Category Archives: pre-trip

“The world is a book….


My book box with room for more titles.

…and those who do not travel read only one page” (Saint Augustine).

Non-exisiting hotels, a recommended restaurant with a cockroach infested kitchen, or an undiscovered and unspoilt paradise with busloads of noisy Chinese. Anyone who has ever used a guidebook will have had similar experiences, when expectations collide painfully with a cruel reality. If – according to Augustine – the world is a book, does a  wellknown guide at least give us a few pages of relevant and reliable information?

Yes and no. If anything, a guidebook offers a quick, inexpensive and practical orientation. Very useful in the preparatory fase for a global itinerary: not to be missed, what to steer away from. As soon as we’re on the road it loses part of its up-to-date-ness. When a new and revised edition is published it is already outdated. Perhaps a guidebook is gradually becoming an anachronism with all the Tripadvisors, blogs and forums packed with recent information of travellers en route.

I still enjoy buying a new guidebook. As with all new books I fumble it, leaf through it, savour its smell, carefully break the back, read the editor’s blurb and admire the photographs in eager anticipation. (I also haver some guides on the iPad: practical, compact and light weight, a comfortable read even in low light, but browsing the pages somehow does not affect my heartbeat and the smell in no way evokes fantasies of exotic destinations).

I have a box reserved for books and the number of African guidebooks in it is reaching 30, and still counting. My curiosity (no wanderlust without curiosity) is especially aroused by Bradt’s guides of Sierra Leone and South Sudan, a country that became independent some two years ago after a long and bloody civil war. That there is a guide to South Sudan is remarkable in itself as it has no tourist infrastructure to speak of. Bradt calls it “the dark side of the moon” and “the lost heart of Africa”, but it is developing fast and “now is the time to go”.

I also carry a couple of reference books that should be in every overlander’s book box:

Chris Scott’s Overlanding Handbook and Tom Sheppard’s Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide. Indispensible and highly recommended!

Chris Scott, Overlanders Handbook

Chris Scott, Overlanders’ Handbook

Tom Sheppard, Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide

Tom Sheppard, Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide


Overlanding with a dog: Sudan-Egypt border

There’s one border that Thimba will have to tackle all on her own: the border between Sudan and Egypt. It can only be crossed with a passenger ferry on Lake Nasser. The cars are transported on a separate barge. Dogs are not allowed on the passenger ferry, so Thimba will be stuck on the barge with the car for a couple of days. Of course I’ll arrange and pay for a fixer to look after her during the crossing, but the idea of leaving her in the hands of complete stranger for a couple of days is unsettling, to say the least!

To make sure that she is securely fastened on a lead I have bought a Julius K9 harness for her. Tried it out on a walk today and it looks comfortable and very sturdy.

I haven’t been able to find many examples of overlanders who took their dog. I know of a Dutch couple who travelled all the way to Cape Town and back to Europe with their German Shepherd. In a VW T2 Transporter! And Lucy and Lachlan who are travelling the world with their stray dog BowWow. So if you have any experiences yourself – or if you have any thoughts, suggestions, advice on travelling with a dog (in Africa), please let me know (use the reply link under the title of this post).

Thimba harnassed for the Sudan-Egypt border

Thimba harnassed for the Sudan-Egypt border


Music to cross borders 1: Staff Benda Bilili from Congo-Kinshasa

Imagine yourself arriving at one of those challenging border crossings in Africa. You’ve just driven a torturing stretch of potholed track, temperatures have reached a scorching 43 degrees, you’re completely exhausted and dying for some shade and a cool beer. And you know from the experiences of other overlanders that this crossing is a complete chaos and is going to stretch that little bit of patience left to unbearable limits.

O.k., I’m exaggerating. But all things being equal, seriously, I just wonder if playing the right sort of music would make this crossing any easier. I think it does. It’s all about creating some ground for informal, personal communication, other than the formal one. Compare it with being able to use a few words in a foreign language, which is often much appreciated and considered a sign of respect. Playing the music of a popular Congolese band – and perhaps have some background information ready – might do wonders at a DRC border. I haven’t found anyone who has tried this out, so I have decided to do some research and put a collection of popular African bands and artists on the iPhone to be used at the appropriate border crossing. Of course I will evaluate this during the trip. And hey, for me this is a fascinating new world to discover, a real Fundgrube (excuse my French) of African musical delight!

Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili

In this first post of Music to cross borders I would like to highlight a most extraordinary band from Congo (DRC), Staff Benda Bilili. They are a group of street musicians who – until recently - used to live  around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, and play music which is rooted in rumba, with elements of old-school rhythm’n’blues and reggae. The core of the band consists of four senior singers/guitarist, who are all disabled (they suffered from poliomyelitis when they were young) and move around in spectacularly customized tricycles. They are backed by a younger rhythm section consisting of abandoned street children who were taken under the protection of the older members of the band. The soloist is a 22 year-old boy who plays guitar-like solos on an electrified one-stringed lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can.
I was lucky enough to enjoy one of their concerts in The Netherlands and I must say that I was literally moved: the entire audience was dancing around, clapping their hands on that invigorating rhythm. If this doesn’t get that border official in a good mood, I don’t know what will!

What is your view? Any thoughts?