This is just a brief recount of some of my trips since buying my Patrol in Belfast NI. In Nov 2010. I know its quite vague, but its main purpose is to outline a few routes I have done with a view to give members planning something similar, any help I can with my current experience.
As all my camping gear from my ’82 Range Rover was in Durban, I RoRo’d the truck here from the UK Jan 2011. Then came the task of kitting it out for an eventual trip back to the UK. Via the East coast. I did a test drive to Pemba, Mozambique and then W. across to Metangula on the shores of lake Malawi. I was soon to find out how many South Africans have ventured into all parts of Africa and have successfully started various businesses. And of course, they never lose their hospitality and willingness to help. Makes one proud to be South African.
I went S. from there crossing into Malawi from Mandimba. By this time I knew what had to changed or rearranged in the Patrol and started to head back to Durban. I stayed at Nyala campsite in Lengwe Nat park but when I left the next morning, I knew I had Malaria and so tried to make a dash to Caia in Mozambique where I knew someone there who could help me. I never took anti Malaria pills and so could tell the symptoms quickly. Last year in Ivory Coast, while now taking Mefilyn prophylactics, I got malaria again but the symptoms were so different, it was only after going to a doctor 3 weeks later in Ghana, thinking I had food poisoning, did I find out that malaria can have various symptoms. So, if when touring you guys get severe dysentery with only minor shivers, have a malaria test done. It would be interesting to hear what precautions other members do or take and what symptoms you experienced when contracting malaria.
Five days later, feeling better, I pushed on down the Coast of Moz crossing the border into SA from Ponta. After re-rigging the truck in Durban, I went to East London via, I think its called the wild coast trail or something like that, leaving the tar just after Port Edward and keeping to the coast as much as possible. I crossed the Kei river by ferry and ended up in Sunrise on Sea. From there it was just a routine drive to Jhb and then to friends in Bots.
That was basically year one. Diesel is probably the most expensive part of travelling so because I have retired, I have the time to take it slow.
Once back in Durban, my brother in law decided to join me for my push up the E. coast going as far as Nairobi and he would then turn around and go back home. He has a 2001 TD5 Disco and apart from a rooftop tent, we kitted his truck out too. Once again we set off through Mozambique and went through Malawi, Tanzania, Lake Tanganyika, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. This, if it is not already, would become too long if I was to relate all the events along the way, but if anyone is planning such a trip as I have done, I will gladly give more details and as many coordinates as I can of campsites etc. I must just mention though, the black cotton mud we encountered when we tried to take the ferry across the Shire river only to find it not working. After having successfully crossed Mozambique on very dodgy roads the previous year, I was emboldened to follow a road on T4A that would take us to the Milange border. However, 50 k’s later T4A stopped showing the route and left us the choice to either turn back or push on. We asked the locals for directions but later decided there was a definite communications break down between our English and their Portuguese. The road soon turned out to be a track and then a single path winding around mealie fields and crossing small streams of thick cotton mud. How we ever got through I don’t know, but I think momentum carried us across the worst parts. The Disco lost its side mirror to a tree when sliding uncontrollably around a corner in that impossible mud, but we eventually made it by nightfall to the border. A stiff whisky or two soon calmed our nerves.
I am writing this in word so I can add pictures. However, I am stupid enough to travel alone and there have been many many times when I was too busy trying not to get stuck, or trying to get unstuck that the Kodak moment never happened. A typical example was in Cameroon in the rainy season when I was stuck so deep in mud I had to climb out the window. After slipping into the mud a few times myself and covered in the stuff I never even thought about climbing back through the window for my camera and taking a picture or two. Fortunately there was a village nearby and they came and pushed me out. Women too, I think they were quite used idiots like me trying to cross roads that every travel blog warns against at that time of the year.
On the trip up the E. coast, I met a French family in Nairobi who had 5 kids, 5years old to 11, and they been on the road for 2 years home schooling the kids as they travelled. They shipped their Defender from France to Argintina, went S. then all the way up to Canada. They then shipped to C.T. and travelled up the E. Coast where we met at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. We decided to travel the very remote road from Nairobi along Lake Turkana to Ethiopia. That was the first time I needed to fill up from the Diesel I carried on the roof rack. The leg was about 1000K’s before being able to refuel in Key Afer Ethiopia and then I parted company with the French. I have their blog spot if anybody is thinking of a trip, or part of, as theirs.
