Text: Johan Badenhorst
Photographs: Stefan Sonnekus
Our camera gear and passports were confiscated. The police in Agadez in Niger, the world’s poorest country, detained us lock, stock and barrel at the local police station. Our filming permit, according to the local police chief, did not entitle us to shoot in Agadez. It was only valid in Niamey, he said.
Calls were made to South African embassy staff. They in turn made calls, but it was a Sunday, so getting hold of the right persons was no easy task. After nearly two days of being detained and ignored, the call from a senior government official finally came through. We were to be released.
The police handed over our passports, but refused to release our camera equipment. Debate followed. The story changed, and we were told to go back to Niamey to sort out the paperwork there. Heated debate followed.
Phone calls from the South African embassy followed.
Finally, after several hours of this, we got our cameras back, sans a videotape that was in the camera.
We left Agadez, escorted by a military convoy, relieved to have left this horrid place seemingly at the end of the world, in our dust. About 400km after leaving the city of Agadez, we arrived in one of the friendliest cities we have ever come across: the city of Zinder. It was a stark contrast to the horrid Agadez.
Although we had a good time there and stood amazed at the people’s friendliness nature, we were all eager to leave Niger and to do so as soon as possible. Although we knew that we would be facing lots of bribery in Nigeria, we certainly did not shed any tears over Niger.
Nigeria… It’s a country full of friendly people. Even the policemen at the never-ending roadblocks are armed with a friendly smile when they ask for a “present”. The city of Kano, for instance, is overflowing with seven million people, living in between dirt and garbage. It’s not pretty.
The rainy season was also announcing its imminent arrival with occasional showers. The Toyota Land Cruiser 70s, customised by LA Sport to handle the worst of conditions, did handled the worst of conditions as we made our way through Nigeria to Chad.
Chad… The Waza National Park was interesting, especially the Topi, a large antelope that looks as if he is wearing white gaiters. We couldn’t camp in the park, though. Apparently Nigerian poachers are swarming here, and will also attack campers.
Cameroon… As we crossed into our eighth country, the rain started coming down as if there was no tomorrow. Roads were closed due to the rain, but we soldiered on, testing the Cruisers to their absolute limits. One day it took us 11 hours to cover just over 300km – with a 30-minute lunch stop – so bad was the condition of the roads. Mud and rain made the going extremely tough.
At one stage, as I was trying to skirt past a truck stuck in the mud, my Toyota slid into a ditch and nearly went over. The guys quickly came to my aid, and we hauled the Cruiser 70 out of the ditch with the winch. It was a close call.
After spending a few days in Limbe, an interesting coastal town with a South African-owned and run restaurant, we headed to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. There we met up with more South Africans, and the high commissioner spoiled us with drinks and food. Lovely.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)… Getting to the DRC was no mean feat. We had driven through the jungle on roads that should not be called roads. We winched. We struggled. But on we went. In the little town along the way, mobs of villagers gathered around our vehicles, jumping on it as we drove. It wasn’t pleasant.
Gary Swemmer from LA Sport, driving the Cruiser bakkie that carried the most weight, was meanwhile literally driving on eggs. All but one of the leaf springs on one side of his 70 had snapped. But finally, we crossed the mighty Congo River. We were unofficially in the DRC, on our way to Kinshasa. Our mission was to get those springs sorted out. If the final one snapped in the middle of the bush. Well…
After searching high and low, temporary repairs were done in a typically bush manner: with a very heavy hammer. The not-so-original items had to be beaten into submission to fit into the Cruiser. It was far from the perfect solution, but the Cruiser was on its feet again.
But now we had to officially cross into the DRC, as we had not clocked into a border post yet. And the problem with the visas started. The visas should have been sent to the border post from South Africa. It was a problem that saw us stranded there for several days, before the situation could finally be resolved. And a small fortune was spent on paying for “fines” incurred. It was a frustrating time.
Angola… We were supposed to meet up with Angolan tour guide and former recce, Koos Moorcroft. We had missed our original meeting date, thanks to… well, we were in Africa, after all.
The guys took the opportunity to try and find a permanent fix for the Cruiser’s suspension woes. Gary, Ray and Stefan headed to Luanda. The 50km trip took them longer than three hours. They traced a set of used leaf springs. The sellers soon realised it was the only set in all of Luanda, and the price skyrocketed. All the way to almost R4000. We had no choice. The deal was made, and that evening Gary’s Cruiser boasted a well-used set of blades.
We eventually met up with Koos Moorcroft and company at Flamingo Lodge. From there we tackled the infamous “Acre of Death”, the same one where we nearly faced a major disaster in 2008 and was forced to turn around. This time we had no trouble.
Namibia… We crossed into our second last country, driving along the beautiful Kunene River, past the Epupa waterfall.
Ahead of us lies the last great trek of our journey, across Kaokoland, with its colourful Himba people and absolutely stunning scenery, to South Africa, and Cape Town.
We can almost smell home from here. It’s that close now.
Where on earth?
If you want to follow the progress of the Voetspore team, you can now do so via Google Earth. Visit www.voetspore.co.za, select the link “waar reis ons,” and follow the Google Earth links. The website also features daily updates on the team’s progress, photos, and you can send the team a message.