Zen and the Art of Land Rover Maintenance or What Do You Learn After 27,331km of Africa?

With all this time we’ve had on the road to think about the  ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, the ultimate answer still eludes us. There were, however, a few other thoughts that did come out of it all:

1. Things always find a way of working out. I remember how we were planning for the trip and were discussing all of the things that could go wrong. What if we get attacked by bandits, catch malaria, encounter an elephant while camping, breakdown in the middle of nowhere, and so on and on. There were so many “what ifs” – it was pretty daunting to think about it. Then, when others would ask the same questions, we would just shrug it off and say that it’d work out, while thinking to ourselves: “well, what if that actually does happen?”.

Some of these things actually happened, some did not. But what we’ve learned after all is that things really do have a way of working out. And it’s usually not as bad as you imagine it to be anyway.

As South Africans like to say, “make a plan.” When things go wrong, stop, get a cold beer out (in our case, a coke) and make a plan to solve it. And it’ll work out.

2. People are afraid of the wrong things. While we were planning the trip out and even occasionally during the actual journey, we’d get asked if we were afraid of traveling through Africa. Our joking response would  be that it’s probably more dangerous place to travel through Mother Russia – rather than most of the African countries.

Thinking more about this now – the biggest thing that we were worried about, and it was probably also reflected in other people’s questions, was the unknown. There were very few people that we knew that traveled through the continent, so there was no opportunity to get first hand accounts. Media’s portrayal of the continent also doesn’t help – it contributes to a negative and unstable image.

The reality is that people’s fears of traveling through Africa are, in my opinion, not justified. In  4 months and 13 African countries, we almost never experienced threats or problems. There were perhaps 2 situations when things got a tad out of control – when we were exchanging money at a Tanzanian border and got cheated by the money changer, while a crowd gathered and started to accuse us of stealing, and once in Ethiopia when our car was forced to stop by “tour guides” on motorcycles demanding that we pay a fee to enter a park.

But those particular incidents aside, we almost always felt safe wherever we were – especially when we were in rural Africa. With a little vigilance, common sense and a smile – you’ll generally encounter little trouble out here. West Africa may be a tad different, but we suspect that many of the fears and perceptions people have of it are exaggerated as well.

3. You learn a lot about yourself. If you want to find out about somebody’s true personality, take them to Africa on a roadtrip. After 3 weeks, you’ll learn more than you would in a year under normal circumstances.

The side effect of that is that you will also find out things about yourself that you may not have expected. When you’re traveling with others for 24 hours a day under frequent stressful situations, everyone’s true personalities come out – including your own. It’s hard to hide things because there really isn’t much place to vent outside of your group, so sooner or later, your natural reactions come out. The findings can sometime surprise you!

4. Is anything really impossible in this world? At the risk of making the post cheesy, I wanted to include this as well.

I remember the first time I came across the idea of traversing the African continent. For about 3 years after that, I brought it up every once in a while with friends saying that it would be a pretty amazing thing to do.

The problem was that it was one of those things that’s great to daydream about it, but not really go ahead and actually do it. In part, it seemed too big to tackle. And moreover, who was I to do it? It’s stuff that you read about in a magazine somewhere or watch in movies, but not really do yourself. It was just too crazy.

Then, in November, I decided to do it. In January, the planning began. In April, we landed in South Africa… and here we are. Having done it, it no longer seems like such a big deal – at all. I don’t mean this with any hint of arrogance – but rather simply I don’t even see why it seemed so impossible in the first place. In fact, I can say that most people – if they don’t mind making a few sacrifices (not even huge ones!) – can pull this off with no problem.

So, this leads to a bigger question. If what at some point seemed impossible, now seems quite achievable – what else can this apply to? What other impossible things are actually perfectly attainable – if you want it and willing to make a few sacrifices along the way.

5. People are sooo good. Imagine this – you’re driving in New York on the West Side Highway and your car breaks down. Somebody passes you and stops to find out what’s wrong. After attempting to help you fix it, they offer to tow the car to a mechanic. While the car is being worked on, they invite you (and your entourage) into their house, feed you, ensure you are comfortable, perhaps even provide a place to spend the night. On the next day, they  take you back to the mechanic, wish you good luck and go on their way – never seeing you again. Sounds odd? Unlikely?

Well, it’s the sort of thing we’ve encountered again and again and again – regardless of where we were, somebody was always willing to lend a hand. While in Africa, we were never worried whether we’d be able to get help – it was just a matter of time.

6. People make the trip. Thinking about each person that came along on the trip – Tolik, Vitaly, and Dasha – I am so proud and impressed by all of them.

It’s not an easy thing to pull off. You live with each other for 24 hours a day and spend 80% of the time in pretty tight quarters. I often joke that I’ve spent more consecutive nights sleeping with Tolik on this trip than I ever had with anybody else 🙂

It’s also hard work. Days can be long and difficult as you are driving for hours at a time on hot, dusty African roads. You have to rely on yourself for everything – if you don’t fix the car, if you don’t make the tent, if you don’t cook your dinner – nobody else will.

You really do need to have the right mindset for this and be willing to put in the effort to make it work. I am  proud that everyone who participated truly rolled up their sleeves and embraced the trip to the fullest, in good times and in difficult ones. You guys were amazing!

Thank you all for making this an unforgettable and successful experience!

Another post with the reflections from the entire team is coming shortly!

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