Thursday, December 24, 1998
The last word on Africa
Lance & Dave
"Hey Lion, ek se"
"Ja, what you want Dave, I'm busy"
Hey what you doing bru"
"Ja, nooit China, I'm trying to do this monthly email-jobbie we send out every 6 weeks"
"Aaaahhhh! The one where we tell the people out there what we're doing?"
"Ja....... if only they really knew...."
"So let's tell them"
Sssshtt, after some jamjam wandering the grand finale is about to begin.
Find a seat, take a deep breath and read on...
We're in England. We're shell-shocked. We're finding it difficult to tell you quite what we're feeling at the moment. We're trying to deal with the fact that the wanderers are finally about to drift apart on different currents. For you it's the end of a light-hearted series about two zany African travellers. For us it's the end of so much more...
Africa has affected us in so many ways, but the only tangibles are memories. All those experiences are now spiralling round in our emotional Vortex as we consider the concluding of the past 19 months. Decisions were made, dreams were created and Africa touched us in its own unique way. This email tries to capture a small part of what was a truly magical adventure and our self-defined initiation rite into the spirit of "man". It's like, hey man, we've worked out some of the rules but we're just not sure what game we're supposed to be playing.
You left us in Madrid.
We spent one night in Madrid freaking out at all the funny white people. We hung out chatting with the other backpackers and then boarded our last bus. To London. It was vintage wanderers stuff, 36 hours and not a break in the conversation (Karen and Steve thanks for humouring us!) . Our entourage was awaiting us at Victoria Coach Bus Station. Pity the sniffer dog found that Spanish backpacker's hashish and delayed us at the French border for five hours... So our first night in London was spent on the floor of a stranger's lounge.
So that was it! London and the culmination of our 62 000km journey.
Time to reflect and time to party! The next night found us dressed in our tattered African gear partying it up with Bjork and the Fugees in London's most exclusive club, the Met Bar (two year waiting list for membership). Our travel buddy from Ghana and Burkina, Yael , turned out to have great contacts in the London scene. The next six weeks saw us splitting apart during the week as Lance pursued his glamorous job as Chain Boy (don't ask, don't tell) on Junction 11 near Reading Town, while Dave struggled for a few weeks before landing an accounting job. During the weekends we could be found roving the country staying in centuries-old country manors, setting the alarm bells ringing in Cambridge, riding on those weird things that go underground (sort of like trains), Bohemian Xmas parties, raging birthday bashes, dealing with polite disease phobic brits ("What do you mean you had MALARIA and BILHARZIA" he said backing away) and generally re-connecting with old friends collected on the way. Thanks to everyone who gave us the best welcome to Britain we could have hoped for. But that's England, lets get back to Africa.
When we left South Africa in May 97 we had no idea what Africa had in store for us. Africa certainly proved to be an intriguing mistress, offering us up a diversity of experience that we never thought possible.
On her Eastern shores we found paradise beaches, tranquil moments on island-hopping dhows and glimpses of a past glory that was killed before its time. Portugal, Holland, apartheid South Africa and America all inflicted their own peculiar battle wounds on this most amazing region.
Moving on up to Ethiopia we were introduced to the spirituality of Africa. From its ancient tribes and their bizarre rituals to its miraculous rock hewn churches in truly biblical settings and of course not forgetting the holy Muslim town of Harer with its 99 mosques. Our prophets proved to be people like the indubitable " Man" on the bridge and the famous hyena man, all mixed in with elaborate ceremonies and joyous festivities. Our abiding memory though will probably be its absolutely spectacular landscape with its green mountain ranges punctuated by crystal clear rift valley lakes and thermal springs. Come to think of it though, its delectable food and drink offerings will also prove a tough contender for that prize. And how will we ever forget that chorus of "You, You, You, What is my name," and "Where are you go....." Ethiopia you beauty.
Then it was back down to Kenya for an awesome Christmas and New Year celebration, interspersed with the weird spectacle of its elections. The beginning of the new year brought us our greatest challenge, The Congo.
"Where logic ends, Zaire Begins"
That phrase proved to be an apt refrain for our ramblings through its seemingly impenetrable forest with its small pygmy villages, strange culinary delights (elephant is okay, chimpanzee is too much like a human) and openness from the locals that can only be described as the essence of humanity. Unfortunately that phrase seemed even more appropriate for the second part of the journey, as we confronted the mighty Congo river and the full extent of Congo's military might. Eight army interrogations, sneaking out of Kisangani in little wooden pirogues, 500 kilometers of floating downstream in the cover of the night with a star-filled sky as our ceiling and the second most powerful river in the world as our constantly moving floor, those are some of the images that still linger on! But what about being interrogated in a military office filled with furniture appropriated from one of Mobutu's old palaces, or the absolute incongruence of Mobutu's past playground of supertubes and olympic size swimming pools in a country where the people are desperately poor and can still only see the state as another threat rather than as a protector.
