Life as An Overlander

With our East African safaris over, it was time to become properly acquainted with our nomadic life on the road. It transpired that there were only eight of us (the hardcore!) who were travelling the entire route down to Cape Town, and we would be joining a new group as well as changing trucks and tour leaders at the half way point - Victoria Falls in Zambia. I was actually quite pleased about this, as three weeks is quite a long time with one group (no offence, fellow overlanders) and two separate tours would make my time in Africa seem longer.

Everything we needed was carried on board the truck. Camping and cooking equipment was stowed in the sides, and we each had a large locker on board for our backpacks. Keeping lockers tidy and organised became an art form (that I never properly mastered) so that we didn’t have to take our backpack off the truck every night. Being a ‘participation’ tour, we were divided into teams and had a daily rota of duties - cooking, washing up, packing and truck cleaning. One of the tour leaders did all the driving, but they shared responsibilities for food purchasing, meal planning and general organisation.

Just Passing Through

There were some awfully long days spent on the truck. I knew that there was a lot of ground to cover – that is the definition of an overland tour, after all – but sometimes we couldn’t help but feel our destination was a little pointless. This was especially the case between Tanzania and Zambia where several sites were simply stopovers on our journey to the next ‘highlight’. We looked forward to the locations where we would be spending a couple of nights, or at least arriving by midday, so that we could do some activities and feel more settled. Physically the tour wasn’t really demanding enough, but psychologically it was unexpectedly so.

One of the stunning campsite locations
That said, it was constantly fascinating to see the changing landscapes out of the window. After leaving Tanzania, the scenery became arguably less diverse and spectacular until we reached Southern Africa - Namibia - which was stunning and so totally unlike anywhere I had seen before. Although we didn’t have long at most of the sites, one of the great benefits of overlanding is that the itinerary is well planned and stops are often in fantastically remote, tranquil and breathtaking locations.

Most journeys proved eventful in some way or another. Those dozing in the truck were frequently awoken by our driver hooting wildly at animals in the road – or indeed locals. We got lots of shouts and waves from children as our strange truck full of white people passed through their community. In Malawi, we wondered what was happening when an entire village appeared to be sprinting along the main road towards us. Apparently another overlanding truck that stowed its luggage on the roof had somehow shed some mattresses on the road and this was like manna from Heaven for the villagers, racing to claim the goods. Sometimes the tour leaders bought provisions from stalls by the side of the road in rural areas – such as firewood, potatoes etc – and a feverish scramble would break out as the vendors fought to secure the business of lucrative bulk-buying overlanders!

In East and Central Africa, it was generally getting dark by the time we arrived at our campsite so the first task was always to put up our tents and grab our mattresses from the truck before light disappeared. Usually there was very little time to ourselves once we arrived, especially if we were on cooking duty as everyone would be hungry (we built up a surprising appetite whilst sat on our backsides!) It became a feat of timing and organisation to fit some hand-washing and a shower into the evening, leaving enough time for socialising around the campfire or in the bar. Our first question at the campsite was usually “Is there hot water?!” but often the electricity was sporadic, or the fire to heat the water wasn’t lit, so we braved cold showers.

Food on the tour was excellent and surpassed all my expectations. If anything, some of the meals were over-ambitious and it might have been quicker and easier to opt for less complication creations. Aside from braais (BBQ over a fire), we had lots of meat and game dishes served with pasta, rice or a local staple such as the aptly named ‘pap’ in South Africa. In addition, a great selection of side dishes were on offer, like roasted squash and salads. Highlights included a delicious kudu stew (a type of antelope) concocted by tour leader Blessed, roast chicken with cauliflower and cheese sauce, lasagne (created by Fiona on the BBQ, incredibly) and homemade butternut squash soup. We were also introduced to a few ‘overlanding specialities’ such as cabbage with peanut butter and a bizarre dish of banana, tinned peas, mayonnaise and condensed milk - which we suspected was a way of using up ingredients rather than a recognised recipe!

The most talked-about dish of the trip - for all
the wrong reasons

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