After leaving the UK in September 2016 for another expedition down to West Africa and back, Aminah is home!
Our last trip of the season arrived into Marrakech at the end of May 2017 after the long journey north through Senegal, Mauritania, Western Sahara and southern Morocco. After a couple of days turnaround in Marrakech, Aminah, Zoe & Jason headed to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, crossing the Mediterranean to Algeciras where they began the long drive back to the UK via Spain and France.
Rainy season is now well underway in West Africa, a time that makes travelling in the region challenging at best, so time for Aminah to have a well deserved break back home in the UK.
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Zoe and Jason who ran the trips for OWA this season, they both did a truly fantastic job! With trips in West Africa it’s so important to have good crew on board, they’re an essential part of any overland expedition, and Zoe and Jason’s hard work and enthusiasm is highlighted by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received from the passengers that travelled with us. Thanks very much indeed Zoe and Jason!
You can read some of the great comments the passengers from this seasons trips wrote about Zoe, Jason and OWA (as well as previous seasons comments) by clicking on the photo below. Thanks so much to all of those who took the time to write such positive feedback for us. Cheers guys!
Dave the Hat headed up to the Drago workshop a few weeks ago to give Aminah some TLC and a good deep clean, as well as a good mechanical inspection. As you can imagine the road conditions take their toll on Aminah and the mud and dust clings to everything, so it takes some time to get her cleaned up properly. After a few long days and nights Hatter parked her up under cover until our next season of trips begin in late 2018/early 2019.
So what’s next? Well, over the next few months we’ll be jigging things around a little to take into account what has and hasn’t worked well on our trips to date. We’re going to start the 2018-19 season slightly later in the year, with our Dakar to Freetown trip starting in early November rather than mid-October. Hopefully the extra few weeks will give the roads more of a chance to dry out!
You can see all of the dates for our trips in late 2018/early 2019 here:
If you haven’t done so already please send us an Enquiry Form to register your interest in joining our trips in the future.
Remember, you can keep in touch with all the latest happenings at Overlanding West Africa via our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Pinterest and Google +) by clicking on the icons close to the top right hand side of each page on this website.
We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you on board Aminah in 2018-19 for another adventure through magical West Africa!
David Oades (Hatter), Al Goodridge, Jimmy C and Aminah
Below is a wonderful selection of photos that our passengers took over the course of the season. If these don’t tempt you to visit the region with us then we don’t know what will! Many thanks to Mahesh Patel, Zinzi Speear, Kath Donaldson, Knut Ovrebo, John Stenson, Melanie Smith and Jim Stolk – your photos really do show off what a magical region West Africa is to visit!
It’s been quite some time since our last post – and as you can imagine a lot has been going on at Overlanding West Africa since then.
Curious to know more? Then read on to find out all the latest:
2015-16: Another Successful Season!
We’re incredibly proud to have operated another successful season between October 2015 and May 2016 throughout the West Africa region.
As you may know, we were the first overland operator to return to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since the Ebola outbreak came to an end. Al and some of our passengers even made an appearance on the BBC News as our Dakar to Freetown group were filmed on the golden-sand beaches of Freetown on the day Sierra Leone was officially declared ‘Ebola Free’!
Over the 7 trips we operated we were joined by 56 passengers from Canada, Norway, Germany, UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands – all of whom experienced the warmth, hospitality and friendly welcome from the people of the 14 countries (and 1 disputed territory) we travelled through.
Aminah, Al and Jason arrived back in the UK at the end of May and took some time out for a very well earned rest and a chance to catch up with life. You can see a small selection of photos from the trips at the bottom of this page which gives you a good idea of some of the amazing places our passengers got to visit.
If you like the look of what you see in the photos then please send us an Enquiry Form to book yourself onto a true overland adventure trip with us in late 2016/early 2017!
