Goodbye Yellow Truck Road

A year ago today, caught my last sight of a big, yellow overland truck as we boarded the replacement ferry over the river from Suriname to Guyana it had narrowly failed to fit on.

A reunion was delayed by red tape, missing paperwork and, eventually, by our forced retreat from Colombia as borders shut and the world shrank with the spread of coronavirus.

But for the last 12 months, there has always been the belief the big yellow truck was out there waiting to open up new horizons when we eventually emerge blinking into the light when travel is not a dirty word.

And then came this week’s news that Oasis Overland, the small company which operates the yellow trucks, had ceased trading.

Final farewell to Spongebob

All of a sudden, that exciting world waiting out there for us when we are able to get out in it again got a whole lot smaller.

The news of Oasis’ demise was met with dismay and no end of shared memories from former passengers and staff on social media – it may not be the best known company in the world, but those in the know will really miss it.

To understand why is to  understand the aspects of these trips which are hard to explain when people ask about what makes an overland adventure on a big yellow truck.

Overlanding: The Things They Don’t Tell You

Have tried to do that elsewhere on this blog – and there is plenty more on the list of pieces to write – but here goes.

My two Oasis trips total more than a year when the answer in the address box on a visa form could easily have been “a big yellow truck” – 10 months on Nala around Africa from north to south and back again, followed by six months on Spongebob in a (sadly uncompleted) circle of South America.

Along the way, both trips took in extraordinary sights and experiences which feature highly on any travel bucket list – trekking to see gorillas, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Serengeti, New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach, journeying up the Nile, the Uyuni Salt Flats, some of the world’s great cities and so much more.

You will find plenty about those in travel guides. They are on the highlights list for the trip that persuade people to sign up in the first place.

And they are all great – an hour spent with gorillas is one of the greatest experiences of my life, likewise rather longer trekking to Machu Picchu.

Even if we could not see much of it through the mist and rain when we got there.

But suspect the reason people feel so strongly about their Oasis experience runs rather deeper than that – it is not the big-ticket items, it is the imponderables, those moments you share with your truck family which elevate the whole experience.

They might be small moments, the stories behind the pictures, but they add up to something special that makes me – and many others – itching to get back for more.

While trying to forget the itching from insect bites.

Travel is not so much about the destination but the getting there. Nowhere is that truer than life on a big yellow truck (and it is always a truck, never a bus – unless putting that on a form makes life easier).

There is some truth in that joke about putting the truck as your address. These trips, certainly the longer adventures, are not holidays. They do become your life, your home.

Even provided an emergency bed when we found ourselves locked out of the hostel at the end of the world.

And the people you share those days, weeks, months, miles, campsites, bush camps, cook groups, nights out, border crossings and back of the truck with become as important as those travel highlights. Even digging the truck out of whatever it is stuck in.

A Day In The Life On A Big Yellow Truck

One of the high points of South America was a reunion in Buenos Aires with a friend who shared those 10 months in Africa for the first time in five years. It was an instant reconnection.

At rough count, have travelled with about 40-plus people on those trips and would happily meet up and share a few beers, rum and cokes or caipirinhas with pretty much all of them.

Couple of honourable exceptions, but even one of them might be fun to see how much effort they put in to avoiding talking, or even making eye contact, with me.

Mind you, at the moment would be delighted to have a drink with pretty much anybody.

While such a drink or travel is off the agenda, spend much of each day surrounded by the same four brick walls.

Given the huge distances covered, overland travel can mean equally long hours surrounded by the four sides of the truck. Often while hot, sweaty, dusty and sharing the space with a number of other people with equally limited access to a shower.

The Overlanding Cookbook

But rather than being restrictive (or even that smelly – you are, after all, in the same boat), those days on the truck always offered a window and access to a wider world full of anticipation about what view is round the next corner or what lies in wait at the next destination.

Be that a Patagonian wilderness, west African dirt road, Brazilian beach, Sudanese desert – all of which provided scenery, destination and camp for the night – or a small village or settlement keen to welcome us with open arms. Or the odd rock.

News of Oasis closure has obscured that view, blocked those horizons.

Thoughts are with the staff and crew – several of whom have become good friends – and the countless guides, local operators and fixers along the way who all help to make the adventure and depend on travellers to make a living.

One day, when this pandemic is over and the world is open again, we may see the yellow trucks or something similar back on the road.

Into The Wild Camping

Until then, we can dream about more amazing overland adventures – and those remaining five weeks we were forced to miss in Colombia and Ecuador, plus a Trans Africa return and the Silk Road adventure were very high on the list – and reflect on the memories of those life-changing journeys.

And life changing is not pushing it too far – even without the yellow trucks, my horizons are far broader than they were before first stepping on Nala six-and-a-bit years ago. Even in lockdown.

Have made friends for life, seen places and experienced things which seemed to be out of reach, have countless tales to tell, learned a lot about myself (despite being well past 40 before starting this obsession), challenged my physical capabilities and my own conceptions of them.

And fell in love.

So for all that and so much more, thank you Oasis.

If this is the end of the road, it has been an amazing journey – there is just an awful lot more miles left to go.

 

Share

Overlanding: Frequently Asked Questions

Day 19 of the blog post a day in May and time to let somebody else do the heavy lifting

HAVE spent a lot of time over the last nine years or so writing or talking about travel, overlanding in particular (apologies about that).

A lot of this site has tried to explain aspects of the trips which are difficult to understand without actually being a passenger, but still get asked a lot of the same questions.

So time to answer a few of them, both from people have chatted to about them and people enquiring about trips during my time working for a travel company.

What are you doing?
The most common question when people first hear about a trip. Put simply, jacking my job in (again) and, this time around, heading off to South America for 31 weeks on a big yellow truck.

No, seriously, what are you doing?
The follow-up is usually a variation of this which leads to some sort of explanation of overlanding. Or ‘which part of South America?’ to which the answer is pretty much all of it.

How many other people are there on the trip?
No idea, will find that out in Quito in September. The truck holds up to 24 and people may come and go – the Oasis trip to Africa varied between 14 and 20-odd (plus a couple of crew) as people came and went.

Who are the other people?
Again, will find that out come September and spend the next seven months learning it in more detail. Over two overland trips have travelled with people aged 18 to 81, from more than a dozen countries and a pretty much even split between men and women. And out of about 40 people, probably only one, two at most, just could not get on with.

Can you get some time to yourself?
It is not always easy – hard to escape people during a long day on the back of the truck – and you can be reliant on each other when out in the wilds, but reach some form of civilisation and you get some breathing space. However well the group gets on, it is advisable.

Can you leave the trip and come back?
Yes, it’s your trip. There may be an optional side trip you may want to do or you need to head home for some reason or head off for a day or two. If you know beforehand, you can work it out with the tour operator – who can advise what alternative start and finish points are available – and on the trip you just need to be at an agreed meeting time and place. The trip will not wait for you.

Have you got to follow the itinerary all day, every day?
If you are travelling then yes – you are on the truck – and certain things (National Parks or attractions) are included. But nobody is going to make you do anything and it is up to you what you do and where you go when you reach a destination.

How long do you spend travelling each day?
There can be long days – there are a lot of miles to cover and there may not be many places to stop for a day or two. Other days may be shorter with a stop somewhere along the way while you may not travel for a day, two or longer.

What’s included in the price?
It depends on your tour operator, but the standard cost is accommodation, transport on the truck, crew and included attractions. A local payment in cash as part of the cost will cover food when not eating out (and maybe the odd restaurant meal).

Will there be WiFi?
One of the first questions at any stop is “what’s the WiFi code?”. One of the delights of bush camping is you are off the grid.

What is the food like?
The group will be cooking when out in the wild, so it is up to you – if you can find it in a market. And most major stops will have a wide range of options – street food always a good, cheap option. Vegetarians or food intolerances can usually be catered for, fussy eaters may find things a bit more difficult.

I don’t like Chinese food, will I be able to find food I like in China?
Seriously, got asked that one. Not sure he quite got the gag that Chinese food is just called food in China (original joke courtesy of Friends). Simple answer is yes, in the cities, but it would be a crying shame to limit yourself.

Will I be able to find a KFC?
Same person. Was able to assure him that you can give directions around Tiananmen Square using fast food joints. Service is better than back home as well.

What’s the weather like?
You are away for months, travelling through thousands of miles and entire seasons. Work it out.

Do I need to be fit?
If your idea of activity is picking up the phone to order a takeaway, you may need to put in a bit of work. A certain level of fitness is not a bad idea, but how fit you need to be depends on what you plan to do. Was not as fit as planned for Africa but was rarely too much of an issue, will be fitter for South America.

Can I arrange this trip myself?
Yes, probably. If you are really, really organised and have the time, cash and energy to throw at it. These guys know what they are doing so unless you have a distinct urge to go it alone, this is the easier way. Although it may not seem like it working through the to-do list.

Is it safe?
Any travel comes with a touch of risk and, yes, you can hit some places that may seem bordering on the dangerous, while some spots may be lacking in the sort of infrastructure we take for granted. You can never remove the risk but take the usual precautions and there is not too much to worry about.

Did you ever feel in danger?
Ten months in Africa and only a couple of times – mainly when debating which would get me shot quicker, being sick over the man who had just come on the truck with a gun or jumping off and giving him a nice easy target. Scariest moment (not including lying in a tent in the Serengeti listening to lions roar) was a late-night car ride through Bulawayo. Largely on the wrong side of the road.

Did you get ebola?
No, it was possible to journey through Africa without contracting ebola, whatever people had decided before the off (and while there). And no, we were in absolutely no danger of catching it in Papua New Guinea, what with it being nowhere near Africa. That was a serious question.

You won’t be going to Venezuela, will you?
That’s the current favourite. Simple answer, don’t know. It’s on the route but not until next spring so we’ll worry about that one nearer the time.

Will I get voted off the bus like on Coach Trip?
Seriously, got asked this by a prospective customer. Not sure whether she wanted it to be an option or not.

What are you going to do when you get back?
No idea. Last time pretty much replaced myself in my old job. As for this time, who knows?

But if anybody’s got any writing, subbing or travel jobs starting around next May…

Share

Into the Wild Camping

Day 17 of the blog post a day in May attempt and back to overlanding and an unexpected highlight.

THERE were several things which concerned me heading out on a 10-month overland adventure around Africa.

Most were personal concerns, largely revolving around my fitness and ability to cope with such a long time on the road away from home comforts.

But probably top of that list was dealing with camping for the majority of the trip. And bush camping at that.

Have written before about the ridiculous argument about whether people are really travellers or tourists (do it your way folks, it’s your trip), but must admit we had a running gag on the Trans Africa along similar lines.

We were bush camping overlanders on a truck, the people we met on more cossetted, shorter trips were – pardon the language – bus wankers. Not that we said that to their faces. Much.

Whatever those initial fears, bush camping became something to relish (most of the time) and given a choice for my next long trip, the extra bush camping helped sway me towards South America.

Was not always such a fan of camping, even the more conventional type with flushing toilets, shower blocks and some farmer coming round to collect your money.

Tolerated a few childhood camps and always returned to the more secure surroundings of the family caravan after moving out to a ropy old tent or the awning.

Even my first foray into overlanding travel failed to grab me. After hostels, trains, four to an indoor cabin on a cruise ship and even the odd hotel, sleeping on our crossing of North America from Alaska to New York was on a mixture of a converted bus or camping in National Parks.

Of which the first was Denali in Alaska.

Even in early summer, the temperature plunged as the sun disappeared around midnight and it was a couple of long, cold nights which made up my mind for the rest of the trip – the comfort of the bus was a much better option.

That was not an option in Africa (bar the nights when given refuge on the track due to illness).

And this came with the added challenge of absolutely no facilities. Bar a couple of shovels.

