The 4×4 Travel Guide to Eastern Africa

‘Most travel books,’ Maureen Day claims, ‘fail to mention the small, important details that can take the stress out of planning and eliminate the fear of the unknown.’ She is herself the author of a most unusual travel book: ‘4×4 Travel Guide Eastern Africa’.

Maureen Day was born in Luanshya, Zambia, and educated in Rhodesia and South Africa. She is a trained midwife and psychiatric nurse. And, obviously, she is also a committed traveller. With her husband, Brian, she has made many trips around the countries of southern Africa. And the second part of this book is the story of their biggest adventure so far: a safari around central and eastern Africa – through Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

But the first part is more of a handbook – giving advice about how to compile an itinerary, the documents required, things to take with you, medical precautions, a grocery list, and bush recipes.

I reckon if I had read this part before my own drive to South Africa and back with my sons in Mzee, our old Range Rover, I might have thought a lot harder about doing it. Let me explain. For ‘vehicle requirements’ in relation to accessories, electrical things, general spares, lights, recovery equipment, safety signs, service kit, tools, and tyre repair equipment, there are 85 items. And among these are such things as enlargement of the radiator to improve cooling, window reinforcement, sand ladder, tree trunk protector strap, angle grinder, and welding rods.

The recommended first aid box contains 51 items. They include a cervical collar, stitch cutters, 18 to 21 gauge needles, and items for setting up a drip. (Maureen is a nurse). Add the kitchen utensils, a grocery list, and other assorted equipment, such as ammo boxes with spare clips, braai grid and tongs, cooking pots and pans, fishing rod, shower cubicle, and a sputnick washing machine – I think Mzee would have needed a companion vehicle to carry it all.

Of all the Going Places articles I have written, none has got more response than those describing Mzee’s journey down to South Africa. What I wanted to emphasise was how easy and trouble free the journey is, provided you have the required ‘carnet de passage’ insurance document, which is acquired from the AA. There was smooth tarmac all the way, no problems in getting fuel, and a variety of accommodation along the road – and the only place we booked in advance we couldn’t find. We did it in only six days.

But the safari Maureen and Brian took with some friends was of a different order. There were four 4×4 vehicles (three Land Rovers and one Land Cruiser); they travelled 45,000 kilometres across six countries. It took 10 months. They crossed 26 borders, suffered 30 flat tyres, one theft – and no bribes.

For each country travelled through, Maureen provides general information about climatic conditions, exchange rates, electrical plug types, border crossings, diplomatic missions, websites for further information, and books for background reading.

In each of the six countries, Maureen describes routes taken, parks visited, and places stayed in. As an example, here is her description of Kabula Lodge, in Zambia:

‘Situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, with beautiful grassland campsites under huge indigenous trees, clean ablutions, hot water and good security. Tiger fishing, bird watching, walks in the surrounding indigenous forest, canoeing and rafting available. Fishing boats for hire. Camping costs R115.00 per person per day.’

Good, isn’t it?

In Malawi they visited Livingstonia, ‘a Victorian village in the middle of Africa’, and the Nyika National Park. In Tanzania, they diverted for an intriguing drive up the Indian Ocean coast to Tanga and then across to the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater.

The highlights of their time in Uganda were rafting down the Victoria Nile, the Murchison Falls National Park, Sipi Falls, and the Kibale Forest National Park. They spent a lot of time and drove many routes in Kenya, where their highlights included Kakamega Forest, the Masai Mara, Lake Magadi, Samburu National Reserve, Lake Turkana – and the beaches. And in Ethiopia the highlights were the Omo Valley, Wondo Genet, Bale Mountains National park, Lalibela, Aksum and Gondar.

After reading about their adventures in all these places, I felt a bit ashamed that my sons and I hadn’t taken more time and risked more diversions on our trip with Mzee down south. Maybe I thought the old boy wasn’t up to it – and, don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about the car.

Maureen Day’s book is a pleasure to read. As well as a lot of useful information, there’s a lot of humour in it, like this: ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito’. And the many photographs are superb too.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation