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
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
After leaving the UK 7 months ago for another expedition down to Ghana and back, Aminah is home! Our last trip of the season (Freetown to Dakar) arrived into the Senegalese capital a few weeks ago, and Al and Aminah began the long journey north through Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Spain, and France to the UK.
Rainy season is fast approaching 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!
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Nev Kelly who joined Al as the co driver for the season. With OWA being the first ever overland company to operate a trip through Liberia this season, it was important to have good crew onboard. They’re an essential part of any overland expedition, and Nev’s hard work and commitment in working with Al shone through in the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from this seasons passengers. Thanks Nev!
You can read some of the great comments the passengers from this seasons trips wrote about OWA, Al, and Nev by clicking on the photo below. Many thanks to everybody who took the time to write such positive feedback for us. Cheers guys!
In a few days Al and Hatter are heading up to the workshop to give Aminah some TLC in preparation for next seasons trips. We’ve jigged things around a little to take into account what has and hasn’t worked well on our trips to date. We’re still including all of the same countries, but seeing more of Burkina Faso AND also visiting Benin and Togo on our new Ouagadougou To Accra trip.
You can see all of the dates for our trips in late 2014/early 2015 here:
If you haven’t done so already please send us an Enquiry Form to register your interest and book a trip.
Al has been busy with the official OWA travel blog detailing the journey from Senegal to Ghana and back again. There are loads of entries on our blog site with some excellent photos! The latest entry was from the last couple of weeks of our Freetown to Dakar trip, as the group made their way from Guinea-Bissau to Casamance, Senegal.
There are some great photos in this latest post, it should whet the appetite for joining us for a trip!
We’ve also updated the videos page on this website making it easier to view all of the amazing footage from West Africa. Check out our short films by clicking on the photo below:
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 through to the pages via 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 onboard Aminah later this year for another adventure through beautiful West Africa!
David, Al, Jimmy, and Aminah
Here are some excellent photos from Gary Potter, Claire Abery, and Elizabeth Johnson who joined us on our Accra to Freetown and Freetown to Dakar trip this year.
What a hectic few months it has been since we last wrote a post for the website! Finally we have the time to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and fill you in about what’s been happening at Overlanding West Africa.
See what the sign says below? THEY’RE IN LIBERIA!
Overlanding West Africa are proud to be the first ever overland truck based company to run a trip through the country. Here’s a picture of Al, Nev, and the group as they crossed the border from Sierra Leone a few days ago. Al says the drive from the east of Sierra Leone into Liberia was a long hard slog, the roads were terrible, and it took longer than expected, but in the true nature of overland adventure travel they made it!
Another first for Overlanding West Africa after being the first ever overland truck based company to run trips in Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone in 2012. Well done Al, Nev, Aminah, and all the group, congratulations!
Well, what else has been happening over the past few months?
After our hugely successful first season, Hatter has settled in the UK permanently to focus upon the operations and marketting for Overlanding West Africa and working to build upon the success of the first few years. Jimmy has decided to move to Australia to focus upon a new business venture and to settle down with his partner Claire.
To enable the trips to keep running, Hatter and Jimmy invited Al Goodridge to buy some shares in Overlanding West Africa and act as the new director, and Al is currently leading our trips in 2013 and 2014 with ex-Oasis Overland driver Nev Kelly.
Aminah needed some TLC after her first run down to West Africa, so Hatter and Al spent some weeks getting her back to her sexy self, including a brand new spray job with a new flag scheme down the side (note the Liberia flag!)
After a full mechanical overhaul, restocking her supplies and spare parts, and passing her MOT, Hatter and Al drove her down to the south of Spain. Upon arrival, Nev flew in to take over from Hatter, and off they went across the straits of Gibraltar to Morocco for the long drive to Dakar.
As those of you who follow us through social media will know, our Dakar to Freetown trip is now well underway. The group are currently in the beautiful Casamance region of Senegal enjoying a couple of nights on the Atlantic coastline.
Al, Nev and Aminah left Dakar with a group of 19 overlanders: A warm welcome to John, Ant, Narelle, Sascha, Phil, John, Arnold (Will), Warren, Jane, Robert, Connor, Chris, Daniel, Ian, Peter, Ina, Janet, Birgit and Tania.
To help us all keep up with the excitement on the road, Al has taken on the task of writing a blog detailing all that’s happening on the trips. If you’re a fan of adventure travel and overland trips you will love Al’s updates! Please do follow our blog through Google+ and all the usual social media channels:
You can expect regular updates from Al and the group as they make their way down to Ghana over the next 10 weeks or so.
A real highlight of the trip so far was the groups visit to Abene in northern Casamance. Al and Nev took the group to a wonderful campement managed by Simon for an evening of traditional music and dance. The climax of the festivities was witnessing a ‘Koumpo’ (known as a forest spirit) whip up a frenzy on the dancefloor, a real privilege to see.
A massive thank you to Simon, the staff at the campement, and all the performers for such a wonderful evening of entertainment.
Back here in the UK, World Travel Market took place at London’s Excel Arena this week. Hatter popped along for the day to visit those stands representing West Africa. Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria were all present, and it was great to put some names to faces after so many years.
We want to say a massive thank you to Ola at ‘Come To West Africa’ magazine for including Overlanding West Africa in the latest edition. Ola was working at the Nigeria stand at WTM helping push the West Africa tourism message, and Hatter was lucky enough to grab a photo opportunity with the editor himself!
Not only is Overlanding West Africa on the front cover with 3 photos, but there is an 8 page feature inside talking about what we are trying to achieve with our trips. Thanks so much for including us Ola we really appreciate it! Also many thanks to ex OWA passengers Rob Kuhlman, Inga Lotta, Wilna Wilkinson, Holly Melanson, and Clare Glade Wright for some of the superb photos used in the article.
Read more about all the media publications Overlanding West Africa has been featured in over the past few months here: Overlanding West Africa In The Media
Also a big thank you to Christophe Noel for writing a review about us for the superb Overlanders website Expedition Portal. Christophe highlights the fact that our trips go as far off the beaten track as possible and to places well of the radar for most travellers. Thanks Christophe!
Remember, you’ll need to book quite soon if you want to take the last available seat on our Accra To Freetown trip in January 2014. We also have just 3 seats left on our Freetown To Dakar trip starting in March 2014. If you can’t join us this season, we will have new dates for our trips in late 2014/early 2015 on our website by January 2014 so keep checking in!
We hope you all have a very happy Christmas wherever you are in the world, and a very happy new year. We hope to see some of you onboard Aminah in 2014 for another incredible adventure through West Africa!
David, Al, Jimmy, and Aminah
It’s been quite a while since we updated our latest news section. Alot has been happening since we returned from our recent trips in West Africa so here we go.
Firstly, we want to say a massive thank you to everybody who had the confidence to book with us for our first season through West Africa in 2012-2013. We couldn’t have run these trips without you! We took a gamble by devising, marketing, selling, and operating a trip which no overland operator had done before, connecting Senegal to Ghana via the coastal countries of Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. We also travelled through Senegal’s Casamance region, which has not been done for several decades by an overland truck based operator, and Ivory Coast which has effectively been closed to overlanders for the last 10 years. We were the first to run trips into Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone, something we are very proud of!
After finishing the trips in Dakar in mid-April 2013, Jimmy and Hatter drove back to the UK. It took just over 2 weeks so we were both pretty tired when we got back to UK. The journey home took us through Mauritania and Western Sahara, a sparsely populated area with some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere in the world. Here is a shot of Aminah where the Sahara desert meets the Atlantic ocean.
On returning to the UK, we met Al who has decided to join the OWA team as director. Al is an experienced overland trip leader and a fellow West Africa aficionado. We’re both very pleased to have Al onboard. Al will be leading the 2013-2104 trips. Read more about the new OWA team by visiting our Who We Are page.
Looking ahead now to 2013-2014, we have decided to include Liberia in the itineraries for our Freetown To Accra and Accra To Freetown trips. We will be the first commercial truck based overland company to devise, market, sell, and operate a trip through the country, something we are all very excited about. Liberia has only opened up to tourism in the past few years and with the British Foreign Office lifting the travel advice we are very pleased to be able to include it in our itineraries.
We have also been busy with our web designer changing a few things on this website. We now have a sliding image gallery at the top of each page, showing off some of the best photos taken by us and the passengers on our recent trips. We have a new social media click through bar at the top right of each page, which will take you to our popular Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube Channels, as well as one for Pinterest. We have some incredible shots on Pinterest do click through and have a browse to whet your appetite for West Africa travel!
In addition, we have a new box on the right hand side of each page below the latest news section called ‘Photo Gallery’. Al has been very busy adding some of the best images from the trips we have just run. It’s an incredible selection showing off the beauty of the people and landscapes of the region.
There is also a new “OWA Trip Videos” tab on the right hand side of each page. Click on any of the videos shown, enlarge the screen, and sit back and imagine yourself on one of our trips in West Africa!
We would like to say a huge thank you (in no particular order) to Holly Melanson, Ian Grieve, Sally Crace, Wilna Wilkinson, Ant Marcon, Will Betts, Rob Kuhlman, Di Forgan, Inga Lotta, Simon Ottner, Annie Porter, Jemma Dunn, Clare Glade Wright, Scott Carlyle, and Sally Holbrook, for allowing us to use some of their photos for promotional purposes, thanks so much guys! You can see a photo of some of the passengers who joined us on the trips lower down this page.
We would also like to say an extra special thank you to Jamie Noel, who joined us on our Accra To Freetown trip. Jamie is a professional film maker and made a number of short films about the trip. Highlighting the people, culture, music, landscapes, and trip life in general, the films offer a fantastic insight into the region and are accompanied by superb soundtracks. Thanks so much Jamie! You can watch Jamies videos below, and will find them elsewhere on this website.
Below is a photo collage of some of the passengers who joined us on Aminah for our 2012-2013 trips. We are looking forward to meeting everybody booked onto our next set of trips starting in late October this year (once rainy season has thrown the worst it can down and the region is drying out).
Remember, we still have a few seats left on all of our 2013-2014 departures, and are offering discounts if you book two trips with us. There never has been a better time to visit the region. Not sure yet if you should come along for the adventure? Read some Passenger Feedback about us and the trips we run to find out more, and read our Why Travel With OWA? page to see what makes ours trips so much better than others out there!
Al, Hatter, Jimmy, and Aminah
THANKS TO ALL FOR AN INCREDIBLE FIRST SEASON!
We’re in Ouagadougou with a good wifi connection, so thought we’d take the chance to update you on the latest happenings from our return trip so far.
We spent Christmas and New Years in Kumasi, Ghana, before driving down to Accra to meet the group. After obtaining some visas in the capital, we headed along the coast for some time on the beach and to visit the slave forts in Elmina and Cape Coast. Ghana’s coastline is as pretty as it ever has been, always brings a smile to the face when you drive along the palm tree lined beach front.
Most of the group went on the canopy walkways at Kakum National Park, tens of meters above the rainforest, for great views of the surroundings. After a lunch stop we carried on to Kumasi for a couple of nights, before heading out to Lake Bosumtwi. We found a great camp spot by the lake front, a really chilled afternoon had by all.
The trip continued north as we made for Mole National Park. To break up the drive we spent the night at the ever impressive Kintampo falls. Being a weekday we practically had the place to ourselves! For this time of year there was still a decent amount of water coming over the edge.
The road into Mole National Park is currently being upgraded, lots of vegetation has been cleared to lay what looks like a 4 lane highway. We presume that this road will connect the north of Ghana to Ivory Coast in the west. The group all headed out on nature walks and saw elephants, bush bucks, warthogs, baboons and monkeys amongst much more. All appreciated the swimming pool to cool off in after the day animal spotting.
We decided to spend a couple of nights in Bolgatanga in the far north of Ghana, and found a decent spot in town to camp. The group then spent the next day taking taxis to visit various places around the vicinity of Bolgatanga, including shrines in the Tongo Hills, and also traditional arts and crafts villages further towards the Togo and Burkina Faso borders.
Crossing into Burkina Faso we had 2 armed guards accompany us for a 30km stretch through the forest area due to banditry, but then quickly made it to the capital Ouagadougou. Everybody enjoyed a free day visiting the city centre and relaxing by the pool, before we headed to Bobo Dioulassou for 2 nights. The mosque and market in Bobo are so picturesque and a hive of activity.
We then headed out into the Banfora region, spending 3 days visiting the natural sights the area is famed for. We camped at the stunning Karfiguela waterfalls, and then walked out to wonder amongst the Domes of Fabedougou. On the way you could see the massive irrigation pipes put in during the days of French rule which carry water down from the falls to irrigate the sugar cane fields below. We then broke camp and headed out towards the border with Mali and the town of Sindou. From here we walked to the Sindou Peaks, an amazing sight of natural rock formations that spire into the skies above. The wind has blown the sand through the area for centuries and created all manner of wonderful shaped peaks, quite similar in shape to those you would see in Cappadocia in Turkey. It feels almost lunar like at times!
We are now in the Ivory Coast, and the group have been off exploring the surrounding arts and crafts villages the north is famed for. We now continue our Ivorian adventure as we head for the infamous Basilica in Yam!
