For a detailed trip itinerary, click here or for more info on the company that runs it (African Trails) visit:

Want another perspective? There are now a few other blogs for the trip all listed half-way down on the right-hand side of this page.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Truck Life - A day in the life of an Ultimate Trans Africa overland passenger.

So it’s my turn to update the blog… Seeing as AK is so much more literate then me I’ve been charged with writing a bit about truck life for your entertainment!

So, the day starts at about 7 with breakfast. Everyone’s usually awake pretty early coz it’s so freaking hot in the tents!

Zah, Leon & Zakiya (all Saffers) keeping it real at breakfast time

We have tried a couple of techniques to cool down from the overnight 35 degree sleeping conditions. Best one so far involves draping a mosquito net over the tent poles as a frame and then soaking a sheet so it’s freezing and draping it over yourself when you go to sleep. 2 problems encountered so far though. 1 is that the heat is so intense the sheet will dry in a couple of hours and so has to be resoaked at least 3 times during the night. 2 when in a sandstorm as last night, there was much scrambling around and shouting in the middle of the night to rescue fly away mozzie nets and various sleeping mats and sheets flying across the ground!

Tents are packed up in what is now record speed – I can only pack up to the point where the tent is ready to be rolled up. This is where AK comes in to fight off the various bugs with pincers raised and ready to attack when they appear from underneath! After all it is their territory, we are the invaders!!!

Gotta have a brew! (Regardless of the 45 degree heat.)

This round was on Kayelene (Oz)

Breakfast will be cheffed up by the previous nights cook group. Usually consists of eggs and bread, sometimes some fresh fruit and yoghurt, and for the hungry boys the cold leftovers from the night before!
Pack the tents away and drive on. On a driving day we’ll truck for a few hours, stop for lunch in a village if we pass one and maybe stop and see some sights along the way. Other days a quick drive to the next stop, find a bush camp somewhere off the road or occasionally in a camp site.

We love bush camping the best – just out in the middle of the bush with nobody around. Dead quiet, eat dinner and just staring at the stars. The only thing about the campsites is the relief of having a shower… I never thought I’d be wishing the showers were as cold as possible!!!

Ruby (truck) has roll down tarps on both sides and at the front, so we get those rolled down as early as possible to let the ‘cool’ air blow through. The 2 options are either to sit in the very front and be in the hair dryer position – boiling hot air blowing through onto you, drying you and producing a layer of sweat all at the same time…Or to sit at the very back and get pummeled by the 80km p/h wind all day. This is cooler but almost impossible to do anything except sit very still with your eyes closed.

Sands storms were also fun!! Covered in a 3 inch layer of sand in 20 minutes! We also play musical seats just to keep us entertained. The best part of the day is drinking down the obligatory 5 litres of water which has been slowly heated up during the day until it’s hot enough to brew up a pack of 2 minute noodles (I kid you not it was done this afternoon!)

Parking up for the night cook tents are out up, again in record speed, and the cook group gets to work. At the moment there’s 15 of us so we’re in groups of 3. This means buying any ingredients in the local markets and cooking up dinner and breakfast the next day. So far we’ve been eating like kings! We’ve had problems with the fresh meat recently, the only chance to buy it is early in the morning, and after 7 hours on the boiling truck the meat is at the least questionable! But we’ve even had some delicious fish dishes. All the meals are cooked over a fire-pit (once dug and lit by moi!)or portable charcoal burners – the authentic fire flavor is awesome!

The kitchen

All the equipment for cooking etc lives in cubbies all down the truck’s sides. Washing up and other chores are shared (most of the time) to help cook group out after dinner…and then PHEW, work is over and we just chill round the fire on the distant cold nights, or lounging on a mat and in comfy deck chairs until bed time.