Traversing the mighty river we arrived in the second Congo - Congo Brazzaville, and found ourselves in a country at war. From the blood spattered ruins of the once beautiful capital, Brazzaville, we headed to the impenetrable jungles of the North. As the road ended and we began another 170km of jungle walking we crossed the Equator for the eighth and final time. Two weeks later we were leaving this battered nation, victim of a French oil company prepared to instigate a war in its hunger for profits.
Central Africa is one of the most tragic places on earth, continually trapped in the grip of superpower machinations and greedy commercial interests, while the locals are forced to eke out a precarious existence under the shadow of constant military threat. Its a place that we learnt to respect, and above all to hope and pray for. The Congolese in both countries will forever be in our New-Age prayers.
After the jungle was the party, and Peace Corps made sure we had the best welcome to civilisation again in Cameroun's capital Yaounde. The party rolled on with them throughout that land, from beach raves in Kribi, to cheese and wine in Bamenda, and our year anniversary celebration in a PC volunteer's house in Mokolo. Cameroun also took us from the depths of the central African forest to the hot and barren landscape of the Sahel. The five days that we spent marching around the desert environment of Cameroun's Extreme North must rate as one of the most spontaneous and uplifting experiences of the trip. That image of those witch's hats huts (try say that fast) being illuminated by vicious bolts of lighting with powerful winds swirling around still brings a certain chill to our bones. Castaneda's you would have had a field day!
Nigeria, what a crazy place! Plato-quoting military officers, constant bribery attempts, mad motorbike taxi's, and all in all far too many disarmingly friendly people. And oh, Abacha did have to go and die while we were there didn't he?!
From Lagos to Abidjan it was a straight run along the coast. Benin gave us voodoo and a meeting with its High Priest (be scared, be very scared), Togo offered us political insurrection and our very own teargassed protest march to deal with (pull on those red bandannas we've got another dictator to depose here), and Ghana gave us the most consistently fun times of the entire trip. From the joyful exuberance of the Ghanaian people to the chilled atmosphere of Kokrobite with its motley collection of backpackers, we couldn't have asked for a more open country. Amongst all the good times though, we were invited to relive its bloody history too, spending nights in the old slaving castles and hearing the echoes of those past millions who formed the first casualties in Africa's tragic encounter with the tyranny of the outside world. Lastly, it was Cote D'Ivoire with its stunningly beautiful capital and the most bizarre architectural phenomenon of the world's largest church.
After the coast it was inland to Burkina Faso where to our mind its greatest drawcard was that there was absolutely nothing to see. There was, however a helluva lot to experience, and this we did by simply fraternising with the locals in its numerous street-side coffee bars. The most striking feature of Burkina besides its strangely named capital Ouagadougou, is that of the pride which the residents take in their country. It's a place which speaks wonders for African resourcefulness, and that a true sense of belonging can ultimately be the greatest tool towards developing a country.
Mali gave us the seemingly computer generated landscape of Dogon country, mixed in with some extremely tiring bus and river trips. Although ancient Mali was home to Africa's two greatest empires, much of this past glory was lost to us as we struggled to deal with malaria in Timbuktu and Hepatitis in Bamako. Africa can be a trying mistress sometimes.
Then it was on over to Senegal and the start of our ascent Northward. Much to our surprise the desert capital Nouakchott of Mauritania proved to be a welcome break before our crossing into the sands of the Sahara. The Sahara, throughout history, has proved to be the impenetrable wall separating the rest of the world from Africa. And so it was perhaps appropriate that this final hurdle was responsible for the most emotionally draining part of our journey, but, after Dave's adventures in the minefield, we were soon re-united in Morocco.
This country, though beautiful and interesting, could not capture our imaginations as we were now looking ahead to the ending of our trip and the legal hazards involved with crossing Europe. Suddenly we were each on a boat crossing the Mediterranean and watching Africa's shores recede into the distance and as she faded from view and Europe loomed before us it was time to accept that the apparently endless adventure was over.
So that was Africa, and the end of a trip which is sure to live on in our memories for many years to come. What makes it really so special though, is that as two young white South Africans we finally learnt what it means to be part of this broader community that others may call Africa, but which we call Home! As great as all those experiences were and as vivid as those memories are in our minds, it is that unquenchable African spirit that has touched us most and as we float apart on the different trade winds of life, it shall always be that spirit which will serve as our guide.
As your computer receives this e-mail, Lance will be looking out of the aeroplane window watching the mighty continent passing silently below as his plane heads South to a Table Mountain, Christmas sunrise. He's entering back into that zone where being a South African is no longer a novelty but a reality. What will be foremost in his reality, however, is the writing of the book, and you are all encouraged to keep pestering him via e-mail to make sure it gets done. Africa might be great on Spirit, but its not that helpful when it comes to discipline.
What the wandering spirit holds in store for Dave is unclear. Making a few pounds is the first priority and then Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia..... who knows. The world's an interesting place. (Since his African Wanderings, Dave has been to South America and China and is now building a beautiful community-based lodge on a remote beach on the Wild Coast - come and visit!)
