30 May 2009


Today is officially the first day of the Big Trip (also now known as Drive and Dive - And a Bit of Human Evolution). We are thirty days away from leaving - although we are planning to leave as early as we can, so we may well already be in Cape Town by the end of June.
To celebrate this date, I have been re-vamping the blog quite a bit, as it will be our primary news location during the trip. On the left I have posted a map to show the planned route (as blogged last week), where I will add the real route as soon as we start, so you can see how far apart the plan veers from reality.
There is also an intro for those people who might not know us and the plan to conquer Africa in a 'small' white car. There is also the Flickrstream of photos, which will be filled with travel photography courtesy of Stuart's fab camera, for your delectation and specifically to satisfy Jason's needs ;-)
At the bottom of the page you can find a calendar. So far it shows our rough timetable, which consists of a hopeful version of our schedule; sure to be superseded by reality as soon as we get on the road. As we are going along, we will update this with real dates and locations and - maybe - even important events.

Visas part 1

Oh, I am having soooo much fun at the moment, digging my way through visa applications and their respective requirements for 18 countries. I knew that this was going to be the hair pulling part of the trip preparations, but quite how hilarious the process would be I didn't know. And I haven't even applied for any visas yet, although I have managed to order a passport replacement for Stuart, as he inconsiderately travels so much that he managed to fill his passport in two years. That involved getting shouted at by UK embassy security - driving a big huge Defender obviously means that I am carrying large amounts of explosives -, driving around the block three times to find the hidden accessway to the passport office, being asked if I carry any weapons, as they are not allowed through security, and finally being growled by a Very Grumpy (TM)at the cash desk. There is sooo much more fun to be had, I am sure.

Just fyi, we need visas in advance to the following countries:





The rest of the visas we can get either at the border, or - since they have a short expiration date - we have to apply for them in another country, for example the visa for Egypt we have to get either in Nairobi, Addis Abeba or Khartoum, all of them undoubtedly fun places to spend a few days while traipsing to the embassy every day. Not.

26 May 2009


Stuart finished his project, so as a treat we took off for a few days to Inhaca Island in Mozambique (cool how the most exotic locations are right door next to us sometimes ;-). He has posted a lovely description and some fab photos (taken with his new camera) here.

25 May 2009

Africa Travel Books

We've been stocking up, and if you're interested, here is the list. We have found the Bradt guides to be the most detailed, but the Rough Guides are still the funniest.

24 May 2009

Plugs of the World

I was going to write a long rant about the lack of standards related to anything from plugs to water hose connectors, to gas bottles, never mind electronics, and the annoyance factor for us travellers, but then I discovered this map and I realised that this is just another opportunity for neogeography, and that I shall map my experience of non-matching connectors in my life instead of complaining about it.
Map: Eurocom

22 May 2009

The Route!

We spent two evenings a few days ago going through our list of places we want to visit, thinking about border crossings, working out a route with the help of the unintuitive, but reliable RoadMap. It's been a long time coming, reading travel books, becoming regular visitors to wikitravel, poring over the great many Africa travel magazines out there, collecting bits of info from friends and making notes when watching documentaries (The Long Way Down was surprisingly insightful).

So now we have a plan. It involves driving for 6 months, in the region of 15 000km across 18 countries (excluding Europe), visiting a load of human evolution sites as well as getting in as much diving as possible, some museums, temple ruins and innumerable national parks, to start in Melrose Arch and spit us out at the top of Tunisia, hopefully round about Christmas. We'll see.

Remember that Google Maps doesn't follow the actual roads in Africa, as it does in more developed parts of the world, so the length and directions are approximate. We are not planning on driving as the crow flies! If you click on the link below the map, it will open in Google Maps, where all the little flags and the actual route will be much more visible. If you have any more ideas where we can go on our Drive and Dive tour, let me know!

View The Big Trip in a larger map

12 May 2009

Geography and Politics

Funny how geography can reflect recent political realities. On a drive South of Joburg though the countryside I noticed that many of the small towns with Afrikaans or English names (Petrusburg, Kestell, Reddersburg, Smithfield) had another town nearby with a name that definitely didn't come from a European root (Mofulatshepe, Qhoweng, Bolokanang). Then I realised: segregation during Apartheid meant that, since people weren't allowed to live together, but were still required to work together, the whole country developed mini-Berlin-before-the-wall-came-down's, where there was always a definite 'wrong side of the tracks'. Here are some examples:




Bethlehem- no, not that one...


09 May 2009


What do you think of when you hear that someone is a professional photographer? Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz? Being a pro photographer is such a desirable job for some people that they are happy to work for free as interns and spend money and time amassing a portfolio after having completed a three year university education. I had an encounter recently that made me think differently.

On Saturday a friend took me to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, an old museum in the middle of Joburg's CBD, an area nowadays considered to be mostly unsafe to visit (not just for tourists and whites. I heard the same from Dixon, who is black and from the Congo and has been living as a taxi driver in Joburg for 20 years). I have learnt to take people's advice on 'unsafe' areas with a grain of salt, but the gallery does border on a main minitaxi rank which makes it a pretty crazy place to get to by car.

Anyway, Daniella finally took me there, and we spent some time looking at their photography collection. One series was pretty cryptic to me, showing portraits of young men wearing analog cameras round their necks, with a caption detailing their name, provenance and length of time they have been a photographer. They seemed so incongruous, and Daniella explained to me that they work in Joubert Park next door.

Later we came across Mandla as he was photographing two women in the gallery gardens. We decided to have our pictures taken, too, so that's how I got to talking to him and some of the other photographers in the park. Mandla has only worked as a photographer for one year, and he shoots people's portraits on an old Pentax K1000. Another photographer was using an analog Canon, but I did also meet one guy - who had been working in the park for 10 years - who had a digital camera, including a semi-portable Sony photo printer complete with small lead acid batteries for power all packed up in a rucksack.

Mandla and I had a strange conversation that made me realise how differently we thought about what it meant to be a professional photographer. When I asked him how he enjoyed his job, I was expecting him to tell me about his customers and whether he felt that he could portray them in a good way, but he just mentioned that sometimes he only took one or two photos a day, so at 20 Rand a photo that didn't come to much of an income. When I asked him where he learnt photography, and whether he thought of himself as an artist, he was silent. Asked about his camera, lightmeter and flash, how he used them and what his techniques were, he just told me that he would set it to 5.6 at a 60th when it was cloudy and to 250th when it was sunny. I realised that we completely misunderstood each other, and my questions were pretty meaningless to him. He worked in analogue film, not because of some aesthetic, but because the camera was cheap, and his customers had their photo taken not from any artistic desire, but so that they could send a picture home to their family or give a likeness of themselves to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

07 May 2009

Cinema Adverts

The first time these came on I was a bit shocked, specially with the first ad, as it's made for Coca-Cola, but the second one is made by a South African company and I'm glad to see that Africa doesn't take itself as seriously as many in the West:

The local telecom company has a cool ad based on the love story of a portly police woman and a skinny minitaxi driver (not usually the best of friends round here), to the tune of Summer Loving from Grease. Priceless: