November 13 – May 7, 2017
Oasis Overland is the only company traveling the entire west of Africa from Morocco to South Africa and they offer the trip only once per year. Sleeping in a tent for over 140 nights, doing your laundry by hand, cooking over a fire, bush camping and shitting in the woods in not for everyone. Traveling independently in your vehicle would be difficult but having to depend on public transport would be next to impossible, so this tour is practically the only viable means of seeing this part of the world. It is easily the most difficult place to travel in the world, mostly because of all the visa issues required by 15 of the countries visited.
I saw 23 countries missing only Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea on this side of the continent. It has relatively few “tourist” attractions and we missed some of the best places to see (for example, eastern Mauritania, Djenne and Dogon country in Mali). Much of the journey is seen outside the windows of the truck, and there seemed to be little opportunity to meet locals and have authentic experiences. The countries I enjoyed most were Ghana, Cameroon and Angola. Angola is the landscape highlight with more natural beauty than all the other countries put together.
African women present their bodies better than any other but looks are deceiving as they don’t preserve well and let their bodies go after having children. You could write a book on dealing with kinky hair and unfortunately (in my opinion), “natural” hair is much less common than all the wigs and attachments that many African women use.
Our driver, Steve, is easily the most experienced person in the world in traveling in west Africa. He was superb at his job especially as a driver, mechanic, shopper, hard worker and manager of all the personalities on the trip. However I found his parsimoniousness in food and camping choices detracted from his effectiveness. There must have been several thousand dollars left in the Local Payment fund (Oasis would not release how much was returned to them). Spending a few hundred dollars more so that we had mayonnaise, pepper, mustard, sweet chili sauce, cereal, better meat and a few more campsites would have made him perfect.
Having 20 other travel companions can be a chore and presented the biggest challenge. Finishing the trip after 5 months in Cape Town was enough for most souls. I had the feeling that except for the 5 in the pseudo-intellectual “clique” who seemed to feed off each other, most of the rest continuing to Cairo over 40 weeks wished they had finished in Cape Town. In fact, besides the 3 scheduled to finish there, there were another four who also left there or before Cape Town – most had had enough of all the personalities.
I personally left the trip early in Windhoek, Namibia and rented a car for 5 days in Namibia and again for 18 days in South Africa to see as much of the rest of those countries, Lesotho and Swaziland. Finishing in Kruger NP was one of the highlights. I saw the Big Five in one day.
I hope that others contemplating this adventure will have a lot to gain from my blog, especially the sections on visas and particulars of the trip.
Addendum: In late August, I developed chills, aches, nausea and dry heaves (this was easily the worst). I was eventually diagnosed with malaria, the organism was P ovale and my parasite load was 2%. My platelets plunged to 59 and my kidney function deteriorated temporarily. The initial prescription was quinine sulfate 500 tid x 7 days and doxycycline 100 bid for 7 days but this was changed by an infectious disease specialist to Malarone 4/day for 3 days. It was a rough three days with all the same symptoms and tremendous night sweats. Since the day after my last Malarone, I have progressively improved. Because P ovale is associated with a hepatic phase and thus can reoccur, I was given Primaquine 26.4 mg/day for 2 weeks.
I did not miss any Mefloquin, my prophylaxis drug, but took them for only 4 weeks after arriving in Namibia, supposedly the first malaria-free country.