TIPS, TRICKS and ADVICE:
Those with previous exposure to Africa and independent overland travel would possibly want to give this section a miss! Anne has hopefully not read this as she will challenge me when I inevitably deviate from my own advice.
This section is rather presumptuously directed at the African and wild camping novice. I have noted my thoughts on what I think might be important for such travelers. These opinions are mainly based on our previous relatively regular wilderness travels in Southern and small parts of East, Central and West Africa. I have also obtained plenty of first hand advice and referenced various books and internet reports. I will update these tips and tricks with further comments as our journey proceeds and as we find out how much we still have to learn. Most of the information herein represents a personal point of view and may not be applicable to all individuals and their circumstances. My attention and intentions have certainly been focused by putting this down on paper. I am hoping this information will add impetus to those toying with the idea of exploring Africa under their own steam. To research and collate all this disparate information has been a very time consuming but enjoyable mission over the last five years or so. This effort is motivated by my need to somehow repay those that mentored me during my early days of African exploration and to lessen the burden on those taking their first tentative steps into the African wilderness. (Not so common) common sense is the most valuable resource.
ROAD, TRAFFIC CONDITIONS and DISTANCES.
Do not be over-ambitious in your daily plans for distances to be covered. The adage that “distances in Africa must be considered in terms of hours rather than kilometers” is not a cliché. If you have the luxury of not so rigid time schedules so much the better. The vagaries of African travel can be stressful enough without imposing too many artificial schedules and ambitions. If possible, plan to do much of your travelling based on your own parameters and do not allow others to take you out of your comfort zone. Travelling with others on rigid schedules can impose increased obligations and compromises. Teaming up does have great advantages but it must be clearly understood that it must be on an easy-come-easy-go basis. These travels are not the Dakar Rally and are a holiday and not a mission. Being reasonably disciplined and being well prepared will decrease the stresses and possible frustrations of such a trip. Allow as much flexibility as possible within your travel plans. I hope that the many hours I have spent researching and planning will be time well invested, provided I am able to avoid my dreams becoming obsessions.
Make it easy for yourself and most importantly for your travel companions. Plan each leg of the trip carefully whilst being flexible and have the resources to be able to adapt preconceived plans at the drop of a hat. It will be helpful in being conservative in your travel distances. This will enable you to thoroughly enjoy your travelling time on the road and provide opportunities to spontaneously absorb the many unscheduled interactions with the environment, local people and fellow travelers. As a total generalization do not plan on covering more than 400 -500km/day on tarmac roads and even less on dirt roads. Try to limit your daily travelling time on the road to about 6 hours. Spend enough time in the places that strike a chord to make the journey enjoyable.
Although progressively more of the main routes are tarmac, driving conditions on these are probably going to be more taxing than at home. Do not plan on travelling at more than 80-100km/hr. Travel is made difficult by various factors, including poorly maintained and signposted roads, heavy, poorly maintained trucks, lack of regard for road safety, really bad drivers, chaotic city traffic, many pedestrians, bicycles and domestic and wild animals on the roads. Particularly be on the alert for the ubiquitous mini-bus taxis, tuk tuks and speeding large passenger busses and long-haul trucks. They will regularly pull suddenly out in front of you or overtake on blind rises, with total disregard for safety. You are going to feel that you need eyes in the back of your head. Driving under these conditions is exhausting and the most likely major mishap on this type of trip would be a motor vehicle accident. These kill more people in Africa than Aids and malaria combined. Slow down through any villages or settlements. The speed limits through these are 50km/hr or less, even if not signposted. There are often unexpected speed humps, so-called sleeping policemen. It is a major bonus if you are comfortable sharing the driving duties with your companion(s). Traffic police with radar guns are omnipresent. Local vehicles seldom carry the reflective triangles to warn of a breakdown ahead. Instead they will place a few tree branches in the road as a warning. Heavy trucks use their indicators to tell you when they consider it safe for you to overtake them. Always check first before committing yourself. A flashing indicator to your left means that it is considered safe to overtake, one to the right that it is not. Oncoming traffic may warn of hazards or speed-traps ahead by flashing their headlights or hazard lights. Do not travel in the dark if at all possible. Other vehicles with defective lights, domestic and wild animals and the frequent pedestrians or cyclists are very difficult to pick up timeously in the dark. Oncoming vehicles often fail to dim their blinding headlights.
