AFTER so long travelling together, there is a bit of a danger of a truck uniform developing.
We all have items of clothing which get worn a lot more than the rest, but chances are a quick glance around the truck will spot a selection of hoodies (almost exclusively blue, worn when the wind is whipping in the side of the truck), shorts, quite possibly khaki, (Kris and myself managed to buy the identical pair from the same shop in a giant Cape Town mall) or tracksuit bottoms, flip-flops (almost all Havaianas) and T-shirts (which people have differing ideas about how long they can be worn without changing).
Throw in growing collections of bracelets, the odd baseball cap and sunglasses and that’s pretty much the Trans Africa uniform – although the girls have a tendency to thrown in the odd dress and skirt, just to mix things up. If they were relatively clean and comfortable on the truck, sure some of the boys would go for that as well.
That all changed at Kande Beach, Malawi, when clothes were dispensed off altogether (increasingly so as the evening wore on), but more of that later.
Since Victoria Falls, we have gone a step further with matching tour T-shirts in a range of colours (although a quick look around camp suggests most of them are actually with the laundry women or, for those who opt to do their own washing, hanging from a line).
Trouble is, the design (which somehow fell to me) is already out of date.
The back of the T-shirts features the map of Africa with each country’s name spelled out to form its boundaries, with the ones we visit then picked out in yellow to mark the route.
But having donned our new (clean) clothing marking out Mozambique, we headed north out of Zimbabwe instead and took a detour through Zambia before rejoining the original route in Malawi.
As well as saving us money – a combined Zimbabwe-Zambia visa is considerably cheaper than one needed to pretty much drive through Mozambique – it also provided the chance to break new ground for the Trans trip.
Not that we were in Zambia that long, making our way across the country to the Malawian border in just a couple of days.
But that was long enough for the contrast between Zambia – not a rich country, but one starting to show the signs of growth – and Zimbabwe as we drove past any number of building works and developments along the roadside (the capital Lusaka is shaping up to look like the type of city Harare could be).
Which, together with the number of people and villages which dotted either side of the road regardless of how far we got into the countryside, made the hunt for a place to bush camp a lengthy one.
Many of us were looking forward to getting back to bush camping, which provided a staple of our time journeying through West Africa, but which are few and far between on the more developed east.
And by the time darkness was falling over Zambia and a few extra layers had been wrapped over the standard truck clothing, we were really looking forward to a bush camp.
Only trouble is, every time we spotted a likely path off the side of the road, it turned out there was a village at the end and we headed off to try again.
Eventually, we pulled off onto a track not much wider than Nala, squeezed a fire alongside to cook the evening meal and stretched our tents out in single file in front of the truck.
And then the local farmer arrived on his bike.
Pretty sure the vast majority of farmers back home finding a big yellow truck and its inhabitants setting up camp alongside his crops are far more likely to greet them with a “get off my land” than a smile, a handshake and a warm welcome – and goodbye early the next morning, even as Nala reversed over some of his crops to get back out on the main road.
The return to bush camping was brief as we returned to campsites either side of the border, the first reuniting us with more overlanders and the second, in the Malawian capital Lilongwe, with (rapidly used-up) wi-fi as we made our rapid way to a rendezvous with the beach.
Two beaches to be exact as we wound our way north through this sliver of a country along the banks of the lake which shares its name and covers a huge part of its surface.
First up was Kande Beach, a bit of a mecca for overland groups since it was opened by a former tour leader who used to bush camp on the spot he eventually bought and turned into a restful base for a couple of nights.
Maybe restful is not the right word.
Tradition demands each truck marks its stay at Kande with bit of a party, a tradition we had no intention of ignoring (even if it did provoke a couple of late-night requests for quiet from one of the other groups in camp).
Having spent the afternoon fighting for the truck title in Beersbee* – a beach game involving throwing a frisbee at a beer bottle balanced on a pole, all the while holding (and supposedly drinking from) a different beer bottle – events moved to round the food eskie which, thoroughly cleansed, was used for a rather potent punch which rather stole the show from the goat the staff had been cooking over the fire all afternoon.
And, challenged to come dressed in anything bar clothes, the group rose to the occasion – donning sleeping bags, rugs, potato sacks, bin bags, toilet paper and, best of all, some egg trays – before heading to continue the party in, around and, if memory serves me right, on the bar as we toasted the arrival of our 200th day on the road.
Not surprisingly, our second day at the beach was rather quiet before we upped sticks and moved up the shoreline – via a craft market which filled any remaining space in our heaving lockers – for another two nights at Chitimba, where we took the chance to kick back, relax and chat with one of the other trucks we had already bumped into and another Oasis group (bolstered by Katie from the office) heading in the opposite direction.
Some people found enough energy to head out and tour the local village and (another) craft market – which did require plenty of energy – but for most of us, it was a pretty chilled time until the lure of the beach volleyball court drew members of both Oasis trucks out onto the sand.
Being kind, the sports journalist in me would describe some of the play on show as mixed, topped by Kris who, with the added advantage of height, was evidently pretty good at this sort of thing in his younger years.
He certainly hits the ball pretty hard. Especially if it happens to be your face in the way as you attempt a block up close to the net.
Still, forgot about my foot for a bit.
* Reto and myself were edged out in the semi-finals, having seen off the self-proclaimed champions from our last game, with the title eventually going to the one pair who were not drinking from the bottles (or flip-flops) they were required to hold. These facts may be linked.