We had a crash course on the first couple of nights in Spain at a campsite – firm ground, toilets and shower facilities easing us in as we got used to putting the tents up and down while adjusting to sharing with our new roomies.

Which took a while, struggling to sleep for much of the first week or so as got accustomed to life under canvas – which at least spared me much of the blame having been exiled to the snorers’ tent.

But as we headed into Morocco, my airbed and sleeping bag were supplemented by a pillow (which only made it halfway round) and a rug, helping to complete a comfortable little nest on my side of the tent.

And that just left adjusting to camping away from any facilities not supplied by the truck itself.

Not completely, we did stop at campsites (or anywhere with a bit of room for us to throw up a few tents) when available, but there are precious few of those in West Africa and wandering off with a shovel was preferable to some of the facilities presented to us.

Get your head around what you are doing and why and bush camping becomes the obvious option – overlanding is all about the journey rather than the destination, partly because there often isn’t one for days on end.

So stop where you can and enjoy the freedom.

Bush camps developed their own rhythm, collect any firewood available, get the fires going and kitchen started, set up your tents and after completing any jobs that needed doing, pull up a camp stool round the fire, grab a drink and enjoy the surroundings and the company of your fellow travellers.

Occasionally somebody might break out a laptop and show a film or there would be a game of cards on the truck, but most often it would involve a lot of helping out in the kitchen and sitting around reliving the events of the last day or what was coming up.

Sometimes long into the night, many times not. Bush camping tends to fall into natural rhythms dictated by the sun – get up with the sun, go to bed when it vanishes (or when the beer runs outs). We even had an agreed bush camp bedtime when it was acceptable to head to your tent.

We camped in quarries, rainforests, on beaches,, just off (or sometimes on) tracks hidden by grass or trees, next to reservoirs, in olive groves, on clifftops (loo with a view), under rock formations, amid crops with fires raging just over the road, on the side of the road at a border, in the paddock of a police station, on dried up rivers or the only bit of rocky ground we could find. And in the shadow of a sand dune.

And by the time the occasional bed and overnight stop with showers, toilets and even, whisper it carefully, a bar and WiFi became more regular on the second half of the trip, the return of bush camping was met like an old friend. At least by most us.

It will be again in South America in a few months when the split is roughly even.

But there’s one nagging question, isn’t there? The one that everybody asks when you try to explain it.

How do you cope with no toilets and no showers, sometimes for days on end?

Put simply, you get on with it. If that’s the cost of seeing some amazing places then so be it.

Yes, you can start to smell but everybody on the truck is in the same boat – the one thing guaranteed to make it obvious is somebody trying to disguise it with smellies and it is amazing what you can do with a bit of water and a quick rub.

The truck also finds its own rules for how many days in a row it is acceptable to wear the same T-shirt (several, you wouldn’t want to sully a clean one if you haven’t showered for a few days).

As for the lack of toilets… you get used to it. It’s never totally comfortable, but you will discover the pitfalls and how to avoid them (balance and some spatial awareness are key or it can be a risky task).

And you will become to appreciate things to hide behind and soft ground.

Just don’t lose the shovel.

Share

The Packing List

Blog a day in May – Part five

DO any internet search on overland travel and you will not have to scroll down too far to find an article on packing.

How to pack light, what to pack, what to leave at home, how to fit everything you need in your shoe… everyone has got their view before coming to the same conclusion – you will not need as much as you initially thought.

And never being one to shy away from nicking other people’s ideas (especially with topics for 31 days worth of blogs to come up with), here’s another one for the list.

But instead of going through what you should be taking and how little you actually need (we will get to that one after trying to shove it all in my bags), this one is about what is on the list this far out and the decisions that need to be made on what – and how much – goes with me to South America.

It keeps changing, some of it needs buying, some of it will drop off the list, new stuff will be added and a fair amount of it is sat on some shelves in my front room waited to be sorted.

Assorted gear which is on the list (bar The West Wing and The Wire box sets which live there)

Electrical Stuff
Travelling light gets a bit more difficult once you have thrown in all the bits of electrical kit and all the cables, plugs and adaptors which are par for the course.

