Africa Overland - A journal of travelers through Africa

 

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Map of Africa with the Planned Route

The trip overland from London to Cape Town has been well traveled in the last 50 years. There are, however, many different routes to choose from based on weather, topography, resources and, perhaps most of all, on politics. Africa has been in a great state of flux over the past half century as colonial powers relinquished control to local governments, who in turn tried to integrate into the borders assigned to them and into the larger world.

During the colonial times, the trip South through the continent could be accomplished relatively easily in political terms. The logistical problems were still formidable. The Automobile Association of South Africa published a route book in 1949 titled 'Trans-African Highways A Route Book of the Main Trunk Roads in Africa' listing mileage and directions for many varied trans-continental routes. It also gave advice on equipment, vehicles and paperwork needed.

It is rather unfortunate to note that in today's 'global world' the trip through the African continent is much harder to complete. Regional conflicts and political instability mean that many of the routes favored in the 40s and 50s are now all but impossible to complete.

Despite this, many overland trips are completed each year by adventurous groups and individuals in their own vehicles. In the 1980s truck tours became popular and it became a mark of distinction in the backpacker community to have completed the 'Trans'. These truck tours took many months and could, depending on vehicles and preparation, be very strenuous. Passengers were often relied upon to push the truck as it became mired in mud or sand. In some cases passengers fired their drivers and would then have to wait with the truck as the tour operators flew another one in.

The roads that traverse the continent have not improved much in the last half century. That is part of the appeal to overlanders. Just as crossing the Sahara in the 50s was a trip only for those well prepared and in an adequate vehicle, so it is today. Legendary icons of our culture like Timbuktu are still very remote and desolate places.

And so it is that Africa is a continent of extremes and conflicts. It is the mystery, the difficult traverse and the adventure that makes crossing the continent so attractive, yet the politics, the corruption and the poverty that makes it such a challenge. Even in 2003, driving into the African veldt can make one feel like an explorer from the last century. You might expect to run into Stanley or Livingstone or even Kruger himself while wondering through the bush.

So What of the Route Itself? -->

 

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