related to baboons and mandrills) and chimpanzee rehabilitation centre. .
Mountainous and lush jungle toward Cameroon with some of the most challenging road conditions and situations on the whole of the route. Team work will definitely be needed if we are to tackle what may lay ahead – from clearing paths through water logged pot holes the size of the truck to only travelling a couple of miles in a day over wet and unkempt mud roads – some of the best memories on the trip.
Foothills of Mount Cameroon to camp near Limbe and 6 Mile Beach and trek up Mount Cameroon, visit a chimpanzee orphanage or relax on the beach.
Days 88 to 108
Head inland to the capital city of Yaounde for several visas. Fresh bread and amazing pastries from the countless bakeries, fresh flower stalls, art galleries, museums and various markets. Depart city life and the tar seal south on rugged roads through lush jungle, waterfalls to reach the lively market town of Ambam. Cross the Ntem River into Gabon, mostly tropical rain forest. Beautiful Lope National Park, home to elephants, buffalo and the famous central Africa drill monkeys. Safari through savanna, we continue south along dirt and mud roads toward the Republic of Congo.
Days 109 to 125
One of the main highlights is the friendliness of the people, particularly in the countryside remote villages. Brazzaville, on the North side of the magnificent Congo River, the largest river in Africa. Cross the “Brown Snake” to Kinshasa, the much famed capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire). Matadi, the gateway to our next country, Angola.
Days 126 to 133
Angola is still recovering from over two decades of civil war. Small villages, people who may never have seen a foreigner before. The roads extremely rough and slow going. Military tanks litter the side of many roads. The country is slowly rebuilding its infrastructure and basic needs – with the capital of Luanda. Portuguese and no English. Lubango and Namibian border.
Days 134 to 148
Crossing into Namibia Owambo people, Ondangwa the second largest town. Etosha National Park – recognised as one of the worlds greatest wildlife viewing areas. Semi desert . Game drives and game watch by night at one of the floodlit water holes to spot rhino, elephant and giraffe. Head west to Kaokoveld, home to the Himba people, nomadic pastoralists who have shunned the advances of the modern world to keep with their tradition of leading nomadic lifestyles. Both men and women traditionally wear little clothing except for goats skin or modest cloth – opting to rub their bodies and hair with red ochre and fat which ultimately protects them from the sun. Coastline of the Skelton Coast on way to Swakopmund for a well-earned break and a laundromat, sky diving, quad biking or a spot of fishing.
Capital Windhoek for a walking tour with old world German architecture, twentieth century modernity, hustle and bustle. Head south to the border of South Africa and camp for 2 nights overlooking the Orange River, canoe safari or relax by the river.
Days 149 to 150
Cross the Orange River into South Africa. Cederburg Wilderness Area, an area of rugged valleys and peaks. Most southern tip of Africa, at Cape Agulhas is the dividing line between the warm Indian Ocean and the cooler Atlantic Ocean. From August to November Southern Right and Humpback Whales feed in the nutrient rich waters. The final destination for some on this amazing expedition is the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Cape Town. Accommodation here will be in a backpackers lodge.