Show notes for podcast #135
Principles of Overlanding: Exploring the African Continent
Scott Brady, Graeme Bell, and Stephan Edwards discuss the joys of traveling the African continent, including a comprehensive discussion about the classic western and eastern routes. Additional details regarding documentation, vehicles, and cultural considerations are also covered, the group reflecting on the immense ecological and cultural beauty of the countries of the continent.
Graeme Bell is a full time overlander and author. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but considers Cape Town home. He is currently travelling the planet with his wife Luisa and two children, Keelan and Jessica, in a Land Rover Defender 130 affectionately known as Mafuta.
Stephan Edwards is the Associate Editor of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. He and his wife Julie once bought an old Land Rover sight-unseen from strangers on the internet in a country they’d never been to, and drove it through half of Africa. Currently based in Montana, he still drives that Land Rover every day. Stephan’s travel and automotive writing and photography have appeared in Road & Track, Overland Journal, and Adventure Journal. Find him at @venturesomeoverland on Instagram.
Scott Brady is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady
Matthew Scott is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world’s most remote places by 4WD and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. He is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore
Scott Brady: Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I am your host, Scott Brady, and for today we’re gonna talk about the principles of overlanding, the African continent. Joining me today is Steve Edwards, who has lived in Africa and has traveled around the continent. We also have Graham Bell. Graham Bell was born in South Africa and has quite literally circumnavigated the continent. This wide ranging conversation includes how to ship your vehicle, how to buy a vehicle locally, the two classic African routes, which would be the East coast and the West coast. So we dig into all the details on not only doing a week long trip in southern Africa, but also crossing the continent. So please enjoy my conversation with Steve and Graham. This content is brought to you by Overland Journal, our premium quality print publication. The magazine was founded in 2006 with the goal of providing independent equipment and vehicle reviews along with the most stunning adventures and photography. We care deeply about the countries and cultures. We visit and share our experiences freely with our readers. We also have zero advertorial policy and do not accept any advertiser compensation for our reviews. By subscribing to Overland Journal, you’re helping to support our employee owned and veteran owned publication. Your support also provides resources and funding for content like you are watching or listening to right now. You can subscribe directly on our firstname.lastname@example.org. So welcome to the podcast. We have some great guests today. So we have Graham Bell. Graham give us, give us a little bit of history of your time on the African continent.
Graham Bell: Right. Hello? I was, born and raised in, South Africa. Born in Johannesburg, moved down to Cape Town, spent some time in Durban, kind of moved around South Africa itself a lot, and then started traveling Overland within the country, and then up to Doris, alum 2010. Took the kids, picked up the Landy, and traveled up through Mozambique, a Malawi to Tanzania. After that, down across Zambia, Botswana, Namibia. Not too much about Sowan. When we first went left to travel, you know, we were all told by all the local gurus, this was years ago. This is. 14 years ago, but there was like, oh, the sky’s gonna fall on your head. You need all this, this, this, and this. And we soon realized that it was a very different reality. So after that initial travel up east and across southern Africa, the, the overlanding bug really bit hard and we set off and circumnavigate it South, south America, up to Alaska, around Europe. And then we went again down, west Africa from Portugal over to Spain, Morocco, down to South Africa again, around southern Africa. Again, we were trying to drive from Cape Town to Vladivostok in Russia. During Covid.
Scott Brady: A little more challenging right now.
Graham Bell: Yeah. And it wasn’t Covid that actually stopped us. It was a situation in Ethiopia. Scott Brady: Yeah, sure.
Graham Bell: Which is still a problem.
Scott Brady: Yeah. We need to talk about that in the podcast as well. And then we’ve also got Steve Edwards with us. And Steve, give us a little bit of background on your time on the African continent.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. My wife Julie and I, we lived in, Hobar, which is the capital Botswana for about two years. That was our kind of second go around actually on the continent. A few years prior to that we were, I went to Cape Town for like a business conference and we kind of decided if we’re gonna fly all the way to 10,000 miles to South Africa, we’re not gonna just sit in a conference room, you know, all, all of, you know, for the whole trip. So, cuz at that point we weren’t really sort of engaged in the overland life at that, at that moment. We were looking at, you know, fully catered safari experiences, lodges, that kind of stuff. And of course, the price tags are astronomical for those things. We’re feeling kind of discouraged. I sort of read somewhere about these self-drive safari, self-drive overland experiences that you can do, you know, pretty easily in Southern Africa and. We just kind of took a flyer. We booked a Toyota High Lux with a roof tent, and a fridge. And, we started in, in Vin Hook in, Namibia. And we drove out of Win Hook 10 miles down the road. The first thing we saw were a bunch of ostriches and warthogs running around, and there was zebra. And we spent our first nights at a, a truly special place called the NAMA Brand Nature Reserve, which is near Soso Sly, a little bit south of the big sand dunes. And we knew from that first night, this was like someplace we needed to come back to. That first night we were there, giraffes came and ate from the Acacia tree, you know, that we were camped underneath in the middle of the night. And, yeah, that was it. And then so we toured Namibia and Botswana. During that trip. We got back to the United States. We were both kind of in this mindset that we need to find some way to get back there on a more like permanent basis. Julie, at the time, my wife, is an academic and. Received a full bite fellowship to teach at the University of Botswana in ha. So that was kind of our, that was the foot in the door.
Scott Brady: Incredible. Incredible.
Steve Edwards: And supposed to be there for a year, but then they asked if she would stay for one more. And we of course said yes. We were just this amazing privilege to be able to not only travel extensively on the continent and I think we traveled about 13 countries in east and southern Africa, but also to live there. You know, to live there for, you know, many, many months and make friends and, and be able to return to special places is particularly in Botswana. I think we took seven or eight trips, the Central Kaari Game Reserve. Just, just there. And that’s, yeah, that’s our, that’s our connection. Yeah. We were there for about two years and we’ve been back in Montana, which is our home now for, we came back in 2019, and I was saying before the PAG podcast started, how much I miss, how much I miss it. Yeah, it’s really amazing.
Scott Brady: My feelings around trips there is that I’m always so excited to go back because it actually feels like I’m going home and I, and I have heard others describe it similarly, but I think it’s because it is a place that most aligns with the things that I find fascinating. It’s this huge variety of geology and it’s this huge variety of life, of animal life and of human life and of human culture. These are all very ancient things. It’s, it’s, it’s where we came from. So, to go back there, I, I just, I remember. The first time that I heard a lion roar and what was so fascinating about it was it like, you know, we’re, we’re higher thinking creatures and, and I put pieced it together what was happening. But before I pieced it together, what was happening intellectually, my body had responded in about seven different ways, including all of the hair that I don’t have on my head. Standing up, like feeling this tension that no question was there from my long distant ancestors. That noise meant something, it meant a lot of danger. And that has, you know, the ones that lived were the ones that respected that noise and that danger. And now it’s a part of me. And it was, it was very, very present with me in that, in that moment.
Every trip that I’ve done there has been an absolute blessing and, and I’ve been able to do game drives where you’re camping and also game drives where you’re staying in an neat lodge and raced in, in Morocco in the Outback Challenge. And I’ve been back a few other times and crossed the continent from east to west and things like that. But I, I have so much more of the African continent to see, continent to see. I’ve really just. Barely scratched one-tenth of 100th of 1% of what there is to see in Africa. So I am just an enthusiast, believer in the place and in the people that are there. And I’m, I’m grateful to be going back very soon, for an extended trip up the length of the continent. That’s kind of what prompted this opportunity for us to all sit to, to sit down. Steve, you were down here, you’re a member of our team. You manage the expedition portal editorial, and you are already here for some extended time. And Graham, you’re actually on your way up to Tuktoyaktuk in the wintertime, in the Arctic, and you happen to be coming through.nSo it felt appropriate to have someone that was at least born in Africa. We are also fortunate to have someone who has lived in Africa, and then you have me who is the total noob and, and, and very, very grateful for every moment that I’ve had in that beautiful place. So, so I think the first thing to talk about is really. We don’t generally just want to say Africa. And the reason for that is it’s really not only shortsighted from a, a language perspective, but it’s also very shortsighted from reality. The African continent is absolutely massive. It’s the second largest by land mass. You can stuff a whole bunch of North America’s into the size of it. We decided what, there was 54 countries I think we decided that was either on the continent itself or very close, as a, as an island nation. So it is an incredibly diverse place from the Sahara in the north, to the, the covets in the south and, and just the beautiful places that are in between, including a lot of equatorial jungle in the middle. So this is an incredibly diverse continent. I think the first thing that I wanted to ask you, Graham, having grown up there, when you learned about the history of your country and, of this continent, what are the things that stand out as being most notable about the African continent to you.
Graham Bell: Being born and raised mostly in, apartheid South Africa, it was actually very difficult to get a greater understanding of the African continent because of the nature of their education system. It wasn’t like we were being taught broad African history in school. We were taught South African history with the focus on colonialism and the conflicts with the zuru, et cetera. I actually felt when I was, as an adult, traveling into Africa. Africa proper, yeah. From South Africa the first time that I actually knew nothing about the continent. I knew a bit of history, I’d done my reading, but it was a bit of a blank slate for me and I had to kind of go and discover it for myself. And I think that was a large part of, of why we traveled and how we travel. Is that we wanted to discover it for ourselves and we were surprised by what we found.
