“Let’s go see this waterfall, the guidebook says it is only 15km off the main road!” Little did I know these words were going to come back to haunt me throughout the rest of our expedition as it was not one of my better suggestions.
Turns out what the guidebook failed to mention that it was 15km up a very narrow mountain track, winding up the steep mountain side with a sheer drop on one side and solid rock face on the other.
The single lane track had 15 hairpin turns at which you prayed that you would not meet on-coming traffic.
Twice we did which resulted in a very nervous shuffle as by some miracle the oncoming vehicle passed without going over the edge. Our trusty Land Rover was put through her paces as she slowly clambered up the washed away track.
Needless to say that by the time we got to the top our adrenaline was pumping, our knuckles white and we were feeling a bit shaky, so much so that we actually missed the sign for the waterfalls and went on until we reached the small town of Livingstonia.
We did eventually find it and it was stunning! And we made it safely down the track again.
This was one of the more adventurous experiences Andrea and I had during our Africa Conservation Adventure expedition across southern Africa, driving through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.
We’ve been lucky enough to virtually meet (that is, meet online) two amazing conservationists and animal-lovers who are embarking on an extraordinary 7000km trip through Africa this year.
Rebecca and Andrea are preparing to head off on an Africa conservation adventure at the end of March through six countries (Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia) visiting 23 national parks, protected reserves or special protected areas, camping with a rooftop tent and an igloo-tent. Their intention is to raise funds and awareness around what’s really happening in their beloved country, with particular reference to the terrible ivory trade and wildlife conservation.
Here we meet the pair, and find out about travel, animals, adventure and all that’s dear to their heart in Africa.
Who is going on this Africa conservation adventure?
Rebecca Phillips; I have had the privilege to have grown up in Tanzania and I am third generation expat living and working here. My parents and grandparents are farmers and have a dairy farm in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania in an area surrounded by true wilderness. Since my earliest memories I have been going on camping trips and adventurous explorations to remote areas which have given me a great love, respect and passion for wildlife and the African bush. It is therefore not so surprising that I chose to do a degree in tourism management which has given me the opportunity to live in the wilderness and I am now managing Mdonya Old River Camp in Ruaha National Park alongside Andrea.
Andrea Pompele; I’m Italian I grew up in the middle of the western Alps on the border with France, surrounded by a wonderful nature, incredible pine forests and the highest peak of mountains the Mont Blanc. I am passionate about nature since I was a little kid, hanging around and hiking with my father and climbing and camping with my friends. For that reason I decided to study evolutionary biology at university, after the degree I decided to keep my interests in ethology but I specialised in ecology. After the second degree I chose to finish my study in earth sciences. For a while I worked in Italy, but I left Europe to focus on my passion: African wildlife. I was working in southern Africa as a guide and I recently moved to Tanzania to manage and train the guides of the camp we run in Ruaha National Park, the Mdonya Old River Camp, a wild wild place.
How and why did you decide on this particular itinerary?
We were invited to attend a wedding in Botswana and after many a night of sitting around the camp fire discussing our dream of going on a big adventure and seeing more of Africa we came up with the itinerary of going through Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and back through Zambia which was plausible given the time frame we had for the trip.
At some point we transformed it from being a private travel adventure, to a trip with a cause.
Let people be aware of the situation of conservation in African countries, it’s important and everybody should know how much effort different organisations are putting in to actively protect this incredible richness.
They can be supported by anyone that finds this cause important.
Why did you choose to go during the wet season?
During April and May the camp that we manage closes down, giving us the time to go on such a trip. Also the fact that it meant that the places we are hoping to visit will not be so busy was a positive factor for going during the rains. And of course also because it is more challenging and adventurous.
What do you expect to be the big highlight of this journey?
Although I (Rebecca) have spent the majority of my life in Africa, I have only experienced Tanzania so I am very excited to visit other African countries and have the opportunity to see more of Africa’s incredible diverse wilderness. Planning the itinerary there are so many things that I am excited about, but I do have a fascination with waterfalls so I think seeing Victoria Falls is going to be a definite highlight.
For me (Andrea) it’s going back to the places that I already know, it’s a feeling of discovering new places and exploring new parts of the most beautiful continent. The big highlight could be considered the great adventure we will do: a Land Rover, a tent and the wilderness to explore, experiencing what we have long dreamt of.
What do you expect will be the most challenging aspects of the trip?
Driving for such long distances over rough roads in a land rover and dealing with all the bureaucracy that entails crossing country boarders.
What is your key goal of the trip?
Our main aim is to raise awareness on an international level that there are big threats to wildlife in Africa and that everyone can play a role in making a difference in protecting Africa’s wildlife.
We hope that in a small way our trip can be an inspiration for ordinary people to do something to support conservation and the fight against poaching.
It’s ethical, it’s important, it’s urgent!