Our Revamped & Responsive Website
Those of you who’ve visited our website before will notice there have been a few changes! Noting that Googles preference is for ‘mobile friendly’ and ‘responsive’ websites, Dave the Hat has spent countless hours over the past few months transferring the website content over to a new custom-made and fully responsive theme that our web hosting company devised for us.
As you can see, much of the website is exactly the same as before, except now all of the content should be ‘fully responsive’ for mobiles and tablets and make life easier for those viewing our website ‘on the go’!
We hope you like the new look and that each page loads faster than before. If you spot any errors or issues with the functionality of our website then please do send us an email to let us know – despite all the hours Hatter has put in I’m sure there are still some glitches that will need attention!
UK Turnaround For Aminah
For a couple of weeks in August 2016, Dave the Hat went up to the Drago workshop to get Aminah turned around for the upcoming 2016/17 season in West Africa. George and Charlie were, as always, incredibly generous to rent some space at their UK workshop to OWA for the work on Aminah to be completed.
To do a number of the heavier jobs on Aminah, Hatter was helped at various stages by Nick Fulford and Dave Pettsy, as well as Adam, Jemima and Sara (the 3 trainees) – all of whom played a role in helping get Aminah turned around for next season.
We want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to G and Charlie for lending Hatter some of their staff for a few days, as some of the jobs really do require 2 people so we truly are grateful – cheers guys!
Here are a few pictures of just some of the work that was done to Aminah over the course of the fortnight – and to such a good standard Aminah passed her MOT again first time with only 1 advisory – hoorah! (An MOT is the UK-based annual vehicle test for those that don’t know). As you can imagine, the roads in some of the countries in West Africa do take their toll on the old girl, especially on the axles and suspension, so though a painful and tiring amount of work it’s good to get Aminah ship-shape and in good condition again for the upcoming season ahead.
Replacing a rear wheel bearing and hub seal after the rear springs were taken off and rebushed
A new diaphragm for the rear brake pack – which alas still leaked so an entire new pack was purchased and installed!
Re-setting the valves/tappets to ensure the valve clearances were correct
Front wheel bearings re-greased after new front springs fitted – with new brake linings too!
Replacing the belt tensioner and swapping the pulley over
While the wheel bearings were off Hatter fitted brand new brake linings on both axles
2 new sets of front springs ready to go on and bearings ready for fresh grease!
Inflating the new tyres after the rims have been given a fresh coat of paint
Dave the Hat inserting a new bush into the rear spring swinging shackle
Freshly painted wheel rims with new tyres on ready to go back on the axles
The front torsion bar after being repaired and rekitted – no more play!
Rear brake pack repair attempt round 2!
Hatter will return to Drago in a few weeks time to finish off the interior jobs in Aminah and to ‘tart’ her up outside, whilst Al will bring the equipment and remaining tents that he has been busy cleaning whilst away.
Not long to go now before Aminah sets off for the long journey south to Senegal and the start of our first trip of the season from Dakar to Freetown!
Bookings For Trips In 2016-2017
We’re incredibly pleased that our trips are selling so well again. Each of our trips currently has an average of 12-15 passengers booked on, and fresh enquiries have been flooding in over the past 10 days so we are hopeful that most of our trips will sell out very soon.
If you want to join us then please send us an Enquiry Form and we can forward you all of the relevant booking information. Remember, we offer discounts if booking multiple trips, and it’s important to book sooner rather than later to ensure you can get all of the necessary visas in time before flying out to West Africa for the start of your trip/s with us.
Need convincing? Then check out the selection of photos below from our overland trips last season. Many thanks to passengers Alexi O’Brien, Alice Lowry, Alice Richardson and Alice Goodridge for letting us share some of their photos.
In addition, you can check out Al’s excellent OWA Travel Blog which highlights exactly why an overland adventure trip through West Africa with us is something you will never forget!
We hope you can join us for the adventure!
Dave The Hat, Al Goodridge, Jimmy C and Aminah
Overlanding West Africa
As many of you who are on our email list will already know, we’ve just started taking bookings for our trips in late 2016/early 2017 – and are pleased to say that seats are selling fast! If you are keen on joining us for a trip please get in touch with us via our Enquiry Form and come and see some of this magical part of the African continent for yourself.
We ran our new Accra to Ouagadougou trip for the first time last month, and welcomed Frank, Tracey, Tony F, Tony K and Sam to join those who had travelled with us from Dakar and Freetown. After some initial confusion, it was revealed that Frank was the owner of the trumpet that had mysteriously found its way onto the truck the previous evening!
We visited Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso on this trip, and this blog post covers the first 2 weeks of the trip.
One of the highlights of southern Ghana is visiting the coffin makers around Accra, who make some lively and unusual designs. Above are some of the impressive examples we got to see.
A number of the group went on a walking tour of Nima, a lively residential district of Accra for an insight into the lives of the local people. The guide was the principal of a primary school: as you can see the children were rather excited when we visited their classroom!
From Accra we headed to Ghana’s Volta region, a beautiful but relatively little visited area which is sandwiched between the artificial reservoir of Lake Volta and the Togolese border. We enjoyed the cool air and beautiful views up in the hills, a lovely contrast to the weather on the coast. Frank even had some time for trumpet practice!
The views from the top of Mount Gemi down to Lake Volta and across to Togo would have been great if it wasn’t so hazy!
Above are waterfalls near Amedzofe that most of the group visited after the trek for a refreshing dip.
Before we crossed over the border to Togo, we visited a community of habituated Mona monkeys which are revered as sacred by the locals. Jase seemed to be feeding them the tastiest bananas!
Our first stop in Togo was among the cool green hills close to the summit of Mount Klouto. We walked among coffee plantations, explored villages, learnt about medicinal plants and natural dyes, cooled off under waterfalls, and looked for butterflies.
We enjoyed a great evening of drumming, dancing and fire breathing with plenty of opportunities for dancing practice which we so clearly needed!
After a brief stop in Lome to visit the famous fetish market, we arrived in Grand Popo in Benin where we camped on the stunning beach for a couple of nights. Some of us enjoyed boat trips to visit fishing villages and to see salt production where the Mono river meets the sea.
Above and below are photos from the voodoo ceremony we witnessed in southern Benin. Voodoo continues to play a huge role in the culture of the people in Togo and Benin, fascinating though a little bewildering at times! We were encouraged to try the local palm spirit while watching the ceremony, sprinkled with talcum powder and sprayed with perfume. Al and Jase smelt the best they had in weeks!
Ouidah is known as a centre of the voodoo religion, as well as having a tragic history as a port from which many millions of slaves were transported across the Atlantic to the Americas. We visited the famous python temple, numerous other temples and shrines, and learnt about how the voodoo religion travelled across the Atlantic with the slave trade to parts of Brazil and the Caribbean.
We spent Christmas in Ganvie, staying at the famous stilt village on Lake Nokoue, an area originally settled by people escaping the slave trade. After a tour of the village we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching the world go by. Frank entertained both the locals and the group by playing Christmas carols on his trumpet! Many people were celebrating by singing and dancing on boats parading around the village; it was certainly a memorable Christmas!
Having spent 2 weeks slowly exploring Ghana’s Volta region and the south of Togo and Benin, after Christmas we had a couple of days driving up to the north of Togo.
The grounds of this primary school made for a great bush camp – the children were fascinated as we set up camp for the night!
We had plenty of interesting stops along the way. In the photo above, Alice is standing in front of the Aledjo Fault, a stunning geographical feature through which the main road passes. On the right, Frank is trying to get through the entrance of a sacred Baobab tree, which has a large cavity inside with room for about half a dozen people to stand in. It was a bit of a tight squeeze!
Below are the weavers hard at work at a local co-operative we visited. They were weaving long but narrow strips which were then sewn together to make a range of colourful garments.
The Tamberma Valley World Heritage site is home to the Batammariba people. We spent 2 nights with them in Togo, visiting their fascinating ‘Takienta’ (mud fortress houses), learning about their customs and beliefs, and witnessing traditional music and dance ceremonies.
