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Nairobi to Cape Town Overland

Author: Alan (More Trip Reviews by Alan)
Date of Trip: April 2006

I decided to take a break from work for 2 months and go travelling around Africa. It was something I have wanted to do for a long time. There are over a dozen different companies offering overland trips for various lengths and I chose a company called Oasis Overland because it had spaces available for the dates I wanted, the prices were competitive (including most meals and a lot of excursions), and the itinerary included Zimbabwe, which many overland trucks do not currently visit.

I spent my first night at a hotel in Nairobi, and was introduced to the truck the next morning. It was bright yellow (a very popular colour for overland trucks) and you had to climb retractable metal steps to enter it. Inside, the coach style seats were against the walls, in 2 lines facing inwards. The bottoms of the seats lifted up to reveal 2 person lockers.

In the floor space between the seats were 3 'Eskies' (big white cooler boxes regularly filled with ice) and a dustbin. These all doubled up as makeshift tables for books, card games and feet. The truck also had a square area at the front with a mattress and pillows and 8 more seats facing around it -- known as 'The Beach.' The roof of The Beach was tarpaulin and could be rolled back to let in the sun. The sides of the truck were also tarpaulin, and were usually rolled up so you could kneel on the seats and enjoy the scenery.

Security was a concern for me before going out. But I found that the truck had a hidden safe, which needed 3 keys. This had just enough room for everyone's money belts including passports. In addition, the truck would either be locked up or have someone staying with it on the road and in towns.

Normally you would have 2 crew members -- a driver and a tour leader, but we had a trainee driver, so we were lucky and had 3 crew. The crew sat in the cabin at the front of the truck, and on the road the only way to communicate was to push the buzzer to stop.

There were just 8 of us joining in Nairobi, and I was surprised to learn that most people on the truck had already been on it for almost 3 weeks, travelling to Uganda to see the gorillas and seeing some of the highlights of Kenya. There were about 28 people on the truck during the tour, with a couple of people leaving or joining on occasion -- and this is pretty much full capacity. They were mostly British, but also American, Australian, and New Zealanders (ages ranged from 19 to 37).

Travelling on the truck was fairly comfortable, apart from the odd occasion where you go over a big bump, and it can also be a bit of a squeeze if you are sat next to someone with broad shoulders. You rarely sat in the same seat twice, and there were plenty of interesting people to chat with. There was an on-board library with dozens of books to read, and we usually had music playing as there was a stereo system for plugging in your MP3 or iPod.

Also, there were regular stops for the bathroom (usually the side of a road) but also shops and service stations where you could buy snacks and magazines.

In groups of 3, you were responsible for cooking dinner on a rota system, with help from the tour leader. This involved going to the local markets and stores to get the ingredients. What you decided to cook was up to you, although sometimes you were limited by what was available. Food was stored in the Eskies and under the floorboards in the truck. In the evening you would then cook in huge pans over an open fire. You would also be responsible for washing up the cooking gear afterwards, and preparing breakfast and lunch the next day. As we also ate out on occasion (either paying yourself or out of the kitty) you only needed to cook 3 or 4 times in total.

I should add that everyone is expected to help out where necessary. This would mean sometimes sweeping out the truck, disinfecting the Eskies or fetching firewood. But tasks like this were fairly minimal and everyone got involved.

Another reason the trip is such a good price is that you spend a lot of the time sleeping in tents. Less than half the people on the trip were couples, so you had to find yourself a tent buddy to share a tent with (hopefully one who didn't snore too much). The tents were easy to assemble, and took fifteen minutes to erect or take down, but usually when rolling it up you would get muddy hands. I think we had at least 8 bush camps where you were out in the wilds with no bathroom, electricity or running water. But in many campsites there was the opportunity to upgrade to a dorm room for $2, or something better for a little more.

Internet is quite often available throughout the trip and sometimes at very good prices. However, it cannot always be relied upon as in some countries it frequently crashes or can take 5 or 10 minutes to upload a new page. A good tip is to type your message in Word and then paste it onto the email so you won't lose it.

I was travelling from 9 April to 30 May, as these were the most suitable dates for me to take a career break. But I was dismayed to find when I did my pre-trip research that April is the raining season for Tanzania. If it rained I was going to grin and bear it, but as it turned out, there was almost no rain at all for the entire trip (not in the countries we visited anyway).

I will now tell you about the trip itself:

I was only in Kenya for one day, so I really cannot comment on it. At the border crossing there were many people trying to sell souvenirs, although this isn't intimidating as you are part of a big group of people. Several of our group bought giraffes about a foot tall for $5 each. Very good value for money, but I was concerned that with the entire trip still ahead of me I would quickly run out of storage space, so I did not buy any. You do see plenty of markets and souvenirs during the tour.

Ngorongoro Crater. This National Park is very exciting as you are surrounded by a ring of mountain and you have the chance of seeing many types of game. Although, as with most game parks you are not allowed off the tracks and you find yourself wanting to get a bit closer to see some of the animals better. A tip for when eating a picnic lunch, try not to do it too openly, as I had a huge eagle swoop down and grab a chicken thigh while I was eating it.

The Serengetti is probably one of my favourite National Parks. They only allow so many people in at any given time (a bit like an exclusive night club). But once you are inside you are surrounded by miles of rolling grasslands with nobody else in sight. There are islands of rock on the sea of grass and if you are lucky you can find lions sleeping there. We were very lucky and found 2 leopards sleeping in crooks of trees. As we were leaving the park we saw 2 male lions lazing in the grass...

Our guide bounced off the track and took us within four meters of the closest lion. It got up disgruntled and looked at us balefully before loping off. After taking a quick few snaps we drove back onto the track before any wardens arrived.

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