But the history of, of Africa, the recent history and the forming history, which made it what it is today is, the colonialism and that’s colonialism that created those 54 countries. Before there weren’t countries, there were tribes. And half of the, the tragedy of the recent history of, of Africa is you have these lines drawn on a map by people sitting in Brussels. Who have no idea that that river separates that tribe from that tribe or that mountain range is, you know, there’s just so much complexity to the entire tribal system and then the tri, the then political system. And it was just arbitrary, drawn out. The lines were drawn up. And that’s a lot of the conflict and a lot of the problems that Africa faces is because of those, those arbitrary lines.
Scott Brady: Yeah. There were powerful kingdoms that existed. I mean, huge kingdoms of people with kings and militaries and complex, even political arrangements with other kingdoms that were near them. And Yes, so the, the lines were drawn arbitrarily that oftentimes cut through those original. Those original kingdom lands.
Graham Bell: And the, the history, it’s, the written history, it’s, it’s difficult, I think from, from our perspective to, to truly understand the history of the continent and all. It’s various facets because of the written history. It’s not quite as, as it is with Europe, for instance. But there’s, I mean, it’s fast and.
Scott Brady: It probably misses a bunch of really important details, right?
Graham Bell: Yeah. Right. The bit of history there, we, we, we can access some fascinating stuff. There was a, that came from Marley. Who even by today’s Stans, would still be considered the richest man in the world. And he traveled to Egypt and he took so much gold with him, and he gave so much away that it actually devalued gold as a currency in Egypt. You know, the, the languages that the people spoke, the complexity of their societies, I think they’re underestimated and they’re not appreciated enough by all of them. And those are things that you can see as you travel through. You can see echoes of the past, but you can see the reality of the future as well, which both of those two me are quite fascinating.
Scott Brady: Even the, the, the stories that you hear that in Ethiopia there are is some island that. Supposedly contains the arc of the covenant, right? So even western history and western or eastern religions, Western history, Christianity has a very significant, at least potential footprint.
Graham Bell: And that again, that’s looking at as you travel through the country, through the continent, sorry, you, you’ll see this. I mean East Africa, massive Arab influence. That goes from the religion to the, the style of dress to the language, to the forts on Zanzibar. And you know, there’s so much of that. And then you have the Portuguese influence and, and the Spanish influence on the West Coast. And then of course, everything that’s north of the Sahara is not what people understand to be Africa. You know, and oh, that’s quite fascinating.
Scott Brady: It is quite fascinating. So, Graham, when you, when you think about traveling like you have done doing these big cross continent, Trips. I mean, the one that you did up the West Coast, qualifies as an expedition in my mind in every term. These are very significant endeavors.
What would you say are the most important considerations when you look, especially to go up the west coast of Africa for context, for those that are listening, to go up the western route of Africa is, it includes about three times more countries than to go up the east side. And the infrastructure is significantly different. There are places where there are paved roads, absolutely, but there are long distances that need to be traveled without, a paved road, whereas the eastern route is the most traveled. And it also is where most of the over the road commerce occurs, there tends to be a little bit more stability, which means there’s more commerce. When there’s more commerce, there’s more infrastructure, which includes being able to drive on tar for the entire length of Africa, other than a short ferry ride into Egypt. So they’re, they’re very different, the two routes. And you’ve done them both. So that’s, for me, it’s very interesting to think about the more challenging route is definitely the western route.
What are some things that you would recommend people consider before even attempting that Graham Bell: The Western route is, without a doubt, it can be precarious, it can be dangerous, it can be very, very difficult. The bureaucracy is one of the first hurdles, and I think it was 17 countries we had to go through. And even though we have South African passports, we still needed visas for most of those countries. And to get those visas, you have to drive travel to the capital city of the country before that country. And that entails a lot of logistics. Then. It’s the expense of the visas. It’s waiting for the visas. It’s hoping that you get the visa. It’s hoping that the visa’s valid when you get to the border of that next country. It’s so it’s a bureaucratic challenge, to travel those countries. You have, a mix of languages as well. You have French, English, Portuguese, then you have the climate itself. Depending on what time of year you go, it’s always gonna be hot. Sometimes it’s hotter than others. You might have the Harman winds that are coming down from Morocco. Carrying all that dust from the Sahara. You are gonna get ill, it’s guaranteed. And the roads are absolutely terrible in most of those countries.
Scott Brady: And, and sometimes they’re barely, they barely qualify the road.
Graham Bell: Exactly. And it’s, and it’s connecting countries, you know, you’re driving this goat track. Yeah. Like are we on the right road? . But the pro, when it kind of all comes together though, when it’s hot, it’s dusty. There’s no road to speak of. You’re ill, the vehicle’s breaking down and you’ve got this bureaucracy ahead of you and you dunno if you’re gonna cross the border. All of these things combined make it a very, very. Challenging route, and I believe it’s the last great overland route because of all those challenges. It’s, yeah, some.
Scott Brady: Very similar to the Silk Road.
Graham Bell: Right. But I don’t think on the Silk Road, you’re probably not getting stopped 20, 25 times a day by military.
Scott Brady: That, that you experience, but you don’t, it, I would say that the difference is, is that the, from what I understand, which I have not done the west coast route of Africa.
Graham Bell: And I haven’t done the sole practice yet.
Scott Brady: But the one significant difference is the quality of the roads. I mean, you do drive on Jeep tracks when you’re going through, some of the stands. I mean, they’re very, you’re, you’re in low range and Right. Picking your way over rocks and things like that. But, that is very different from a goat track that’s covered in mud.
Graham Bell: Right. And it’s got a military, checkpoint on it. You, you know, you’re on the right road when somebody steps in front of you with a naked, you’re like, oh, okay, now I’m, I’m on the right road. We only had that once and it was a very bad situation as well. I think it’s, I’ve, I’ve tried to warn people that half the problem is, I think you get a lot of overland travelers that over bold, or oversell certain roots and then they’re like, oh, this is really dangerous. They’re trying to make it a bit more hardcore than it seems West Africa is. Every bit as hardcore as it’s reputations says it is. You can’t go like the into it. You will be tested and, a lot of people actually turn back eventually. It just gets too much. So I think the number one thing you have to, you know, prepare is your mind. You have to be mentally prepared and you have to stay the course and you have to stay patient. And strong.
Scott Brady: Maybe remind yourself that that’s what you wanted. Was a challenge. Was to experience something. Cuz life is short. So why not do hard things.
Graham Bell: And the reality is once you get deep enough into it, there’s no way out.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Other than forward.
Graham Bell: Yeah. Way. Yeah. Either all the way back or all the way down and keep going. But because it is such a challenge, it is so incredibly rewarding because you, there are so many obstacles and you’re tested in every way. By the end of the journey you are exhausted and elated. You know?
Scott Brady: Yeah. It’s this almost euphoria.
Graham Bell: Yeah. When you roll into Angola, man.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Cuz Angola has actually gotten a lot easier. So, you know, 15 years ago Angola was a challenge even to get into. And now they’ve got good roads in Angola and a lot of development. Yeah. It’s been interesting to see how that is Africa. Things change. Some countries come into, into success and wealth and resources and then, you know, then a cycle can hit that can take those things away.
Graham Bell: Right. And the technological advances, I think have been absolutely amazing for Africa. And it’s gonna be even better. Whereas before the, just the geography is, and, and obviously the, the economies have been stricter in terms of infrastructure, but now you have cellular networks. Now you have starlink that’s spreading all the way through Africa. And I expect that you’re gonna see that it’s, there’s gonna be some very, very significant changes on the continent. Not only for the people that live there, but also for the travelers. And most of it, I think, is gonna be overwhelmingly positive.
Scott brady: Improving communications tends to improve a lot of things. So when you were traveling that route, what are a story or two that comes to mind that was the most. That was the most memorable for whate, whatever, whatever that may be.
Graham Bell: I think that would be, the buildup to, and the crossing from Nigeria into Cameroon, which I think I’ve also talked about you about before. Basically, it was four days in low range in the highlands of Nigeria, the most beautiful countryside you’ve ever seen in your life. Just mud and little villages. Then popping down into Cameroon and doing these river crossings and more mud, mud, mud, and then, yeah, just the most beautiful people in the most beautiful country that we emerged into. That was an amazing part of the journey for me, and something I would literally, I would like to go back just to do that part of that again. Unfortunately, before we went into that area on the Nigerian side, there’d been a murder outside our camp. We had armed men coming into our, I say camp, it was a compound, a hotel, Mont Park. All men coming in, there was a kidnapping zone. It, it was extremely dangerous and difficult situation. That to me is pretty much, it’s, that’s unforgettable when you, when you find yourself with your family in that kind of situation. And you just, I, we were all ill and we had that going on and we thought, oh man, I just, I don’t know if we can take this anymore. And then the next day it all just became beautiful. And, and we went from the depths of almost despair to, to elation. All within 48 hours.
