Most people view Africa with trepidation and fear, whether they live outside of or even reside within our home continent. Labelled “The Dark Continent”, Africa is often subconsciously seen in the same light as the bogey man. The real question is, “what is the truth about Africa?”
This is one of the key questions that led my wife Tarryn and I to create “Suzuki Africa Sky High” – our expedition, which is scheduled to take about eight months as we travel through ten African countries in our tiny, but mighty, Suzuki Jimny called Badger.
While we have numerous aims, including climbing Africa’s five highest mountains, which we recently completed, and encouraging minimalist 4×4 overland travel by using our small Suzuki Jimny for the trip, our key goal is to show Africa as it is without the modern media’s hype and bias; the “Real Africa”.
Today, with four and half months, eight countries, over 12 500 km of potholed African roads, and Africa’s five highest peaks, behind us, we are pleasantly surprised by what we have found. We have never felt threatened, nor been robbed or forced to bribe despite venturing into some infamous places. Places like Karamoja District, Uganda and Northern Kenya, which, like the African continent in general, do not deserve their negative reputations.
It seems to me that Africa is suffering from a public relations disaster, judged for the historical actions of despot politicians, committed some twenty or more years ago. While localised unrest is still present in some areas, this is also true throughout the world, especially in the form of increasing terrorist attacks in western countries. Ironically, today you are probably safer climbing the Rwenzori’s on the border of Uganda and DRC, than you are in Europe.
Finally, it must be emphasised that, geographically, Africa is a BIG place. Not going to Tanzania because of elections in Kenya is similar to avoiding France because Spain is having violent protests. If you perceive the risk in a country to be too great, do as we did during the Kenyan election period, avoid it.
With the show-stopper security concern resolved in our minds, we now see the “Real Africa”. We see the smiles of the people, the innocence of the remarkably cute children, the magnificence of the mighty animals and wonder of the wilderness. We hear the birds singing, feel the wind breathing and sense the continent’s excitement for just being alive.
We encounter adventures we hardly believed real and scenes we never imagined. It’s not all roses though; at other times we choke on the dust, gag at filthy toilets and go crazy at getting swindled. To imagine uncut Africa, you have to understand all of its different facets.
Plains of endless untouched savannah, interminable seas of yellowing waist, high grassland interspersed with flat-top acacias all sporting thorns big enough to pierce right through your foot, welcome you to the wilderness. This realm is home to the big five, all matchless and far more impressive in the wild than in a zoo or on TV.
On the other side of the African coin sits the cities and towns, which can be described by two words; “organised chaos”. With Dala Dalas (minibus taxis) dashing everywhere, erratically blaring ear-shattering beats at 200 decibels and jam-packed with opportunistic entrepreneurs bargaining a buck on every corner, initial perceptions are that of complete pandemonium. Despite this image, however, they function in their own unconventional way.
Beat up buses following ever-changing routes to successfully get their passengers to their destinations, buyers and sellers make deals … somehow life in the city works out. Between these worlds, connecting the real Lion’s Kingdom to the modern world are the “roads”. Mostly merely sections of cleared bush, the transport arteries often look more like the craterous surface of the moon than the neat transport channels the first world is used to.
For every kilometre we drive on these “roads”, we thank the universe we have a Suzuki Jimny, Tracks4Africa tracker, SmartGrid sat phone and International SOS policy to back us up! On Real African roads, there are no local backup plans. Africa cannot be categorised within perceived Western first-world norms. Here, the realm of “normal” extends to seeing a super-luxury sedan driving 20 km/h on terrain that should only be attempted by vehicles retrofitted by Wizerd and Opposite Lock.
Here, it is “normal” to see a Maasai warrior garbed in traditional cloth and holding a Seme (Maasai knife) and ginormous traditional spear standing in the middle of a bustling metropolis, accessing Facebook on the latest smartphone. It is “normal” to meet people who, by Western-world standards, appear to have nothing; yet are more genuinely joyous than most people you know. This is the enigma of Africa, its soul exists outside of our cultural confines.
In my view, one of Africa’s biggest challenges is that it is constantly being told it needs to change. As a result, Africa is constantly fighting itself in a futile effort to fit into the sleek image that they believe the western world demands.
The saddest example I have encountered during Suzuki Africa Sky High was understanding how people like the Maasai, Himba and Hadzabe, some of the world’s most authentic indigenous people, are forced into schools and institutions by their own governments because by modern standards “it’s the right thing to do”.
According to Abdul, who introduced us to the Hadzabe, “the local kids hate it and do everything they can to escape school to return to their bows, the bush and the light of a camp fire”. We need to stop seeing Africa for what we think it should be and start accepting it for the amazing place it is.
All of this is Africa. It is a land of contrast. A place of extremes. Here, excessive wealth and heart-breaking poverty, unimaginable natural beauty and unsightly shanties, unlimited hope and utter despair all live side by side. The truth is, however, in our opinion, the scales are imbalanced towards the positive.
Experiences like witnessing the Serengeti migration, journeying through the Jurassic Rwenzori Mountains and hunting with the untainted Hadzabe Tribe are worth every hardship, every pothole, every cold shower and even the mosquito bites. They are worth so much more.
Africa is raw, Africa is real, Africa is Africa; don’t try to change it, experience it, love it!
The truth about the nature of Africa is that for those seeking unbuttered reality, it is the rarest and most alluring kind of rough diamond. To really appreciate this, you need to allow Africa into your soul. Embrace its authentic, unedited, foreign nature. Do this and you will never want to leave.
To view more photographs from Team Tane’s adventure, visit the website!