Ever wondered what it’s like to take a road trip through Africa? Are you planning to take one sometime in the future and have no idea what you should prepare for or expect? Or do you just want to find inspiration to quit your job and hit the road?
Nicolas Bori spent 5 months on an Overland Africa trip with his girlfriend, covering destinations from Cape Town to Cairo, and is in the process of producing a travel series named “I Quit!”, about his experiences. Support his “I Quit” Travel Series on Facebook, and read the interview below!
1) What prompted your 5-month overland trip?
I won a contest through Intrepid Travel while I was working back in Ireland, which triggered the whole trip. The prize allowed me to decide what destination I wanted to visit and just go there. They offered the option to do an overland crossing of a continent, and I love those kinds of trips – long overland journeys, as close to the local culture as possible.
2) How did you decide on Africa?
At the beginning it was tough to decide, but I’ve never been to most of Africa besides Egypt. Before this, I’ve taken similar trips independently through Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey, and it was great, but somehow, I never thought I could do that in Africa because it’s more challenging and dangerous in parts, so I thought this was a great opportunity since it was a safe and organized trip. The alternative would be to travel independently, but even for someone who is used to traveling and can deal with a lot of stuff like language barriers and less than perfect infrastructure, Africa is at a different level in terms of lack of infrastructure and generally chaotic situations in some places.
3) What issues and challenges did you have to deal with during your trip?
After the trip I realized that the challenging conditions in some countries were pretty exaggerated – for example, Namibia and South Africa were super easy to get around. Then other places like Sudan and Ethiopia are very poor and basic in terms of infrastructure, Ethiopia especially. For example, even just trying to get around using the bus service is pretty difficult to do. Even in Mozambique, which is a little more organized, you could not rely on anything. We had to take a bus from Maputo to Tofo, a beach in the north. It was supposed to leave at 9, and when we get there and ask when it’s leaving, they tell us ‘When the bus gets full. Could be 10 minutes, could be 3 hours.’ So we just stayed there hoping we could get to our destination that day, and eventually they cram the minivan so its completely full. I’m a pretty tall guy, so being in there for ten hours with only one 15-minute bathroom & food break was pretty interesting.
4) So what would you say was the most challenging part of your overland Africa trip?
Crossing the border from northern Kenya to Ethiopia. That was really hard because it’s 3 days on the road (well it’s not really a road, just…earth), and it’s in really bad condition. The terrain makes the car shake constantly, so for hours you are going at 20 km/hr with the car jumping the whole time. You have to do this 12 hours a day for 3 days. Not to mention it was extremely hot, since it’s a desert climate, but the windows needed to be closed to protect against the dust outside, and we have no AC. We tried to improvise some curtains, but that didn’t really work, and at some point I was half-hoping someone had decided to build a swimming pool further down by the road (Editor’s & Nicolas’ note: this was not the case).
5) Despite the challenges, what was the best part of your overland expedition?
Definitely meeting the people along the way. There were a few times where we managed to really connect with local people, and that was really special because they were very open and friendly.
One time we were in the northern part of Namibia, and we came across some women with their children by them, so we started playing with the kids. We taught them how to play with a frisbee, and I taught them some games I played when I was a kid back in Argentina. We spent 3 or 4 hours with them even though we didn’t speak the same language. They came back walking with us all the way to the cabin, and the kids were grabbing our hands and singing songs…it’s hard to explain, but it was a very special magical moment.
It was a unique kind of experience, because I’ve seen other places in Africa where they take you to see kids perform a song for you or meet a tribe, but it’s set up for tourists, and it’s not authentic, and you see it in the faces of the people that have seen 1000 tour groups like you – there’s no connection there. So I enjoyed having a genuine connection and experience.
6) What about your favorite sight from the many you saw?
The Meroe pyramids in Sudan. They are smaller than the pyramids in Egypt, but there’s no one around, so there’s not so much traffic and people trying to sell you stuff, like in Cairo. I didn’t know about this place beforehand, and I was amazed to find myself alone in the desert with these thousand-year-old pyramids around me. It was a beautiful, solitary experience.
7) Four months of your trip were organized by Intrepid through Dragoman Adventures, but you and your girlfriend also spent a month driving through southern Africa independently before that. How difficult was it to plan that part of the trip?
