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Cross Country Drive


(as told to Jacqui Ikin. Images: Paul Owen)

Being an avid birder, a lover of places “off the beaten track” and an adventurer at heart, Paul decided to head out on what he called his “Bucket List Journey” into Africa. His Grandson Ozzy was born on the 26th August, and whilst his wife’s full attention was on the baby and their daughter, Paul took the gap (after meticulous planning) and set off alone on the 3rd of September.

“Friends and family said I was mad to travel on my own, especially in my old 2007 Land Rover Discovery. General consensus was that I had a better chance in my wife’s Yaris because it was a Toyota! I told them I’d rather walk!!!  I am very comfortable with my own company and have blind trust in my fellow man and never look on the bleak side.”

His route would be roughly North, keeping to the East through Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania. Then taking in the Albertine Rift countries of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, where the potential to tick more than 400 new species was a huge attraction. From Uganda, he would head back via Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and then home. Estimated travelling time was three months, as he had promised to be back in SA for his youngest son’s 30th Birthday at the end of November.

Prior to leaving, he had a chat with Cal (Masterten-Smith) at Cross Country, who tailor-made an insurance policy covering him for all eventualities – just in case of mishaps. A quick aside – Cross Country are one of the few insurance companies that will insure you for an overland trip that is longer than two months and he planned to be away for three months. (Their territorial limits are: South Africa and Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).

He equipped the Landy with all the basic essentials: a freezer of pre-cooked meals, a cooler box, four ammo boxes of rations, lots of tennis biscuits and peanuts (his favourite), a rooftop tent and a handful of US Dollars. “Food has never been a big priority for me. I eat to live and not live to eat……..Oh, I forgot – also many bottles of gin hidden all over the vehicle and lots of tonic.”

The Southern Africa Birdfinder dictated his route through Moz, Malawi and on into Tanzania. Where possible, he took secondary roads, and deviated on recommendations from other travellers met in campsites on the way. The beautiful and remote Maputo Elephant Reserve is a must, ideally accessed along the coastal route from Ponta Malongane through the Southern Gate. Gorongosa National Park, home of the elusive Green Headed Oriole, is essential. Due to political unrest, Mt Gorongosa was off limits unless accompanied by armed guards which proved to a logistical nightmare, so that major “tick” was forfeited. 

The road from Maputo to Inhassoro is great and, provided you stick to the speed limits, very uneventful. North from Inhassoro to Save, across the Zambezi and on to Inchope and Gorongosa. This part is not a road, it’s a pothole! Just over 300kms took him a good eight hours. From there, on relatively good gravel, he went via Villa de Senna and on to Malawi, crossing at Mulanje – a really small and friendly border post. Camping two nights at the Mount Mulanje Golf Club on lush green grass under huge Spithodias, with the run of the clubhouse for showers, loos and pub grub was a steal at the equivalent of R50 a night.

From Mulanje he headed on to the legendary Monkey Bay Beach Lodge for five days on Lake Malawi.  The snorkelling was fantastic! Four nights followed on the “Mushroom Farm”, a camp site up on the escarpment at Livingstonia overlooking the lake. Super chilled with travellers from all over the world and very accepting of a 60+ pensioner still hankering after his hippy days. Being naturally reclusive and shy, he found that travelling alone slowly drew him out of his comfort zone and he happily conversed with strangers. 

Along the road, resolutions were made…. Stop at anything that looked interesting. Travel only that distance that enabled one to set up camp before 15h00. Eating, washing, downloading images and communicating with the outside world took up the rest of the evening. “If I managed to find a camp that had WiFi, then I could also FaceTime my wife Sue back home – which was always a highlight.”

Then it was on to Kyela, the smallest border post between Malawi and Tanzania – quick and friendly with a minimum hassle. Travelling on a British passport, visas were very expensive and all in US dollars. On and on he went, eventually reaching Lake Tanganyika, a most beautiful lake – snorkelling amongst the endemic cichlids is something everyone should experience!

Kipali, Katavi National Park, Kigoma, Mpanda, Ndogo and Uvinza. On this often undrivable dirt road,  he learnt the pecking order of vehicles on the Tanzanian roads. “The lowest of the low are pedestrians – they must get out of the way of everything. Bicycles have the right of way over pedestrians. Motorcycles have right of way over bicycles and pedestrians. Next are saloon cars and SUVs. Buses and articulated DAF, Iveco and Mack trucks simply drive down middle of the road and will not move for anything. You just have to head for the hills as they barrel past.”

“Being one of the larger towns, I would normally have avoided Kigoma, but Jakobsen’s Beach Camping came highly recommended. A real oasis, surrounded by natural bush. The next morning, 11th October, I headed out on my way to Burundi…. completely unsuspecting.”

About 15 kms outside the town of Kasulu, fate intervened in the form of a ten-ton Iveco truck, barrelling down the centre of the road with no intention of giving an inch. The pecking order of the Tanzanian roads prevailed, and Paul did the only thing possible, he headed for the bush – straight into a culvert at around 40 kms/ hour, where he came to a sickening halt!To be continued in the next newsletter…

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