Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 4, 2014

Africa Part 1 – Back to Nairobi

Africa Part 1 – end of Part 1, back in Nairobi.

We finish Part 1 of our Africa trip today, & I thought it might be an idea to explain what overlanding life is like.  I honestly think Rwanda left us both a little shell shocked, we’ve been a bit down the last few days, we said goodbye to Rwanda with much regret in not seeing more of it, and hope that we’ll return some day.

It’s been hard to say goodbye to Uganda too – the constant “How are you” out the window, toothy smiles and waves from nearly every child you pass.  Looking out the window through to the Nile, with the knowledge it’s full of hippos gently soaking themselves.  The beautiful Ugandan National Bird, the Crane walking with their stick like legs.


So, my life currently…

It’s early starts, alarms going off at 4:45, 5:15, tents down and ready.  Tent mastering is a skill in patience and communication, which can be a bit tough that early, particularly if sleep has been sporadic.

It’s amazing to wake up in the night to the noises of animals, there is the slight quirk that it’s amplified through our tents, so everything seems like it’s right outside, however that’s probably unlikely.  Restless nights are a curse, can be difficult to manage the heat of the day, cool of the night, cold condensation on your sleeping bag in the morning is the first indicator of how cold it likely it is outside.  Wrapping cold, damp sleeping bags is not a lovely stellar African sunrise start to the morning.  It’s been occasionally freezing.

Sleeping bags wrapped, pillows deflated, sleeping bag liners folded, sleeping mats rolled, tents down, which can be a bit of a mare in the dark.  This has meant t-shirts are on backwards, hair is never brushed, occasionally a few sharp words as our tent has to be wrapped incredibly tight to fit in the bag.

If one of us on cook group, its up to help pull things out of the truck, cut fruit, prepare all the breakfasty coffee/tea/hot chocolate things for people.  The other person will help if possible, maybe check for some last WiFi if there’s any available.

Breakfast is pretty quick, with plates and cutlery washed and dried by flapping in the air, hard to explain how hilarious this looks with a group of 20 people flapping in the cold for 8 minutes while their plates/pots/cutting boards dry…

There’s a water system in our camp kitchen, two bowls for hand washing – wet hands, wash with liquid soap then rinse in one, then second rinse in the other – and three bowls for kitchen washing, one with dishwashing liquid, one for rinsing, and one last one with a little Dettol in it.

The tips of my hands are cracking, I’m getting little pulls on the side of my nails, I don’t think it’s the dish washing per se (I’m not that precious) but I think it is the constant water in water out, handwashing clothes too.  I’m using moisturizer as much as I can, but they’re still dry and cracking.

I’ve tried to be good with breakfast, with eggs, bacon and sausages on offer, it’s always hard to push myself to 2 weetbix & some fruit, but deep down I know it’s better for me.  It’s surprisingly easy to feel like you’re over eating on these trips, I look longingly at the sausages most mornings.

Usually we’re up and done with breakfast, everything away, and sitting on the truck within an hour.

We have assigned truck jobs too – from cleaning to managing tents & bags in and out to ensuring people shut windows when we stop, my job has been to manage the rubbish bin on this leg, and the little plastic bag at the back of the truck we use for ladies wee stops.

Sounds grosser than it actually is really, as washing out the bin is pretty easy and we use bags for everything.

Sitting in the truck for hours at a time is unsurprisingly difficult.  Uganda was amazing with all the little kids waving and smiling – you’re constantly smiling & waving back, making for a fun happy trip in general.  The scenery of course is incredible, but I’ve still managed to get through 6 books in 3 weeks, some of them not that short either.

Thank god for our neck pillow. A lifesaver for snoozes, trying to stay awake can be impossible as the truck rocks you to sleep, especially on the most uncomfortable of roads.

Frustratingly our windows are fairly dirty, a pain in the afternoon when you’re trying to look through them with the sun streaming in, and of course there’s no photos with dusty windows that really work.  I’ve taken to leaning out the window when I can, a bit better for my back too.

It always takes longer to get places than you think; it’s less paved here than I thought.  There’s a moment in the morning when you get on the bus and see “100km drive” but your heart sinks when you realize that’s still going to take 5/6 hours to get through that short distance because of the terrain.

