AFTER months of planning, waiting, drawing up (and eventually tackling) to-do lists, packing, sorting out my life and repacking, the nine-month adventure around Africa has finally begun.
Given the whole journey is likely to rack up 50,000 km on the road – to say nothing of the ones covered on foot and any other form of transport we need on our trip through this huge continent – we have barely scratched the service.
But we have been hard at work learning lessons which will hold us in good stead for what lies ahead as we adjust to life on and off the truck.
Lesson one, which started far too early at Gatwick for the flight to Gibraltar, was getting to know the rest of the touring party.
In all we are a 17-strong group from around the globe, hailing from Australia (what group travel would be complete without at least one?), New Zealand, Argentina, Japan, Holland, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, France (via Tahiti, Mauritius and, he assures us, a bit of China), Canada, Wales, Scotland and a sprinkling of English.
Fifteen of us are signed up to go the entire route to Cairo with others coming and going along the way.
Steering us along the way are two more Aussies, tour leader Joe and driver Steve, fountains of knowledge, information and stories, plus a reservoir of patience as we fail to grasp – or, in some cases, choose to ignore – their instructions and advice on what we should be doing to make our life easier and the whole journey smoother.
Completing the group is possibly the most important member – Nala, our truck, home, transport, base and holder of all the stuff we crammed into our bags before the off (and my reputation as an over packer has been well and truly trumped by others).
Learning our way around Nala, adjusting to living off what is stored within her (and where everything is stored) and to life on board while we are on the road have dominated our first few days.
Tucked away within Nala’s bowels are our tents and all the food, cooking, camping and cleaning kit we need to keep us fed, watered and, where possible, comfortable as we head through some testing and occasionally remote terrain.
We’ve also been learning how to use all that kit to feed our passengers as the three-strong daily cook groups wrestle with a limited budget to shop for and create a meal for 19, plus breakfast and, usually, lunch for the next day.
The cook group hands over responsibilities to the next before taking over cleaning duties aboard Nala – the hardest part of which is keeping people off the truck and out of their lockers for long enough to get the job done – in the evening before making the most of a few nights off.
Our group of confirmed non-cooks has reached that point after coming to terms with creating a minced beef concoction, a vegetarian alternative and enough rice to create a big bowl of rice porridge the next morning. Dinner the next day was rather less ambitious (the overlanding version of the office sandwich lady turning up, only with more work involved on the part of the eater).
We also had to cope with the new experience of cooking and living in a bush camp.
Putting up and taking down tents we have got down to a fine art – well, we can do it pretty quickly and nobody’s has fallen down yet – but bush camping is bereft of any home comforts.
Cooking and tents were the least of our worries as we also had to cope with the total lack of facilities and our introduction (think most of us have taken the plunge) with what has become known as the shovel of shame.
Essentially, it involves wandering off a reasonable distance from camp, digging a hole and doing what comes naturally before covering the evidence.
My aiming still needs a bit of work, although thankfully did not fall into the trap of misjudging exactly where my jeans were.
Imagine the excitement as we rolled out of camp this morning with rumours builing that our next destination contained hot showers (partially true) and, best of all, wi-fi.
Both utilised to the max – although time and the slightly inclement weather combined to prevent a first bout of laundry – it is with fresh clothes, clean body and a newly-processed receipt for another visa safely tucked away that our first Saturday night beckons around the campfire.
And there are toilets just a few yards away…