I left Addis Ababa heading for the stone churches in Lalibela when my 5th gear sheared the splines. There were 3 things I feared from my 2001 Troll and that was the engine blowing up due to too little oil, a design problem. They later came out with a bigger sump capacity. I do stand to correction from the fundi’s on this forum though. Secondly, the 3.0 produces a lot more torque than its predecessor the 2.8, but uses the same gearbox. This extra torque, I believe even more than the standard 4.2 diesel Patrol, causes the splines on the mainshaft and 5th, overdrive gear, to shear. Nissan have denied this, but have a replacement part that is bigger spline wise, to be able to cope with the afore mentioned torque. I have part numbers etc for anyone interested. The third thing, and all this is from from those okes down under who fear our rugby team, is that the chassis can crack over the rear coils. This was the easiest thing to prevent and I had 5mm plates welded in place to prevent that.
I headed back to Addis and removed, well got strong guys to remove, the box and took out the broken bits, cleaned it and carried on my trip North with a 4 speed troll. I was to learn a very important lesson later, one that I am sure you guys already know. When we put the box back, I paid little heed to the fact that the boot on the clutch lever never fitted properly and the helpers lost the little bung at the bottom of the bell housing and I did not bother to block it. On returning much later through Tanzania and travelling about 30 k’s through deep watery mud churned up trucks, my clutch started to slip so badly I had to remove the box again on the side of the road, using strong okes, and remove the mud that had ingressed into the bell housing via all these unsealed rubbers and got behind the fingers of the pressure plate causing it to slip by not allowing it to put pressure on the clutch plate.
I left Addis with my 4 speed and managed to see most of the things I wanted to see in Ethiopia, but the Danikil region was deemed to be dangerous and several tourists had just been shot there so I headed into N. Sudan. The plan was to get a 3 day transit visas for Saudi Arabia, and visas for Jordan and Syria. Choosing this route was because my truck is travelling on a UK Carnet and crossing Egypt for me was going to be too expensive. They want 10% of 8 times the vehicles value as an insurance and at the end you only get half of it back. Or you can leave a deposit of 8 times the cars value, in my case it would have been £32000, but I would get it all back at the end of the Carnet. The AA here in SA are far more reasonable When my bank manager started to laugh at me, I realised Egypt was not going to happen. Bypassing Egypt was still all doable then, but one had to dash through Syria. Then I was told in Khartoum that, depending on the person at the border, I might have to put my Troll on a truck in Saudi and have it transported to Jordan as right hand drive vehicles were prohibited in Saudi.
All this and my in-laws in the UK insisting on my not crossing Syria and not relishing the thought of having to repair a gearbox in Europe made me decide to return to SA. So after visiting the small Meroe pyramids near Atbarah on a camel, I chose to drive back through the desert next to the Atbarah river to Ethiopia and eventually home.
I spent the rest of the year fixing the truck up apart from 4 months when I had to go back to the UK to work to pay for the unexpected expense of the gearbox.
January 2013 I planned to try getting to Europe via the West Coast of Africa. Getting the weather right was my biggest problem. Countries like Cameroon and Guinea should only be done in the dry season. I always wanted to do Van Zyls as well but way back in the old Range Rover days I never seemed to have carried enough petrol and it was a thirsty bugger. Getting the Visas for Angola, DRC, Congo, Cameroon and Ghana was so complicated time wise, that I decided to do Van Zyls on a separate trip before heading N. I am sure that those of you that have done it, found that getting there was harder than Van Zyls itself. After the pass, I stayed at camp Syncro on the Cunene river. The next morning, I was horrified to find the Radiator cowling had cut into most of the tubes in the radiator and spent most of that day fixing it with epoxy. I also packed it so it would not happen again. It turned out that the lugs keeping the cowling in position had worn to half their thickness allowing it to chafe the tubes. Has anyone experienced this and if so what did you do to prevent it happening again?