Where possible attempt to plan your daily route well, with attention to the road conditions expected and expected time of arrival. Plan to arrive at your destination at about 2 hours before sunset to allow for unexpected delays and to avoid travelling or putting up camp in the dark. Try to have alternate destinations in mind should you fall short. In much of Africa you will usually draw an instant crowd if you fall short of your planned destination and set up camp next to the road. People appear from nowhere out of the bush and it is not very pleasant camping with a large audience fascinated by your every move, never mind privacy issues. You would not be likely to have a good night’s sleep worrying about security and safety issues. Fellow travelers are the best up to date source on travelling conditions but locals can help. Just be sure any questions posed to them are not too open-ended or prescriptive. Locals are often eager to please and will resort to giving you the answer they perceive you to be looking for, rather than the true facts. For instance ask “what is the condition of the road to X” rather than asking “is the road to X good?” Many of the roads have been upgraded but anticipate potholes all the time. A surfaced road in poor condition is often more hazardous than a bad unsurfaced track. Maps and your GPS or guide books are often inaccurate about road conditions.
If inexperienced in driving on dirt roads keep your speed down to less than 80km/hr or even better 60km/hr, even on the best of them. You can never be sure of road conditions around the next corner. Sudden braking or swerving on dirt can cause rapid loss of control of the vehicle and a sorry end to your trip. Where the road surface is rough you need to look after your loaded vehicle. Damage to your suspension and tyres are the commonest vehicle problems. If the roads are very dusty it may be wise to travel with your headlights on to make yourself more visible, even though you may elicit strange reactions from oncoming traffic. Travel safe distances behind the dust of vehicles travelling in the same direction, this will obviously improve your field of vision but will also protect your vehicle from flying stones. Slow down for oncoming vehicles for the same reasons. Keep well to your side of the road on blind corners and slow down for narrow bridges, speed humps, pedestrians and animals. On a poorly surfaced road there is little margin for error and speed is the second biggest enemy. The biggest hazard remains the unpredictable behavior of other vehicles, people and animals sharing the road. In the wet the dangers increase exponentially. With severe corrugations adjust your travelling speed until the chosen speed best handles the oscillations for the safest and most comfortable ride.
When driving on dirt tracks stay within the most used part of the track to prevent punctures. Little used tracks may have grass on the center island. Stop regularly to clear this from underneath your vehicle as a vehicle fire from the heat of the exhaust pipe occurs far too frequently. Likewise it may be wise to have a fine gauze seed-net fitted over the front of the vehicle to prevent grass seeds clogging up the radiator with consequent overheating. If you know in advance that you have a difficult sandy track ahead, it is worth timing your trip for early in the morning before the heat of the sun and expansion of the sand causes the track to become even softer. To prevent becoming bogged down in soft sand deflating your tyres is of paramount importance. The precise amount of deflation is dictated by your tyres, weight of the vehicle and conditions of the track. In very severe sand I do not hesitate to deflate to 0,8 bar in front and 1,0 bar for the rear tyres to increase the footprint and enable the tyres to float on the soft surface. Obviously here one must drive slowly to avoid driving the tyres off the rims. I would more often deflate to about 1,2 and 1,4 bar. Obviously re-inflate the tyres as soon as a firm surface is reached to prevent overheating and damage to the tyres. For this purpose an air compressor is indispensable. Always coast to a stop in soft sand to prevent digging in on braking and ensure that 4 wheel drive is engaged timeously. If a sharp rough incline is seen ahead it is wise to anticipate by changing to low range early to maintain momentum. If the road is single track choose the site where you move out of the tracks for oncoming vehicles very carefully, to avoid toppling over because of the high, sharply angled shoulder. If bogged down in sand avoid spinning your wheels fruitlessly and digging in deeper. A spade is the best tool for digging your vehicle free in sand. Placing branches and rocks in the tracks often helps. The best assistance of all is to coerce passengers and bystanders to give you a push. Sand ladders or a winch are seldom needed. I always carry a Hi-lift jack for extreme situations (more often mud than sand). However this is a very dangerous piece of equipment and can cause very serious injuries if used unsafely. You also need some sort of base plate to deploy it securely. We always carry a sturdy tow rope, shackles and a kinetic rope. These are more often used to recover others than ourselves. Be sure you understand the dangers of these and always ensure that they are attached securely to the chassis rather than potentially detachable parts of either vehicle. Be sure all bystanders are well clear should the strap/rope suddenly break and become a dangerous missile. Under severe traction these can break and become dangerous missiles. I always place a damper such as a blanket over the strap to prevent it flying about dangerously in the event of breakage. The winch must be recently serviced or checked to ensure that it is in good working order.