Scott Brady: Sounds like adventure.
Graham Bell: No, it sure was.
Scott Brady: And then did you go through Gabon at all or did you go right into the Republic of Congo to get through?
Graham Bell: Gahana is amazing.
Scott Brady: Okay. So you did do that.
Graham Bell: Kaban is beautiful. We, we spoke in Ghana. We, I managed to get, I don’t know, a satellite or something. I always, we spoke, yeah, Gabon is absolutely amazing. Beautiful, beautiful country. Very good road network. At least north to south. Wonderful country. Very sparsely populated.
Scott Brady: And then you went into the Republic of Congo, kind of along the coast then?
Graham Bell: Yeah. I have to remember, basically there’s a enclave, of Angola called Caba.
Scott Brady: I see that here.
Graham Bell: Yeah. Yeah. And we had to get into Caba. And then there’s a little strip of the drc, that, that you have to go through to get into Angola proper.
Scott Brady: Very small. Yeah. Now we, they call it the N one.
Graham Bell: I’ll show you some photos is the thing.
Scott Brady: Of the N one.
Graham Bell: Yeah. Right. And what’s interesting about that, we had gotten the visa for the Drc, I think in Benin. And there were all these rumors going around that the guy, the, the consulate had, who was issuing the visas was actually corrupt. And the visas weren’t legit. So if you’re in Caba and if they won’t let you into the drc, you can’t get into Angola. There’s no way out. You either have to drive all the way back up to Europe or maybe fork out 10,000 bucks to get your vehicle on a DC 10 or something. Whatever. But that.
Scott Brady: It’s gonna cost you a lot of money.
Graham Bell: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. To fix that problem stress we had on that border, we sat there for 24 hours and eventually, we, yeah, it was all fine. It was all we taken care of. But now that was hardcore.
Scott Brady: Now talk about the roads, cuz I, I’m, I’ve seen that in some of Dan Greck stuff too. And I mean, it, it looks like low range. Like if you, you, you probably wished you had seven diff locks, but like, it looked, some of the stuff that you went through looked incredibly challenging. Graham Bell: Luckily I was driving a defender and we had some really, really bad jungle roads. Really, really muddy roads, river crossings that, were quite challenging. There was a lot of that, but that was the fun stuff. That was the stuff you look forward to. That’s what you enjoy driving. The majority was either jungle track or just pothole. Tar. Tarmac. There was laid by whichever colonial power was there 40 years before. And it hasn’t been maintained since. And all the potholes grow in the shade.
Scott Brady: Ah, they do.
Graham Bell: And you, so you’d finally get into third gear and then you’d.
Scott Brady: Wham!
Graham Bell: There’s exactly, there’s a big tree boom and you go boom. And it’s just all day. Yeah. You’re rocking, you’re smacking potholes. Yeah. It’s a challenge. That’s a real challenge when you get to a decent piece of Tarmac though. That’s like, heaven’s. It is.
Scott Brady: It’s, it’s so funny how when you finally hit it, it’s like you feel like your heart rate drops by 20 beats a minute, right? Yeah. And you, and like all of a sudden then you hear all the squeaks in the car, right? And you’re like, oh, what’s, what is that clattering that, that what’s broken as you can actually hear it?
Graham Bell: Yeah. We had a lot of that where you, you get onto the dirt road. And you’re like, you started, you enjoying it and then after a while you’re just, man, I just really want to get into Tarmac. And then you get onto Tarmac and you’re like, you miss the dirt . Yeah.
Scott Brady: Unless you’re in Namibia where they have somehow have made the best dirt roads on the planet. Like I think, I think the best car for Namibia would be a Subaru WRX.
Graham Bell: Probably probably.
Scott Brady: Because like, I would like to spend the entire time sideways on a Namibian road. Right. I mean, they are so, they’re beautifully crowned, wide graded, you know? They just skipped the whole terrible tar and just went with really well maintained dirt roads.
Graham Bell: We were there in, during Covid and I, I think the greater guy. You was forced to stay at home or something. Here was corrugated, all those farmers that live out there in the middle of nowhere. They travel all these Hilux’s where they’ve fully pumped tires. At 75 miles an hour on the dirt road.
Scott Brady: They’re not even touching the ground.
Graham Bell: They’re just floating over.
Scott Brady: Skipping right over the top.
Graham Bell: You try that with a footy loaded defender.
Scott brady: No, no. Yeah. It’s unbelievable. Yeah. I drove, the last time I was in, maybe I was driving the new defender, of course, like beautiful airbag suspension, independent, you know, suspension on every corner, aired down tires. It was literally like a magic carpet. I mean, it was a rally car on those roads for sure. Right. Yeah. It was, it was the right car for those kinds of roads. For sure.
Graham Bell: I’d be interested to see, sorry. How the new defender would handle like the West African rock.
Scott Brady: You know, the, the challenge is just the complexity. I mean, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be amazing until. Something, some complex component of the suspension fails. A, a sensor or a height sensor or an airbag or a stick comes up and punctures the airbag. But driving even over ven Z’s and all that, we did that all in a stock one 10 and it was just effortless, absolutely effortless.
Graham Bell: So it, it handle the technical terrain, but maybe, maybe it’s good, maybe it’s a long duration of a very technical and difficult.
Scott Brady: It’s a difference between capability and durability, right? So if you, if you look at a, a Jeep Wrangler, very high on the capability range, low capacity, low payload, low durability, cuz the components are really designed for a lightweight recreational vehicle. Whereas your defender is designed to carry 3000 pounds of stuff. So it’s, it’s much more durable. Right? Or, or a land cruiser is another good example of that. Less capable, more durable.
Graham Bell: Than a defender is capable.
Scott Brady: They’re similar. They’re just, they’re just different. The defender has better articulation, but the Land Cruiser has dif flocks. So if you’re in a Land cruiser without diff locks, the defender will do better for sure. Right. But those that, you know, that’s, you know, that’s all. Those are anti, those are all, those are all those are best. Those are conversations best had over a beer. Right. Because I to say, to say that, you know, give me a good driver and, yeah. And a, and a samurai any day of the week over any of those cars.
Graham Bell: That’s what I love about driving in Africa. You’ll, you’ll be up on the, that low range four day pass up in Nigeria. And you are like, yeah, we’re in the thick of it now. This is why you drive a four by four. This is why you drive a defender. And then the local comes along in a terce 30 year old PK Puja family in the back and like the roof loaded up in north, he goes.
Scott Brady: It’s just no big deal. Yeah. Yeah. The power of local knowledge, right? Yeah. We were, I can’t remember, we were somewhere super deep in Uganda. Same thing. G wagons, low range, rear diff locks on creeping up this trail, and literally a Toyota Corolla, right? Comes around and everybody hops out. So they get the weight out of it, and then it starts up the trail and p people are pushing push, push, pushing, and then, and they made it right up. No, like, like they, well, they probably had done it a hundred times. Right. And it was just, it just wasn’t a big deal. But Oh, we like to feel like we’re special, but.
Graham Bell: We are. I wouldn’t, I mean, if I was driving on my own with a couple of buddies, I’d take it Toyota Corolla, but I’m not gonna take my family.
Scott Brady: Yeah, of course, of course.
Graham Bell: But I think that also speaks to the reality of these roads on these, across those countries, especially like West Africa where you’ll have large sections. The vast majority of that road is gonna be fine. It’s not gonna be great, it’s not gonna be, pleasant. But you only really need that four by four capability, et cetera, for a very small part of it. But it makes a big difference when you get to it that you can get through it without having to depend on other people.
Scott Brady: And sometimes it’s even just getting off of ferries. I’ve, I’ve like some of the more challenging conditions that I’ve experienced. With heavily loaded overland vehicles is getting up the dirt ramp. And cuz it’s usually muddy and there’s been a lot of ruts and the locals just choose to hit it at Mach 10. You know, they hit it, they’re in third gear by the time they’re on the dirt. Um, you know, and they’re smashing through it. It, you know, even getting up the banks of those rivers can be quite challenging. When you, when you do those ferry crossings. Well, let’s, let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about logistics. Traditionally traveling by vehicle around Africa has been best done with a Carta Pass massage. And that is still considered best practice, but that’s slowly changing because of people like Dan Greck and I don’t know if you traveled on a carnet, you may have not needed to with it being a South African vehicle that. Did you travel on a carnet?
Graham Bell: We chose to, yeah. I think the first note there should be as well is that the AA is very reliable in terms of a logistical source as a bureaucratic entity. We had a carnet years ago that we, we never got the deposit back for, but the Carnet had expired. We got another carnet in Senegal, and then when we returned to South Africa, they gave us both our deposits back. So something like that in an organization is great. Where they have this kind of, you know, there’s this integrity.
Scott Brady: There is an accountability behind it.