Remember guys, dates for 2013 and 2014 are now up on this site, you can find them under THE TRIPS tab at the top of this page. We hope you can join us for the adventure later in the year!
David, Jimmy, and Aminah x
PS We wont have much email access until we arrive into Freetown on February 24th. We are heading into the jungle between Ivory Coast and Guinea for a while! So if you don’t hear back from us straight away please be patient, we will be intouch as soon as we can.
We’re currently in Grand Bassam, approx 30kms east of the capital Abidjan, and having a couple of relaxing days on the beach just along from the old colonial quarter. It’s quite odd being back on the ‘tourist trail’ after so many weeks away from it. Well, we say tourist trail, the thing is, there are none around. The recent civil war in Ivory Coast has had a severe impact upon visitor numbers to the country….there are still expats and NGOs hovering around, but haven’t really seen any other travellers at all.
Well, where to start?! It’s been an incredible few weeks since we last posted. We left Freetown in the midst of election fever. The city was buzzing with support for Dr Ernest, and we now know he has since won the election. Every day and every night we were in the country felt like a carnival, some kind of rally going on for one political party or another. We were held up in Freetown for a bit longer than planned, mainly due to a diplomatic spat between the UK and Guinea……so of course the Guineans refused to issue the Brits with visas. Ah, bit of a problem there, we had 5 Brits on the trip, and both the drivers were also UK passport holders. So for 3 days, yes 3 days, Hatter went back and forth between the British High Commission and the Guinean embassy to massage egos, kiss ass, and generally plead our case. Eventually the issue which caused the problem in the first place (can’t really talk about it here!) was defused, and we had our visas, HOORAY!
So with visas in our passports, we headed north to Kabala, set close to the beautiful Wara Wara mountain range. It just so happened that the President was due in on the same day as us, so we followed his motorcade for some of the way there, and were treated to his helicopter landing in the town the following afternoon. Some of the passengers went to see his rally on the local football pitch, election fever was in the air! The views of the surrounding mountains were stunning, and many thanks to the Oxfam team for allowing us to camp in their compound. Sierra Leone still has a long way to go before it is ready for organised tourism, but for us overlanders a patch of grass and a toilet was all we needed, cheers guys!
From Kabala we headed down to Tiwai Island, and wow, what a drive it was. At first the road from Bo to Potoru was pretty good tar, then it abruptly ended and turned into washed out dirt. After Potoru, the road became very narrow, barely suited to a motorbike but we squeezed Aminah through regardless as we found ourselves driving through dense vegetation. Once we arrived at the river side village, the heavens opened up (AGAIN!)……so 1/2 hour waiting for the rain to relent, and we crossed onto the island on speed boat. The next day we all went on nature walks and boat rides, and saw a variety of wildlife, including the rare Diana monkey (which pissed on our heads at one stage!). A big thanks to all the Tiwai Island staff and the villagers on the other side for making us feel so welcome!
From Tiwai we headed to Kenema for a couple of days. The town is described as about far west as the diamond diggers will venture and about as far east as the diamond dealers will go. So you can imagine there were heaps of shops acting as go betweens to sell their precious stones. We stayed at the Catholic mission on the entrance to town, a beautiful place set amongst rolling grass fields and trees, Father Augustine was a great host. When he saw the truck, he read out the names of all the countries listed along the side and then exclaimed “Jesus Christ!”….most amusing! From here we drove all the way back to Guinea for a visa run in the capital Conakry.
The next stage of the journey saw us head back towards the stunning Fouta Djalon region from where we headed east into the Forest region. This is where the roads started to deteriorate, slowing our progress down. Arriving into Faranah late, we saw the Presidential airstrip in the distance….built sometime in the 1980s we think, Faranah was Tourre’s home town so he had an airstrip built capable of taking a Concorde! Well, we saw a track leading to it so turned off and bushcamped there for the night! Our journey continued through the Forest region via Kissidougou, Gueckadou, Macenta, and Nzerekore. All along the way we tried to find the elusive lliana bridges (made from vines). After 4 or 5 failed attempts, we struck gold! Alot of them no longer exist as the new roads that have sprung up in places mean people no longer maintain them so they fall into disrepair and are lost for good. However, perseverance paid off and we found one! It took us about an hour of trekking through the forest to get there, but when we did it was worth it, and the locals are still using it to this day to get produce around the forest region, superb!
