I love the outdoors and can simultaneously manage a pair of heels and some makeup without too much complaining. I am not a city girl per se, but love spending time in art galleries, quirky shops, browsing decor, taking photos of architecture and eating at character filled spots or secret finds. I love crisp white linen, but prefer crisp mornings, waking up in a sleeping bag under an open sky. “Contradiction” is very much part of my travel tales (and life).
After spending a year in the high rise city of Taipei, navigating subways and over populated narrow streets that stay buzzing way past 1 am with traffic to match, I needed time in fresh air and open spaces.
So, I signed up as an Overland guide. I was 23.
My interview for the job was 20 minutes at a stretch. Training followed a few weeks later and consisted of classroom time covering fauna and flora notes, general geography and highlighted history of all the countries on the itinerary.
HOW NOT TO COOK WITH MAYONNAISE
Training provided a foundation and prepared you for life on the road as best as possible. Stories were shared in the evenings and the anticipation built as we newbie guides prepped for our first trip. I was lucky enough to get on a truck (don’t dare call it a ‘bus’) and into it all pretty quickly. Trucks had space for 24 people, canvas tents, chairs, a deep freeze at the back (that never worked) and a good 14 or so crates filled with basic food supplies, utensils and plates, pots and pans and whatever was needed to make up a basic kitchen. We bought fresh supplies whenever available and had to be very creative with tinned food, sometimes questionable meat supplies and a whole array of dietary requirements. Not everyone fancies cooking on an open fire for 2o odd passengers in all the extremities mother nature can throw at you and I had to learn quickly. I am forever thankful to great pax that never complained about my cooking and great guidance from fellow guides. We exchanged recipes and I eventually mastered a variety of menus, with a record of 24 days without repeating a single meal for neither lunch nor dinner.
We had a roster with each passenger assigned to a rotating task and responsibility like packing away chairs, setting up for dinner and ensuring clean, warm water for washing dishes. It worked well and ensured participation all around.
CAPSULE WARDROBE BEFORE IT WAS A TREND:
My personal belongings consisted of pretty much:
Shorts, a couple of t-shirts, a swimming costume and towel, a mosquito net, sleeping bag and camera (film camera btw, in a pelican case). There might have been some sunscreen on occasion, a hat, a jacket and scarf, a denim skirt, flip flops and jeans. I also had a pair of closed shoes of which one went missing like Cinderellas slipper.
A missing shoe is not a thing you turn back for once you have left your camp in the Serengeti.
You pay per 24 hours access for the parks around Eastern Africa’s Serengeti and Masai Mara and much different to Cinderella, I never got the shoe back and had to make do with one shoe. There was at least a prince that offered me his sandals (two sizes too big). The same prince also ended up meeting me down the “isle” a few years later, but that is a story for another day.
The adventure through Africa was not without it’s challenges.
PEE LIKE A GIRL:
Feeling girly is tricky as you bump around dusty Namibian roads and campsites and along the potholes of Eastern Africa, not to mention the lack of decent toilets and making a tree work for you when nature calls.
There was also Malaria. Flies. Scorpions. Snakes. Boarder crossings. Visas. Rainy, muddy campsites. Cold showers in the winter. Hot days in the desert. Hot trucks. Broken trucks. Stuck trucks. Slow trucks.
On the flip side, the severe absence of anything remotely city like (some might say civilized) was replaced by so many ridiculously special moments – free falling and sky diving over the Namib dunes, swimming with dolphins in Zanzibar, a Lake Malawi catamaran, the Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater, Lion King country (aka Serengeti), the Kakamega forest, Lake Naivasha, the Okavango Delta, the sunrises and the sunsets. So many sunrises and sunsets. Everyday. It was seriously the adventure I yearned for. Who needs a flashing toilet and hairdryer anyway?
MY TYPE OF LONELY PLANET GUIDE
A few books mark that year. One is so misplaced, but etched memories along the many kilometers of open road and even more open minds. The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy ( Douglas Adams) was a random find in a bookstore in Nairobi. It is not related to Africa in any specific way, but the theme it touches on (the meaning of life, the universe and everything) was always much under discussion around campfires evenings and during dusty desert days:
“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
“He was wrong to think he could now forget that the big, hard, oily, dirty, rainbow-hung Earth on which he lived was a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot lost in the unimaginable infinity of the Universe.”
Another book that made an impression and was more duly fitted to our journey is Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver). It is a difficult read, but worth it especially if you question the impact of colonialisation, forcing religious views and ideologies in any way (which you should, by the way, until you find answers beyond your upbringing, your culture, your own frame of reference).
“Everything you’re sure is right can be wrong in another place. ”
“Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. ”
― Barbara Kingsolver,
I met so many great people – from pax (passengers) to campsite owners, other guides, shop owners and locals. I learned about my own continent under my own African sky, over open plains, deep valleys, and across cultures. One of the best years’ of my life for sure!
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
This is Africa. Don’t Panic.
Want to know more about life on the road as a girl? Let me know in the comments below and I will share tips and tales on the subject.
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