To Johan Badenhorst, Voetspore is a lifestyle. Long gone are the days when it was a job, though many people tell him it has always been a subsidised holiday. Perhaps, but Voetspore is the way he makes a living.
Over the years the Voetspore expeditions have developed into much more than six guys in three 4x4s, travelling the African continent.
At first there was the TV programme. Next came the books – expedition journals and cookbooks. A clothing range was introduced and eventually a lifestyle shop in Pretoria.
The shop is a base where we exchange knowledge and information with fellow travellers. We give advice about equipment, vehicles, routes and other matters. But there is a serious advantage that we were not even aware of when we opened the shop – the customers (or should I say like-minded travellers?) also bring information to the shop, and so help us a lot when we are planning our trips.
Before our last expedition, two specific incidents in the shop contributed to our safety and the success of Voetspore on the Equator.
Koos Taljaard of PPC Cement, while paying at the till for a few products, mentioned that he could introduce us to the governor of the Oriental Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Jean Bamanisa, if that would be useful. They were friends. When we got stuck in Kisangani, the governor and his staff helped us in many ways. Bamanisa even extended our visas free of charge when we ran out of time, saving us thousands of rands. Having direct access to such a high ranking official was indeed very helpful.
Another person who visited the shop was Johan Ayers, Chief Operations Officer of Vodacom in the DRC. When we eventually reached Kinshasa after four weeks on a barge in the Congo River, Ayers arranged for us to meet Christo Human. Christo gave us a place to stay, showed us around Kinshasa and assisted in communicating with the Angolan embassy about transit visas for our trip home. The Voetspore team will never forget the hospitality of the Vodacom guys in the DRC.
Now we are planning the next trip. This time — Voetspore No 9 – we will drive up the Great Rift Valley. We plan to start just north of Beira. From there we’ll go to Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika.
Next stop will be the source of the Nile in Burundi, then Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lake Albert in Uganda. Possibly we’ll visit the gorillas in the Impenetrable Forest Reserve in Uganda.
From there we hope to go to Lake Turkana in Kenya, and then via a succession of lakes in Ethiopia to Lake Assal in Djibouti. That will complete the journey along the Great Rift Valley.
We are, however, tempted to go to the true northern end of the Rift Valley. That implies travelling either on the African side of the Red Sea through Eritrea and Sudan, or on the eastern shores along Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Both routes are problematic, but with the assistance of people who may by chance visit our shop and have a discussion, or read this article and send me an e-mail, who knows?
Planning a trip is a fantastic experience. We believe there should be some goal to the journey. The overall theme is to get to know more and more about this fascinating continent, its people, its wild life and geography.
I know that once the journey starts you should be very flexible. Only occasionally are there specific dates to be met. Making a booking for the gorilla trek is one of them. Only a few permits are issued for each day, because the exposure that the gorillas are given to humans is limited. You have to make a booking way in advance, and if you miss the date you will lose hundreds of dollars.
We meet more and more South Africans through our travels. They get in touch with us. Facebook has become a very handy tool in this regard. Currently we are in the region of 40 000 “likes”, which gives an indication of how many people are aware of our journeys. Many of them invite us to join them somewhere along the way.
These days it is becoming less difficult to plan a Voetspore expedition. We are aware of the do’s and don’ts. But what makes the planning even easier is the input we receive from others. May this never stop!