Leaving the Forest region, we headed into the lush tropical jungle that borders Ivory Coast and Guinea. We made a slight detour towards Liberia to visit the wild chimpanzees. A beautiful spot not far from Mount Nimba, we camped in the grounds of the research station. The next morning we were up early and ushered through the forest to see the chimps in their natural habitat. After 45 minutes or so, one of the big males appeared and crossed right in front of us, before clambering up a tree. After a while he was joined by another 3 adults. It was a real treat to see them, and we spent a good hour or more watching them in the tress above, a real highlight for all of us. It’s not really meant for tourists strictly speaking, it is a research centre where people study the behaviour of this particular group and how they interact with the surrounding villages. So we were very fortunate to be allowed to visit.
Now the adventure started! People talk of the great overland journeys, and both Jimmy and Hatter, and many in the group who are currently travelling with us, are fortunate to have done some of them (crossing Mongolia, the Silk Route, Cairo to Cape Town, Loops of South America etc)…..but one that just has to be done by people is the crossing from Guinea into Ivory Coast. It is BEAUTIFUL! It’s remote, the roads are awful at times, but the people are SO friendly, and the landscapes stunning. It took us about 2 days from Lola to get to Danane, bushcamping en route at the immigration post between the 2 countries. You see everything from traditional African villages, to mud roads, mountains shrouded in steamy mist, dense jungle and forest, and rickety old bridges. One of which was broken, and had been for 2 years, so everybody who could had to ford the river. Alas, just 30 mins before we got to the fording point, the heavens opened up and it POURED! So there was a huge volume of water flowing into the river, and the entry and exit points became a slippery greasy nightmare from all the mud. After 1/2 hour or so of putting rocks down for traction and bamboo, Aminah took the plunge down a steep ravine and swam through the river to the other side, GO AMINAH!
Once through the worst of the roads (that diff lock and crawler gear came in very handy at times!), we popped out onto the tarmac in the west of Ivory Coast. What a treat awaited us!! We turned off on the dirt for 50 kms or so and found one of the villages that is famous for it’s stilt dancers. We approached the old wise men of the village, 4 of them in total, who in fact looked so old we suspect they were at least 100 years old! They agreed to us pitching camp in the village, and one of the younger men walked to the top of the hill and chanted in the local language at the top of his voice to call the men in from the forest to perform a dance for us all. And what a dance it was! For 90 minutes or so, we were treated to one of the best ceremonies/dances most of us have ever seen, all set amongst the surrounding forest and mountains, in the most beautiful picture postcard village you could ask for, check out the pictures, it was such a great evening of festivities!
The next morning, we handed out some of the supplies we had bought for the kids. In aid of ‘MOVEMBER’, everybody on the truck donated some money in return for the lads growing a moustache for the month of November. With the money the group bought pens, exercise books, geometry sets, footballs, chalk etc, and decided to give it out to various schools as we headed through the West and North of Ivory Coast. Having had such a great time in the village where we saw the dancers, the group decided to give some of the supplies to the village school……below are some of the lads with some of the village by Aminah just after we gave them the supplies. The other picture is of us handing over a load of boxes we brought with us on the roof of Aminah from Alet Les Bains, France. These boxes were for the CREER project, run by Chloe Grant, a foundation being set up to help children in Cote D’Ivoire. CREER is now moving along at a fast pace, and we hope to visit them in their new buildings next time we pass through!
Heading north the roads deteriorated again, and it took us a while to reach Korhogo, where some of the group went off to climb Mt Korhogo, whilst others visited the artisan villages surrounding the town to see the weavers, jewellery makers, and wood workers ply their trades. Some just sat by the swimming pool all day, a great chance to kick back and unwind after a crazy journey into the country from Guinea. Now on good tarmac (well, reasonable tarmac!), we headed to the weird and wonderful de facto capital of Yamoussoukro, and paid a visit to the Basilica….what a sight it was too! Modelled on St Peters in Rome, it sits amongst green jungle scenery. Though highly controversial due to its cost, you can not help but be impressed by the craftsmanship that went into the construction of such a beautiful building.
From Yam we headed south to the coast for a few nights in the old colonial ex-capital of Grand Bassam……lots of crumbling old colonial buildings right on the seafront, a perfect way to refresh ourselves before the final leg of this particular trip as we head into Ghana tomorrow. It’s been an awesome journey, one that everybody who loves real overlanding should experience. Though not easy, and indeed challenging at times, it has been an immensely rewarding journey, and one we will never forget! More updates to follow from Ghana next week, stay tuned, and keep following our progress via our Facebook page there are LOADS more photos on there of what we have been upto, enjoy!