Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A little lie down

In the Cameroon, we travelled from Yaounde to Ebolowa to Kribi. That last stretch of road -- Ebolowa to Kribi -- was horrible and the truck had a little bit of a lie down. No, it didn't fall over - the road actually caved in. It took more than three hours and a kindly passing truck to get it/us out. Almost 100 locals got in the act -- either digging, advising or observing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Markets are magical places

I love the markets – big and small, well-stocked and empty. They are full of peope, animals, colour, noise and sometimes the truly bizarre. Some of the most enjoyable and lively markets have been in Ceuta (North Africa, but considered part of Spain), Tetouan and Marrakech (Morocco), Bamako (Mali), Kumasi (Ghana) which is the biggest market in West Africa, Lome (Togo) and Wuse (Nigeria).
Small markets may sell only onions and tomatoes and some unknown spice mixtures, while others are abundant with the weird and wonderful.
I'll post some photos. when I next have a connection.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ten more observations

1. Cross-walks are where you race across the road when there is a slight break in traffic or if someone looks as it they MIGHT slow down.

2. You could make sturdy workboots out of most of the meat sold in Africa.

3. African women have a very clever and efficient way of carrying their babies (you can even dance while you carry them) -- see photo.

4. Everyone seems to have a mobile phone. They skipped the handset version and jumped straight to mobiles. It's not uncommon to see a telecommunications tower standing in the middle of a village with mud and thatch huts.

5. A vehicle is considered unroadworthy when the horn doesn't work. All other faults are ignored.

6. People don't die in Ghana -- they are 'called home' or 'promoted to glory'. Wonder what you have to do to define the difference. I hope to be promoted, but not too soon!

7. Grasscutters are a food -- look it up.

8. When you buy eggs in the market, find out whether they have already been hard-boiled. We lucked out the day we made egg salad sandwiches for dinner. Glad we weren't planning to do scrambled eggs for breakfast.

9. Some remote Nigerian villages give such a warm welcome that you might believe you have won the World Cup.

10. Border crossings are where you try to get rid of one currency before switching to another. That means you buy some weird stuff. I've bought roasted peanuts, laundry soap, bath soap, bags of water and coconut liqueur. All the peanuts and water are gone, but haven't yet used any of the rest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ten observations

After three months on the African road, I have some useful comments to pass on. Bet you never knew that --
1. Goats squat to pee -- both boys and girls, I think.
2. The colour green indicates a pharmacy/chemist shop -- usually a green cross.
3. Small medical problems quickly become big ones.
4. Mosquitos are just one of the many, many bugs that bite. In many ways they aren't the worst.
5. Fresh, good quality water is frequently available -- a big change from the 1970s. You can even buy clean water in a 500-ml bag (about 2 cups).
6. When water quality is uncertain, beer is a good, clean substitute. Wine works, too, but this is not wine territory! Way too hot.
7. Your personal thermostat changes in Africa. We think 25 degrees is cool now, and 20 degrees is freezing. Will someone please bring me my coat?
8. Even just a bit of French and Arabic can be extremely helpful in West Africa. Take classes before you go!
9. French-speaking countries in West Africa have excellent bread (and Cameroon has the best so far). Don't even ask about bread in the English-seeking ones. Blech!
10. I still really, really hate doing hand laundry and I need to do it all the time. Watch here for a laundry update which may depress you -- it will depress me!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting around – pedaling as fast as we can

All this talk about the truck, I should probably explain how we are powered. There’s enough sun around that we could/should be solar-powered, but we aren’t. Instead we carry 1500 litres of diesel. There is a main tank and two auxiliary tanks. The first big fill (in Ceuta which is in North Africa, but considered to be part of Spain) took more than an hour and cost a fortune in euros (see photos). We have ‘topped up’ several times since then, but no fill has ever matched the first one in terms of time and expense.

Supplies – what’s for dinner ma?

Ceuta is also where we did our big shop for food. It also took hours to complete, filled several huge trolleys and cost a fortune. There was a mad flurry to get it all packed into the truck and it was a day or two before we got it organized into some sensible pattern.
So what does one buy for an expedition? We got plenty of non-perishable staples and tinned items – rice, pasta, instant mashed potatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, tuna, tomato puree, corn, lentils, chickpeas, couscous, packets of soup, honey, jam, cereal, powdered milk, instant coffee, teabags, sugar, salt, pepper, herbs and spices, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, tomato sauce and oil.
Eleven weeks later, the supplies are quite depleted. Everyone needles me that there are still plenty of lentils, couscous and chickpeas. I asked to buy them and I am about the only person who uses them, but I swear they will be gone before the trip is over. Heck, I used a kilo of lentils the other night and everyone wolfed them down.
But our main source of food are the markets – large and small – where we can buy fresh food. Some markets are colourful, well-stocked and wonderful to wander through, while others have next to nothing.

Low hanging wires – getting in a tangle

Wires (electrical, telephone, etc.) are supposed to be strung five metres high – and the legal ones usually are. But a vast array of low hanging ‘pirate’ wires zigzag across the roads, making it very hard for us to pass by without leaving a certain amount of destruction in our wake.
We are more likely to down wires at night, when we can’t actually see what is going on. But during the day, we usually have people with brooms hanging out each side of the truck, ready to prop up the offending wires so we can scoot under. We still managed to bring down an important wire in a village near Green Turtle Lodge along the coast of western Ghana. The locals were very aggressive about it (not surprisingly) but Chris, who is also an electrician, promised to return and fix it. He is a man of his word and they were all most impressed that he honoured his promise. He did better still, by creating a connection that was stronger and telling the villagers how to maintain it.

More storage – but is it enough?

Is there ever enough storage? Probably not. But we are traveling in a customized truck, so there is space dedicated for the many things needed for a trip of this length and the occasional remoteness.
Below the seating level and from the outside only, we can get at the plastic crates for condiments, herbs and spices, breakfast items and fresh foods.
Other compartments hold cookware, cutting boards, hand and dish washing basins, utensils (yes, Chris did buy decent knives for the journey), cutlery, cups and dishes, kindling, jerry cans for water, and an array of truck tools and supplies. Wood for cooking fires is carried on top. There WAS a wood tray on top of the back until it was unceremoniously biffed off by low hanging tree branch in Nigeria. We agree the forest must be getting back its own. Chris plans to replace the tray when he has a chance.

Under the floor – buried ‘treasure’

There are six storage compartments under the floor in the back. Three are used mainly for food and some books and the odd can of beer – remember we are riding around in a beer truck. One compartment is for our unused/not needed luggage and backpacks, while another carries general equipment such as camp stools, spotlights, laundry tubs, shovels, axes and some other tools. And the last houses Trevor, a large esky (cool box) and some bulk staples such as rice, sugar and the like. The missing extra black pepper is supposed to be there, but I can’t find it.
Access to most of this storage is from within the truck and from the outside, too. For the inside access, we have to lift large planks of plywood and keep them propped up so they don’t crash down on your head or fingers.