After struggling with the relatively lengthy and dirty process of setting up or taking down a ground tent, we more recently have converted to a rooftop tent for convenience. We fitted the very sturdy Alucab hardtop, clam-shell tent. This is contained in an aluminium casing for hardiness and has very sturdy gas struts. It should be able to tolerate any of the extreme weather conditions we might expect to encounter. The only disadvantage (other than its price) is that it is a little heavy. It is roomy, has a comfortable high density foam mattress and can be packed up or opened by one person in a couple of minutes. It can be closed with all the bedding stored inside. Setting up camp takes literally a few minutes. Along with the solar panel, 2 heavy duty sand tracks were mounted on top of the casing of the rooftop tent. We also carry a light nylon 3 man tent for the places where a vehicle is not allowed to park on the camping grounds. We chose a floor size that enables us to use our high density roof top tent mattress.
Mounted to the passenger side of the roof rack is an Ezi-awn ostrich-wing (270 degree) canvas awning, for shelter from sun and rain and which can be pegged down relatively securely. This has not been deployed in testing winds and we will have to watch it carefully under these conditions. I have wondered whether a simple roll-up awning would not be better. Time will tell!
A spade and a Hi-lift jack are mounted onto the sides of the roof-rack. The front bumper modification include a heavy duty Warn winch and driving spotlights. A comprehensive range of recovery equipment is carried such as snatch and tow straps, a bridle, snatch block, winch extension strap and shackles. We also carry three fire extinguishers and the triangles and luminous safety jackets required by some countries.
I have had quite a problem in deciding what vehicle spares were appropriate. The most important is a “large box of common sense”. There has to be a limit drawn somewhere and I have gone the minimalist route here. The more weight you carry the more the likelihood of the vehicle having problems on the rough roads. We settled on two sets of teflon heavy duty rear bushes, two V-belt sets, a set of radiator hoses, radiator cap, oil refill cap, wheel bearings, fuel and oil filters, air filter, extra wheel nuts and bolts and the various fluids and oil for the vehicle. We eventually decided not to carry spare shock absorbers or an alternator for example. The rest we would have to source en route.
I have a comprehensive check list of various products we will carry which I can produce if anyone is especially interested. For repairs this includes a range of epoxy glues, sealants, spare nuts, bolts and screws, wire, duct and insulation tape, various ropes, electrical wiring and fuses, cable ties and many small items that may be needed for repairs in the bush. I have a comprehensive tool box, perhaps more likely to be used by those cajoled to help, rather than myself. I also have a small cordless electric drill and pop-rivet gun.
Q.B.E. and N.C.S. qualifications will help considerably (Qualified By Experience and Natural Common Sense).
Good maps will be absolutely indispensable and are sometimes best bought within the destination country soon after arrival. Do not rely only on your GPS alone as it can malfunction or be misinterpreted, often at critical moments. We use a Garmin Montana 600 GPS which has the best storage capacity of the whole Garmin range with about 2.000 tracks able to be saved. It also has the important track-back function which helps if lost. I would go so far as to say that the Tracks4Africa app available for Garmin is indispensable. It is downloaded onto the GPS, but also onto a laptop or PC. On the computer detailed trip planning, routes, essential waypoints and points of interest are available and once the planning is complete these and any preplanned routes are then loaded onto the GPS. This T4A program is compiled from multiple GPS records of previously recorded and submitted trips and is constantly being updated for increasing detail and reliability. T4A collects tracks from adventurers all over Africa and updates the maps twice a year. The company is based in South Africa and is the only reliable resource on the lesser roads likely to be covered on such a trip. The other Garmin maps that come with your GPS will not provide this sort of detail for the lesser roads and tracks. T4A will not only provide information on routes and distances involved, but also travelling times, campsites, retail outlets and fuel stations, with warnings of reported hazards. It might be wise to attend a GPS course from your supplier if this essential aid is new to you. The information in Southern Africa is more detailed by the nature of its origin but the info for the more northern areas is constantly improving. Buy the latest version. However the function of T4A is still improving and by its very nature the information is incomplete and even at times, inaccurate. Other than this we carry the Garmin topographical map SD cards for Southern and Eastern Africa. These have more detail for urban and semi-urban areas and we hope will make navigation through some of the larger and chaotic African cities a little less stressful. I am more worried about driving through Kampala than the Lake Turkana route.
Peace in the home (on wheels) will be tested here. I think all marriages are the same. The man is stubborn and blunders on despite the obvious need to stop and ask for directions. He considers it demeaning to admit he is lost. We have reached a happy medium where I stop and Anne asks for directions. It is usually the wife as the passenger most of the time, who does the navigation by map and GPS. This is where the partnership needs to dovetail well. The navigator needs to understand the route and potential hazards clearly, as well as being familiar with the workings of the GPS. This we have practiced on all our previous trips although we still occasionally have some fraught moments. It cannot be good every time!
Mobile phone coverage is surprisingly good, except for the most isolated areas. Even relatively small towns have coverage. Buying an inexpensive mobile phone with a local SIM card can make communications easier, cheaper, and more reliable than relying on your own phone. You can also use your own smart phone with the local sim cards but remember to turn off roaming. When you buy the sim card ask the sellers to insert, activate and test it before leaving them. You can buy air time with the pay as you go uploads. When you cross borders and meet travelers going in the opposite direction offer to swop sim cards and air time with them. When entering a national park always store the phone number at the entrance gate so that you have a number to phone in case you get into trouble. We take along a list of contact details for the relevant South African embassies.
We have our own satellite phone preloaded with air time and emergency numbers for use in case of dire need where there is no cell phone coverage. This satellite phone is useless without a list of emergency numbers. It can receive voice mails or send and receive text messages. Many places such as camps, hotels and restaurants have wifi facilities and we will use an unlocked dongle with a data card when these were unavailable. Sometimes the wifi is free, or wifi time can be purchased at often reasonable rates. The connections can be quite slow especially with posting photographs etc. We will most often use the internet for updating our blog, at times for skyping the family or for any internet searches we require.
I think we will be spending relatively long periods of time away from any form of news. We were advised that having a short wave radio to pick up the BBC Africa service or other news channels would be of value to avoid blundering unknowingly into an area of natural disaster or civil unrest. After considerable help from fellow 4x4 owners I was able to purchase an almost new Sony PLL World band receiver radio (ICF SW 7600G) with the best shortwave function, for only R1.000.