There are those who travel with very little technology but for anyone looking to blog on the road and feed that blog with pictures and videos, that gets difficult.

Laptop – Bought five years ago for my Trans Africa trip, my MacBook Air is still in good health. Like me, pretty sure it has one more big trip in it. Will have a full clean and back-up before departure. The iPad which went to Africa as well will not be coming on this one.
Hard Drive – Already holds an awful lot of pictures. A lot more to come.
Camera – Managed to break three cameras in Africa so on the lookout for a new one that might withstand seven months on the road. With added batteries and memory cards,
Go Pro – One of those broken cameras was my Go Pro which refused to accept a charge before really getting to grips with it. Appears have managed to get it going again, just need to find batteries, memory cards and any accessories for a five-year-old model. And work out how to use it properly.
Phone – Will be turned off the vast majority of the time, but a handy alarm clock and – with my track record – emergency camera. Or when you don’t take a proper camera out with you.
iPod – Just take a look around this website to realise how important my iPod is. Signs this trip may be a step too far for the current version, one of the big shopping decisions is whether to get a new one before the off. Almost certainly with a new pair of proper headphones and couple of spares from the ones have somehow amassed over the years.
Powerbank – There is the chance to charge stuff on the truck and should be more access to power than Africa but worth taking a bit of a back-up. If only to avoid the frantic race to the power outlets.
Clippers – Very much in the only if there’s room category, not likely to shave that often on the road.
Adaptors
Chargers
Cables – Power and USB

Misc

Watch – Never wear a watch at home, don’t even own one that works. But without a phone on me at all time, on the airport shopping list.
Head Torch – A must. You might look like a burk and dazzle anyone you talk to, but vital when bush camping and you need your hands for cooking or putting your tent up. Often worn around my wrist or neck.
Torch – Another in the if there’s room category.
Batteries – For those items that don’t plug in to anything.
Books – One of two South American guide books and at least one other which will make its way into the trick library.

One of these items is definitely going. Airbed bottom right needs a clean. Actually, so does the sleeping bag and rucksack.

Kit
The bigger bits needed to make life more comfortable or to carry the stuff that will. Among the jobs for the to-do list in an upcoming week off is working out how much kit from Africa can be re-used.

Rucksack – It’s seen me through both my long overland trips and a few other shorter ones. But will my 70L bag see it through another trip? Yet to find anything better.
Day Bag – One of the great plusses of my rucksack is the detachable 20L bag which can carry the essentials for a day or slightly longer trip away from base. Ideal for the Inca Trail, but will need a bit of TLC to recover a bit of a rip down one seam. The search has yet to uncover as good a combination – don’t want to get two separates because…
Carry-On Bag – The job of the second bag will go to the one carrying my laptop and assorted other easily-accessible essentials, leaving just clothes in the rucksack once on the truck. That one is already sorted.
Lightweight Bedding Bag – Handy when camping, some smallish, easily foldable cheap bag to store and carry your bedding when camping. Bought one in a market for couple of quid in Africa.
Dry bag – Another one that’s sorted. Can be used to store wet stuff, dirty clothes and, when full, as a pillow.
Sleeping Mat – Decided ahead of Africa when camping made up the vast majority of accommodation that would spend a bit extra on being comfortable. The Thermarest air bed did the job (patched up a couple of times) but probably needs replacing. Will test it out to be sure – once it has been cleaned.
Sleeping Bag – Same goes to my sleeping bag which has been stored away for ages and definitely needs a clean. Need to check if it has kept its insulation and will be warm enough for some potentially cold nights. It has the advantage of packing down really small.
Liner – It has been around the world and Africa without being used. There if needed.
Pillow – Not a fan of travel pillows so the option may be to buy one on arrival, rather than fill a bag for flying. Lasted from Morocco until South Africa last time before being thrown away on health grounds.
Rug – Great purchase in Morocco added extra layer or warmth and comfort. Covering a chair in my front room and not coming, another to be picked up if needed en route.

Footwear
In many ways the most important clothing decision before departure.

Walking Boots/Shoes – The decision to trek the Inca Trail made this a vital purchase and now top of the shopping list. Quite what will change what else comes with me.
Shoes/Trainers – If it is thick boots, then a pair of outdoor shoes will go with them. If the walking shoes are lightweight enough for everyday use, my running shoes will be the second pair.
Flip Flops – Was converted in Africa. Have one pair but given the propensity for blowouts, always worth having a spare. And as Havianas are South American, should be easy to pick some up.
Sandals – An option but unlikely.
Spare Laces

The (almost) final selection for the Trans Africa packing

Health
One of my bags will rattle given the number of tablets inside. Once the issue of sorting them out is done.

Malaria Tablets – Not as essential as in Africa, but with my ability to get bitten by the only insect within miles, worth having some form of anti-malarial treatment.
Prescriptions – Like it or not (don’t particularly but have given in to it), am on daily tablets, plus back-up strong painkillers when needed. Fine when you can go online and get them sent to the supermarket round the corner. Not so easy when you need seven months’ supply. That’s a lengthy story for another time (and when it has a conclusion).
Antihistamine
Ibuprofen
Medical Kit – Plasters, blister plasters (believe me, will need them), bandage… normal stuff. Must remember to remove scissors from kit if in carry-on luggage.
Antiseptic Cream – As good a relief for bites as anything else tried, although been suggested lavender oil, iodine or bite relief pen.

Eyes
Amazing how quickly your bag can fill up – if it is not tablets, it is contact lenses. Have largely stopped wearing them at home (staring at a screen all day) but like wearing them when away. And easier with sunglasses.

Contact Lenses – New monthly disposables sorted and already arrived, the optician clearly not liking the idea of wearing lenses 24/7 for a week like in Africa. Some of the dailies which have been stacking up for a while will go as spares but 200+ pairs of lenses takes up a lot of room.
Glasses – The prescriptions fine, whether to change them or not before the off is another decision. Would at least give me a spare pair. Also need reading glasses for when wearing lenses (the perils of growing old.
Sunglasses – My ability to break cameras is nothing next to the same talent with sunglasses. Two or three cheap pairs likely with a more expensive answer.

Toiletries
Do you really need me to list this? Likely to take very little, pretty sure the shops of Quito will be able to stock me up before we head out on the road. Toilet rolls definitely on the Quito shopping list.

Misc Travel Stuff
Those small things you will need at some point and a lot of which have accumulated over the years – there is still a St Christopher’s bottle opener attached to my rucksack given to me by a friend a few years ago. No idea where my binoculars are.
Small travel towels are very much in fashion but can’t get on with them – too small, they get wet without seeming to dry you and find they get slimy. It’s against the pack light rule, but think it is worth taking one.

Mosquito Repellent
Suncream
After Sun
Towel
Water Bottle
Bandana
Washing Line
Bottle Opener
Locks/Cables
Earplugs
Document Wallet
Multi Tool
Notebooks
Pens
Binoculars
Lighters
Gorilla Tape

Clothes
How much exactly depends on how much room is left after all that stuff. Three T-shirts always seems the recommended number but will definitely go above that – for no other reason than it avoids having to do laundry for an extra couple of days.

Lightweight Fleece – Already brought. Advantage of living very close to two outdoor shops outlet branches.
Waterproof Jacket (Have a poncho which has never been
Merino Layers
Hoodie – Basically my standard travelling uniform
Warm Hat – Couple of Gloucester Rugby hats bought for the trip. No bobbles in The Shed but fine in the Andes.
Cap (Boston Red Sox)
Shorts
Swimming Trunks
Trousers
T-Shirts – Mixture of short sleeve and long sleeve
Socks – Walking, walking liner, gym socks, normal
Underwear

Share

What Is Overlanding?

Day four of the blog post a day in May and time to finally get round to writing some pieces on travel or, more specifically, overlanding.

HAVE spent more than a year of my life on overland group trips and spend more time explaining the manner of the trips than the places we have been.

That four days on a train, digging a truck out of mud or spending the nights wild camping in the wilds of Africa is as much a part of the trip as big cities, tourist trail trips or ticking off bucket list attractions.

Or that the strangers you met on the first day (almost certainly far too early) will become your family, your friends, your gang – the ones who are there to share the highs and carry you through the tough moments.

Over a few upcoming posts, hope to take you through the different aspects of overland travel and the preparations for my next bout of riding around in a big yellow truck in South America (this website was, after all, set up as a travel blog).

But let’s start with an overview – what exactly is overlanding?

Have travelled with, after a quick count, 40-odd people over the course of two long trips and pretty sure they would all give you a different answer. We all had slightly different trips, different highlights, different tales to tell, each of us playing a slightly different part to make up the (largely) harmonious whole.

The simple take is that the journey is as important as the destination.

Don’t get me wrong, have been to some amazing places, cities and sights which should be on anyone’s must-see list, but it is those things you only see and moments you only share with your fellow passengers by journeying through the places, hidden gems or, let’s be honest, problems that are far too easily overlooked or over flown.

Been to New York a fair few times but only one of the journeys there saw me walk across a frozen lake, sleep in a ger in the Mongolian wilderness, trek through US National Parks and, ahem, be sick on the Great Wall of China. Or wear a truly horrific shirt somewhere in the middle of the Pacific.

Rather more exciting than eight hours on a plane deciding between chicken and beef or which film to watch.

As great a place as it is, New York barely features in the memories of those 90 days travelling overland from London – it was journey’s end and dominated by goodbyes and nights out with the friends who had shared those experiences.

That trip involved a mix of coach travel, train and, as the only way to complete the journey without flying, cruise ship. Sleeping was in hostels, hotels, sharing cabins on the Trans-Siberian or the ship and a bus converted for travelling through the night with camping for those who chose to abandon the refuge of the bus.

But overlanding takes in a wide range of styles, different operators and the demands of where you are travelling shape much of that – there is no tourist infrastructure in West Africa while the safari hotspots of the east are much more set up to offer a few comforts.

So while you may find yourself with the option of a bed, power, WiFi, a bar and hot shower (the ultimate wishlist of the overlander) and even a proper road in the east, you can go days without any of those down the west coast.

And that’s without mentioning toilets (we’ll keep that for another post that comes complete with a warning for any nervous reader).

Those basic conditions – camping wild wherever we could find, bereft of facilities, at the mercy of the elements and days without showers – were approached with trepidation on the 10-month Trans Africa adventure with Oasis Overland.

People even had the prospect of surviving on my cooking. Over an open fire. From what could be found on a limited budget in the local markets.

But from nervous starts, we embraced the delights of bush camping and began to look forward to them between the more luxurious (and that’s all relative) surroundings of the east.

And hey, if none of you have showered for days, you soon stop noticing the smell.

Those hardships have their rewards. The people you travel with, the people you meet along the way, the experiences which pop out of nowhere – these are the things that will come back to you and crop up whenever you reminisce with your travelling buddies.

And you still get the tourist trail attractions and cities others have taken the far less rewarding direct route to.

In September, will hop back on a big yellow Oasis truck for seven months around South America and the trip will be slightly different again – the balance between camping and hostels more even as a fresh continent throws up fresh challengers from Africa.

Between now and departure, will dig into overlanding in more depth – what to pack (and what not to pack), life on a truck, wild camping, overland cooking and anything else that springs to mind.

But will leave you with one last thought from somebody else.

Oasis Overland posted their own blog recently about what to pack and asked for comments on what people should pack and what should be left at home.

The answer that stuck with me came from an overland driver on what you don’t bring that is more important:

  • Detailed itineraries;
  • Expectations that it will be a holiday;
  • A piece of clothing or equipment you are not prepared to lose;
  • Rolling suitcases;
  • Beliefs that your views are more important/correct than others;
  • Western views on how other people in other cultures “should” live.
  • Leave those at home and you will have a fantastic time!

Think that pretty much sums up overlanding.

Share