Going Home to Africa
The Roads of Africa
There is very little that can prepare you for the roads of Africa if you are overlanding, I’ve met seasoned overlanders who have been unpleasantly surprised and challenged by the roads I encountered.
My best advice is … be prepared for anything and everything.
Alongside that I would add that I would highly recommend you don’t attempt overlanding in some parts of Africa in the wet season, unless you are into mud and digging and probably a bit of a masochist.
I opted for a 2WD vehicle because I couldn’t afford a 4x4 and I had the firm belief that if Africans could traverse the continent in ordinary vehicles I would able to do so in mine. I was always relieved when I saw the average car or van on the road meaning that if they could do it then so would I be able to.
However, the only time that I really had severe doubts about my idea was on the crossing from Nigeria into Cameroon. The only option available was a track following GPS co-ordinates, the crossing by tar road was closed due to the war in South-West Cameroon. There were plenty of motorcycles but from the high plateau and into Cameroon I didn’t see vehicles, other than a scary looking vehicle which was a 6x6. It looked something like a landmine vehicle, perhaps it was. On the Cameroon side, where rivers needed to be crossed (without bridges) these beasts were the only vehicles in sight, I was afraid, very afraid. Yet I conquered them all, not without adding many more white hairs to my head.
I’m not certain I could have been properly prepared for the roads that I traversed, there was such a vast variety, potholed tar, potholed dirt, dirt was also split into several types, most common were red and white but the surfaces were similar; corrugated, uneven, rocky (large or small and everything in between), striated rock interspersed with dirt and had to be treated with care as I’d seen trucks strip their tyres driving over them too fast, and my nemesis sandy. In the beginning as I drove over each of these sections I would curse and say how much I hated this type of surface more than any other, but eventually I decided that I just hated them all equally.
I learnt some interesting driving techniques, the ‘pothole slalom’ being one that I became quite expert at. Slowing down for each pothole meant it would take its toll on fuel, brakes and time so I found that at a mid-speed I could usually manage to either dodge the pothole by moving to the other side of the road, drive over it by directing my wheels appropriately so I could drive over them or go through them with both tyres if they were exceptionally large.
The one thing that was exceptionally helpful were the tips and warnings that had been left on the iOverlander app by earlier travellers and I was always certain to add my comments to help others who might follow in my tracks.
When asked about my tyres, usually by men, I always have to laugh at their reaction. I had commercial tyres on my van and before leaving I had assessed the best of the tyres, including the spare and put these on the front and purchased two ‘all weather’ tyres for the rear. Most importantly I found out how to get access to my spare tyre as it had to be winched down with the rear doors open.
Another question on the topic of tyres comes up when I’m asked how many punctures I had and how many times I had to change the tyre. I had a bolt puncture my rear left tyre in Morocco and this was repaired by a plug which lasted for about 18 months. The second puncture happened somewhere in North Cameroon, a screw had punctured the front right tyre and again this was repaired. I was warned several times before leaving that I should take at least 2 spare tyres with me, my response was that I couldn’t afford another spare nor did I have anywhere to put it. It remains one of the most frequent questions I’m asked. Consequently I’m proud to announce that I had zero flat tyres on the journey, didn’t need to change a tyre at any time except when I got to Namibia and I swopped out the well-worn front tyres for two new ones.
En route I was also frequently asked by officers at check points why I was travelling alone and advised that I needed a man, after all what would I do if I needed to change the tyre? To which my response was “If that happens I will get out and change the tyre … why, what would you do?”.
Additionally on the subject of tyres when I inform the enquirer that I had no flat tyres I am usually advised that I either had great tyres or I’m a very good driver, to which my response is that I’m an exceptional driver …
I can say that the roads of Africa pushed me and my van to the limits but we both proved that we were stronger than anyone imagined.