Category Archives: The First Adventure

Posts from the first overland trip in 2014


Looking back at the route we travelled, it seems as if the waters closed behind us and it is no longer safe to travel that way.  Maybe it isn’t really much worse than at the time – our encounter with the Egyptian army was perhaps a sign that things were tense there even then. But the expansion of violence across the region is more than worrying so I’m glad we did this journey just in time.

Egypt - Human Conflict is not
El Alamein, Egypt – Human Conflict is not new to the Sahara

Having passed through the region did start me on a chain of thought – thinking about some of the horrific things people have done – for example videoing themselves cutting other people’s heads off. It makes us all wonder how someone can do that…they must have something wrong with them? It is obviously  inhuman? To be honest I have avoided seeing any of those videos – knowing they exist is bad enough. But I have also seen other things lately that I find disturbing for other reasons. I watched Earthlings for the first time, or rather I watched part of it. The abattoir sequence was too much for me as an engineer – the effort and ingenuity that must have gone in to creating a machine to manipulate a living sentient animal was really disturbing. All to make the process more efficient and make a few more dollars profit. Then there was an article on the BBC, looking into the brutal gang rape of a woman in India, and the attitudes of the perpetrators. This was in some ways more disturbing than anything  –  though I think people should read it, you have to admire Leslee Udwin who had the bravery to listen to those people, to expose and document the underlying issues. I was left speechless, I’m glad she wasn’t.

It seemed to me though that all of these things, though very different and some far more horrific than others, had something in common – the objectisation and devaluation of the victim by the social or cultural group around those perpetrating the act, and the rationalisation of individual actions on that basis. This is not inhuman – it is a very human trait. People can do almost anything if it is normalised by their peers. We find excuses for everything. I think we need to recognise that and deal with it – WE are those peers. It never starts out as these extreme examples, but the more we accept prejudice and the devaluing of others – even if it does make ourselves feel better – the more likely these attitudes form the foundations which develop into extremes?

From a vegan perspective, once we open our eyes it seems obvious that what we were led to believe was normal and necessary, was not. In most cases vegans have had to go through the process of accepting that we are wrong – since we have mostly been brought up as part of the animal-consuming society – accepting guilt for our time as non-vegans and doing something about it. I think it is important however not to stop there and keep our eyes open – being vegan is not the answer to everything, and having made that step once we should not close our minds to seeking out other opportunities to improve our interactions with the world, human and non-human. Its not easy – we natuarally fall back into habit and can’t think through every ramification of all our actions each day – even vegans mostly just go shopping like everyone else and pick the things they do every week without thinking. Its not difficult being vegan, its difficult questioning our own beliefs and assumptions then changing our habits where necessary – but perhaps we should all try that a bit more often rather than simply defending our current selves without thinking?

This trip has been a great adventure, but it is not in all ways a great example in this overcrowded world.

Our travels through Ethiopia made me wonder quite how many humans this planet can support – and not just in terms of how much food we can produce, but how many other species are forced into smaller and smaller spaces and then into extinction by our very existence.

Ethiopia - Live Sheep travel on the roof.
Ethiopia – Live Sheep travel on the roof.

Most Ethiopians consume very little compared to more ‘developed’ nations, but still we saw a country of visibly eroding landscapes where biodiversity was being ever reduced under pressure from the human population and their domesticated animals, amid a thriving international Aid industry.

Ethiopia - a beautiful country under pressure.
Ethiopia – a beautiful country under pressure.

We can give ourselves some time by moving to a vegan way of life, as well as becoming healthier and avoiding the unnecessary cruelty of animal production – which in themselves are reason enough. But in my own lifetime the human population of the planet has more than doubled – if we don’t do something serious about that soon, that time might not be enough. We all know the feeling of awe and beauty we get from the sight of a wild, natural landscape? We know it is good. Maybe we should start taking that particular natural instinct to heart and ask whether its acceptable to claim the majority of this land for ourselves at the expense of other earthlings? In Africa, there are estimated to be 30,000 lions left alive. In the same continent there are in excess of 1,100,000,000 humans. Since we have assumed the mantle of ‘top predator’, perhaps we should adjust our numbers and land claim to a more appropriate level for that position in the food chain?

One in 30,000
One in 30,000

Instead, we are on course to accelerate our uncontrolled growth – the UN’s population projections are really quite alarming, especially in some of the resource-limited regions. I’ll leave you to go check those details – Wikipedia is actually a fairly good starting point. But even here, we are inclined to look at it as a regional problem – we’re OK because we are developed countries and our population isn’t increasing so fast. We’re doing OK then and its not our problem? And anyway when we talk about resources and population, the definitions are all about how much food for humans the world can support – being vegan will solve that too…

Abu Dhabi - Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?
Abu Dhabi – Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?

But human population is not a geographically localised problem. Our actions back in Europe have direct consequences all over the world. Botswana has a very low population density – but vast areas of the country are given over to beef production for export, and they built huge fences to prevent the wildlife migrating (partly to meet European disease control standards). This not only cuts down the range of wild animals, but has led for example to large scale deaths of zebra when they couldn’t migrate from dry areas to areas with water. It IS free-range cattle, probably cheap for Europe – but at what cost to wildlife? But moving on into South Africa it was obvious that these current pressures on wildlife and biodiversity are just the latest in a long succession, and not by any means all are related to animal farming. We can be just as speciesist, albeit indirectly, while being vegan – when we buy fruits, vegetables and drink wine from Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) we are using the best land, long claimed for ourselves and fenced off to exclude other species. That has the same effect – reducing biodiversity and the capacity of wildlife to survive by migrating. Is it enough that vegans use less of this exclusive best land?

South Africa - This Land is Our Land
South Africa – This Land is Our Land

Even the game reserves and national parks often have the appearance of little more than a grand scale zoo for human entertainment – often fenced, nearly always featuring artificial waterholes to concentate the wildlife at suitable viewing spots. And then we create more problems – fencing the wildlife in, taking away their ability to migrate and concentatrating them in specific locations. The local environment can’t support this concentration and there are said, for example, to be too many elephants.

Floodlit Artificial Waterhole - Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests
Floodlit Artificial Waterhole – Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests

People lobby to have them culled to control the numbers. Is this always our solution? There are not too many elephants – there may be in certain areas that we have concentrated them in – but the real problem is too many people. And unlike elephants, the human population is a global problem – our global markets mean we have an impact wherever we are. Yes, being vegan reduces that impact considerably and we could sustainably feed everyone if we were vegan – but we continue to treat the entire planet as our personal food factory. For me, that is not acceptable. When will we start to do something about our own population rather than resorting to culling and ‘managing’ other species to treat the symptoms? We can be a very self-deluding species at times – always defending whatever it is we want or makes us feel better about ourselves with excuses in the guise of reason, rather than being open to self-criticism and change. That much is clear from our treatment of each other.

I do feel guilty about the amount of resources we have used in our Western lives and travels – especially in this last round trip to Europe to finish the trip to Cape Town. I have some making up to do. If we are to survive, we can’t go on with this number of humans using more and more resources. It is too easy to make a small step and then settle down into thinking we’ve done enough since we have done more than most. Its not enough. Go vegan, stay vegan – it is easy and takes nothing away from our enjoyment and quality of life – there is no sacrifice in doing that much, so no excuse not to. And don’t increase the population. Doing these things would be a start. But only a start.

I’m glad to have seen so much of this world, but despair at our apparent inability to control our own destruction of it. Isn’t it time we stopped looking at each other and finding excuses not to take responsibility for our own actions or inactions…all of them and not just our own pet issues?

“Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess” Martin Luther King, May 5th 1966. The year England won the football World Cup. Now there are more than twice as many of us. Those 3 lions on an England shirt may soon be all the lions there are to watch outside a zoo.

The Desert – End of Africa

So this is the final instalment of Vegan Without Frontiers’ African adventure. This week I crossed the Orange River into South Africa and completed my final tasks – bungy jumping from the world’s highest bridge jump, reaching the southernmost tip of Africa, and rolling into Cape Town 10 years after my first attempt.

If you except the last blog update (I couldn’t resist a little April Foolery), I left you back in Namibia wondering whether Troopy’s oil leak would lead to more trouble. Before leaving Namibia I topped up the diff oil and found I’d only lost about 250ml since way back North in Opuwo, so unless the home-made fixes came apart there wasn’t much to worry about. Hopefully. Having a short time to get to Cape Town though meant I’d stuck to the main roads and populated areas in case of trouble. At Springbok I dropped into a Toyota garage, but they didn’t have the needed parts so we headed on South. In the irrigated farmlands half way to Cape Town I stopped for the night at a farm/overlanders campsite before heading on the next day through burning stubble fields, cutting East away from Cape Town to head for the Bloukrans Bridge.

Stubble burning - a reminder of the end of childhood summers back home.
Stubble burning – a reminder of the end of childhood summers back home.

The third bungy jump of the trip has been on my to-do list nearly as long as the Vic Falls, and was an equally special location; above a ravine with forested mountains inland and the surf of the Southern Indian Ocean just below.

Jonathan and Leo about to step off at 216m
Jonathan and Leo about to step off at 216m

I had intended to stay locally for the night and maybe hang out with some other jumpers, but having to drive as well as navigate and find accommodation was a bit too much and I ended up heading back towards Mossel Bay with an increasingly messy oil leak. I almost bailed out and headed straight for African Overlanders in Cape Town, but Mossel Bay Toyota rescued the situation – they had parts, and also time and inclination to help me out. A 2 hour pit-stop later Troopy was leak-free for now and we headed towards Cape Agulhas, where we arrived in the dark at about 10.30pm. The end of the continent. The next day, after some photos to mark our achievement, we headed along the coast into Cape Town.

The end of the continent
The end of the continent

So that was that. Job done. Time to go home.

But back at the beginning of the week as I drove through the highlands of Northern Cape the roads were long and well made. I couldn’t help but reflect on what it felt like to be here and on the last leg of our journey. Previously I had said that the trip was as much about the personal journey as the 36000km of potholed, muddy, dusty, bone-jarringly corrugated and amazing roads we had travelled. It was just as much an adventure with as many highs and lows. So as I passed out of that spectacular landscape into ordered fields of crops – I felt the mission, the adventure and the whole experience had been as magnificent, as stunningly beautiful, as dramatic…and as empty as that desert landscape.

What do we have from life but a collection of memories? And memories not shared are lost as soon as they are stored. This journey was a joint undertaking, and I am finishing it alone. Did we succeed? I’m sure we had some positive impact but in the end we set out to do something and WE are not here to finish it. So as I drove into Cape Town there was a sense of satisfaction, at a job done, and a fair amount of relief! It was not the triumphant joyful crossing of the finish line that might have been. As you will gather from a forthcoming blog, I have done a lot of reflecting in this last 2 weeks – on the things we have seen in our journey across Africa and what we can or can’t do to make the world a better place. About human psychology and our judging our own efforts against others rather than our potential. So whilst the April 1st blog was a wind-up (sorry Mum for scaring you!), there was truth in what I said. As I reached the Southernmost tip of Africa, and as I crossed the finishing line in Cape Town the following day, there were many mixed emotions. I slapped Troopy on the side – YESSSS, we made it!! But from a personal viewpoint it feels like a fail – crossing the line without your team is not a cause for celebration.