In muddy tracks stick to the main tracks as at least the mud will be compacted there. Be careful when electing to bypass muddy pools as often when venturing off-road, you will encounter even softer mud. Before fording a substantial water hazard always walk the water to determine its depth and the correct line to take. In my vehicle which has a relatively high clearance and is a diesel (with simpler electronics), I will not ford water higher than my mid-thigh and would rather take a long detour to avoid this hazard. African rivers are prone to flash floods and often after a wait of a couple of hours the water will have subsided sufficiently for a safe crossing. Beware of camping in river beds during the rains. When tackling a water hazard ensure 4 wheel drive is engaged, engage low range and diff-locks if deemed essential and drive through. Often second gear low range is best, enabling you to gain just enough speed to cause a gentle bow wave ahead of the vehicle. If the vehicle stalls in deeper water it is best not to attempt restarting to prevent water ingress into the engine. Often if I am nervous about a water crossing I prefer to wait until another capable vehicle joins me before making the crossing. If properly prepared you will be carrying the kit needed for it to tow you out. Better still allow the other vehicle to do the crossing first, asking them to wait until you have crossed safely. If travelling these types of tracks in the rainy season is inevitable, you will become familiar with the term “black cotton soil”. This becomes glutinous, slippery mud in the wet, providing no traction at all and could cause you to be marooned for days. It may be wise to set up camp for a day or two if no alternate route, in the hope it will dry sufficiently to allow passage. For this reason it is wise to always carry sufficient water and food to be able to sit any situation out for 3 or 4 days at the minimum.
This is illustrated by a trip report extract from northern Namibia 2011.
“Amspoort itself is quite scenic and we reached it after driving in the dry river bed for about 80km and 3hrs from Puros camp. Here we turned east to the Hoanib river bed and this was in a class of its own as far as game was concerned. Soon after the junction we came upon 2 large bull elephants browsing contentedly in the shade of the riverine camelthorns. They were very relaxed and pointedly ignored us, although we made a point of driving past them before stopping, in case a quick getaway was needed. We watched and photographed them for a while before moving on. There were also plenty of springbok, giraffe and gemsbok resting in the shade. These were also very relaxed and barely moved away when we passed by close to them in the fairly narrow river bed. There were signs that the river had been flowing strongly recently but there was no standing water, only occasional stretches of shallow mud. Intermittently we could see the deep holes that elephant had dug in the sandy river bed. Probably because of the recent flow, the sand was firm and easy to drive on. I think this section was one of the highlights of our trip because of both the visual effect of this wild river bed and because of the animals seen. We saw 3 small breeding herds of elephants, some with calves. With some of these we could stop beyond them and watch from a safe distance. One group with a particularly impressive matriarch reacted very violently when we suddenly surprised them (and ourselves) when we came around a blind bend in a narrow section of the river bed passing very close to them. We had to rapidly make tracks. I estimate that we saw about 16 elephant here altogether, including 2 further lone bulls which were as usual, more relaxed. As we proceeded up the Hoanib northwards in the direction of Sesfontein the game became progressively more scarce and the scenery more mundane.
We now came to a fork in the track about 15km from Sesfontein where a large tributary, the Obias, joined the Hoanib and we took the clearer track along the Hoanib to Sesfontein. We were heading for an area named Die Poort, where there was once again a split in the track, both equally used. The one to the left (north-west) was up the Ganamub river and the one to the right (north-east) continued along the Hoanib, which we took as it was the more direct route to Sesfontein (bad choice). We reached an abandoned camp Elephant’s Song which our GPS described as “abandoned due to marauding Lions”, which at the time amused us no end. In front of us we faced another choice. For the first time in the Hoanib some deepish water lay ahead of us, I left the vehicle to have a closer look. The more direct track to the right passed through the 50m long pool of water, but it had a muddy bottom and on the fairly steep exit there was a lot of mud churned up from passing vehicles. I then had a look at the less distinct route to the left which bypassed the water over a grassy, muddy bank. This was the route to take!!