Below, Tracey tries her hand at archery. It’s a good job we weren’t relying on her to catch our dinner!
As the day cooled off we trekked up to a cave network, formerly inhabited as a retreat in times of tribal war. From here we were treated to some spectacular views of the valley below.
From here a short drive took us over the border to Benin and the Atakora hills, home of the Tammari people. We learnt about their animist traditions, and saw the similarities between their fortress houses with those of their cousins in Togo. Most of these were spread out among their agricultural land rather than being grouped into villages.
We trekked to see waterfalls, caves and farming land. Above are examples of giant grain storage jars which are partitioned inside. They’re in a cave, near a water source that was used as a retreat in times of tribal conflict as well as to escape the slave raiders. It is believed that people could have hidden for up to 6 months inside!
Below, Frank, Tony, Al, Alice, Theo and Tony stand outside a sacred Baobab tree which we visited on another trek.
Millett is a common crop of the area and is made into millet beer. Above, Tony and Sam share a gourd of it, wondering if it might be a little more palatable cold! We watched 2 locals down a gourd, drinking simultaneously from the same vessel, but didn’t manage to pull off this same feat ourselves!
Below, Jason climbs up to look inside a grain storage hut on the roof of a house, which is partitioned inside for different crops. A bell on it’s rain hat stopped thieves getting inside without waking the household who would sleep nearby for security.
Another short drive took us to Pendjari National Park, part of the WAP complex, the largest protected wildlife zone in West Africa. We boarded a couple of 4×4’s for a bumpy and dusty day of wildlife viewing.
We were lucky enough to see buffalo, water-buck, warthog, jackals, crocodiles, antelope, many different types of bird, and numerous herds of elephants. At our first coffee stop we were treated to a rather special encounter with a group of elephants that wandered right past us. We also visited a pool where we saw many hippos up close.
Below, Tracey, Janet and Sam were getting as dusty as possible on the game drives!
From Pendjari we headed across the border to Burkina Faso and after a great bush camp we stopped in Fada where, above, Al is in front of the signs. Here we encountered a major problem…no eggs! Jase and Al were both very concerned about the next few breakfasts!
We then travelled west to Bobo Dioulasso, home to skilled artisans and a fantastic live music scene. Some of the group visited the impressive domes de Fabedougou (above) and the nearby Karfiguela waterfalls.
The trip ended all to soon in Ouagadougou, but we’ll be back in Burkina Faso very soon to explore further on our current Accra to Freetown trip.
Many thanks to some of the passengers for allowing us to use their photos we very much appreciate it!
There’s only a few seats left on our Southbound trips starting in October 2015, so now is the time to get in touch if you want to experience the magic of West Africa with us! If you do want to join one of our trips please remember that you will need to obtain a number of visas in advance before you travel, so you will need to book as soon as possible to ensure you can get all of the necessary visas in time.
After such a dreadful year in 2014 with the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, it’s great to see the West African region finally returning to some sense of normality. There are now just a handful of cases being recorded each month, all of which are confined to a very small area (geographically speaking). Contact tracing is now much more efficient than before and has played a significant role in combating the spread of the virus. The vast majority of each of the 3 affected countries have been Ebola free for many months now, making travel through the region possible once again.
Since we last posted a couple of months ago, Al and David (Hatter) have been busy getting Aminah ready and all of the paperwork in place in preparation for the upcoming season. We’re pleased to say she passed her MOT first time with no advisories (that’s her annual mechanical check for the non Brits out there) and also her tachograph calibration. All that’s left to do is to stock her up with spare parts and food supplies for the big journey ahead. Not long to go now!
For those of you who don’t already know, Jason Parry will be joining Al as the co-driver for our upcoming 2015-2016 season. We know Jason from his time working for Dragoman Overland, and though he has been away from overlanding for the past few years doing a ‘normal’ job in the real world, he is itching to get out on the road again!