What aspects of wildlife protection are you most passionate about sharing with the world?
I (Rebecca) am particularly passionate about elephants, having had the opportunity to live alongside herds of elephants watching them from a very close proximity observing their characters and their behaviour. So the fact that so many elephants in Tanzania are being shot for their ivory is a cause that is very close to my heart. The fact that there has been a nearly 60 per cent decline in Tanzania’s elephant population in the last five years is shocking and yet most people are unaware that if this trend doesn’t stop, there is a real risk that Tanzania will lose all of its elephants in the foreseeable future.
I (Andrea) love every type of life’s form. I’m passionate about carnivores and I’m confident with cats particularly lions. During my job I had several close encounters with them, even on foot. I find them majestic but they also are endangered as well as the elephants that I love, we should do something actively to protect them. We are glad and grateful to work and live surrounded by these wonderful creatures, but the possibility is not too remote of losing them and this gives me an urgency to act directly. If we don’t stop the killing and we don’t manage the human vs animal conflict, my daughter in five to ten years is at risk of not being able to admire them every day as I do. This is unacceptable for the future generations and for humanity in general. It’s a human heritage we must not lose
How are you both sharing this message?
We will be blogging and sharing photos, videos on social media pages and conducting short interviews with the organisations that we are supporting.
What would you like to see changed (for the better) in Africa in your lifetime?
A safer environment for elephants and rhinos where they are not at risk of extinction because of human greed for material wealth in terms of ivory and rhino horn. Justified protection of carnivores and all wildlife as a global heritage not only under the property of the country where they live, but in a greater scale, for humanity as well.
Do you consider these countries in Africa are safe to visit?
Yes, although we have done a lot of research into the areas that we are going to and we are avoiding areas which we consider dangerous. The main thing is to do your research so you are aware of the real risks and you can take the necessary precautions. People should visit these countries because each one has unique and incredible destinations to visit.
What three words or phrases would you use to describe what you love most about Africa?
Rebecca: wilderness, diversity, sense of belonging.
My parents were explorers – avid travellers who were among the original backpackers. They were contemporaries of the Wheelers (founders of Lonely Planet). Although explored varying routes right throughout Africa, South America and Asia. In the ’70s, my parents scored jobs with Encounter Overland (EO), one of the early companies to specialise in international and off-the-beaten-track adventure travel.
EO’s HQ was based in London, although my parents joined the party in South Africa. It doesn’t exist now, but there are plenty of people who had great adventures (or misadventures) on board EO’s famous overlander trucks during its operational period (late ’60s to late ’90s as far as I understand).
Two of the trips my dad, John, and mum, June, embarked upon were some of the very first to mark the Encounter Overland trails through Africa and South America, and would subsequently determine the itinerary for future expeditions.
Travel adventures: Encounter Overland
On Googling “Encounter Overland” I discovered blogs from travellers who toured with EO, and a couple mention “disasters” like dirt flying up at them on the trucks, or getting bogged. These are not disasters. Nearly being thrown in jail as an innocent is. Being held up at gunpoint at border crossings, trapped below landslides, or stalked by rhinoceros’ when you’ve been deliberately left at a camp in the middle of nowhere in Africa, these are “disasters”. And just a tiny insight into the many enthralling stories shared with me as I grew up.
I can confidently say however, that I don’t think anyone on board would trade the experiences – even the scary ones (well, maybe they would trade the examples I’ve mentioned above, but I hope you see my point). In the end, it’s travel – a life-changing adventure.
Some of the places these crews visited 40 odd years ago aren’t even accessible to the average traveller now. Pretty amazing.
I appreciate that EO is in the hearts of many the world over, because of the friends made on these tours – through good, bad, terrifying and exhilarating times. The intriguing local people met, and remote, wonderful, awe-inspiring sights witnessed too, are a reward that lasts a lifetime, and a reason we continue to pursue travel and associated experiences to this day.
For as long as my brother and I can remember, we thought images to accompany our parents’ travel tales hadn’t survived years of humid tropical North Queensland summers.
Fortunately mum has diaries, a good memory and the ability to tell an engaging yarn, so our imaginations did the rest. I’d say these stories mark the origins of my personal interest in travel and adventure.
Recently though, some photos (slides, actually), were discovered by my parents, and for the first time in my lifetime – thanks to modern photo technology accessible at home – we’ve been able to view these images which could be scanned into a computer and colour-corrected (we used PaintShop Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Picasa and SnapSeed).
Here are some of my favourites from the Vintage Travel Photography Encounter Overland Adventures collection.
A few are a little marked but it adds to their character, don’t you think?
And if you were part of the crew or you’re a little nostalgic for all that was, you can connect here with others who are keeping the spirit of EO alive. Drop us a line in the comments, and you will want to take a look at Lance Thomas’ site about Encounter Overland.
As always, I’d love to hear from you – please do drop me a line in the comments below.
We awoke early today and to our delight discovered lights of the northern tip of Africa in the distance. It’s an amazing day 3 in the diary of a Europe cruise virgin!
We were about to dock in Tunisia! Food scoffed, dressed swiftly, we joined the other excursion groups in the designated area on board the MSC Splendida, as outlined in last night’s information newsletter which had been hand-delivered to our room.
Founded in 814BC – Tunis, the exotic capital of Tunisia, is an interesting stop. Another first; we’ve not stepped foot in Africa so weren’t too sure what to expect. I was excited to gain just a small taste of the continent as my parents travelled extensively here a while ago, and I’ve heard stories aplenty! Tourism is important to this particular region, so the locals look forward to events such as cruise ships docking. We were greeted by traditional performances, camels and all sorts of colourful entertainment at the port. Very cool!
Tunis is a popular resort destination in summer, however it was a bit chilly during our visit (well, for Africa – a mild 20 degrees), so we settled upon wandering through the bright Medina (situated within structures hundreds of years old), shopping at traditional market stalls; witnessing the production of rugs and perfume – various trade techniques alive and well after centuries of practice. The old Medina, in fact, acted as the commercial heart of the medieval town of Tunis, until the French Protectorate (French ‘colonisation’) in 1881. History, culture and shopping delicately entwined: what more can a traveller ask for?
An intriguing, contemporary city; and with the exception of being vaguely hassled to buy goods at the market (which to be fair, I suppose is expected), it all felt safe, hospitable and pleasant enough. Additionally, our guide on this excursion was friendly, informative and funny. Away from the hectic Medina and bustling streets, the city becomes quieter, and beautifully adorned with stunning mosques, mausoleums, Koranic schools, homes and doorways intricately decorated and designed. Around every corner is something unusual and equally beautiful to photograph.
Evidently there are plenty of terrific shops, markets, restaurants and museums (like the Bardo Museum for example, which boasts the most beautiful collection of Roman mosaics in Africa) to explore in the region. Additionally there are countless other unique destinations (such as the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said, and the beaches of Gammarth), and experiences on offer; but as we were short on time, we’d chosen an expedition that included a visit to a world heritage listed archaeological site: the ancient Roman ruins of Carthage, overlooking the ocean. Spectacular.
Carthage was the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, and existed for nearly 3,000 years, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC into the capital of an ancient empire. On this vast site palaces, amphitheatres, thermal baths, temples, water reservoirs, aqueducts and homes once existed; all belonging to one of the most powerful ancient maritime nations of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians. The Romans all but destroyed Carthage during war in 146BC, but Carthage was eventually re-founded, and became the Roman empire’s fourth most important city of its time, remaining so until the Muslim conquest when it was destroyed again 698. Little is known of the people who lived here, but ruins remain so we may at least have the chance to explore and dream about what it might have been like to exist here in another lifetime.
Take a short tour of Tunis’ streets and Carthage with us:
Do you have a cruising story, or a tale out of Africa to share? Let us know, tweet @sarahblinco or find us on Facebook. You can also read the rest of the stories in this series (more to come in coming days) HERE.
Following a huge meal last night, the ‘welcome dinner’ of seven courses, we emerged at leisure from a peaceful night’s sleep. For me, sleeping on a ship feels a little similar to being on a water bed. I found it quite soothing, anyway.
The nicest part about the day (aside from the general opulence of this place!) had to have been stretching and Yoga on water this morning, with the class held in Club 33 at the top of the ship, featuring 240 degree views of the sprawling ocean. Following this healthy start, I began the day with a sensible breakfast of cereal and fruit, however the lure of the darn buffet (ever present, ever tempting) drew me back in mid-morning for a sweet treat. Ever since, Cooper and I have been eating like the world is running out of food and I fear the rest of the trip may be a little (or a lot) more of the same.
[more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]
Today was an ‘at sea’ day as we cruise in the direction of the north African coast, therefore proving to be an ideal time to explore and rest. We even enjoyed a drink with some of the new American, Canadian and Puerto Rican friends we met at dinner (and subsequent Latin dancing) yesterday evening.
Obviously, this is the first time either of us has ever been in the middle of the ocean, at present, we’re somewhere in between Spain and Africa. I never imagined that at the beginning of 2012! It’s all very cool. My only stress is that the Internet is non-existent. Usually, not a major problem, however I’m on a deadline this week. Great! Fortunately I worked ahead (there are benefits to being a total deadline nerd) so not all will be lost. I am suffering technology withdrawals though (this post is being written in ‘real time’ but to be uploaded later on … shhh don’t tell)! How can we Tweet our every gorgeous cocktail with no Internet?
Meanwhile, must be off as we’ve just discovered free champers and Martinis are being served for an hour as part of the Captain’s Ball celebrations. Would be rude to not partake…
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