Paris to Tanzania

Dear Internet,

We made it.  It wasn’t according to our original plans, but it was nonetheless through the whirlwind and on time.

On 19 April 2013 Al and I departed Paris for Tanzania in a truck named Archer.  We had lived in the City of Light for a year, and were both excited and nervous about the next step.  As we navigated through the city’s network of wide boulevards, backstreets and peripheral expressways, we couldn’t help but ask each other, “Is this really happening?  Are we really doing this?”  Those questions have become a sort of mantra, uttered whenever we moved past a landmark, or even more interesting, whenever stuck at one.

I started writing letters that the Internet can see while still in Paris (Paris, I and Paris, II, both to o), and continued while in Spain, where I wrote about hectic days from Pamplona, all I haven’t done in Madrid, rude people in Matalascañas, trepidation beneath a lighthouse near Conil de la Frontera, and a lesson in mechanics in Dos Hermanas.  Once finished with work on an ecological wetlands site and visiting family, we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco.

We spent a lot of unexpected time in Morocco, which was both a frustration (see letter to DHL Morocco) and a pleasure (see letters from Chefchaouen, Taghazout, and the Draa Valley).  Finally, when our carnet de passages arrived (or, more accurately, when we drove across the country to collect it), we crossed over the great desert via the Western Sahara and Mauritania, and drove into Senegal.

Then it was the start-and-stop journey across West Africa, and here’s the rundown: we witnessed corruption and hope in Dakar, got stuck in the mud on the verge of the rainy season just past Guinea-Bissau in Weling, visited the beautiful, refreshing Waterfall of Ditinn in Guinea, and met the friendliest of peoples in the notoriously war-torn countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast, summed up in Abidjan.  If you want details on the crossings themselves, they were: in and out of the Gambia, then Senegal to Guinea-Bissau, to Guinea, to Sierra Leone, to Liberia, and then to the Ivory Coast.

In Grand Bassam, where we were stopped near Abidjan for another round of visa applications, we read the recent news: we would not be able to enter the DR Congo, even with a visa issued from a neighbouring country.  Our plans would have to change.

Our new idea was to ship half our stuff backward to the UK, along with Archer (our truck), the other half onward to Tanzania, our destination, and then ourselves go with backpacks strapped by bus, train, taxi and thumb to Gabon, from where we would fly.  On the day we got underway to drop off Archer for the RO/RO ship in Abidjan, we got in an accident which rendered the 30-minute drive to the boat impossible – or at least, much-delayed.  Luckily, a local mechanic offered to buy Archer within an hour of the accident, and for the same price that we paid in the UK.  With the import fee now waived because of the truck being a write-off, we could, paradoxically, consider ourselves lucky for getting T-boned by a speeding taxi.  All said and done, I had to thank Archer for saving my life.

So, the newer idea: ship the stuff from Abidjan to Dar es Salaam as well as to the UK, and then go to Gabon.  But we soon learned how much that would cost.  So, we cut down on our stuff (we had a lot), stored it in a Grand Bassam hotel, and booked a flight from Abidjan to Dar es Salaam.

Thus, the newest idea: go on a circuit, by train to Burkina Faso, from there by bush-taxi to Benin, more bush-taxis to Togo, and then a 24-hour bus through Ghana, to the Ivory Coast in time for the flight, which for a hefty but still more reasonable fee, would also take our extra stuff.  This route we actually did: museums and grand markets in Ouagadougou, lions, elephants and baboons at Benin’s Pendjari National Park [LINK], a city on stilts at Ganvié, royal palaces and definitions of art at Abomey, and Voodoo, Nigerians and a punchy cab driver in Ouidah.  At last, after the flight we never wanted to take (and therefore bought a truck and countless supplies to go another way), we arrived in Dar es Salaam

There were a few other letters along the way: a letter to Virgo with country rankings, a couple letters to Viven explaining the carnet de passages and the fiche de passage (both crucial for driving across Africa), a letter to Jali on the importance of knowing a little French in West Africa, outlines of couple scams we came across while en route: the uncommon Powdered Milk for Baby Scam, and the classic Man of Authority Scam, and how we would have crossed from Benin to Nigeria.

The rest is all in there.