I’ve been back on home shores for awhile now, and been umm-ing and aah-ing what blogs to post following my trip to Africa. I know, I know, the idea was to blog on the road, but any experienced African Overlander will probably attest that finding wifi at all – yet alone one that will actually hold signal for longer than it takes you to try to type the password – is basically impossible, especially in East Africa. So here begin the blogs!
If you search ‘overland Africa’ you will likely find a plethora of cool sounding companies and twenty to thirty-somethings raving about their times on the incredible continent of Africa. For this reason, I have no doubt over landing is really, really great for some people. But for me? Not so much. Following my 56-day Oasis Overland trip from Nairobi to South Africa (I only made it 40 days, to the top of Namibia, before jumping ship), here’s my thoughts.
>> Note: this is just one opinion amongst a SEA of others. Travel is a personal choice. I’m not saying don’t overland. I’m just offering a different perspective.
Most campsites are too isolated. In order for over landing to be dirt cheap, the camp sites are usually quite far from the actual town – usually not realistic walking distance as you usually only have a few hours to spare. As a result, I felt there was a lot of time spent lazing around the camp, drinking cheap booze (or, watching others drink cheap booze), which could have been way more fun spent exploring the town. It was even worse when an “optional activity” was on offer that you didn’t want to participate in, some of the campsites there was just no chance to leave and as a result I spent several days of my trip sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere. As a lone traveller, I wasn’t keen on hitchhiking and with basically no other option, I was pretty bored.
It all depends on who is on the trip. In the end, I think I was just downright unlucky to get a group of people I just didn’t “click” with. Whether it was a patronising and at times rude attitude to local people, multi-day drinking benders which started off kind of fun but by the end were just annoying as people yelled drunkenly on game drives scaring away animals, or the downright sexist comments coming from several of the other travellers (and I’m not one who pulls that card easily), I just wasn’t feeling it. Sure, you could be luckier than me – but I’m not sure I’d be willing to take the risk again. And remember – I was with these people for two months. Anyone is bound to get on your nerves, add in a personality clash and it’s a recipe for disaster.
You just aren’t that independent. I thought for Africa, I wanted the security of an organised trip. Given over landing is a truck tour, I thought over landing would be a good compromise – allowing me a bit of time to wander by myself but with the security of a group backing. In all honesty, I found it like a two month school trip, complete with the leader scolding you any time you weren’t on the dot punctual. Basically from the moment we awoke orders were given and everyone shuffled off. Obviously in a setting like this you expect you will share the load, but when you can’t even pop away to choose what you want for lunch, you start to feel a bit like a captive rather than a traveller!
There was group politics. I am loathe to write this because I honestly do have hope that other trucks are more fun and less high school drama, but by the end of the trip I felt like I was back in Year 11 trying to stay “in” with the group to avoid being the target of their gossip sessions. This was not fun. Even less fun was the weird, Waco-style Groupthink that ended up going on in the group, where you couldn’t so much as suggest a different activity without being stared and told in no uncertain terms, ‘this is what the GROUP has decided.’ At one point the entire group refused to upgrade for $2 a night because they would have been split between several rooms instead of sharing one. Weird.
It is downright uncomfortable. This one I kind of expected and could have dealt with, but the truth is over landing is uncomfortable as hell. The tents leak and get infested with bugs, and there’s no way to clean them so they just stay that way. You get up extremely early in the morning after a fitful nights’ sleep so you are constantly exhausted when you should be enjoying your holiday. You are in an economy-style seat for literally thousands of kilometres and there’s no air-conditioning. The food is EXTREMELY cheap and unhealthy, to the point where it makes you feel somewhat lethargic (e.g. pasta with milk, butter and flour as topping). Is it what I signed up for? YES. Is it how I would spend my hard earned money, on the trip of a lifetime, again? Hell no.
So what would I do? I still think in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi), you need to be careful. I travelled independently a bit in Kenya but I was with a Kenyan friend so felt comfortable. The two others who travelled independently on my tour before starting it were both robbed, one at knifepoint. I don’t think it’s impossible to travel independently but I would go on a short, mid-range tour so as to be a bit more comfortable and not stuck with the same group of people for such a long period of time.
In Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia & South Africa) I would be confident, as I did in this instance, hiring a car (I would definitely recommend a 4WD) and doing it independently. The roads are safer (less potholes!) and it is easy to get around. We drove from the northernmost point of Namibia to Cape Town, and we never felt unsafe.
Do you have a different perspective on over landing? Was I just a bad fit for it? Let me know in the comments below!