We flew into Maputo, and then did Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, and drove through South Africa to Cape Town on our own. Renting a car was pretty easy, we rented at the Mozambique/South Africa border and returned it to an agency in Cape Town. The roads are OK around South Africa, though a lot of people warned us against going to Swaziland and Lesotho, because they say the roads are terrible and you need 4-wheel drive; but I didn’t find that to be true – I guess it depends on what entry point you take, because if you take the route in the north the roads are fine.
Navigation can be hard, so it’s best to plan that out meticulously beforehand, because the signs on the road were few and far between, and sometimes they would point towards a destination but give no indication of how far away it was. A few times we ended up miscalculating the fuel, and managed to get to the gas station just in time, so that was a bit stressful.
Also it’s not recommended to drive at night, so we had to plan our driving times and routes to avoid that. But from Swaziland to Lesotho we completely miscalculated the distances, and it was a two day rather than one day trip. It got dark and we kept following the signs but did not see our destination, Clarens, in the distance. We got into a city that looked shady, but we got out of there and managed to find a nice hostel for the night. Now I’m actually glad that happened, because otherwise we would never have gotten to see the Drakensberg Mountains, which are beautiful.
8) Now some packing advice for my readers – tell us one thing you’re really glad you took with you, and something you wish you would have packed but didn’t.
I’m really glad I took long sleeved shirts & trousers, because although the climate is very hot, that clothing is very useful at sunset and sunrise for protection against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which tend to be very active at that time.
I regret not bringing a better tripod, because I brought a really bad one, and since the whole trip turned into a reason to make a documentary, looking over some of the footage now I would wish I had brought that with me. So I would recommend (especially if you like blogging), make a little bit of an investment in the equipment you bring with you, so you can take full advantage of what you’re seeing.
9) Tell us a little about your travel series – production schedule, when you plan to release it, etc.
We just ran a crowdfunding campaign on the website indiegogo to fund the first 4 episodes; the full series is going to be about 8 episodes of half an hour each. I have worked a little on creating a pilot episode, and got very positive feedback, but at the moment we are focusing on the script. I usually do short videos, so my challenge at the moment is to make a structure that keeps the audience’s attention for more than a few minutes.
We are hoping that we can get 4, or at the very least 3, episodes around the end of April. Then after that we will probably do a second round of crowdfunding to finish the season. We have not really decided on distribution yet; we got some interest from companies and would also like to offer it to some TV channels. If not, we will release the series on our own online .
10) Are there any other trips in your near future?
At the moment I just enrolled in film school in Argentina, so I will be starting that in April. This decision actually came about from the overland trip and the series we are making.
11) Lastly, how did the trip influence you and how would you like to convey that in your series?
The whole idea of the travel series is not only to show Africa and the countries of Africa, but also to share our own experience of what it is to leave a nice, safe job (in our case working for Google in Ireland), and make the decision to go travel and figure our lives out, especially in a time of economic crisis. That’s why we titled the series ‘I Quit! – Searching out of the comfort zone’.
We were OK in Ireland, but I felt that something was missing, and a lot of people approached me sharing the same feelings. Even though I had a lot of things materialistically speaking, there was something quite undefined that was missing in my life, and this trip helped me put things in perspective. The fact that you have to be on the move with few possessions really helps you refocus yourself and your priorities in your life, and see what’s really important and what’s superfluous. You really start to think about what you want to do with your life, and for me it was making a change in the direction I was going to take. Until then I had studied business management, and the real thing that I had always wanted to try but never had the courage to do was filmmaking, so I had always just done it just for fun, as a personal hobby. This trip gave me the courage to pursue it, and that’s why I decided to leave my plans for a Master’s in business and enroll in film school.
That’s part of the reason that I decided to do the series, because I realized there are a lot of people in the same situation that I was in before. I’m not saying everyone’s like that, but I know a lot of people were somewhat in denial about their own worries, saying I shouldn’t complain because I’m in a good position in life.
Final Lesson: Sometimes there is something deep inside you that tells you what you are doing does not satisfy you, and you have to look for a change. So I hope the series can help people who have such questions find a solution. You must get the courage to do whatever it is YOU need to try in your life.
Check out Nicolas’ site here: www.nicolasbori.com
Become a fan of the ‘I Quit!’ Travel Series on FB!
Want to take an overland trip in Africa? Check out these tour providers: Dragoman (which provided the overland trip featured in this interview), Acacia Africa, African Overland Tours, and Overland Africa.