I took the precaution of engaging low range second gear and took a running start at the track for momentum. I realized we were in trouble when the grassy surface failed to hold the weight of the vehicle and we began ploughing through the mud and soon I had reached the point of no return. We were about 50m into this morass before we lost all traction and sunk into the marsh onto the chassis and diffs. I had failed to walk the obstacle all for the fear of getting some mud into the vehicle. At least there were 2 things I did correctly, I kept the steering and front wheels straight and did not wheel spin the wheels even deeper into the mud. On alighting from the vehicle it was obvious we were deep in the poo! I sank knee deep into the glutinous mud and could hardly walk in it. As we all do in these situations I looked for a tree or winch point. There were none even remotely near enough. We were about 50m into the mud and 60m from the exit point. I realized that even should another vehicle arrive and with my two snatch straps joined, it would be extremely difficult to obtain sufficient traction to extract us. I then turned to the spade, even freeing this from its mounting on the side of the roof rack required a major effort in the sucking, slippery knee deep mud. The spade could not function in the cloying mud and I realized I was going to have to dig us out by hand. Those who have been in Namibia at this time of the year will know that I am not exaggerating when I state that the temperature was about 40C at 2 in the afternoon. By now I was drinking water by the liter, thank goodness we had plenty of it.
I had a surreptitious look for the nearest possible camp spot out of the river bed. This lay about 200m away and we would have to lug all our kit through the mud, I felt exhausted at the thought of it. I took a smoke and drink break as I stopped to consider my options. I realized that there was no quick fix here and took down the hi-lift jack and plate. Everybody who has worked with a hi-lift jack will be laughing as they know what lies ahead. The one thing the moving parts of these jacks do not like is mud. The mud causes the jack mechanism to repeatedly bind and at this stage I had to ask my “good” wife to join me in the mud. “Good” because I received not so much as even a word of reproach. I needed her to wash off the jamming gear mechanisms as I raised first the one back wheel and then the other to place rocks under them to raise the chassis off the mud. Even the exhaust had been under the mud. Carrying these rocks through the mud was no joke and Anne twisted her knee quite badly on her third fall in the slippery mud. While she lay on the bank to recover I had time to think things through. The most difficult part had been lowering the jack. The mud caused the release catch to keep jamming and one had to force and hold it in the down position and pump the handle at the same time. The dangers of this were evidenced when later myself and then Anne were struck glancing blows to the head by the suddenly whirring handle when the catch would take. Fortunately I am well-schooled in the dangers of this jack but it was difficult to stay out of the way whilst fiddling with the release mechanism. The lowering of the second rear wheel was even more difficult but with persistence and some brute force we achieved it, not until I had jammed two of my fingers in the mechanism. The pain felt akin to slamming your fingers in a car door. At this stage my dear wife was absolutely exhausted, was feeling dizzy and could scarcely speak. She was suffering from a combination of heat exhaustion and dehydration and I took a further break while she lay in the sparse shade on the river bank. I also found her some glucose sweets to suck and cold water to drink and she soon recovered.
My next task was to manually clear the mud away from the tracks and the undercarriage of the vehicle. The spade would not work and it was not long before my already mud-spattered clothes were off and I was wallowing on my belly near-naked under the vehicle, shifting mud. This was the only stage where I fervently wished that another vehicle would not turn up. We would have looked absolutely ridiculous and even in my predicament I would have been severely embarrassed. I was completely covered in mud. Just clearing the mud took me more than an hour. We had been stuck for more than 4 hours now, fortunately at this time of year there were still a good 2 hours of daylight left. We had been too busy to be concerned about “marauding lions”. Everything was too muddy to consider handling my camera. This is a pity as a picture tells a thousand stories and photographs would have recorded fantastic memories. We now staggered down to the water to dilute the mud on our clothes and bodies. The vehicle reversed easily out of the mud and in 2nd gear low range we passed through the water and up the alternative route of the muddy slope with a bit of a heart stopping slip and slide at the end. We had an exhausted and relieved giggling bout at ourselves before making for Sesfontein. We decided that some luxury was the tonic we needed. We had heard that Fort Sesfontein was on the skids following the death of the male half of the management team in 2010. This was later confirmed. I had heard good reports about the fairly new Khowarib Lodge and Safaris just over 30km east and south of Sesfontein on the C43 and to hell with the cost. As it turned out they had a low season, half price deal of R892 pppn inclusive of supper and breakfast, during Feb. and March, I am not sure about April. One has to experience the quality accommodation and meals to appreciate that this was a bargain at the price and one of the shrewdest moves of my married life thus far. I shudder to think of setting up camp in the condition we were in.
We were too bashful to enter the reception area of Khowarib Lodge in our muddy state and managed to call the young lady on duty at reception to the entrance. Once we explained what had happened she knew immediately where we had become bogged down and said that on their elephant game drives they always avoided that area by taking the route on the Ganamub river. She also mentioned that lions had been a problem in that area and it was the male of this pride that was the lion shot in a scandalous trophy hunt late in 2010”.
I also became completely stuck in mud in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in April 2011. Here is another extract from my trip report at the time. We thus have paid some of our school fees with regard to driving in mud. “
Nearer the Deception area there was evidence of a recent downpour. The main track disappeared into a fairly deep pool of water with a high middle-mannetjie. I reversed and took one of the detours to the west. This was also very wet and slippery and after slipping, sliding and fish-tailing and heading in the wrong direction according to the GPS and T4A, I decided to turn around and tackle the main track. I tried this section with the passenger tires on the middle-mannetjie and the driver side on a steep bank, but very quickly came to grief. The slippery mud made it impossible for me to hold this line and within 10m I had slipped into the mud within the deep ruts and was well and truly stuck. I was unable to obtain any traction at all even in low range with both diff-locks engaged. We had so little traction that we had not even dug ourselves in, the tyres were spinning fruitlessly on the surface of the mud. The diff. was gently resting on the middle-mannetjie, but was by no means jammed. I then had the bright idea of trying to “jump” the vehicle out by starting in low range first or reverse gear without engaging the clutch. This was to no avail as the engine started effortlessly without the clutch engaged, there was not the slightest movement and the engine continued to run with no discernable rotation of the wheels from inside the vehicle. I went cold when the thought that the clutch was shot took root. Was this the end of our trip? On climbing out the vehicle one could in fact see that with the gear engaged the slippery surface was allowing the wheels to turn effortlessly at the slow revolutions of low range. The clutch was fine!
I then looked for a suitable winch anchor but realized that the track forward was in fact worse and completely impassable and the only way out was backwards and then onto the most westerly of the detours through the bush. I was just preparing for a messy attempt to dig ourselves out and was scouting around for some branches, logs and rocks when Anne called out that she could see a car in the distance. I walked the 600m to the vehicle, which turned out to be on the northern edge of Deception valley. The man and his wife informed me in none too gentle terms that I was off my head to walk around in the vicinity where they had recently seen Lions. I pointed out that I had very little choice and was very grateful when they willingly braved the detour and easily snatched me out backwards using my recovery kit that I had prepared in the hope of just such an eventuality. Our gratitude is expressed to our rescuers whose names I did not catch”.
To my knowledge there are 4x4 driving and recovery courses available in most parts of the world. I do not think these should be regarded as obligatory in any way. However I think these courses would give those with less experience the confidence to really enjoy their trip and to feel comfortable with the capabilities of their vehicle and with more adventurous explorations.
Together with tyre and suspension problems, problems with fuel supply and quality should be anticipated. Thus on the outlying roads you should never drive past a fuel station if the tank is less than half empty. Fuel supplies can be erratic in many countries and the widely available black market supplies are both expensive and often contaminated and dirty. For increased profiteering purposes it is not unusual to find dilution with cheaper paraffin. It is difficult to find the low Sulphur diesel some of the more sophisticated engines require. Try to be aware of the differences in fuel prices in neighboring countries so you can plan financially beneficial refueling. For safety it is wise to have a fuel range of up to 1,000km, either by means of a long range fuel tank or auxiliary tank. Traditionally a few 20l jerry cans are carried, we will have four. When carrying petrol be conscious of the increased fire hazard compared to diesel. The fumes make it very unpleasant to carry either within the vehicle. If carried on the roof rack beware of making the vehicle too top heavy.
For contaminated fuel we have fitted an auxiliary inline Racor fuel filter with a very high grade filter and built in water trap. Even then we strain any suspect fuel through a stocking or muslim cloth when filling. The fuel pumps in Africa will be manned by fuel attendants of varying reliability. Some precautions are appropriate here. Always ensure that the price to be charged on the vending pump has been zeroed before your tank is filled. Also ensure you are receiving the correct type of fuel, not petrol into a diesel vehicle. Ensure that radiator, petrol and oil caps are securely reattached as well as the oil level dipstick. We carry a spare radiator and oil cap. Some fuel stations will accept credit cards if their card machines are functioning, but always first check what their credit card handling fee is and ask before filling if you are short of bank notes. The fuel station attendant will often offer or even automatically clean your windscreen for you. For this he will expect a small gratuity of about half a dollar or less.
The cliché “leave only footprints” certainly applies here. Do not urinate in close proximity to the campsite as the odor of a urine-soaked campsite in the hot sun is not pleasant. Likewise if there are no toilet facilities, find an area of softer sand and dig a hole at least 40cms deep, before defecating. All toilet paper must be burnt within the hole before covering it up, being careful not to start a fire. Animals may expose toilet paper not burnt and there is little more disgusting than a campsite festooned with used toilet paper. Likewise bury the ash from your fires. Do not bury rubbish as wild animals such as hyenas will dig it up. If there are no secure rubbish bins rather cart the rubbish out with you. Much of the combustible rubbish can be burned on the camp fire. Do not discard scraps or bones into the surrounding bush as this will attract predators to the camp.
Noise and light pollution are also issues. Be considerate of any neighboring campers especially late at night or early in the morning.
OFFICIALDOM and MONEY.
When badly tolerated and managed, African officialdom can become a major issue. I only have regional experience but trust it will stand me in good stead. Always be polite but organized and firm. Remove any sunglasses or hats and if appropriate alight from the vehicle after turning the ignition off. If you are in the wrong accept it graciously and do not resort to bribery if at all possible. Bribery will just create a corrupt culture and lead to future difficulties for fellow travelers. Be sure to come to a complete stop before any stop line at a barrier. Always act in a friendly and relaxed manner and never appear to be in a rush. If you feel genuinely wronged you do have normal civil liberties and rights, so firmly but politely insist on these. Note down the official’s name and if realistic ask to speak to his senior. You can also for instance ask to see the reading on the speed trapping device. If you dispute the transgression you can try and persuade the traffic official to accompany you to the nearest police station. If fined insist on an official receipt. If you are convinced that extortion is taking place make time your friend. Engage in prolonged but polite negotiations. Even go so far as setting up as for a picnic or a cup of tea on the side of the road. Corrupt officials would rather have you on your way than have you impeding their chances of snaring a more gullible victim. If possible allow them to inspect your documents without actually handing them over. Retaining these is one way of extorting money from you. We will be travelling with a few copies of our international driving license so that we can just drive away in this sort of situation.
When crossing borders, if at all possible, avoid using the services pressed upon you by the touts and fixers. Their use will often result in acrimonious arguments about payment and spoil your day. Be organized, patient and polite with the officials and confirm with them exactly where you need to proceed to next. Do not allow yourself to show any irritation or impatience if humanly possible. Beware of black market money changers. They often mob and confuse you. They have vast experience and expertise in separating you from your money. If you really need to change money urgently, first make sure there is no ATM or Bureau to change money at or close to the border. Be sure you know the official exchange rate but accept that the black marketers need to show a profit. Single out one of the mob and pull him aside alone, preferably next to your vehicle. There should preferably be two of you with one of them. Never hand over your money until you have received the notes from your selected marketer. Count carefully, checking the number of 0 digits in the denomination and recalculate the rate. Do not hand it back to him as with their expert sleight of hand they can make money disappear before your eyes. Then carefully count out your money in front of him and only hand it over to him once he is happy with the count. Accept that the transaction is over and if there is any dispute simply climb into your vehicle and drive away. Change only the minimum of money in this way. Cash can usually be drawn from an ATM or currencies exchanged at the nearest town.
If you are a South African, to establish the formalities required for your vehicle in the countries to be visited, check on the Automobile Association website under www.aa.co.za under the headings Travel and Into Africa. This site includes all the important phone numbers you will need as well as the border opening and closing times. The type of requirements for the countries we were visiting include:-
*ZA sticker if South African (or GB etc). Available at any AA Accredited Sales Agent store.
*Register your trip on the ROSA (Registration of South Africans Abroad) on-line service prior to leaving South Africa or whilst abroad. Not compulsory but wise in case of emergency.
*Valid passports for the driver and passengers.
*Certified copy of vehicle registration papers.
*Letter of authority from the registered owner if the vehicle is not owned by any of the occupants.