We’ll let the man himself do the talking:
“I know Dave (Hatter) & Jimmy from my time working at Dragoman, last seeing them in person just prior to their first OWA season in 2012. Having recently met up with Al in preparation for the season ahead, I cannot wait to get back out on the road, and am looking forward to meeting all of the passengers and immersing myself in the diverse cultures, customs, and terrain of West Africa!”
I first fell in love with Africa when I spent 4 months working in South Africa back in early 2000. Since then, I have travelled independently in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia, as well as leading trips for Encounter Overland between 2006 and 2008.
I reluctantly left the road in 2008, intending to knuckle down for a couple of years doing a ‘proper job’ to secure myself some sort of financial security. My intention was always to return to overlanding, and after too many years of masquerading as a grown up, I am finally in a position to do just that. Hatter approached me earlier this year and could not have timed it any better”.
As you all know we always love to highlight a more positive image of the region, and to support that initiative we recently found this superb article entitled “The Top 10 Least-Visited Countries in Africa” written by ‘Travel Geek UK’. We’re really pleased to see so many countries in West Africa represented, highlighting just some of the many reasons why you should visit West Africa. Click on the photo from Sierra Leone below to read the full article and to see more beautiful images from around the region!
We have recently partnered with ‘Friends of Conakry Refugee School’, where 26 staff offer an education to 500 students, provide them with a meal each day, and help with safe housing for the vulnerable. Guinea has historically received rather less international assistance than some of its neighbours, so it’s great to see a UK organisation involved with such a valuable project.
Many of the children at the project are orphans from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire and simply can’t afford to go to school. FCRS are setting up small business initiatives such as catering and soap making, and running IT and English classes for the local community in order to subsidise the education of the poorest. We plan to visit the school on our Freetown to Dakar trip, bring out supplies from the UK, and make a financial donation to the project.
You can see more information about the project here on the Friends of Conakry Refugee School website.
We’re really looking forward to returning to West Africa and meeting all of you who are booked onto our trips in a few months time. To keep you going for now, check out the video below from our trips between Accra and Dakar in 2014 – showing off just some of the best places we visit in West Africa!
Dave the Hat, Al, Jimmy and Aminah
Overlanding West Africa
After many weeks of planning, writing, and HTML, we’re pleased to announce our new itineraries for late 2015-early 2016 are ready to go and now live on the website! All of our trips can be viewed here or you can navigate to the trip that interests you by hovering over THE TRIPS tab at the top of each page. This will bring up a sub menu to take you to any of the trips we operate.
All of our existing trips are still there, but with some minor changes:
Dakar to Freetown – stays the same
Freetown to Accra – much the same as last year, except we will visit the south of Ivory Coast instead of the north, and not visit Burkina Faso
Accra to Ouagadougou – very similar to our Ouagadougou to Accra trip, but visiting more of Togo and the east of Burkina Faso
Accra to Freetown – stays the same, but includes a visit to the Gurunsi homes of the Kassena people in Tiebele, Burkina Faso
Freetown to Dakar – stays the same
Dakar to Marrakech – Brand new trip, taking in northern Senegal, some of Mauritania, Western Sahara, and southern Morocco
Marrakech to Tangier – Brand new trip in Morocco, visiting many of the key highlights in the Sahara desert, Atlas mountains, and Rif mountains
Our Trips And The Situation In West Africa
The ebola outbreak continues to affect many lives and communities in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. From watching the mainstream media news channels, the situation seems as bleak as ever.
However, all this doom and gloom is not a fair representation of the facts and decidedly unbalanced. There has been a huge improvement in all 3 of the affected countries:
- The rate of new cases being reported throughout Liberia has drastically reduced in recent weeks, things really are looking alot better there now
- The east of Sierra Leone around Kaliahun and Kenema (where the outbreak first surfaced in Sierra Leone) has improved dramatically, with virtually 0 cases being reported over the past month. In and around Freetown and the west of the country, the number of new cases being reported has declined by a huge amount
- The outbreak continues to rumble on around Guinea, though at a much lower level than before, with the number of new cases reported being significantly lower than in Liberia and Sierra Leone
A lot more is being done by the governments and the international community to help improve the situation, though there is of course a lot more work to do. It does appear slowly but surely the outbreak is being brought under control, and we are very hopeful that the region will return to some sense of normality very soon.