Graham Bell: Accountability. And they switched on your, you know, they, it’s the bureaucracy’s Good. The carnet for me is, it’s useful. Yeah, it’s really useful. You know, some countries, for instance, Senegal, there’s one border crossing where they absolutely insist on a coronae. Or they’ll find you or they’ll detain you. This and the other. The other option is to drive a really bad road, 800 kilometers around to go to the other border plot. Post where they don’t worry about it, you know? So, and then you get to some border crossing where you can sit forever to try and get your t i p done. Or you can literally just walk up the carnet and you’re out. I don’t know. We just, for Africa travel, we just, we, the first time we went around, we used a carnet and the second time down we used a carnet as well. We just found it to be, a lot easier.
Scott Brady: Yeah. I, that’s what I’m, I’m gonna travel on a carnet. Yeah. So I don’t, I think it’s, it’s so, it is so admirable that Dan decided to try to do it on a tip the entire time. And that’s pretty impressive. And I mean, so that’s, he’s, he’s very much trailblazer in, I mean, I’m sure others have done that. I’m not giving him exclusive acknowledgement of what he accomplished, but it, it certainly showed people that there’s possibility to do this a little bit different. But there are countries in the world where you simply cannot get in without a Carney, so, right. You want to go into Mongolia, you’re, you gotta have a Carnet period, right.
Graham Bell: Iran or Saudi Arabia. Yeah.
Steve Edwards: Egypt of course. Yeah.
Graham Bell: Yeah. Egypt. Dan went through Egypt without the Carney.
Steve Edwards: He, he managed to figure that out. Yeah.
Graham Bell: Yeah. There was a bit of a bish thing going on here or there.
Steve Edwards: Sure, I think so. But as far as I know, at least in a recent memory, he’s given the length and breadth of his trip managing too. That was pretty, pretty amazing. And we only traveled on TIPs also, but we had kind of a different traveling situation. We had a home base. The countries we traveled in were not, sort of a huge challenge, to get in and out of, without, you know, without a carnet. There was some, say for example, Kenya, Tanzania, the TIPs are pretty short for tourists. So, I think Tanzania was only seven days when we were traveling there, so, You know, it does kind of de limit a little bit what you can do. Like if you want to stay for a longer time, you can often get those TIPs, the temporary import permits extended. But again, you need to go to Darris Salam and sit in a line at a, you know, at a customs office.
Graham Bell: And, nobody wants to do that.
Steve Edwards: No, no. Oftentimes it’s also like super in flux right now too. So for example, right now the, I think the transit, TIPs in Kenya are only a few days now. So Kenya’s basically requiring a carnet at this point, and then I’m sure we can talk a little bit about what’s the situation in Ethiopia.
Scott Brady: Oh yeah, I think that’ll be important.
Steve Edwards: When we talk about the east eastern route, these things change too, right? They’re not set in stone. And I think particularly where, you see some. Political instability or like in West Africa where the bureaucracies are really opaque. Yeah.I mean there’s a lot of opaque bureaucracy in Africa in general. It can change on a, a wide variety of levels from the policy level at, you know, you know, within the government to whoever happens to be manning the customs desk at that particular border that particular day. And that’s one of the, one of the things. Makes Africa travel, Africa travel, whether you’re on the East coast or are on the West Coast, is yeah. Sort of preparing yourself mentally for those, those variables.
Scott Brady: And, and preparing yourself mentally that it, that the variables that you know today will change. Governments even can change.
Steve Edwards: Yep. Always in flux.
Graham Bell: Yeah. But he has the most paperwork wins. Right. So we always carry a folder Yeah. Go.
Steve: We do too.
Graham Bell: Everything going back forever. Yeah. And as soon as they, you know, you, like, you get the wrong person on the wrong day and they start with this and that, then you just go, what paper are you looking for? Da, da da. I’ve got it here somewhere. And you just burn time. Eventually you might actually find what they’re looking for. I think, uh, the TIP generally it’s easier to get the carna makes life a little bit easier. But in general, having as much paperwork as possible, making sure that everything’s up to date and everything’s done. It’s frustrating when you watch the locals lift the boom and go through on their own and you, you’re sitting there for three days to try and get over a porter.
Scott Brady: Well, and there’s, there are travelers that have done that too. They lift the boom and or they drive through and then they kind of walk around for a little while and they drive away.
Graham Bell: I wouldn’t do that. Nope. But it happens. You get to the next border.
Scott Brady: It happens a lot. It happens a lot.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. We did that too. And this is, this is, I mean, I think fine advice too, if you’re traveling Central Asia or Central America, we, we had this big accordion, plastic accordion binder, right. And just filled with dozens and hundreds of pages of, of paperwork and all easily labeled and, you know.
Scott Brady: Extra copies and all that.
Steve Edwards: Extra copies. And by the time, you know, we were done with our travels, like I knew exactly, I could close my eyes and stick my hand in the folder and pull out the, you know, pull out the right, the right piece of paper at the right time. And there’s also something of a, there’s a confidence thing at the border as well that kind of sometimes makes your life easier, where you’re being bullied by TTS and people who wanna, you know, whatever, guard your vehicle or, you know, help you through customs or they want to help you. Right. You know, if you got a big fat finder and under your arm and you walk purposefully and you can do those sorts of things, it, it sometimes makes things easier even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Yeah. You’re pretending that you do. This goes a little way.
Scott Brady: Yeah exactly, walking with a little bit of purpose and intention. Now talking about documentation. It is, it’s really that folder, that binder that you have is not something that should be taken lightly. It shouldn’t be something that’s just kind of stuck up in the, in the little cubby above the above the sun visor. This needs to be in a secure place in the vehicle, preferably locked up. And it needs to be treated with a great deal of care and respect, because losing those documents is oftentimes an enormous inconvenience. And I’m gonna speak about my own failure in this regard. That was nearly like a, about as bad as it can get. I was jet lag, came into Cape Town, we were getting the Land Cruiser ready to fly it to Antarctica, the most difficult part of Expedition seven logistically. And I was in the hotel, I had had breakfast, and I was going through paperwork exhausted. I got up and I go back to my room and getting packed up for things and I, I don’t know where the binder is. Oh. And I’m thinking about the last time that I had it, it was in this little cafe in the, in the hotel. And I mean, this is, it’s such a problem.
It was literally.
Graham Bell: That’s the worst feeling.
Scott Brady: It would’ve been. Yeah. It’s probably in my entire life. It is probably the moment that I felt the greatest dread. That if, if the next couple steps don’t start to align in a positive way, very quickly, an enormous amount of effort. Would’ve will unwind itself and it’ll be, you know, about as tragic of an outcome and all things considered right in the fact that this, I’m on an adventure, of my choosing. But as far as.
Graham Bell: It’s not just you though. There’s all team that you’re gonna be holding back.
Scott Brady: There’s all these people that were waiting and everything else like that, and the vehicle’s getting ready to get put on a plane and everything else. And I go back down there, it’s gone. It is not, it’s not in the booth.
It’s not, and it’s nowhere to be seen. And I’m asking the people that are there if they have seen it and they don’t have any idea. And I asked if the manager of the restaurant was there. I’m like, no, he’s, he’s, he was somewhere else. I said, I did this. I took a hundred dollars bill out of my pocket. And I said, I need to find this folder. Can you guys help me make that happen? And there was all of a sudden, an enormous amount of attention paid to my problem. And they called the manager and the manager, they were very enthusiastic about him coming back. And he comes back in, I explain what happens. He’s like, and he gets this smile on his face and he reaches down into this bottom drawer and he opens it up and there was the folder. And it was the best a hundred dollars I’ve ever spent.
Graham Bell: Best hundred bucks you ever spent.
Scott Brady: I’ve ever spent in my entire life. So learning from my mistake, which was a really that was a rookie foolish thing that I did, was not keeping track of, you know, let’s keep track of our passports. Let’s never put our passports in a jacket. It should always be in our first layer of clothing, always on our person. Losing your passport and all those visas. It’s a huge problem if that happens. And it’s the same thing with our vehicle documentation. Our carnet, which was in the folder learn from my mistake, is to keep those things where they should be. Keep them under your control, so that you don’t lose ’em. Because I’ve heard the stories of the people who have, and trying to unwind those problems is really, really difficult. We not only want to keep good control of our documentation, but we also want to have lots of extra copies of all of those. Of all of those documents. And when you get to a place, a hotel or whatever that happens to have a copy machine, make copies of all of the documents that you just got at the other borders. But before you even do that, when you’re, when you’ve gotten through the border and you’re sitting there, you’ve made it through, you got all your paperwork and you’re pulled off and you’re kind of stopping, or maybe you’re gonna have a cup of tea, grab your phone, take a picture of every single document that you just got, every single thing you got, the, the, the little insurance card, the one that, that says this is you paid the tax for the road stuff. And the, the, the signatures in the carnet take a picture of all that on your phone. Most places have data still, and you can upload all that to the cloud. And now you’ve got a full copy doing that, having extra copies digitally, extra, extra physical copies. It’s amazing how much that solves problems at these borders. There is a lot of bureaucracy, when you’re traveling through these countries. I experienced it. Going into South Sudan and Uganda and, and those really remote borders in Kenya and Uganda, where you got, you gotta have your documentation in order. They’re wonderful people. I did not have a single bad experience. If you treat them with a smile and you’re, you have a little bit of humor and you acknowledge their position of authority, which is only fair, we do that with, with the people in our own governments. We give them that deference. It’s amazing how smooth those things can go, but you wanna make sure you have your documentation in order.