*If vehicle is still being financed, carry a letter of authority from the bank (must include dates of travel) together with the vehicle license papers.
*International Driving Permit.
*Carnet de Passage.
Egypt. The AA of SA will require a deposit / guarantee of 200% value of the vehicle. Egyptian Customs charge a fee for stamping the Carnet document and clearing can take up to one week. An Entry Permit is issued at the border (the fee is levied according to the engine capacity and it is valid for three months). Temporary Egyptian plates are affixed to every vehicle at the frontier post. A deposit for the plates is payable. Plates must be surrendered when the vehicle is exported from Egypt.
*Yellow fever certificate.
*Third-Party Insurance, (Comesa Yellow Card is best) or if not covered, buy at point of entry.
*Visa, usually at point of entry. (See Sudan, Ethiopia and now Egypt).
*Red Warning Triangles.
*Fire extinguisher, fully charged and functioning.
*Reflective vests for driver and front passenger.
*Temporary Import Permit for vehicle. Pay for at point of entry.
*Police Verification Certificate.
*White and Red Reflective Tape: Two small 5cm long white rectangular size strips attached to the right and left hand side of the front bumper as well as two small red square strips on the right and left hand side of the rear bumper. For sale at the AA.
When making financial arrangements with others such as guides or other service providers be very pedantic. Write down the final sum as agreed and confirm that is the only payment required. Warn the vendor that you will not be paying extra. If appropriate it is acceptable to bargain the price down. A reasonable gratuity is expected but should only be given for adequate service. Do not try to be too stingy, remember that these people are very dependent on your fairness. It is difficult not to react adversely to perceived high Mzungu or Faranji prices. Often it helps to enquire about the going rate from a by-standing local, before any money changes hands.
For most of Africa the American Dollar is best. There are apparently some counterfeit 100US$ notes in circulation and we have been advised that the highest value notes to carry are 50US$. The higher value notes carry a better exchange rate. However it is best to carry plenty of small value notes as there may not be change. We have a deeply concealed locked vehicle safe where most of our money and important documents will be stored. However we will secrete away smaller amounts in other concealed or lockable compartments within the vehicle. When out and about in the larger cities, an appropriate amount of money in best carried loose in your top pocket where it will be difficult to pick-pocket it. We will each have both a Visa and Mastercard. Visa seems more widely accepted. Remember to clear them with the bank before leaving home, so that withdrawals are not stopped by the bank when transactions appear from weird and wonderful places. Remember that your cards do not function in Sudan because of international sanctions, so ensure that you have enough US$ before crossing the border. Incidentally remember that no alcohol may be taken into Sudan and no plastic bags into Rwanda.
INTERACTION WITH THE LOCAL PEOPLE.
This should be an important part of any trip. Do not be afraid to eat the local street food. One is less likely to suffer ill effects from fresh food prepared in front of you on the street, than possibly badly stored precooked food from fancier establishments. Appreciate that the standards of hygiene and facilities will regularly not be of first world standards. It would be a pity to avoid local cuisine and the contact with locals it brings. Foods such as the Rolex in Uganda, Injera and fresh fruit juices in Ethiopia, Ful in Sudan and the teas and coffee available on the street, are all part of the greater experience.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home”. – James Michener.
You will enjoy the country more and feel better about yourself if you are friendly towards the locals. However it is as well to remember that it is not the African way to start a conversation with a blunt, direct enquiry. This is considered rude. It is considered good manners to make some general enquiries or remarks first before getting to the point. Try not to fall into the trap of becoming inappropriately overfriendly or patronizing with locals. In some circumstances your intentions could be misinterpreted by naïve locals, with unpleasant consequences for all. Do not mistake shyness and reticence for unfriendliness. Respect local customs and try to avoid appearing brash and ill-mannered. The mere fact that you are obviously of a different race and drive an expensive vehicle might lead locals to feel sensitive about any perceived attitude of superiority. It is all a fine balance. Treat them as you would expect visitors to treat you in your home country. Africans have a delightful sense of humour and once you laugh with them you are halfway to earning their respect. This even applies to seemingly surly officials. It is as well to remember, when encountering demeaning begging and aggression, that this may have well originally have been caused by ill-directed but well intentioned western aid programs. Always learn a few simple words in the local language and you will benefit from the positive reception this elicits.
In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner “Europe became rich because it exploited Africa; and the Africans know that”.