From farmland to savannah, from savannah to jungle, windy hilly roads, long straight rocky roads, small villages with music blaring from shops, cows with giant horns, goats and sheep, roadside village stalls with tomatoes and onions piled high, meat hanging outside or inside with no refrigeration, church after church after church – “Africa evangelist church”,   “Christ the shepherd the believers church”, “Pentecostal revival church”.  Children playing, smiling, waving; everything passes in a blink, hard to capture with a photo let alone imprint a memory.  We’ve stopped for zebras, a giant snake, even hyenas, animals have right of way here.

Shops are named occasionally amusingly “Motorcyles and Pets”, “Sweets and polythene”, “High hope electronics”, sometimes accompanied by hand painted art, but it’s amazing to have a snippet of an insight into local life as we drive quickly past.  Tiny 1 person barbers.  Grinders run by upside-down converted bicycles, men welding with sunglasses.  Hair braiding and relaxing, hair samples row after row.  Tiny hotels that look like they would sleep 1 person, “Pork Joint” looks inviting.

Often the outside of the buildings are painted with advertising.  MTN Mobile network, Uganda Telecom “It’s all about U”. If you like it, Crown it, Start something fresh double mint, Nile beer, barudika na Coca cola, – they’re bright and discordant against the landscape.

Mud huts to hand developed brick, corrugated iron to thatch, people huddled together in the larger towns and cities, no power or phone lines or even water in non-village areas, groups of people meeting to gather water, containers tied to bicycles, pushed for miles.

Trucks, vans, motorcycles pass, “You’ll never walk alone” or “Inshallah” or “soon and very soon”, “power of destiny”, football and religion side by side, hope tied to each vehicle.   Every second car is an old Toyota corolla.  Much loved, and often very clean.  Amazing to see against the red dust that permeates everything.

On our way to/from Murchison Falls we went through a tsetse fly area, windows up in 30 degree heat for nearly 2 hours was insane, we still ended up with a few on the bus though, which people took to with sandals.  Bites rise up like giant itchy welts, it’s so hard not to scratch.

Lunch is usually a quick stop on the side of the road, similar process to breakfast, but this time cook group might be grating carrots for coleslaw, putting out leftovers from breakfast (sausages! Finally.) or last nights dinner.  It’s been great to see how little food we waste here.  Every time we have salad, it’s a little like Christmas for me, I struggle to refrain from piling my plate high with lettuce and shiny green peppers.

Like I’ve said in my other posts, things are oversized.  Avocados are double my fists, & produce amazing soft guacamole.  The bread is either malty or sparkling white, it’s so difficult not to eat sandwiches constantly – even though you’ve been sitting for 5 hours you get off the truck ravenous, ready to eat everything in sight.

Lunchtime is malaria tablet time, not the most fun of experiences.  I tried them on an empty stomach first, which caused me to throw up within 30 minutes.  Taking constant antibiotics can’t be good for me, and while I have a few mosquito bites I need to really keep an eye on that, there’s no time or space for illness on this trip.

Again back on the truck within the hour, often rushing to our next stop, if near a town trying as much as possible to beat rush hour, or getting somewhere for an afternoon/evening activity.

We’ve had very little free time on this leg.  That’s meant any free time is taken up with washing clothes, catching up on emails, doing photos – I have a long form diary too I’m managing to keep up with.  To try and keep some fitness, we try and get the Frisbee out for 30 minutes or so a day, it gets a little boring if there’s only the two of us playing.

Dinners are basic but delicious.  I’m addicted to sliced chilli on everything, trying to eke out as much flavour from chili con carne, bbq roasted beef, stews and curries designed to feed 25 of us.  Cook group helps slice veges, prepare plates, herbs and spices, set out chairs, washing up and hand wash.  And the pots, I wish more people helped out with that.

We don’t sit around talking late, often there’s a bar associated to our campsite where we reconvene for a quiet drink pre or post dinner, trying the ginger beer, Krest bitter lemon, local beers, South African wine, it’s usually cask, but it’s $1 so there’s no point in worrying.

I’m usually yawning by 8:30, often in bed at 9, asleep by 9:30, waiting for the beep beep beep of my watch waking me before dawn for another long day.


  1. “Sweets and Polythene” haha, awesome.

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