Going Home to Africa
A Recurring question is what would I consider to be some of the most essential items I took with me on my journey and I will give you my top picks, in no specific order.
- A keyring penknife. I was given this gift by my nephew and it served me well. Not only was it a penknife, with the added benefit of bottle opener, screw driver (flat and star) but it most usefully had a small button which switched on a tiny LED light. That light was so incredibly useful, being on the keyring it was always with me as the van was always locked when I was not with it and at times I would return in the dark but I didn’t have to stress as I had the light. The added bonus was that it was chargeable by standard USB.
- Portable toilet. I really don’t know how anyone travels without a toilet. Sure you can do it in the bush … when you’re in the bush, can find a safe place to park and don’t mind being walked in on by the local village people. I also had a few instances where my stomach was upset in the middle of the night, no need to get out of the van and find a place, I just pulled out my toilet and I didn’t have to stress. I’ve seen a number of people who hate them because of the smell, well yes, it’s your sh-t and it stinks but you can reduce the smell with a good eco product. To clean it you just do it … again it’s your sh-t, it was once inside you so what is the drama. Top tip, never put toilet paper inside it gunges up the inside, much better to have small bags that you can dispose the toilet tissue into and tie up.
- Screens and curtains. While I have windows around the van I did board up some of them to provide better use of the space inside and I also put a film on the windows to reduce the visibility into the van. I added curtains to add privacy but also to reduce the heat coming into the van. A yoga mat with silver film on one side was useful as a front windshield screen, I also cut one up into smaller screens that I could use on the cab windows, again to reduce heat and increase privacy. The rear curtains reduced dust intake and at the front they provided privacy again, I also believe that what can’t be seen they are less inclined to break into the van to steal.
- Dual dash fan. Many of you reading this may have the luxury of air-conditioning, I only had Africa air-conditioning and that meant rolling down the windows and my window was always halfway down. It was unbelievably hot in West Africa, although it was the dry season (winter) the humidity was unbearable a lot of the time and I really struggled in the heat. Due to the direction I was driving I had the sun either in front or on my driver (right) side and there was no escaping it. I did benefit from a 12v dual dash fan, two small plastic fans on one base and even when they were blowing hot air it meant that at least the air was circulating. The fans did another job and that was at night I would take them to the rear and I would plug them into my solar panel and they would blow on me all night giving me a better sleep with the added bonus of helping to keep some of the mosquitoes off me. They made life in the van in the heat bearable. I have recently upgraded to a more portable variety which can run off a battery and charges with a USB giving me more flexibility.
- Battery charge pack. I had already flattened my battery a couple of times before even leaving, usually by leaving something on, and I considered that if I managed to do something as stupid when I was in the middle of nowhere I might be challenged to find a vehicle to jump start me or enough people to push my hefty BlueBelle. I didn't even know that one of these existed but when I happened upon it in my searching for things I just knew I had to have one. It consists of a power pack, a bit bigger and heavier than your standard one to charge your phone, it came with cables to put on the battery and plug into the pack and when the green light shines you start your vehicle and voila! I have stunned many with this magic little pack, it takes less than a minute to set up and start the vehicle and each time people are in awe of it. I have used it a couple of times and I wouldn't leave home without it.
- Security. Having had my van broken into once and having my front grille stolen, both in Barcelona, Spain before I departed I realised that I would feel much more secure if I beefed up my security. As I said I had film on my windows which meant people couldn’t see in from the outside, some of my windows were boarded so that cut down the risk but on the windows that were most at risk I added individual window alarms. These worked very well and on a couple of occasions went off but before I could look the offender was gone. I decided that the worst thing that could happen was that BlueBelle could be stolen and I tried various steering locks but none fitted her larger steering wheel, I opted then for a big solid, badass clutch lock. I also spray painted the top of the lock green so that an offender could see it clearly, before breaking my window hopefully, and be put off by it. I didn’t take a weapon other than an extendable baton, which I never had occasion to use. I also took the added precaution of putting a extendable clip on my keys and got into the habit of looping it onto my pants belt loop and stuffing the keys into my pocket. A small crossover bag with a cut resistant strap finished the deal so I could walk the streets and not be concerned about things being stolen or pick-pocketed. I suffered no incidents but it all made me feel more secure and that was priceless.
These are the only things I would say improved my journey and I felt were essential. I set up my van for comfort and practicality and I was happy with my choices.