So to those questions I was looking to answer – what does it mean to finish? Well I think I answered that – it feels good to have completed the task; there is a lot of satisfaction on having reached Cape Town and survived all those adventures along the way. I hope we have put to bed some of those fallacies about it being difficult to be vegan – anywhere. But the experience also underlined for me that it is easy to be complacent and think we have done enough – there is always more we could do. I hope our experiences will help us do that in future.

Its quite big, this universe thing...
Its quite big, this universe thing…

Will it make a difference? Who knows – it is hard to say whether the balance of our good impact through spreading a positive message outweighs the negative impact of driving a 4×4 vehicle across Africa (and perhaps leading others to do the same – who knows what lessons and inspiration others may get from this?). Not to mention flying half way round the world and shipping the car.

We all need to feel a purpose I think. But looking at the night sky these last 2 weeks, seeing the absolute vastness of the universe out there, it is impossible not to feel tiny and insignificant. What does it matter what we do? In the grand scheme of things we are nothing so why worry or bother? But at the same time, our life is all we have. Maybe in all this chaos a butterfly flapping its wings can be the start of something big. Elena flapped her wings with all her might in her brief time with us. All I can do, and it is why I carry on, is to flap my own as hard as I can to give her efforts a boost on their way before I am allowed to join her.

Sometimes it seems that whatever I do ends up having negative consequences. I guess that’s the thing with butterfly wings, they are a bit random and rather at the whim of the weather. But what else is a butterfly to do? Flap, point in the right direction and hope the gusts we ride can be nudged in the right direction.

(not) Cape Town update…April 1st Special!

Well as you can probably see from the map, I nearly made it to Cape Town but then headed East. I’ve had a change of plan – getting to Cape Town was our aim from the start, but as I got closer it just seemed not right to be getting here on my own without Katana. It would have been a hollow victory – we set out as a team, and we should finish as a team or not at all. Crossing the finish line without your team is a failure in my book.

So, I took Leo to see the Indian Ocean. And rather than go to Cape Town, we will now be heading North again – I think its time Leo went home to Tanzania. We got here by road and maybe we should head home the same way…I’m sure Troopy would prefer it that way rather than being shipped home in a box!

Looks like it will be some time before I get to have another Tofush and Chips in Soho. Incidentally, anyone know what the French would call ‘Tofush’ this time of year?

UPDATE: Ok for those of you who didn’t get the fishy reference above…welcome to on-the-road-solo humour…today was always booked as Bungy Day at Bloukrans – me and Leo had a nice jump and are now heading West again as planned towards Cape Agulhas.

We survived the world's highest bridge bungy!
We survived the world’s highest bridge bungy!



Meetings on the Road (Mariental to the Orange River)

Today was quite a day, and probably deserved a blog post all itself. It started with a drive through the desert on rough tracks through alternating sunshine and fog banks, followed by a relatively short drive South on gravel roads to the banks of the Orange River. At this point I have to admit to having a little emotional moment – there on the opposite bank was South Africa. The last country. It is not easy to describe or even understand the feelings you get at moments like this – but a little later in the day when I met a lone cyclist, who turned out to be on the last leg of an epic bike ride from Sweden to Cape Town, he also spoke of his mixed feelings on approaching this same border. I’m guessing he’ll be crossing the river tomorrow.

Chance Meeting at a crossroads -
Chance Meeting at a crossroads –

If it weren’t for the fact that his intended crossing point was a ferry, motorbikes only (no Landcruisers), I was tempted to head back the same way to talk some more. But as it was, after 20 minutes or so exchanging tales, we set off in opposite directions towards the same place. I am now camping by the Orange River a hundred or two kilometres further South East and will make my final border crossing in the morning.

Further up the road towards Fish River Canyon, I met a bunch of nice lasses who stopped and chatted about our travels and being vegan/veggie on the road, and how nice Mozambique is…only a slightly sore point, that.

Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon
Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon

It was good to meet people today – to share experiences, and it also took my mind of the continuing worry of Troopy’s oil leak (I need to top up the rear diff oil before heading off in the morning!). In fact its been a good part of travelling solo – I have been talking to lots of random people.

Going back a little – the trip from Mariental to Luderitz was my first crossing of the Fish River, quite wide even that far North, though little more than a trickle between thunderstorms – we are in the land of dust and flash floods here.

First Crossing of the Fish River
First Crossing of the Fish River

Then as the landscape gradually changed from fields, to thick scrub, to desert I was pleased to see my favourite variety of antelope – Gemsbok – along with Zebra. By the time I came to the last 120km I was crossing the Southern Namib desert and it was pretty much sand, rock and more sand. I’ve even made a time lapse video of the experience so you can all join in – 2 minutes, rather than an hour and a half sound OK? I’ll post that on youtube HERE! Reaching the Atlantic again was just as cold as last time, though no surprise this time round.

Having found the campsite in Luderitz and picked a spot overlooking the harbour a German couple in a Landrover turned up and we shared some G&Ts and tales. I was a little jealous as the next day they were heading up through the dunes to Walvis Bay, a route which we weren’t able to take because a storm had washed the beach away in November. They also made me hungover and running low on gin (well that’s my excuse!).

On the upside, they suggested a campsite and a nice route towards Fish River Canyon, and they were spot on – and I found myself camping in an arid wilderness with a swimming pool. That is where I set off from this morning. The road along the Orange River was entertaining and picturesque, before the road North towards the canyon struck out straight across another vast, flat gravelly expanse of desert. I tried to take photos of Fish River Canyon, but its one of those things you just can’t get the feeling of HUGE scale from unless you are there.

The Fish River, but bigger!
The Fish River, but bigger!

Its big. Accompanied by thunder and lighting, it was a fair way to sign off Namibia. Tomorrow South Africa, first stop (I hope!) a car parts shop in Springbok!

Windhoek South

Well, we are back on the road again. I was pleased to find Troopy in as good condition as we left him, though 2 thoughts went through my mind when I got in again for the first time;

1. Its dirty in here – we cleaned the inside before we left, but the dust is still everywhere, and obviously on-the-road clean is not the same as London-clean!

2. Its SMALL in here – how did we ever manage to live in such a small space for 6 months?

The first night back was spent at the Trans Kalahari Inn – an evening discussing population, farming, and their menu with the owner over some local wheat beers (they are updating the menu to show vegan options now – they used to put cheese in things even though it didn’t say so on the menu). Next morning it was time to head South again, via Windhoek for some stocking up on supplies. You’ll also notice the Map page has changed – I am now using a mobile app to update the location over mobile phone network so I had to get a local SIM for the data. Somehow the satellite tracker went AWOL in the office back in London the day of departure, but this seems to work OK as well (just click on the link to see the map in Google Maps if they haven’t enabled the embedded map yet).

So how is it to be back? Its familiar – I took a detour on the dirt roads to take in some sand dunes, and remembered to photograph a Weaver bird nest for my mum. Troopy is also being familiar – the rear left driveshaft is showing signs of oil again, but nothing too bad so far. I’ve given myself a No.3 all over African-weather haircut, and then started to regret it when it got dark and the temperature plummeted! I did experiment with some starlight photography – it was good to see the Southern Cross again showing me which way to go.

Camping Under African Skies
Camping Under African Skies

For breakfast it was the familiar porridge – complete with Katana’s favourite topping of soy sauce. I always preferred jam on mine, but I left that off my shopping list, so soy sauce it was. Sipping coffee while waiting for the wood fire to heat the water for a shower on the veranda of my campsite at Bastion Farmyard was a nice change to the Central Line. This morning I will be heading on South towards Luderitz, but depending on the progress divert towards Fish River Canyon – Luderitz would require a backtrack of a couple of hundred kilometres as there’s only 1 way in or out, and I was never keen on doing the same bit of trail twice!