Graham Bell: Absolutely.
Scott Brady: And look at it as part of the adventure, the grumpy overlander that shows up to the, the, they’re always complaining about the border crossings. I’m like, no wonder why are you even here, why are you doing this? You seem so incredibly unhappy about the entire process. Like you didn’t think it was gonna be tough. Of course it’s gonna be tough. Put a smile on your face. Let’s make it a game. Let’s have fun with it.
Steve Edwards: Border day can be stressful, but we always look forward to it cuz we also knew that it was onto a new chapter in the adventure. And borders are just, these are incredible. Places of like cultural exchange. Domestic exchange. And they’re a liminal space, right. Between one sphere and another.. And there’s no, no, no place like that. And we’ve met so many other travelers at border posts. Right, other overlanders, other, other travelers from all over the world, you know?
Scott Brady: And exchange of information.
Steve Edwards: Exchange of information. Sure. That shared experience that you’re having and yeah, we’ve had some extremely stressful and like anger inducing days at the border. You know, traveling’s a couple, my wife Julie and I, we tend to have, we have very different personalities. So Julie, she wants to get stuff done and you know, when the time calls for someone who’s gonna be really insistent and really gonna put their foot down, it’s Julie’s turn to work.
Scott Brady: Work her magic.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. But when you know it’s time for the GLAD handing and the jokes and the the patience, right? Yeah. That’s where, that’s where I come in. And so especially if you’re traveling in a group or you’re traveling with, with your significant other sort of understanding, like your different personalities. And like what you need from the situation, you know, is also good. There’s that self-awareness. Yeah. Because those things really, I think, bubble up mostly at border crossings.
Scott Brady: And educating the people that you travel with that you are only to answer specifically the question that was asked. I have seen shocking volunteering information, volunteering of information at border crossings where I’m looking over at the person and he’s talking about, well this engine, you know, I actually got it out of, and like they ask him for the vin. He’s like, you know, I actually don’t have the motor thing. And they didn’t ask for the motor number. Like, you know, so yeah. When they ask you a question, very short response with a smile. Yeah. Specifically what they’re asking and nothing more, because why even open up Pandora’s box when you do that?
Graham Bell: I still, I still get border anxiety after all these years. Every single border. I border anxiety, of course. And half of that is, is that the country you’re going from? You had that anxiety when you entered it. But then you relaxed and you realize it’s actually pretty cool. I’m having a good time. Yeah. You get chilled out relaxed as everything’s good, and then you’re like, oh no, another border. What’s gonna be like on the other side? And Yeah, I, yeah. Lucky that. Speaking about strengths, Louisa is the border person. She’s the ones who’s got the paperwork, this and the other. I just trail along with the kids and sign cuz things are in my name and I’ll sign. They’re all like, smile and act stupid. And I.
Scott Brady: Do you feel that the kids help with that process, having a family there?
Graham Bell: I think it. It kind of lead into a point I wanted to get into maybe a little bit later. But also there’s that African tends to be an, Africans tend to be quite conservative, and they quite tend to be quite family oriented. And so if you are showing up at the border, you’re well-dressed, you’ve got long pants on you, your trousers, you’ve got a, a college shirt, you’re a family, you’re respectable, you’re organized. They’re respect that and they’ll give you that respect and you’ll respect them. This is for sure cycle that kind of works. And I think it always has helped that we travel with the kids cuz people immediately see the kids and then they think of family. Family’s not gonna be doing 90% of the things other than overstaying visas. And things like that. Cause some countries that’s popular for families to go in and yeah. So they have a look at your passport. But yeah, I mean we had it coming into the US once they came and they actually planted a box full of narcotics on our Land Rover to train a dog.
Scott Brady: That’s terrifying.
Graham Bell: Right? I’m like, are we cool here guys? Is everything alright? But here was the cops.
Scott Brady: This is how a really bad movie starts. We’re just gonna plant this drugs on your, it’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be fine.
Graham Bell: But it’s because we had the kids. So these guys are looking at everyone coming in today who’s the, who are the people who are the least likely to be breaking law? It’s the people in the defender with the fam with the kids. Yeah. So I think it does, it does make a difference to have the children.
Steve Edwards: And I think your point is well taken too, just in terms of thinking about doing your research. Because like we opened the podcast, in terms of, you know, we can’t just say Africa, right? Like if you’re like going into Malawi or if you’re driving into Gabon or wherever, having some foreknowledge of understanding A, not only their bureaucracy at the border, but B, a little bit about like the cultural context, right?
Scott Brady: Because Yes. Not appropriate for even a man to be wearing shorts.
Steve Edwards: Exactly. So like the cultural, you know, differences, they are vast in multitudes, in Africa and yeah. Just understanding that. And most cultures, like you’re saying, are pretty conservative. They’re high context cultures, so understanding what’s going on at any one time in your social interactions, stuff that maybe North Americans or South Africans, might be completely oblivious. Are extremely important, for other folks. Right. And I mean, that goes across the, the globe. Right. But sort of preparing yourself a little bit for that, you know, handshakes and smiles and respect go a long way.
Scott Brady: Yeah. And, and you’re a guest. You’re a guest. They don’t, you know, they don’t owe you anything. They don’t have to let you in their country. You’re asking permission. And you are a guest of their country. So being mindful of their culture and their social norms and, their ways of doing things certainly goes a long way.
Graham Bell: It’s easy. Sorry. And just as general respect. And it’s not just the border, it’s not just the immigration and the police, it’s everyone that you come across. If you, if you treat people with respect, they will treat you with respect.
Scott Brady: It’s just, it tends to be the case. Yeah. It tends to be the case. So the, the other side of the documentation is related to the people that are on the trip. So we need to make sure that our passport, when we enter into an idea of crossing, the African continent, we wanna make sure we have lots of time left on our passport. If you’re going to a trip to, you’re gonna go to Italy for a couple months and you got six or seven months left on your passport’s, probably fine. Even getting into a European country with less than six months on your passport, they won’t let you do that. But crossing the African continent, can result in, there can be a lot of delays. You can have a mechanical problem. You’re waiting for parts. You could be in a place for quite some time, so you want to make sure you have lots of time left on your passport, lots of empty pages on your passport.
Graham Bell: And always get sorry, and always get the maximum visa allowed. So regardless you could say, oh, I’ll just take two weeks, but if three months is an option, take the three months.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Cuz you never know what you may need. New gearbox or whatever. I remember you.
Steve Edwards: I really love that story.
Scott Brady: Yeah. And I, it was the same for Graham Jackson. When he was crossing, he needed an all new gearbox. They brand new vehicle. They just did not put, there was some part of the transmission that wasn’t lubricated. So. Needed an all new transmission. Yeah. So yes, absolutely. You want to be planning advance for your visas. There are two ways to do that. If you’re on a very, regimented schedule and a fairly short one, you can do all your visas in advance. You can send them all to Washington DC if you’re traveling as an American, they’ll courier your passport to all of the different consulates and they’ll give you all of the, all the visas that you need for all the countries. And you kind of have ’em all planned out in a schedule. And that is one way to do that. And the other way to do it is, as you described earlier in the podcast, where you’re gonna take each country at a time, and you’re gonna have to go into usually a fairly populated center, and you’re gonna need to go into the consulate office yourself or use a service if it’s trusted. You’re gonna need to get the visa for the next country that you’re about to go into from the main city.
Graham Bell: Right. Or it might be four countries ahead. So you have to be very careful with your planning and know for each country what are the requirements along the entire route. You can’t just wing it.
Scott Brady: Yeah, yeah. You really can’t.
Steve Edwards: There’s the beauty of the American passport as well. Particularly east and southern Africa. The only country we traveled in where we had to apply for Visa ahead of time was Ethiopia. Every other country we traveled in, we got re visa on arrival. So yeah.
Scott Brady: That’s, that’s interesting.
Steve Edwards: Walked up to the border. Hardly. We, the only country that gave us really any flack was Mozambique. We drove from East SW there. We used to be Swaziland into, into Mars. That was. We just got a grumpy immigration officer that day, I think. Any other, any other day. I think we would’ve been, you know, the American passport is still, you know, if you look at the, the Hanley Index Right. It’s still an extremely powerful document.
Scott Brady: That or the Japanese passports.
Steve Edwards: Exactly. And hardly ever anybody looked twice, once we opened up, you know, an American password.
Scott Brady: Yeah. And, and I was surprised, I was surprised some of the ones that, so I did get a, a visa in advance for Kenya and Uganda. And I got to the Ugandan border and like the sweetest border control agent I have ever worked with in my entire life. And she, she’s educating me about their process and she says, you know, sweetie, like, you don’t, you didn’t need to do that. I can give you that right here at the border. And, and, but there was no documentation at the time. So this was 2016. That said that that was the case. Yeah. You had to have it ahead of time. So, and now I know that, and I think I needed the Kenyan one cuz I was flying in to Kenya. But, you’re right, most of them, yeah. You can get right on arrival.
Steve Edwards: And, and there are different requirements too, if you’re, sometimes, if you’re going, if you’re traveling overland or if you’re, if you’re flying, there’s an interesting visa that allows you to travel Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Kind of all on the same visa. Those things again, like the customs requirements are often in flux. Like a lot of the time. Doing your research ahead of time, but also understanding that it’s good to follow up on that research. Cuz sometimes it changes very rapidly.
Graham Bell: Yeah. I find the best way to do that is to not speak to someone who was in Kenya, if that’s where you’re going two years ago. You wanna speak to someone who just came outta Kenya two weeks ago, two days ago. Matt, I think is the best source of information for on the ground what’s happening now. And then speak, sorry. Speak to a variety of sources as well. If you, as you can, not everyone is equally, talented when it comes to bureaucracy. No question. Where some people rarely struggle, other people find it to breeze.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Or they find it as like something that they look forward to. It’s also good to know that if you’re going to, to like drive from Cape Town to Cairo and you, you have a, a brand new a hundred thousand dollars Land Cruiser. You are for most of those countries, you do not have car insurance. So you may have liability insurance that you secure at or near the border. But in the vast majority of cases outside of the countries immediately around South Africa, you do not have any kind of comprehensive or car insurance on your vehicle should you get in an accident. So when you, when you go into the decision to. Travel across the continent, there’s only two choices you can secure an insurance policy that applies to the asset, that’s purchased ahead of time and it basically covers it for all instances, including falling off of a ship in a container. But that a hundred thousand dollars vehicle to spend a couple months across Africa, it will most likely cost seven to $10,000 for the insurance policy. So you have to decide is that, what’s your tolerance for risk? So I think it’s a really good idea to make sure when you go into the process that you recognize that you have to be able to walk away from the car. Because most likely not gonna lose your carnet cuz you can document through the police department and everything, the vehicle’s been damaged and destroyed or whatever. But you very well could lose the entire. When you’re traveling across the continent and it happens, it’s very, very rare.
Steve Edwards: Very rare. Very rare. But it does happen. And, and it’s because the speeds are lower. People are more mindful. The speeds are lower, you know, not to travel at night. So you start to remove a lot of the variables that can result in, in risk your vehicle being damaged in some way. Highly likely, your vehicle being totaled. Highly unlikely. But we need to know that going into it. And we need to just say that. All right. That’s the deal. Like we know that this car may not make it to the other end. That’s something that we own.
Steve Edwards: This is why Graham and I drive old decrepit land Rovers.
Graham Bell: Exactly. Which are incredibly valuable now. Yeah. When we bought them, they were like, yeah, okay, great. Now we’re like, wait, hang on a second. That thing might actually be worth something. All right.
Scott Brady: So then now we’re gonna shift our conversation a little bit to.
Graham Bell: Yes. Sorry. Just do the bureaucracy and, and what’s going on. I mean, what’s quite contemporary, what’s current is the pandemic is still happening. and along with all the visas, et cetera, you have to be very mindful of what are the requirements in terms of vaccinations or, negative, tests or covid tests, et cetera. We traveled during covid, so we jumped through some massive hoops to make it happen, but we were very careful and, we are conscientious and we always got negative tests. Yeah. That, that’s another dimension that’s been added on another layer of bureaucracy, which has a trail. So if you keep your record of your, or your covid tests or whatever, you, you gotta keep that in a folder cuz you do not know if you’re gonna get to a border crossing middle of nowhere and the guy’s gonna insist on everything for the last kind of year or whatever. So yeah. It probably won’t happen, but it’s something that’s, that has to be considered.
Scott Brady: And it can change extremely quick. I remember I was in South Africa when Covid kicked off. And the day before I left, I was restricted to Theta Pro Province. That was it. Like they started literally locking you down by province from within South Africa. So I thought at first I’m like, this is great. I’m gonna be, yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be here for a year if I have to. And then, and then it became quite draconian. And their response to it. And I’m not saying that their response was, Not appropriate. It, it was draconian. Then they were trying to control it. I went from like, oh, I’ll just be going on safaris and working in Africa to like, no, this is really a bad thing. Let’s get outta here.
Graham Bell: Right. It’s locked down, so yeah, it’s locked, locked, locked down. We thought we, we thought we were locked down here. We were not locked down.
Graham Bell: No, no, no. We were there during it.
Scott Brady: They were locked down.
Graham Bell: It was hard lockdown.
Scott Brady: They were locked down.
Graham Bell: And what they didn’t know at the time is that Africa itself wasn’t really gonna suffer that much. The, the projections of where projections were that Africa was gonna really suffer from Covid and actually Africa was one of the continent that suffered the least.
Scott Brady: Youthful, healthy people for the most part.
Graham Bell: Natural diets.
Scott Brady: Yeah. Natural. Exactly. Yeah. So not.
Graham Bell: Huge amount of international travel going on.
Scott Brady: Yeah. They just, they kind of brushed it off for the most part.
Steve Edwards: One last final thing I’ll make of on the border issue is that in East Africa, in East Africa in particular, and also Southern Africa at the major border crossings, these are like really advanced customs and immigration systems. Almost all of them are computerized now. Tanzania, border post with Rwanda at Roo Falls, it’s like the most modern and beautiful building I’ve ever been in, in contrast to the road outside. So I think this is something that Pete Sweetzer, I think whom we all know, says in his border classes at Overland Expo that the job of customs is to collect revenue most of these countries, sometimes as a result of foreign direct investment, but also from their own, you know, initiative thoroughly modernized their customs and immigration systems. And we were never shaken down for a bribe. We were never, like, you know, never encountered sort of corruption among, you know, officials at, at major border posts. So it’s all very modern and, you know, advanced. The smaller butter border posts are different, right. The major ones.
Scott Brady: And they have to be quite efficient because there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of commerce that’s happening.
Steve Edwards: The commerce is.
Scott Brady: That’s happening on the east coast routes.
Steve Edwards: Intense, right? Intense. So I think that’s something maybe people are, are surprised about. I was like, oh, wow, this is a normal border poses a modern.
Scott Brady: Totally not a big deal.
Graham Bell: In general, we actually found the customs, uh, offices to be the offices, the, the location itself to be. Of a higher quality than the general immigration, but also the offices themselves, the staff were higher, elite, high, more, had higher education, more professional for sure. So a lot of times I, my biggest worry was like the customs. But actually customs tends to be a breeze compared to immigration and there’s a lot less people doing customs than immigration.
Scott Brady: Those are all super important insights when we look at doing a big trip like this. So talking about big trips, the other, and the most popular way to travel up the length of the African continent. Is on the eastern route. And as we talked about in the beginning, if you wanted to, you could drive the whole thing basically on tar.
Steve Edwards: Stay in nice hotels.
Scott Brady: And I was, I was, it was just a few months ago, I was reading and, and her name escapes me right now, and I feel, so this is so unfortunate, but 80 something year old woman drove the length of the African continent in a terce all-wheel drive Terel. She drove from Cape Town to London and she had a friend along for most of it. I was like, she’s my hero because she decided that life was not over. She was gonna go see the world. But it’s a really important context that it is very feasible to do this trip. Now, the thing that can change, and this is what we’re gonna talk about in a little bit, is countries can have, there can be regional issues, flareups that happen, that either cause short term or very short term, or sometimes relatively short term inconveniences to the traveler. But for the most part, traveling up the east of of Africa, if you’re gonna go from South Africa into, let’s say you want to go to the Falls, you’re gonna go through Zimbabwe and little bit into Mozambique and Zambia and Tanzania. These are all big border crossings, really easy to move around. South Africans travel there all the time. It’s very common for people to go up to Mound in Botswana and go camping for a week. You leave Joe Berg in your desk job and you go for just like we do. So it’s very common for that to happen and things stay super efficient all the way up into Kenya. From there, things start to become a little more challenging. Ethiopia, for quite some time. It was actually like the, it was the jewel of the route, where people were so impressed and just couldn’t believe how wonderful that experience was. And I don’t doubt that that part of it’s the same, but now it’s a little more complicated. To travel through Ethiopia. So let’s talk a little bit about what happened with Ethiopia and kind of where things are today for the traveler. So Steve, you want to give, or Graham, either one of you have some insights.
Graham Bell: Well, a bit of the insight of the, the, this year in, in the Horn of Africa is you have, you have Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, and Iria and Somalias around there as well. So and the Nile Ethiopia’s building dams on the River Nile, which is destabilizing the entire region because obviously Egypt is, that’s the source of water. So whoever’s gonna control the Nile. Controls the water, therefore the agriculture there, the therefore the economy’s downstream. And then you’ll have these clashes, age old rivalries that’s been happening between Eitr and the Ethiopians. You have the Somalians, which the Civil War is their, cup of tea. And so there it is just a very volatile. Region in general. Add to that is Islamic extremism. So there’s a heck of a lot going on in that region. You have the South Sudan breaking away from Sudan, and the, the problem there is it’s, it actually represents a rather small part of the entire journey from Cape to Chi, but there’s no way around it you. Okay. Look, if you’ve got a big chunk of money and you’ve got some very good contacts, you can find a way around it. You can get fixers, you can get this, you can get that.
