This month, explorer Kingsley Holgate reminisces about his infamous ‘Outside edge’ trip, following the outer edges of the continent. It was a 449-day and 64 327km ordeal – a trip with many highlights and plenty of hardships.
Like expectant hyenas around a lion kill, the expedition members gather hungrily around the ‘Tailgate Café’. We’ve travelled for years together and it’s become an important tradition. Simply put – anything that can fit onto the tailgate of a Landy is lunch. Ross Holgate carefully slices the last of the bully beef, while Bruce Leslie peels open a few cheese slices and cuts some rather mouldy bread into chunks. There’s a near-empty tub of margarine and a big tin of baked beans. Mike Nixon, our mountain-biking veteran of many adventures, pulls open three small tins of sardines.
“Don’t throw away the oil – it will soften the bread,” says Anna Holgate, while Lumbaye Lenguru from Kenya who has travelled with us for 24 years, adds some leftover nyama from last night’s fire and some rather dodgy-looking chapattis. A large Zulu wooden meat tray, or Ugqoko, serves as a food tray; there’s some Mrs Balls, the last of the Nando’s hot sauce and for the sweet toothers, honey and a big tub of crunchy peanut butter. A rubbish bag is tied to the corner of the tailgate; the coffee water boils on a hastily made fire. It’s always a jolly occasion and today Ross gets the conversation going by asking: “So in all our travels, which is your favourite expedition?” For a minute or two, all you can hear is chomping. “Hmmm…” mumbles red-bearded Bruce who’s busy cramming a sardine and tomato doorstep sarmie into his mouth: “Eritrea,” he mutters. “Come on Bruce, not a country. I mean an entire Expedition!” replies Ross.
We laugh but we know what he means. For some reason, Eritrea was the ‘Red Dog’s’ favourite stop on the entire journey to track the outline of Africa in a world-first Land Rover adventure called Africa, the Outside Edge. As we munch on, we all agree it had been an incredible Landy adventure. Later, with the tailgate closed and grinding in low ratio down the rocky, dry riverbed that is taking us towards the Mathews Range in Kenya’s far north, I get to reminiscing about the Outside Edge: how armed with a symbolic Zulu calabash of Cape of Good Hope seawater and a Scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention endorsed by Nobel Peace Laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 347 Land Rovers had escorted us out of the Mother City on one of the greatest adventures of our lives. Clockwise around Africa: up the shoreline of Namibia’s Sperrgebiet and the Skeleton Coast, high Namib dunes, shipwrecks and seals.
Across the Kunene River, along the beautiful coast of Angola and squeezing the three Landies onto a pirate boat to cross the mile-deep mouth of the Congo. Elephants on the beaches of Gabon, the islands of São Tomé, Bom Bom and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea; slip-sliding, pushing and winching through endless mud in Cameroon, the challenge of crowded Lagos and the voodoo practices of Benin and Togo. The friendly Ghanaians, and surviving Côte d’Ivoire, war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone. Detouring west for a while to empty Mashozi’s dad’s ashes into the Niger at Timbuktu and then back again to the Outside Edge to the most westerly point of the continent in Senegal. Up the Atlantic shoreline of the Sahara and onto magical places with names like Tangiers, Casablanca and Fez. The hassles of the closed border between Morocco and Algeria that forced us through Gibraltar and Spain then onto a night ferry back to Algeria, and waving at the astonished border guards on the Moroccan side who’d refused to let us exit a few days before. And then a dash through the Sahara under armed guard to meet the president in exile of Western Sahara who also endorsed the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill; I finger the silver bangle he gave me that I still wear on my wrist, next to Madiba’s 46664 bracelet.
Across the Greenwich Meridian to Africa’s most northern point in Tunisia, the extreme hassles of Libya and Gadhafi’s suspicious spies who shadowed our every move. Historic Egypt, the Gulf of Suez and the incredible but dangerous journey across Northern Sudan’s Nubian Desert to reach Port Sudan with just a tablespoon or two of diesel to spare. Following the Red Sea coast, the Red Dog’s Eritrea, onto Djibouti and down the east coast of Africa: Lamu, Mombasa, Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. Across the Ruvuma into Mozambique, a few doses of malaria and the excitement of the race to get to the finishing point at the Cape of Good Hope in time for Madiba’s birthday. I remember at last light, piling out of the Landies, sliding over rocks and long tubes of black-green kelp: 449 days, 64 327 kilometres, millions of tyre revolutions, tens of thousands of potholes and corrugations, hundreds of campfires and river crossings, buckets of sweat, loads of laughs and thousands of lives saved and improved through this adventure to track Africa’s Outside Edge.
I recall the emotion of it all, the journey ending in just a few seconds, the team placing their hands on the calabash of seawater taken from this same place all those months ago. And how we shivered with cold as it glugged slowly back into the icy South Atlantic. Later, down at the V&A Waterfront, I remember fiddling with the pebble in my pocket. Table Mountain loomed large in the background. In the foreground stood the four larger-than-life bronze statues of South African Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Albert Luthuli. Chiselled into the paving stones below are the words: Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu – A Person Is A Person Through Other People. I know that our Outside Edge expedition succeeded only because of all the wonderful people who pushed it along. We’d made it, but there was a missing part. Somalia’s Mogadishu and the port of Berbera in Somaliland were too dangerous at the time. So later, at some risk, that piece was completed. But that’s a Road Less Travelled story for another day.