Africa was not originally on the agenda. One day in mid April Steve showed me some photos taken on Botswana. They were properly stunning. We had been on a safari in Kenya 15 years ago and had always wanted to go back. But all the early mornings and long driving days had put us off using our annual holiday for it.
At about this time I realised that all my careful planning to avoid rainy season everywhere meant that we were in really hot dry season everywhere. We had, and would continue to miss, lots of waterfalls etc due to them having no water, until we hit the Philippines…..in August…right in the middle of Typhoon season.
We had seen Overland trips to South America but not African Safaris before. We stumbled across Acacias website and having done a bit of research we settled on a 46 day trip from Nairobi to Johannesburg. This option ticked off many bucket list entries, though ironically it didn’t actually go to Botswana.
Our trip took us to Uganda where we trekked for Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees & kayaked to the source of the Nile. Through, the Maasi Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mikumi, and Kruger. We’ve swum in the Indian ocean off Zanzibar. We saw the Big 5 within our first 3 weeks, and all of the Big 5 in one single morning in Kruger. We’ve taken a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls. Steve jumped off the bridge across the same falls (twice) and then zip lined across for good measure. We walked with wild Rhino. Watched hippos play in the water from the deck of a sunset cruise boat on the Zambezi. We even managed a day trip to Rwanda, which was harrowing and to Botswana, where we saw a 40 strong herd of elephants crossing the river in Chobe. Basically, we need a new bucket list.
People make Places
But without the people we met along the way this trip would have been significantly less amazing. We found our guide and driver to be the nicest people, continually focused on us enjoying ourselves. Both were away from their families for months at a time. They never complained and seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs. They fed us extremely well, got us safely everywhere, and above all, were great people to be around.
We met other Overland trucks from different tour companies, and our Tour Leader, Crispy and Driver, Harmony were what really set Acacia apart from the rest. They were also keen to ensure that they helped the local communities wherever we went. Whether that was giving leftovers to local people (with our permission of course) or enlisting the help of locals to help with camp chores.
The people on our tour were some of the coolest people we’ve met on our trip so far, from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. It didn’t matter that some of them were young enough to be our children, or that one was a policeman (the most unlikely friend two non conformists will EVER make) – everyone was there to enjoy themselves, even if at time we disagreed on how to do that!
Camping in Africa is significantly different to our weekends away in the New Forest. For one thing, the 17.5 ton truck we travelled in held quite alot more stuff than my Qashqui. The distances covered are vast (nearly 10,000km in our case), on roads which particularly in East Africa are pretty terrible. You get to experience ‘bushy bush’ toilets (otherwise known as pull over near a bunch of bushes) and there are some really long driving days, but you get to see so much more as result of them.
The tents are more basic but conversely even the basic campsites put the UK ones to shame in terms of facilities. The food was definitely a cut above the fare we have when camping at home. T-Bones steaks and Roast potatoes was a semi regular meal.
We even stayed at a campsite in South Africa which had hot spring fed therapeutic pools. Though it also seemed to be inhabited with people who hadn’t quite got the memo about Apartheid being over. Also, they really REALLY loved their trees. This is a bit of a problem when the tracks are small and the truck is big (NOTE – if you want to annoy the South African version of the Klan, brush past a tree on their campsite – works every time).
Bring your thermals
One thing was consistent with our at home camping experiences though – the cold. Winter in Southern Africa gets cold, and June is winter. It snows in Julyapparently, so when I say cold, I mean thermals and woolly hats cold. At least once a day we wished we hadn’t bought our camping gear in the Philippines. But there was always a fire if needed, and in most places an upgrade to a room with a bed was available at a fairly reasonable cost. Full disclosure – we did take advantage of this a lot of the time after the first 3 ½ weeks.
Should everyone do it?
Is an Overland tour right for everyone? Absolutely not. You are living in close proximity which people you barely know for an extended period of time, and it’s unlikely you will love everyone. Even when you upgrade from a tent you can’t expect a 3 star hotel. So if you can’t get on board with roughing it a little bit, rubbing along with people and accepting differences, then there are plenty of other ways to see the Big 5.
BUT, if you are up for meeting new people, interested in learning about the people and continent of Africa. Open minded about different lifestyles and cultures then this is totally for you. Overland tours are a very cost effective way to see large parts of a continent. Independent travel can be a challenge at times, and there are about 30 different languages to learn. After 46 days we were definitely ready to travel independently again. But we came away from our trip with some cool new friends, some amazing memories and a new appreciation for the people of this amazing continent.
Interested in going?: check out Acacia Africa for more info.