Scott Brady: Yeah. That’s the current way to do it. Through South Sudan, into Sudan.
Graham Bell: Right. And or even through Iria. There’s ways to go around Eritrea. There’s ferries I think from, Saudi Arabia. So there are ways to do it for those who have the means, and the courage to commit those expendable assets. But it, it is very expensive. So it’s a choke point on that entire route, which is forcing more and more people to go the West African route.
Scott Brady: Well, and it looks like Ethiopia has reopened borders. They’re allowing tourists, tourists to go through. You can get a tourist visa to Ethiopia now.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. Yes and no. The, the big obstacle right now is, with Overlanders, with their own vehicles. So there’s a couple of things going on. It’s, it’s a multi-variable issue right now in Ethiopia. And I’m actually, I’m writing an article for Exhibition Portal about this. So I’ve been doing a lot of research and corresponding with folks who are on the ground right now. I’m traveling, in that region. There’s two things happening Ethiopia. One is the recent civil conflict in the northern part of the country with the TG in the Tigray region. And that’s sort of an internal conflict, you know, within the country. And it’s essentially a civil war, It’s sort of calmed a little bit. There’s a little bit of a little bit of a peace right now, a little bit of the ceasefire, but over the last year, year and a half or so, it’s kind of gone up and down and a lot of that was sourced in the most recent governmental transition in Ethiopia, which happened just a couple years ago. So that that whole northern region with the border with, with Sudan was basically cut off because it was an active war zone. So that was problem number one. That has sort of calmed a little bit. The second problem is a major policy shift right now, in Ethiopian customs. So, there was some point back in October of 2022 when some Overland folks came to the border. I think it was Mo, which is the big border crossing with Kenya. And, customs, folks wanted a 500% deposit on their vehicle as a customs guarantee. 500%. That’s a lot.
Graham Bell: Imagine the a hundred thousand dollars Land Cruiser or something.
Steve Edwards: Exactly right. They said that you have to pay that deposit in US dollars, and if you manage to make it to the other border to leave Ethiopia, they give, give it back to you in Burr, which is the Ethiopian currency and has zero value anywhere other than Ethiopia. So.
Graham Bell: And you’re losing, you know, hyperinflation, so you’re losing every single day. Steve Edwards: Exactly. And so that effectively closed all like overland borders. And there’s some, you know, various reasons for that. There’s a lot of, historically, a lot of sort of customs, issues in Ethiopia. People sort of getting vehicles into the country and selling them and, moving them around in the market without paying any kind of custom duties.
Scott Brady: So, so they’re not accepting a carnet at the border now?
Steve Edwards: Yeah. Even if you’ve got a carnet, they want the deposit. So there has been a very recently some movement to get some work around. So what’s going on right now is you have to pay a $500 deposit, and then, for the vehicle, and then it’s, it’s really in flux. I get people telling me different amounts every day, but the idea is that you pay your deposit for your car if you’re a tourist. And then you have to have a guide, say for example, like you’re, maybe you wanna travel in Midland, China, you have to have a guide. So now that’s the status in Ethiopia. So you have to hire a guide through an agency, and then it’s $50 per person per day or something like that, in addition to like a flat fee on top of it. So it mounts up. You’re like looking like thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars if you wanna spend any time in the country, which is actually a very inexpensive country to travel in. From what I understand at the moment is that the tourism sort of. Government organization is talking with the customs office, internally.
Scott Brady: They have an incentive too fix that.
Steve Edwards: Exactly. Internally, to try to figure out some different workarounds right now. But again, like we’ve discussed earlier, it’s changing like constantly from like day to day essentially. So there may be some, like, some loosening of the issue right now, but who knows, you know, it could be shut down again soon. So Yeah.
Graham Bell: When it’s like the visa that you can get, you can get visas to Ethiopia, but that’s defiant ATIs.
Steve Edwards: Yep, that’s correct.
Graham Bell: I think maybe a solution will be like, dealing with the right hand drive bands in certain countries, and it might be a case of having to put your vehicle on a truck.
Steve Edwards: On a truck.
Graham Bell: Yeah. But then that’s still don’t have to do a TIP or whatever, even if you’re on a transit. So it gets complicated. There’s another route. I believe you can take a ferry to Saudi Arabia, which is opening up to tourists.
Steve Edwards: Saudi’s opening. Yeah.
Graham Bell: But I think, can you do it from Kenya?
Steve Edwards: So it’s from, it’s from Port Sudan to Jetta. Right. But the problem then is like, there’s, you essentially have to get on a container ship or a railroad or something from Jetta to Mombasa. Right now is, is the question. I just saw someone managed to travel from Sudan through Chad. Central African Republic and then is it Cameroon? I think so they went across, yeah.
Graham Bell: Really?
Steve Edwards: Yeah, that was very recently and they did it by vehicle, which was a, a big shock to everyone. So.
Graham Bell: Wow. But the Italian, sorry, there was an Italian diplomat that was actually killed. Steve Edwards: Yeah, that’s right.
Graham Bell: Yeah. Just a few months ago and that very region. You know, it’s, it’s really, it’s risk and reward. I mean, yeah.
Steve Edwards: And another group managed to make it through South Sudan and then through the No Man’s land, between South Sudan and Sudan, which is served administered by the UN right now, then into Sudan and then onto Egypt. But again, yeah, like you were saying.
Scott Brady: That looks like an interesting possibility. I mean, that was where I entered South Sudan. Was through C Depo.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. And there’s a problem right now, this, this area, it’s sort of called colloquially the box. And it is this no man’s land.
Scott Brady: I see that. Yeah.
Steve Edwards: On, on the, and it’s partly as it’s, they’re fighting over, there’s a lot of petroleum deposits there, so that border is far from settled between South Sudan and Sudan. And so there’ve been a few people who’ve managed to get through there. But it’s, again, it kind of gets back to Graham’s point about your tolerance. Risk and how like deep your pockets are, you know, sort of your average whatever, overlander in a Land rover, a you know, a GS or something like that is may struggle. So now we have, we have a lot of people who are just like going in circles around Kenya or like going around circles. In Sudan. They’re just going home. Somalia’s you basically. Impossible. They don’t, they’re, there’s no land crossings in the Somalia right now, but again, you know, next week the whole thing might be resolved.
Graham Bell: Right. But how do you plan for that? You know what I mean? That’s what makes it so difficult is next week it might change, but you, you’re in the middle of a five month, six months, seven month journey. And just kind of hoping that when we get there, it’ll be okay. It’s like the situation we had, from Kabin going into the drc. It’s just so stressful and you just dunno if you’re gonna make it. You think, do I really have the resources, the time and the energy to do turn around? I go all the way back again. But yeah, as far as I remember now this is, I’m, I did my research a little while ago, but that. The option, let’s say you’re going north to south would be Bay Israel into Jordan. Jordan into Saudi Arabia. And then Saudi Arabia get the ferry over to Africa. But then you try and get south of Ethiopia. Right. But then you saw the, the coronae situation with Kenya. And then, so that might be the, the more common route in, which is great now that Saudi Arabia’s opening up to her as aqui pro quo. No right hand drive.
Steve Edwards: No right hand drive in Saudi.
Graham Bell: And no dogs. So I guess I’m not going any anytime.
Steve Edwards: Oh, you put little cat ears on Chewbacca.
Graham Bell: Putting a little place steering wheel on the other side. Yeah. It’s complicated. Steve Edwards: Yeah. So, but I mean, this is all part of the thing that you were saying, Scott, in terms of like opening yourself up to that, you know, flexibility, right? But, but it is exceptionally like hard right now just because yeah. There’s like Graham was saying, it’s like there’s. It’s the choke point and Ethiopia is, yeah. Beautiful and amazing. And in some ways very difficult to travel through, actually, of all the countries we travel through in, in, in eastern southern Africa.
Yeah, it’s, it’s beautiful. The food is, fantastic. The culture’s incredible.
Scott Brady: The coffee. It’s where coffee came from.
Steve Edwards: Yeah. Yeah. It’s this ancient, ancient, ancient culture. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s really amazing. That’s the ongoing thing. And I understand now too that KO dewar on the West coast is also closed. The land borders are closed. I’m not, I haven’t done a bunch of research on this, but I’m hearing it from a lot of folks who are traveling West Africa right now. They’re being just turned away, at the border of KO Deir. I know there’s a, a one couple I guys familiar with Gusto Overland. So they’re currently on the West Coast trip and they, they turned around, they’re headed back to the UK because they couldn’t get through Ko Deir. Yeah. Again, you know, things, things change, right? Yeah. You gotta be prepared like, okay, I’m gonna turn around and go home.
Graham Bell: And Incredible is a really nice country. Ivory Coast is lovely. Capsule City. Get Burger King. That’s a, you need that Burger King after, you’ve earned it.
Scott Brady: It’s funny. It’s funny how those things, yeah. How those things do stand out.
Graham Bell: Then again, so what we’re talking about, these two main routes are West Africa, east Africa, and these are like literally slivers of the entire continent. You have that entire central part of it, which is a no-go zone for, for most people. You know, there’s, you have explorers like Kingsley Holgate, we were spoken about him before. South African. He’s considered the most explored man in Africa. And he will go through these countries, sponsored by Land Rover. But he’s got all the fixes, he’s got all the contacts. He’s been there, he is done that, you know, so it, it kind of takes it from you. You get these different levels of overlanders now you get the, you know, the couple that’s, just going for an adventurous journey or something like that, and you get people that are more professional. And more. It’s more integrated into their lifestyle and they have a lot more connections and they have, you know, that, they’re kind of, the resources to invest in getting through these countries. And hopefully we can see a time in the future where that, that center opens up, you know, Chad, c a r.
Scott Brady: That’d be incredible, wouldn’t it?
Graham Bell: That is a massive, I mean, drc, the majority of DRC is completely in.
Steve Edwards: North Africa. Yeah. And Molly Algeria, you know, these, these, these.
Scott Brady: Start going back to Timbuktu?
Steve Edwards: Yeah. A dream route, you know, would be like trans Sahara. Right?
Scott Brady: Absolutely.
Steve Edwards: You know?
Scott Brady: Absolutely.
Steve Edwards: I mean, yeah. Who knows, right? But like, say for example, like the border between Algeria, Morocco has been closed since time immemorial, right?
Scott Brady: We, and we’ve, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about crossing the continent, but the reality is, is that even to spend six months and never, never leaving South Africa, Latu, Tani, like, I mean, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, like you could have a lifetime of adventures.
Steve Edwards: The scale of the continent and the scale absolutely massive of the countries in it.
Scott Brady: Yeah. They’re absolutely massive.
Steve Edwards: Are shocking in their size. Right?
Scott Brady: Yeah. So there’s, for those that are listening, the reason why we’re talking about traveling on the African continent is because it is such a special place. It is. It has the most special place in my heart. Of all the places that I go. And even if you’re saying, I’m just gonna go for two weeks and I’m gonna have an experience in Namibia, it will be the experience of a lifetime. Because it, the first time you, you see an orx walking along the top of a sand dune, it’s life changing. The first time that you hear a lion roar, the first time an elephant sneaks up behind you because they’re silent. They’re like gigantic ninja. I don’t know how they do that, but like somehow they are silent going through the bush. These are experiences that are otherworldly. They are absolutely incredible and they change you as a person. Consider traveling to the African continent. Consider doing a trip like this. Talk to some people that live there. Follow their stories, read their stories, and then plan your own venture.
Graham Bell: If I could add to that, I think doing trance Africa, East west, it’s for some, it’s a feather in the cap for either it’s part of a greater world where, like it is for me, I want to drive, travel the whole world, you know, around the world. I want to cross these continents. It’s very important for me to do these transcontinental journeys. But for most people, they would get a lot more out of their effort and their investment in Africa specifically if they had to focus on a region.
Steve Edwards: Agree. Yeah.
Graham Bell: That region, I, in my experience, you get the most bang for your buck would be southern and touching into East Africa, ship into South Africa. And like you said, you could spend six months, a year, two years just going around doing that circle. If you want, if you want to eat giant shrimp on the beach under a palm tree, you go to Mozambique. If you want to, you know, see the, the oranges and the elephants and the desert lines, go get lost in Namibia in the desert for a while. You know, unbelievable is and is everything in between. You want a five star experience, it’s there. You want absolute freedom in the middle of nowhere. It’s there. You know, you get to choose. So ship your vehicle there or buy a vehicle there. And that’s another great, I think point. But yeah, traveling in the African continent, and we all know this is that South Africa is a very good place to buy and equip overland vehicles.
Scott Brady: For sure. And they have a lot of infrastructure for it.
Steve Edwards: And the dollar is very strong right now.
Graham Bell: The labor’s cheap. You look at half of the, the overland products that are on the market. So many of those innovations and so many of those products, well respected products are coming outta South Africa. You could buy yourself that defender that you’ve always wanted. That is out of reach in, or even that Toyota Land cruiser. You just can’t get in in the US patrol. You want a Unimog.
Scott Brady: They’re all there.
Graham Bell: They’re all there. And they’re affordable, relatively affordable.
Scott Brady: I found myself the other day, looking at a little cabin overlooking a creek in Olstrom. And it was, 48,000 US dollars, right. For the land and the cabin and frontage of the creek. And then you spend another 25,000 on an old defender. And I could, I could whittle away the rest of my life doing that.
Graham Bell: Right. So. Right. Yeah.
Scott Brady: So it’s an incredible place and it is affordable to travel there. It is. If you need, if you are looking for affordable travel, it’s absolutely possible. So.
Steve Edwards: And particularly if you’re really interested in that wildlife experience, most of the big wildlife game parks in say Tanzania and Kenya are wildly expensive. For foreign travelers. $500 per person per day. Kind of expensive for sure, for sure. Whereas, you know, many of the game parks, national parks in say Botswana or Namibia or South Africa, like it’s, you know, arrive and drive, right? Yeah. And you have your own experience. It’s, order of magnitude less expensive. It’s not, say it’s. Cheap per se, but it’s, you see all of the same animals, that you do in Kenya and you can see them in South Africa. You can see them both. Scott Brady: The most incredible campsite I’ve ever had in my life was outside of Mound. And we had worked with a local community that had kind of its own little land in holding. It was not part of a park. And you could get a permit to camp Wild, wild Camp. No fences, no chain link. No locks. You drive along the trail and you’re like, this looks like a nice spot, and you set up camp and you start the fire and, and you see the, you know, the hippo and you see the, you know, the giraffe were drinking and you hear the lions in the distance and the light had gone down and that was just the firelight. And I just got this sense that there was something like that eats people around here, and like, you know, again, the hair that I don’t have on the top of light.
Graham Bell: Sometimes you can smell them.
Scott Brady: Maybe that’s what it, maybe that’s what it was. Even subconsciously. Maybe that’s what it was. And, and you know, my good friend Greg Miller, he was working on downloading some pictures onto his laptop. Focused on his, on his computer and I’m like, there’s something right there. And I popped my flashlight on and there was, I don’t, the biggest hyena I’ve ever seen in my life, about 10, 15 yards behind him moving through the grass. And as soon as the light hit, he was gone, or she was probably she. Big, big one and was gone. It makes you feel alive.
Graham Bell: Oh yeah. I’ve had camps where, you know, step outside the vehicle or doing whatever and it’s just getting ready for bed and you’re settling down and then you kind of feel that and you put the, the torch on and then there’s a set of eyes and the further apart the eyes are the better you have to be. And they’re not blinking and they just focus completely on here like this, this is my queue to get behind some canvas cause that’ll protect me.
Steve Edwards: In Western Botswana and the far reaches of the Central Colari Game Reserve, there’s an extremely remote campsite that is one of our favorites and one evening, well, middle of the night actually, we were sleeping in our roof tent. I was exhausted and, but out of nowhere I sat like bolt upright, you know, in the tent, like I was awake. And I was like, why am I awake? And I could, I could smell this like wild smell, you know, outside. And then I, then I could hear it just breathing and I looked and I looked at the mesh and there’s an eye, right? And it’s an elephant, right? And, and I kind of look and the whole campsite is full of elephants, you know, and this is, you know, 2:00 AM right? And like you were saying, they’re so, you know, graceful in their movements, you know, they’re like, yeah.
Scott Brady: Ninjas, ninjas.
Steve Edwards: Stepping over the guidelines for the tents. And then one of them like broke a huge branch off the tree in the campsite. Of course, Julie sat straight up, but, but they were there for an hour, just munching on the trees and hanging out and yeah. But that moment when you know you’re, your eye to eye with an elephant.
Scott Brady: It’s so humbling.
Steve Edwards: Through some mesh, right?
Scott Brady: It’s so is incredible. It is so humbling. Well, gentlemen, thank you both so much for being on the podcast and allowing us to talk about, it sounds like the three of us, our favorite place on the planet, truly an exceptional spot. How do people get in touch with you, Graham, if they wanna follow you on social media?
Graham Bell: A two A expedition, that’s a number two, a expedition, is my Facebook page. Yep. And, and I’m Graham dot r dot bell on Instagram.
Scott Brady: Nice. And then Steve, how do people get in touch with you?
Steve Edwards: Yeah, you bet. We’re, our handle on Instagram is venturesome overland. And I’ve been a little quiet on there, in the last few months, but, you know, I’m, I’m always checking, for messages and I do love, maybe if you couldn’t tell, during the course of this podcast, I love to talk to folks about traveling in Africa. I teach classes on it, Overland Expo, as you can find me at Expo. It’s just a part of the world that I’m, you know, staunch advocate for. And if you’re into adventure travel, there’s no other place like it. Yeah. And then of course, also you can find me on Exhibition portal and I’m happy to touch base there as well.
Scott Brady: Perfect. Yeah. And you, you all can reach out to me with any questions as well, Scott dot a Brady on Instagram. We thank you all for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.