Our Typical Day in Africa Onboard ‘Woxy’
It’s been 10 days since we arrived in Nairobi for our first-ever visit to Africa. We are embarking on a 56-day overland tour with Oasis Overland that will take us all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa. This is the first time Alissa and I have decided to explore an area of the world using a tour service instead of traveling from place to place on our own. And while the excitement of being in a new place is the same as always, the day-to-day schedule is vastly different from what we are used to. Here is what it has been like for us the past week and a half.
Being with a “big” group
When we think back on the best moments during the last 11 months of travel, most of them have one thing in common. The moment was shared with other people that we had not only recently met, but people who we had gotten to know over the course of a few days. In other words, we always have more fun when we are sharing an experience with people we feel we know well and consider a friend. Doing a one-day snorkeling trip just isn’t enough time to get to know everyone on board. However, spending a week somewhere and consistently hanging out with familiar faces does allow you to really get to know people. This includes times on our trip when friends and family come to visit us, as those experiences also seem to top things we only get to do with each other.
That has probably been my favorite part of this overland trip so far. Being with a group of 15 other people nearly every minute of the day has really added another level of enjoyment to this part of the trip. 56 days is more than enough time to get to know everyone in the group to really feel like we are traveling with a group of real close friends. The truck features people from six different nationalities, the most popular being the 10 or so Australians that are with us.
Driving days on the truck
Over the course of these next two months, we need to cover a distance of over 10,000 km (6,214 miles), all by road. We will be doing that aboard a custom-built, monster-truck which we affectionately call Woxy (the license plate starts with the letters W-O-X). We drive about 4 or 5 days each week, always a different distance and time. Usually 5-6 hours depending on camp-site locations and road conditions. Our truck is in good hands with our friendly driver Mick, a former Australian long-haul truck driver with years of experience driving in the craziest of places. He tells us back in his Australian driving days he would pull 36-hour long hauls, hitting 30 or more kangaroos each run. When I booked this trip, I will admit I was a bit worried about how experienced and professional our driver would be. With Mick, we are all extremely happy and put at ease, and watching him navigate the hectic traffic of Der es Salaam yesterday really made us appreciate how good he really is at what he does. He is also our head of safety and security, another reason everyone on board is glad he’s here. We also have a guide with us for the entire trip. An Australian named Joe who has the rare ability to keep 20 people moving along this giant continent. I think there was one time in my life that I had the thought that being an overland tour guide would be an easy job. It only took me the first few hours of watching him herd cats, start a fire without a lighter, and buy a 20-kilo bag of charcoal to realize just how challenging that job really is.
The back of the truck features 20 or so seats, split into two rows that face each other. It is the perfect set-up to create natural and easy conversations among the entire truck. I couldn’t imagine doing these 10,000 miles in some sort of row by row coach bus where each person is really only able to socialize with the person sitting next to them. The truck also features an iPod dock, allowing each of us to take a turn sharing our music tastes with the group. One guy even has a playlist called Disney Princesses. Having an aisle that fits a cooler of cold drinks is also a plus to this set-up!
My favorite part of the truck is what we call the beach. It is an area in the truck near the very front of the passenger cab. It is raised about a meter above the seats and features a retractable roof, allowing us to either lie down under the sun or kneel and watch out the front of the truck as we drive along. I forgot to take a picture of it, so I will upload one later. The truck also has no glass windows in on the sides. Instead, some thick plastic rolls up, giving us natural air-conditioning and the ability to interact with all the local people we drive past each day.
Cooking and eating
One thing that is very unique to this trip is that the passengers are responsible for cooking their own food each night at the campsites. We have been split into seven groups of three, and take turns cooking meals each day, of which dinner is always the most time-consuming and challenging. Cooking for 20 people isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it is surprisingly fun, and we’re learning a lot of new skills, like cooking over a fire. I am in a group with two other guys, and the only cooking experience of the three of us is my one summer working at Burger King. Too bad we don’t have a deep fryer or flame broiler on board.
Not only are we responsible for cooking, but we also need to go shopping for the ingredients in local stores and markets the days we cook. My group had a really fun time buying a bag full of veggies at a hectic Tanzanian market the other day. The dinners so far have consisted of pasta, rice & curry, bangers & mash, and even hamburgers. Lunch usually consists of something cold that we’ve made the night before. Our group made a tasty pasta salad on our day, complete with some tangy African mayonnaise. No refrigerator necessary! Eating lunch usually occurs by stopping along the side of the road, wherever we may be, and pulling out some stools to sit on and enjoy our meals.
Sleeping under the stars of Africa
The part of this trip that scared me the most was by far the sleeping arrangement. Of the 56 days, 50 of them are spent in a tent, many times not even in a campsite, or as they say in Australia, bush camping. We set-up and take down or own tent each day, and Alissa and I are getting quicker and more efficient every time. We are carrying inflatable sleeping pads that we bought at REI before we left, and they have been better than we could have imagined. My only real tent sleeping experience is at music festivals, and I never bothered to carry any sort of sleeping pad with me. That always caused me to not sleep well, but adding these sleeping pads here in Africa has made it feel like I’m actually sleeping in a bed. It isn’t the Hilton, but I think we’ve really been sleeping well. The only thing that makes it difficult to sleep is some nights that feature unforeseen noise in the middle of the night. Dogs barking in the woods, other travel groups waking up at 5am, or in the Serengeti when I awoke to zebras making whatever sound it is a zebra makes.
The hardest part of the camping is the early mornings. We don’t always have to get up early, but most driving days require us to be on the move by around 6am. This would be no problem for me if we had a hotel room that we could simply leave a mess. But on this trip, we need to take down our tent, pack and roll our stuff, and make sure we leave nothing behind, especially trash. Days when it’s our turn to cook, we need to awake even earlier to get breakfast ready for the group.
Final thoughts and our next destination
I think after ten days, it’s already clear we’ve made the right decision to do this trip with Oasis. Although challenging and stressful at times, the rewards of incredible scenery, great company, and nearly non-stop laughter have made it all worth it. Even when something unexpected does occur, we somehow find ways to make it fun. Not one, but TWO of our three off-road vehicles broke down during our three-day safari in the Serengeti, but the group had great fun talking with all the locals who stopped by to either help or try and sell us bananas and mangos.
Tomorrow we are parking the truck in Dar es Salaam and the whole group is taking the ferry over to the island of Zanzibar for four days on the beach. We even get to have our own hotel room!