We want to reiterate that we cancelled our trips in late 2014-early 2015 due to the closure of a number of key borders throughout the region. That was the only reason we cancelled – the logistics of operating multi-country trips became impossible.
All sensible advice from health professionals continues to be the same – the risk of travellers contracting the virus is considered very low, you need to come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of somebody showing symptoms of the virus to become infected.
Launch Of The Unite 4 West Africa Initiative
Since October 2014 we have played a key role in setting up and promoting the Unite 4 West Africa initiative, along with West Africa Discovery, Barefoot Liberia, and Another World Adventures. The aim of this collective effort is simple – to challenge the mainstream media portrayal of the affected countries in West Africa, and to raise funds for organisations working on the ground to combat the outbreak.
The Unite 4 West Africa initiative was launched to the media at World Travel Market in October 2014. We’re pleased to say it was a huge success, the room was heaving with journalists interested in hearing what we had to say!
On the panel were the Ministers of Tourism for Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as Ben Keene from Tribewanted Sierra Leone, Dr Ron Behrens from the London School of Tropical Medicine, and David Oades (Dave The Hat) from Overlanding West Africa. Everybody gave a 10 minute presentation about the situation in the region.
In addition to helping put the outbreak into perspective, Unite 4 West Africa is raising funds for organisations who are working hard in the region to help combat the spread of the virus:
- 50% of the money raised will go to Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders), who have worked tirelessly from the moment the outbreak was confirmed as ebola back in March 2014
- 40% of the money will go to 3 grass roots organisations in each of the affected countries, being TINKISSO in Guinea, KRITERION MONROVIA in Liberia, and WELT HUNGER HILFE in Sierra Leone
- 10% will be distributed to other grass roots organisations who are doing great work who might approach us for funding – if not, this 10% will instead go to the 3 organisations receiving 40% of the funds raised
All money raised will go directly to the organisations listed above. All of the time we have spent setting up and promoting Unite 4 West Africa is entirely voluntary.
We’re pleased to say we have secured the support of a large number of other travel operators and organisations who run trips and have an interest in the countries of West Africa, including Exodus Travels, G Adventures, Explore, and Intrepid Travel. We’re proud to say we’ve raised over £4,000 since November 2014, and hope to raise much more. We want to take this opportunity to thank all the organisations who have donated to the initiative so far, and all the individuals who have made a personal donation – thanks so much to everybody!
Please visit the Unite 4 West Africa website to learn more about the initiative, and help promote a more positive image of the countries in West Africa. There is also a Unite 4 West Africa Facebook Page and a Twitter Page where you can keep up to date with all the latest news. Please use the hashtag #Unite4WestAfrica when posting about the initiative.
With so much negative media coverage coming from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in recent months, there is a real danger that these countries will be associated and stigmatised with this image for years to come. We all need to work together to help promote a more positive image of the affected countries and the West Africa region in general.
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia were just starting to develop a tourist industry, something we want to see flourish once again as soon as possible.
Remember: A huge number of people throughout dozens of countries all over Africa rely upon tourism for their livelihoods, and many are now starting to struggle due to a decline in tourism. Nearly every major tour operator is saying bookings for trips all over Africa are down. Lets put this in perspective – only 3 countries have been significantly affected by the ebola outbreak to date, just 3!
Africa is a continent, NOT a country, help us put the situation into perspective!
Cheers guys, we hope you are all well, and we hope to see you on Aminah in late 2015-early 2016 for another adventure through the countries of West Africa!
Dave The Hat, Al Goodridge, and Jimmy C