Thanks to everyone who wrote to us while we were busy slogging it out in the backwaters of the continent. You will never really know how much it meant to us to receive those messages, and without them our journey would certainly have been a far poorer one.
During our trip we have met some wonderful people who were instrumental in making our trip the success it was. We'd like to express our thanks to them in the list that follows this letter.
But before that it is time to say good bye for the last time. We hope you've enjoyed experiencing this trip with us and have enjoyed the ride as much as we did. And in a few years you may just find an email titled "The Wanderers are back!" waiting for you in your inbox. In the mean time good luck to all of you spread all over the world and have a merry Xmas and a huge New Year.
The African Wanderers
Lance and Dave
A special thank you must go to Dave's brother Paul. Without him the African Wanderers series would almost certainly not have been possible. Thanks boet, you're a legend
Rushdi (our long lost musketeer: thanks for the laughs through Zim and Zam)
Jona (the original African traveller: thanks 'cus we, we both know where this all started)
The Gamma family (thanks Richard and Buster and the rest of our Kitwe family for all your hospitality)
Ken and Lisa
Abdallah (for your profound company on a Mafia-bound dhow)
Lucy and Lucinda (for Zanzibar parties, itchy Mwangwi nights and superior ticket price negotiation skills)
The Nightingale family (for three days of welcome, luxurious rest)
The Kiwis (Kirby, Brett, Aaron, Jo, Terri and Cowboy) for the New Year of the century
Man (for a great story)
Mustafa (for introducing us to Man)
Aklilu Assefa (Your internet help was unparalleled)
The Shaw family (Pity about the olympics but thanks for the SA braai - by the way even though you not there anymore, Lance would love to contact your daughter in Cape Town...)
Ron, Tali, Udi and Keren (wherever you are)
Everyone at ActionAid (Great work guys - you imbued two idealists with even more idealism)
Tergane (in Turmi)
John and Barbara Geddes (for lunch amongst the Mursi)
Ivan (for a chat ceremony to ease the Omorate heat)
The Beni Orphanage director (we hope the war has left you an the orphans untouched)
Rodeo and Mozanga ( you guys will never read this but we hope that you are riding your bikes into the deep gloom and safety of the jungle to dodge the bullets: you are the true legends)
Remi (in Beni - for helping us to finally get out of that vortex town)
Mama Ngorette (our mom in Epulu, for the dinners and the affection)
Protestant missionary Kisangani (for posting our letters)
Father Jerry in Kisangani
Yaya for engineering our escape from Kisangani
The SA Embassy (David Wud, Helena Botha, Rachel Brummer) for making us proud of our heritage by showing us true South African hospitality.
Bedoiuan for the place to stay
JOE - for being the best 3rd musketeer we could have wished for. We'll never forget our time together.
The Surly official in Pokolo for being intimidated by our story and relinquishing on his bribery request
To all the Chad evacuees (Jenn, Krista, Carol, Taylor, etc) for the wonderful welcome party
Rebecca for a great time in Mokolo
Maggie (for looking after us in Koza)
Mousa for the great border milkshakes
Tucker (For thinking we walked the whole way)
Yael (For being such a good partner in crime)
Bren and Avery (for Mission Jungle Experience and all the laughter)
Mattias and Ludwig (for secretly being famous movie stars)
John (for the car, o.k. so where the hell are you?)
The Kokrobite crowd (for Africa's best vibes)
Mr Mindel (Allowing us to touch base at his house in Accra)
Greg and Guillaume (Play dem tunes, Mon)
Mao Zedong (For providing us with our only transport option to Gorom-Gorom)
PCVs and especially Jen, who we just simply couldn't escape from
Amagara Guindho (for being such a Doggone good guide)
Dwane and Kath (for the great energy despite the trials and tribulations of Malian travelling)
John (For helping us out in our time of illness and the Morocco book which was also a great help)
Modaye Ahmed (for your insight into the ways of the Sahara nomads)
The Cissoke family (For giving us a cheap place to stay and throwing in some soothing Djembe and saxophone tunes at the same time)
the SA Embassy
Bouya Ahmed and Houdi (for welcoming us into your Saharan home)
SA Embassy (thanks for the ground support against the Moroccan bureaucracy)
Hassan (for much needed words in Chefchaouan)
Every one on the truck, Ruth, Antonia, Heather, Sue, Ted, Miguel and especially Richard for being our knights in shining armour or should we say desert warriors in flowing indigo robes
Kip, Todd, for making our time in Marakesh that much more interesting
Yael (for clothing, feeding, housing and entertaining weary travellers)
Robin and Mrs Mindel (for continuing to welcome us despite us abusing your hospitality)
Jessi (for making London a smooth landing)
Mike & Yolanda (For giving me a life; job, accommodations the works ek se'. Ja-Nee you okes are lekker)
Lucy (for my first snow in beautiful Edinburgh)
Lucinda (for alarmingly adventurous nights in Cambridge and Sussex)