Everybody's keeping travel logs these days (Badoom-tish!! - whythankyou)

Dave's shorts take a much needed visit to the washing machine

The world famous bush toilet

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Police, Scorpions, Goat's Head Stew, Al Qaeda & More Police…and Camel Spiders too. (Essaouira, Taghazout, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Nouadhibou, Nouakchott and Ayoune el Etrasse.)

….After “The Night of the Tent Slasher” (I’ve already filed for movie rights for this name) we had to head to the Essaouira cop-shop to get a police report for insurance purposes. We went to the ‘gendarmerie’ first thing and the place was as you’d imagine it in this part of the world – a sweaty, grimy, filth-pit with broken old chairs and crooked tables for desks. There were even old-fashioned type-writers. The gendarmes we spoke to had faces that told many tales too – broken noses and heavily scarred cheeks that gave way to the occasional smile; the few teeth unveiled telling of a thousand Third World cigarettes.

We were fortunate enough to have Ian (the Canuck I mentioned in our previous entry) with us who could parler avec le gendarmes and expliquer what happened on our behalf. The sympathetic police told us to “come back later – it’s Monday morning and we don’t want to deal with this right now”. So Lara and I spent the morning exploring Essaouira, bartering for new bits and pieces to replace those that had been stolen…I bought an awesome pair of “Ran Bay” sunglasses for about 50 dirhams and Lara got herself a "genuine" “D&G” watch that, when it’s not rusting all over her wrist, tells the correct time at least once a day. I also got a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and didn’t get charged extra for the chunks of rancid meat that had worked their way through the juicer which had no doubt been used to mince meat earlier that day.

We went back to the cop-shop at 3pm (sans our Canuck friend) thinking that everything had been explained and that we’d just be picking up our report. In fact, we had to start again from fresh. Without Ian there, it was down to my GCSE French from 13 years ago to summarise, on paper, what had happened. The guy who was taking our report (Mr Teeth) didn’t really understand my epic summary (or “Une Summarrie Epique” as they say in France) so he called upon the English-speaking head honcho (Mr Scar – Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves had done a job on this guy) to help me out. As I explained our story in English, he proceeded to sing “Frere Jacque” over the top of my explanation…something told me that these bozos weren’t taken us seriously. Two hours passed before Lara, me and our Yank friend Neal (the one who’d had his boots stolen) got our reports and got t.f. out of there. Despite me having two bad stories from two different trips there (read previous blog entry), Essaouira really was a cool place.

The letter that we had to wait all day AND pay for.

After Essaouira we followed the coast southwards through various stunning clifftop lookouts and quaint wee surf villages.

One stop that stands out was called ‘Taghazout’ (or something like that) where we all stopped for a surf and swim…it’s also the place where the whole town had a fit of laughter at the expense of the “muezzin” who had a coughing fit mid-way through his call to prayer. (Aside: as romantic the sound of these calls to prayer can be, after a while the nasal drone can cause the ears to itch…Lara woke up to one at 4.30 one morning thinking there was a big mozzy buzzing around us.)

As we followed the coast further south we passed through Western Sahara. Although this place is officially part of Morroco, the inhabitants are fiercely independent. As we passed through there, the landscape got more and more desolate – and you’ll see from the below just how little there was between us and the horizon everywhere we looked.

A typical bush camp in Western Sahara - nowhere to hide!

This made toilet time at bush camp particularly hard for the girls. One night, feeling all chivalric (read: bored and wanting something to do), me and a couple of the homies decided to build a throne/shelter for those in need to hide behind. The project started off well, with big flat stones for foundation but as it got high enough to hide a person in squatting position, we had to look further afield for good stones. This is where I interrupted a little green scorpion with little man complex…he didn’t like us at all…and nor did his friend who was chilling under another rock nearby. Apparently these boys could pack a pretty mean punch. Needless to say, the throne didn’t get used after all of our efforts. Scorpions don’t make good toilet paper.

Scorpions don't make good toilet paper.

That day happened to be April 1st and Lara was on cook group that night – as much as I’d have liked to have played a prank with the scorpion, I have my limits. Instead, it was Lara and her Kiwi cook-group mate (Sonya) who pranked us by serving up a boiled goat’s head…the veggies in the group were not amused. Conversely, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff…it was devilishly Moorish! (Boom! Boom!)

Lara's Goat Head Stew.

Zah (from Jo'burg, SA) gets busy with the goat's head

The next few days were more of the barren landcape til we reached the Morocco/Mauritania border. Being a strict Islamic republic, Mauritania is a dry country so we stashed all our booze (including a 50quid bottle of whiskey I bought at Gatwick airport) into a wee locker under our seats and bolted a plank of wood over the top of it. We didn’t realize that this would show up in the X-Ray machine on the Morocco side. They knew we had the stuff and told us so…this is where the lubricative (is that a word?) qualities of booze come in…our driver gave the customs fella a couple of bottles of cider in return for a blind eye to the rest of the stash. The douanes stuffed said cider under his shirt and with a wink and a smile wished us “Bonne chance a Mauritanie!”

Then we passed through “No Man’s Land” until the Mauritania border where the crossing was a little less vigorous. A stamp in the passport and an obligatory rip-off attempt by a local tout (before we’d even got into his country!) and we were on our way again.

We weren’t hanging around in Mauritania for too long – just the 5 or so days in transit as it was our only way out of Morocco over land (the Algeria border is closed).We’d been warned of bandits, landmines, kidnappings and the Al Qaeda in general so, rightly or wrongly, we weren’t too concerned about not seeing much of this country…

As we drove through it was easy to see that we were moving from the Arab part of Africa to “Black Africa”: a heady mix of the vibrant Senegalese and Malian influences was seaping out through the streets where shanty towns and mud huts stood side-by-side with small mosques and Moorish buildings. I read in the “Africa on a Shoestring” LP (or “The Bible” as we’ve come to know it) that slavery was only abolished here in 1980 and that the slaves/immigrants had all been brought here originally from the neighbouring countries (i.e. Mali and Senegal) by the Arabs.

Our first stop in Mauritania was the town of Nouadhibou – we found a campsite there with showers so we stayed a couple of days. On the first night we were all kept up til 4am by the sound of infectious bongo beating. We were later informed that that day (April 4th) was the 50th anniversary of Senegalese independence - unfortunately we had all been too tired to go and investigate at that itme in the morning…seems like we missed out on a stormer of a party.

Eventually we left Nouadhibou and headed for Nouakchott (the capital) where we camped on a picture perfect beach (beautiful place with rolling waves, golden sand, and water at a perfect temperature: just cold enough to be refreshing without having your nether regions crawl back in from whence they came).

Camp spot down on the beach in Nouakschott

The next day we headed into the centre of town where our group split: the 4 Saffers and Yoichi (Japanese lad) left for a week in Senegal whilst we headed on to Mali where we’d all eventually reconvene for a few days of R&R (as if this whole thing isn’t R&R!)in Bamako – the capital.

The journey from Nouakschott to the Mali border was pretty uneventful until the last night: We’d spent several days trucking all day passing some of the sparsest landscape I’ve ever seen – aside from the occasional rocky hill, the loooooooooong straight road was pretty unforgiving: the horizon peppered with “dust devils’ (think, mini-tornadoes) and the roadside strewn with the carcasses of goats, donkeys, cows and dogs at all stages of decay.

(LBM: input to story = We are also now experiencing real African heat in the back of the truck on drive days. 2nd day in Mauritania we made a poll to see who could guess what the highest temperature would be during the day. The guesses ranged from my 39 degrees to AK’s ridiculous 46 degrees. (Much laughter and piss taking at this prediction!)

(AK won)

AK: You’re god-damned right he did.

For these few days I was in the front with the driver (Mark – good bloke from Oz) and helped him out with my basic French at the numerous checkpoints along the way. These checkpoints were getting really annoying as they seemed to happen every 5 clicks or so and they gendarme would always demand “donnez-moi un cadeau!” to which I replied “je n’on ai pas”. Onwards we went to the border and as our penultimate day in the road in Mauritania drew to an end, we headed into the bush about 30kms shy of a place call Ayoune el Atrousse (or something like that). The bush camping on this night and the previous night was perfect: a gentle cool breeze to help us deal with the night-time lows of 29 degrees and not a single sound other than the odd donkey breying in the near distance or the occasional flatus emitting from (usually) the Yanks tent or the girls’ tent (they called it “Girl Power” but I’m petitioning to get it changed to “Wind Power”….actually, I think we all passed the buck on this one, but I digress.


  • Penultimate night in Mauritania.
  • 30kms outside Ayoune el Etrasse.
  • Just eaten dinner.
  • Brushing teeth.
  • About to get into tent.
  • One of the girls calls out.
  • We go to see what’s happening.
  • Two big black guys in military uniform with AK47’s (I told our crew not to worry as they had their very own AK) shining torches in our faces.

After the initial panic, we woke up Ian who translated what they were saying: it turns out that after we crossed one checkpoint at about 5.30pm we were expected at the next checkpoint within a couple of hours….but we never showed up (as we’d gone off-road to bush camp). The search party of numerous cop wagons had been out looking for us for hours and they finally found us by seeing our torches from the road. They escorted us to the nearest police station (they sat in the back of the truck with their AK’s on their shoulders!) where we had to spend the night with a random old French guy who’s car had broken down after dark. The next morning we spoke with said Frog who explained to Ian (although I got it from the mad gesticulating that the Frogs and Wops are so famous for) that we were crazy as this was an Al Qaeda hotspot. Only two months ago an Italian had been kidnapped in the same place.

We all found the experience quite sobering, some went as far as saying they were disappointed in the company for taking us there. (Here's what the Foreign Office has to say on the matter.) For me, this is why we signed up. Roll with the punches that adventure throws at you. Besides, I was too busy trying to find the camel spider that had fallen out of Ian’s tent when I was packing it up to care about terrorism and kidnappings. Spider camels are massive. (If you don't believe me, check this photo that made them so infamous.)

Next stop, Mali…


Monday, 5 April 2010

Moore on Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Fes, Merzougha, Sahara & Essaouira and now in Mauritania too!

Ok folks, as you can probably tell by the lack of regular updates, internet access hasn't been as frequent or as easy as we might have (foolishly) expected. The net cafes are few and far between and when we do get to them, the connection is slow, the computers are grimy (one had some kind of pie all over the keys), the keys are arranged in a different order ( it being an Arabic country n’ all!) and when we do get a decent connection, our (my) account gets a virus which sends out emails about erectile dysfuction to everybody on my contact list (sorry ma and pa!). With that in mind we bought ourselves a tiny wee laptop at one of the MarJanes (massive supermarkets) in Marrakech…the keys are still in Arabic order so be patient with our spelling! Given the slow connections, photo uploads may be few and far between…

Right now, Lara, me, and a couple of our new travel buddies (Sonya the Kiwi and Ian the Canuck) are sitting in a random restaurant in Nouadhibou (not sure of spelling) in Mauritania…it’s an Islamic state and is pretty much like the wild west here….desolate, barren, sandy as fook and with an overbearing feeling of paranoia (we’ve been told to look out for bandits following kidnappings of some Frenchies doing the Dakar rally in recent times)…after crossing through no man’s land after the Morrocan border we passed through numerous landmine warning signposts! We’ve been told not to stray too far from the truck with the shovel and toilet roll…if you know what I mean?…our Japanese friend told us he understood these instrcutions with the simple words “not much food so only do little toilet”.

Despite all this, we’ve somehow found a quiet wee cafĂ© with free wifi so we’re using the opportunity to catch up….on a veeery slooooooooooooooooooz connection.

So, 1 country down and 29 to go. 9 months left…Morocco was amazing…

Marrakech (touristy but with its charms), Casablanca (underwhelming…we definitely won’t be hearing Sam play it again), Rabat – where we spent most of the time chilling in the car park of an aforementioned MarJane as we waited for our visas for Mauritania, Mali and Ghana to come through at the respective embassies.

The Marjane - where we spent many hours in the car park

There was a very cool casbah in Rabat though…

The casbah at Rabat

From there we went to Meknes and Fes – I got lost in the medinah in the former and the latter was pretty incredible…a massive labyrinth of markets and tanneries and traditional Berber shops…we only had a day and a half there but we could have explored the place for weeks…very easy to get lost in it. Fes is highly recommended to anybody wanting to see the Morocco as it should be (or at least how it’s depicted in the movies).

The tanneries in Fes

We then passed the High Atlas mountains and froze our delicate bits off at the the foot of snowcapped mountains…mere days later, we camel-trekked in blazing heat from a place called Merzougha into the middle of the desert where we kipped in a traditional Berber tent…I couldn’t
eat any of the tasty looking chicken tagine they prepared for us as I’d loaded up on Berber pizza earlier on that day. Stuffed!

Our mate Dave  (aka "Lawrence of A-Dave-ia" aka Mark from Dewsbury, England) with his turban prior to our camel trek.

My homeboy Kyle (from Cape Town, SA) at the back of our caravan. This guy's younger than my Brother Moses and on the trip for the whole 10months!

LBM finds time to do some desert yoga

From there, we passed through Marrakech again, spending one night at 'Hotel Imouzzer' (74, Rue Sidi Boulooukate) rather than at an out of town campsite again. From there we had some long driving days before reaching Essaouira on the coast…I’d been there once before 6 years ago but then I didn’t see more than the toilet door for three days (ironically, thanks to a tagine I’d eaten on a camel trek in the desert…maybe I ducked a punch this time around?). Essaouira was an awesome place and Lara and I managed some swimmming and body-surfing with a few of our new friends whilst the camels on the beach just watched in aloof indifference.

We started getting into the place and really enjoying the sun, we parked the truck up in a caravan car park right next to the beach and pithced our tents on a dune just over the top of the car park on the beach side. We lit our firem cooked oour grub, had an ‘Especial’ (local beer) or two then went to bed in the dunes at about 10pm. Luckily (!) I have a bladder like a sieve and at 3am I woke up to go for a jimmy riddle…when I went to unzip the flysheet, I noticed it was already partly unzipped, then I looked for my day bag which had been by the door…it didn’t have anything important in it (fifty quid in various currencies, toileteries, torch, penknives, batteries) but it was gone all the same. I woke Lara and hers was gone too…unfortunately hers had her ipods (one broken, one new replacement bought in a MarJane), camera, Ray Bans, passport, bank cards and prescription specs in (amongts other things)…I legged it to the truck to tell our driver and Lara roused the others.

It turns out that the groundsheets of four of our tents had been slashed open but only two tents had things stolen from them (ours and an American family lost their orthopaedic trekking boots and sleeping bag liners). The mothertruckers had opened the flysheet to reach my bag but actually slashed the tent to get Lara’s bag…scarily, Lara's bag was by her head and the slash was at her feet…they’d have had to creep right in whilst we both slept!

Camped on the dunes in Essaouira, prior to The Night of the Tent Slasher

Lara looking unhappy the next morning

Brings a whole new meaning to getting up in the middle of the night to take a slash

As we scoured the area looking for clues, or ther thieves, or any of our stuff, we miraculously found Lara’s passport (with visas) and her bank cards in a bush…we also found my toileteries but they were unuabale as the thief had had the time to take a dump on them as we slept…bar-steward! The next day at the police HQ was interesting to say the least…but I’ll leave that to our next entry.