the traveller

 Where’s Gee?
- He’s in Africa somewhere.
- Can we get in touch with him?
- Not really.
- When is he coming back?
- Not sure, sometime next year.

As an inspired armchair escapist, reading Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, this is perhaps how I  imagined it. Travelling through Africa’s dark interior unplugged and off the grid. No cellphone, no internet, newspaper, let alone a blog. No fancy, high-tech GPS navigation gadgets, but practising the noble art of getting lost. Seeing the world with my own eyes instead of through an expensive camera lens. Travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography to oblivion. (Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express).

So what went wrong? Or did it?

I have a year overlanding to find out. Starting January 2014 in The Netherlands, down the West coast and up the East. A(n almost complete) circumnavigation of Africa which will take about a year. Solitary? Well, I’m taking my dog Thimba (hence the title Travels with Thimba, after John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley).

the overlander’s bug
UnknownI must have been 19 or 20 years old, just passed for my driving license, when I came across a book with the enticing title “Trans Africa Motoring” by Colin McElduff, who was Head of Foreign Routes at the R.A.Cat the time (wow, imagine being Head of Foreign Routes!). It is packed with practical information on planning, working out your costing, the documents you need, and especially the choice of vehicle: “The most suitable vehicle in all respects is the Land Rover”. After 40 years it still makes an interesting read. Anyway, I caught the overlander’s bug right from the cover and it hasn’t left me since. And what’s more, it was evident that only a Land Rover could ever suit my plans. And that too hasn’t changed to date: I have owned my Defender station wagon for almost 16 years now, and I feel I never need another car.

My travels so far however have been mainly bicycle trips. I pedaled my bike through  Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Turkey, England, France, Sweden, Morocco, to Santiago de Compostella (2.500 km.) and the North Cape, and three times to the Mediterranean. But the idea of undertaking an African overlanding adventure is as strong as ever.

solitary travel
Although happily married with three children I prefer travelling alone and have cycled mostly solo for the last 25 years. Travelling with another person takes away from experiencing all that a place has to offer. It distorts the way one views something for a first time. On the other hand you miss the opportunity to share your feelings with the ones you love, and, let’s be honest, leaving home for perhaps a year is a challenge in itself!

Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone an unencumbered. Other people can mislead you; they crowd your meandering impressions with their own; if they are companionable they obstruct your view, and if they are boring they corrupt the silence with non-sequiturs, shattering your concentration with “Oh, look, it’s raining”, and “You see a lot of trees here.”
It’s hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in your private mood to be worthy of interest. (Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express)

Moroccan Sahara, March 2011

Moroccan Sahara, March 2011