Team Tane continue their journey through Africa, with the goal of climbing the five highest peaks on the continent. They’ve stuffed their belongings into Badger, their Suzuki Jimny, and despite the heat, a few shocking roads and a flooded pan, they’ve made it to Lake Tanganyika, in Tanzania.
Throughout our Africa Sky High journey, Tarryn and I are trying to ask and answer some fundamental questions: how much do you really need on an extended overland trip and can you fit it all into a little Suzuki Jimny? What is Africa? Not the Africa we see on TV (which portrays violence and famine), but the real Africa, the cradle of humankind: where people are perfectly happy their entire lives. What are the environmental and cultural marvels of this continent? Finally and very importantly: is it possible to tackle the interior of mighty Africa alone, in a pint-sized, relatively standard Suzuki Jimny called Badger?
Three weeks into our journey, we can confidently say we are starting to develop coherent, real-life opinions on the answers to these questions. We don’t have the final answers yet, and won’t until the end of the trip. However, Africa has already started speaking to us and through that conversation, given us some idea. In truth, the first question has already been categorically answered. It is easily possible to pack your entire life into a Jimny. We can say this without hesitation as we’ve done it. Even as relatively newbies to overland 4×4, we successfully fitted not only all the necessities, but niceties like a fridge, solar panel and dual battery (which Opposite Lock helped us fit).
In addition, we have stuff most overland travellers won’t ever need or take; a Smartgrid satellite modem and mountains of tech to keep you up to date, a full quiver of Osprey hiking and mountaineering packs and, finally, Black Diamond climbing gear to help get us up Africa’s five highest mountains. Sure, we’ve had a bit of a head start with the cool draw system Wizerd helped us build, but it doesn’t defeat the point. The reality is, this style of overlanding requires a minor mental shift towards more minimalist travel and some lightweight gear. But it is possible. With that question answered before we left, we moved on to the second question: what is the real Africa? The hints at this have come thick and fast: Africa is an adventure. Africa is diverse; it can be dusty and hot but more than this, it is raw, untouched and generally mind-blowing.
The general level of mind-blowing started with our first day on the road, where we met numerous rhino in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary just across the border in Botswana, and has not really stopped since. On our first morning, while trying to catch Tarryn’s parents who were with us for the first two weeks, we nearly drove into a leopard stalking an impala in the middle of the road. We met nearly 20 giant-toothed hippo while sitting in a small fibreglass makoro (the wooden ones are not used much anymore due to an initiative to try prevent deforestation) in the middle of the Okavango, a huge pack of wild dogs and countless elephant in Moremi and Savuti and tried not to vomit from the smell as we watched lion and vultures eat a hole in a decaying elephant the lions killed in Chobe.
We experienced the lunar rainbow at the mighty Victoria Falls, hung out in our hammock next to the remote, little-known Lumangwe Falls (which rival Victoria in grandeur) and today we swam in Lake Tanganyika. Where else in the world can you experience all these things in three weeks? Nowhere, that’s where. So far we can be nothing but complimentary of the people we have met regardless of creed, colour or job description. Even the generally infamous cops have been amazing. Instead of asking for bribes as people assume every African police officer will, they have provided us with directions and told us “I very much like your car!” The cities and towns have been a bit overwhelming at times what with their heat, dust and traffic but as with everything, we have found it is a matter of perspective. Once we have accepted the facades and relaxed, they have proved to be just like any other city or town. So with that question answered, let’s move on to the question you’ve been waiting for… what about the car and the driving?
To date we covered close to 5 000km through South Africa, Botswana and Zambia and are teetering on the edge of crossing into the west of Tanzania next to Lake Tanganyika. Surprisingly, at the risk of sounding boring, much of the roads have been great quality tar. Despite this, the driving has been far from boring. With the roads being the arteries of the countries and easiest walking paths they are lined with villages and are busy from morning to night with people and animals. Having lived in Papua New Guinea and knowing the possible retribution if you hit an animal, or worse a person, driving these roads can be a tense experience as you need to constantly be on high alert. We have already experienced a goat disembowelled by a speeding local and the anger exhibited by the villagers.
Tarred roads aside, there have also been significant sections of dirt road, track and terrain which could never deserve the title ‘road’. The dirt road has varied from pretty impressive to impressively terrible, with giant dongas and washouts. Particularly memorable are the roads in and out of Savuti and Moremi, which started with wicked corrugations where we loudly thanked Opposite Lock for its Tough Dog suspension and ended in a deep sea of sand where the middel mannetjie tickled the smash plates that Wizerd installed. Nothing, however, came close to the roadless Makgadigadi Pans.
The rains transformed sections, which are generally dry as a bone, into veritable wetlands, turning the ground into a quagmire of slippery mud covered by about a foot of water. The largest section like this we attempted was nearly 1km across. Needless to say, we had to put on nappies before attempting it and spent hours after trying to reduce our heartrates. Even though our resolve has bent and nearly broken at times in these experiences, we can confidently say our little Suzuki Badger has never faltered. Not once has he even thought of getting stuck. The only maintenance we have done is to replace a rear brake bulb, clean the brake drums and re-jiggle the draw system when a spacer bounced out on the corrugations.
We fixed a puncture in Tarryn’s Dad’s Hilux and thanked Bridgestone for creating Duellers which have held up formidably. With regard to the last question, we have a growing respect for what we are trying to achieve tackling Africa alone in our little Suzuki but are confident we can do it. He may not be bulletproof but we have growing evidence that Badger can handle himself in tough situations. All we can do now is continue along the tracks of Africa hoping our gut feel is correct.
Text: Shane Quinnell, Photos: Shane Quinnell and Debbie Stevenson