The question that Johan Badenhorst gets asked most often is, “May I come with you?” Unfortunately, space is limited on the Voetspore trips into Africa, and there are some snags…
People are pretty envious of our travels in Africa. Young guys, looking for adventure, would love to join us. So would retired gentlemen with lots of practical knowledge. Middle-aged women tell me we should take ladies on our trips, because they are more than capable of surviving a three-month journey. All types off people want to come along because they believe travelling in Africa is fantastic. They are right, but…
Consider a few of the issues on the downside: malaria, insect bites, diarrhoea, border crossings, militant rebels, foul tasting water, sleeping in the wet, not washing for a week or more, having Ouma rusks for lunch (at four o’clock in the afternoon as the first meal of the day), managing things at home without a cellphone signal or access to the internet, coping with severe weather, handling dust, mud and rain… and so the list goes on.
Malaria is a very big problem. We take every precaution possible. We swallow our anti-malaria pills. We apply lotions and sprays. We sleep under mosquito nets. Yet it is impossible to avoid being bitten. One just hopes that the female anopheles that bites you is not a carrier of the deadly disease.
During our Voetspore on the Equator expedition, two of our guys contracted malaria. Gideon, especially, was in a very bad state. His fever reached 42 degrees. He was practically in a coma. This did not happen near a major town or city. We were in the middle of nowhere on the worst road on the continent. The trees were so high we couldn’t get reception on the satellite phone. We were also stuck behind a few hundred trucks that could not move because of an obstacle, stuck in the mud.
This was a very worrying time, and we were relieved when the Coartem medication did its job, and Gideon survived. There were times when we thought he wouldn’t make it.
Insect bites are common – from spiders and sand lice to fleas. On a Voetspore trip you do a lot of scratching. You also take a lot of antihistamine tablets and apply tubes of ointment. But these don’t make things much easier. You just have to bear with it.
Somewhere along the way you are bound to suffer from diarrhoea, because of something you ate or the water you drank. And the toilet facilities, most of time, leave much to be desired. More often than not you have to make use of the bush. In countries like Rwanda or Ethiopia there are so many rural people around that the chances are good that you will have a few spectators!
We treat our water in an attempt to avoid getting an upset tummy. When there is time, we put it through a water purifier. More often than not, this is not possible so we treat it with chlorine. Drinking “swimming pool tasting water” for three months is part of a Voetspore experience.
We try to get to some kind of bathroom facility at least every second day. We have learned to enjoy a cold shower. There is a Tanzanian proverb that says, “A man who willingly takes a cold shower does not feel the cold”. We willingly take cold showers, but even that is not always possible. We don’t try to set dubious records, but at one stage on the Gansbaai-Gabon trip, we went without a shower for nine days. After day three you start to itch. By day six you get used to it. By the eighth day you just don’t care any more.
Driving through mud or severe dust is quite a challenge. It looks good on television, but you have to deal with the consequences. The dust at times is so bad that it gets into an unopened tin of jam!
Mud has the same effect. Everything gets dirty. Days go by before you get the chance to clean up again. There comes a time when you just give in and accept that everything is going to be dirty.
We plan our meals, and eat well. We even get criticised for the fact that we prepare meals on Voetspore. But sometimes we have to get going early in the morning, before breakfast. Or the road conditions are such that we travel much longer than expected to cover the target distance. In an attempt not to drive after dark, or to keep driving in the dark to a minimum, “lunch” may comprise only a rusk or two, swallowed down with the chlorine tasting water. When we eventually arrive at our destination, we are often just too tired to prepare a meal. Going to bed a little hungry is not unusual for a Voetspore team.
Africa has cellphone signals across the continent, but we often travel far off the beaten track and for a day or two, perhaps up to a week, we lose contact with home. That is when things can go wrong. That is when your wife needs an urgent answer for the bank manager. That is when your daughter must complete a school assignment and you have the answers to the questions she is struggling with at your fingertips. That is when the family may be trying to reach you with news about illness or the death of a loved one…
What the young guy seeking adventure, the retired gentleman with good, practical knowledge, the middle-aged blonde wanting to prove a point, or the black guy eager to explore his continent don’t always see on television is the things that make Voetspore so challenging. Does that mean we are getting tired of facing the challenges? Definitely not. We have one of the best jobs in the world. There are no ifs or buts, although it takes a certain type of personality to face these challenges and at times even to embrace them. That is why Voetspore is and will remain a team event.