My cousin in Cape Town who had just had a baby, asked me to come and visit, so I headed there via Rooidrom, Sesfontein, Torra bay to Swakopmund. From there I tried to do the Uri guided Trail by myself and ended up cracking my 140 L diesel tank. After about 30 Ks and getting stuck in the sand twice, the trail runs along the kuiseb river bed, I lost the track on the GPS and as it was 45 C decided I was an old fool and turned around and went back. I would love to hear from anyone who has done this trip. Its on T4A. While under the truck trying to patch the tank with epoxy that only slowed the leak, I noticed one of the OME rear shocks was leaking badly. When I finally got back to Jhb, I replaced the rear coils with 400 KG from the 200KG I had previously put in as 4x4 Mega World let me have them at cost. They also replaced the shock under warranty. Somebody was smiling down on me that day.
From the failed attempt at the Uri trail, I dropped down to Rosh Pinah and took the ferry across the Gariep river into SA. Determined to hug the coast as much as possible I went through the Namaqua national park down to Soutriver, Doring Bay, Elands bay, Langebaan and finally turned into Cape Town at Table View. Later my trip back to Jhb via EL was nothing special except for a pont crossing while hugging the coast again to Cape Agulas, cant remember thename, and Clarence.
So now I was getting all my ducks in a row for the West Coast. Got a second passport in order to apply for 2 visas at the same time. This was to cause problems at the DRC border when they wanted to have the exit stamp and entry Visa in the same document. As I could no longer re enter Angola, I was forced to part with 20 American to continue my journey. I only spent 2 days in the DRC and crossed the Congo river and entered, what they call Congo Brazzaville. Here I applied for my Nigerian Visa as to do it in SA requires a R6000 deposit as a repatriation fee. South Africans do not need a visa for Gabon. This was my first country of huge jungle areas with massive bamboo growing prolifically. I mostly bush camped in Angola, Congo and Gabon as there are no campsites. In fact, the West coast has very little in the way of camping, however hotels often allow you to camp in their grounds for a negotiated price.
Crossing into Cameroon I came up across a ploy at road blocks that was to dog me all the way to Senegal. They tell you that a right hand drive vehicle is illegal and they were going to have to impound it. I cannot begin to tell how stressful this becomes when it happens 5 or 6 times a day. It takes at least 15 minutes before they realise you are not going to bribe them as the Carnet is an agreement between their country and the issuing country, ie. the UK and it gives permission to transit. Phew. In Nigeria I was stopped roughly 10 times a day. There would be a military roadblock, then 100 meters, a national police roadblock, then 100 meters later the local police roadblock. And then sometime there were just raggedy men, with nails in a plank placed across the road to stop and demand a toll. And I was taking back roads to avoid Lagos and be able to cross at small border posts hoping for less hassle. I sped across Nigeria in 5 days going via Abuja.
My timing in crossing Cameroon with regards to the rainy season was out. I had planned to cross much earlier, but on my first attempt at the W. Coast, on my first night bush camping in Angola, I fell over and could not get up for hours. I thought I had had a stoke, but finally I managed to satnd and break camp and head back to Jhb. It turned out just to be my balance centre. Something about the Cochlea in the ear. When I was able, 5 weeks later, I had to re apply for all the Visas again and that whole episode put me right into the middle of the big rains in W. Africa.
Mount Cameroon, apparently, has over 10 meters of rain a year where as London only has half a meter, or so I have read. I can only say that apart from Yaounde, there seemed to be a continual river from the heavens. It was when trying to cross into Nigeria that I bogged down and had to get the people from a nearby village to extricate me.
I was glad when I finally crossed into Benin from Nigeria at Nikki. Once again, we South Africans do not require a Visa but knowing a bit of French would be a help. At this point I would like to just mention that I was only to encounter 5 other overlanders on this West African trip whereas the E. Coast was teeming with them. In Angola, I met a German coming the otherway in a G Wagon, of course, and he could not believe I was the only Overlander crossing Africa he had come across on his trip from Germany. Then in Brazzaville I met an Australian and a Begium couple both going S. from Europe. In Benin, I met another Belgian couple who had been working in Lagos and were going N. and back home and wanted us to travel in convoy through the forests of Ivory Coast and Guinea. However, I went ahead of them, trying to get to Europe before winter, and I only met them again in Labe in Guinea where we also met another German couple going South.
Entering Togo, if its your first time, a South African gets a Visa for free but at least you get it at the border. Ghana was a breath of fresh air as French was not the National language. However, you had to have applied for the Ghanaian Visa in your home country. Fortunately they had given me a year multiple entry in Pretoria. In Accra I applied for Visas for Ivory Coast and Guinea. I thought it better to get multiple entry Visa’s in case I had to return the same way for some reason or other. It turned out to be the right choice. I tried to see the Senegalese consulate about a Visa but when arriving at the gate they refused me entry saying everything was to be done on line.
I was warned about bandits operating in the N. of Ivory coast so decided to go W. along the coast and then up to Man and cross over into Guinea. By now I was using hotels as bush campingwas difficult with extremely high humidity and heavy rains. Rust and mildew were beginning to take over my rig.
I was very nervous the morning I was to cross into Guinea as it had rained all night and I had to ford a river as the bridge was down. The Belgians were warned by their embassy not to take this route. As it turned out, the Troll got through without a problem but I did go at it rather fast as the big trucks had left deep tracks. These deep tracks were a constant problem as I don’t have body lift and the underside of the Troll wants to suck into the mud. Those trucks have 10 wheels and all wheel drive and churn up the road really badly. Quite often too, they would slip and roll onto their side and block the road for hours. Everybody gets out and helps to make a path around for other vehicles to pass.
All this time the SA government web site assured me that South Africans do not need a Visa for Senegal. The Belgians said the rules had changed in July and they only accepted Biometric applications. I did a hateful detour to the capital of Guinea, Conakry and went into the Senegalese embassy to apply there but was assured there was no way I could get a Visa. Still optimistic, I pushed on to Labe, a rather biggish town 300 Ks from the border. The lady that runs a campsite there, seemed to be very well connected and took me to the Director General of the National police. He made out a Laissez Passer, or let him pass, a document that Guineans use to cross into Senegal. He assured me it would work and infact it got me through all the roadblocks in Senegal, but about 40 K’s into Senegal, at passport control, they refused to accept it and sent me back. I was not overly disappointed as I had met the challenge of the W. Coast of Africa, often referred as the real Africa and the road through Senegal was all tar. Infact its almost all tar right up to Morocco. I did however want to do some desert off roading in Mauritania and visit the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Oh well, some other time.
Because of the initial delay in setting off, I would only have reached Europe in late Dec, early Jan and the thought of camping in a roof top tent in their winter was not very appealing. When I got back to Labe bad fuel and a stupid move on my part was to put my truck in limp home mode. Not knowing the fuel was bad, I primed a new fuel filter, filling it up on both sides with this crud. It must have got into the injector pump etc because the Patrol would not start and when it did, it was only on a couple of cylinders with smoke pouring out the pipe. I drained the tank, put in the diesel that I had carried all the way from Angola, replaced the filter, properly this time, but the damage was already done. Just as we were making plans to put it on a lorry and take it to the port in Conakry to ship back to SA, I decided to take it for a drive to see if the problem might clear. It was still in limp mode after the run but at least it started easier albeit still only on a couple of cylinders. I decided to try and drive it back to Conakry, but when I got to the junction to either go to the port, or try continuing to Ivory Coast, I opted to try and get there. I must add here that Guinea had just had elections and the opposition were not happy with the result and were threatening all kinds of things including closing the borders. I just wanted to go home.
By now I must have had at least 50% power from the engine and I felt confident. At this stage I was not sure how I was going to get through the mud in the Forests of Guinea, nor ford that river again. It took three days to get out of Guinea and about 50K’s from the bad mud, the Troll suddenly had more power. Now back at Man Ivory Coast, I once again drained the tank and carefully fitted a new filter but still only had about 70% power although it now started easily.
When I got back to Ghana, I was going to try once again for Europe via, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, West Sahara and Morocco. The only problems were, the Troll still was not running properly, Mali was deemed a no go zone although I was going to stick S. when crossing it, and I was also pretty ill which turned out to Malaria when I thought I had food poisoning. Next choice was to get Visa’s for Cameroon, Congo, DRC and Angola and drive back. After many attempts at the Angolan Visa and being told the only way would be to fly to Pretoria, get the Visa, fly back and then I could drive the truck. Another problem was that I did not have enough pages on my Carnet to get me Back here. So I threw in the towel and eventually shipped the truck back and flew home.
Over the last 3 years I have been helped with travel information from many overlanders and hope I have been of help to others. I will happily help out with my limited experiences to any member contemplating such a trip. I had always wanted to cross Africa, although I failed twice, but would have always regretted it if I had not tried.