This is the first part of a series of episodes from Yusuf Hashim’s just released Coffee Table book, An African Journey. Yusuf Hashim is a co-owner of PhotoSafari.com.my and he has been traveling around the world in a 4×4 for more than 12 years. This is one of the episodes of his travels in Africa. It will give an insight on what to expect when you travel in Africa.
Yusuf is now planning to organize a PhotoSafari for photographers to Africa soon. So stay tuned.
An African Journey
I haven’t been posting for a while coz I’ve been busy finishing a couple of 300 pages large Coffee table books for the sponsors of my last African adventure from March to June last year. Those are finished now, and I’ve selected some of the pictures I shot for those books, and cobbled them together to produce a coffee table book for myself, as a sort of keepsake, given the fact that pictures on hard disks will not last forever
Here is the flysheet cover of my book. The printed version is quite expensive because I’ve opted to use premium paper, and a hard bound cover, so I’ve allowed the printers to make African Journey also available as an eBook from the iTunes store. My sponsors will be printing the edition I did for them separately with a different front cover. Right now the book is being proof read by a friend, to remove the proverbial printer hantus before I upload it online. The cover has a Giraffe picking out a tasty shoot in the African Bush. The back cover is a pretty Masai lady I shot in her village.
Yusuf Hashim – African Journey will be available for purchase at www.blurb.com, by the end of February, as a print on demand book. If the spirit should move you, you can go to blurb.com, enter Yusuf Hashim in the search box, and preview 100% of the book for free without having to buy anything. The book has some pictures I shot in Africa during several 4×4 driving expeditions to Africa over the last 10 years where I was the OP forwww.4x4worldexplorer.com. Blurb also sells six other coffee table books I wrote for the Photosafaris that Maxby and I regularly organize for PM members.
I’ve driven across most of Africa from Cape Town to Casablanca. The routes are shown in the map below which I prepared for the book. If you want to visit those places where the pictures were shot, the GPS coordinates are in the book. If you want to drive the same routes, contact me and I’ll gladly give you all the way-points.
Many times I’ve been asked the secret of how I can get to go to the places I’ve been. There is no secret actually. Apart from owning a go anywhere 4×4 vehicle, there are at least 7 must-haves before you can probably do so yourself. My friends and I came up with these must-haves while we were keeping warm with coffee (for me) and tax free whisky (for them) around a campfire on the shores of Lago Argentino in Patagonia, at one of our hotels of a thousand stars. We were on a 100 days driving gig around South America. We had just finished two whole campfire roasted Argentinian lambs, so the analysis of why we were able to be more than 20,000 km away from home for nearly a hundred days, was quite a serious discussion. A quarter of our group were retirees like me. Half were successful businessmen who felt confident enough to delegate their businesses to trusted minders. The other quarter were thirty somethings who were able to take long leave from regular jobs and were financing their trips with savings or inheritances. There was one full time Singaporean investment banker who appeared to be conducting his business with a Blackberry from half way around the world. It seems he made more money while having fun than when he was in Singapore. I overheard him closing a property deal by phone, where the profit was apparently 2.2 million Sing dollars.
Anyway, here are the 7 factors that must be present before you can live out your travel dreams, for the younger set, and your bucket list, for my generation.The first two must haves are, you must have some spare cash to spend freely, and you must have time that is your own. I’ve always said that the man with lots of money and no time, is in exactly the same unfortunate situation as the man with very little money but with lots of time – they both go nowhere. I don’t usually have sponsors who pay for my trips all the time, as many might believe, although I do get the odd bits of discounts here and there in exchange for whatever they think my photos are worth. The truth is, I’m simply spending my children’s inheritance, and its almost all gone now and soon I must stop. That’s why I’m now in this book-writing phase, after which it will be the potato couch phase. But I digress. The third must have is, you must have good health. Most people are unwilling to let go of their jobs, or businesses, and by the time they actually let go, their bodies can no longer take the strains of travel, more so unconventional travelling like what I do. Fourthly, you mustn’t have any serious responsibilities at home to hold you back, serious responsibilities like sending children/grandchildren to school, an elderly grandmother to take care of, the dogs or the Arrowanas to feed, etc. Fifth, your spouse or partner mustn’t be the clinging type that wont let you go anywhere without him/her, and who will make you believe that they will die of missing you should you be away for a couple of weeks, or a couple of months as in my case. Sixth, if you want to drive to see the world, obviously you must have some skills to handle the task. Finally, you must be a little self serving (rather than selfish) and you must have the commitment, the courage and the determination to make your dreams and bucket list come true. I have a good arrangement with my better half. We have children and grandchildren living abroad, and I sometimes think my better half actually looks forward to my long trips, so that she can go and visit them, and have a good holiday away from me.
Here are the routes I’ve driven through Africa over the last 10 years. Aswan to Cairo was in 2003. Khartoum to Casablanca in 2004, Cape Town to Mombasa and Zanzibar in 2008. and in 2011 I drove from Cape Town to Cairo again.
Most people fly to a destination and then take a prepared tour. The issue is, tour operators will then take them to the usual tourist traps. I prefer to drive a go-anywhere 4×4 in order to really see a place. Driving to a destination is sooo convenient. It allows you to throw everything you need into the vehicle, including a microwave, an electric kettle, a gas stove, pots and pans, sleeping bags, a camp bed, tents, some Maggie mee and canned food, and of course all my camera equipment. The tents are handy when you can’t find a decent hotel, but it does have a few inconveniences – like having to do your nature calls into a hole dug in some bushes.
Here’s a picture of my crossing of the equator at Nanyuki in Kenya
Occasionally we do get stuck in some difficult places, but it’s easy to get out if your vehicles have winches and you have a few off roader friends. Here’s a picture of one of my friends in a bit of a problem in the Sahara Desert of Libya. Because of the 8 psi ultra-low pressure in the tyres for better traction, it can easily come off the rim as seen here. We were driving through the Sahara Desert from Khartoum in Sudan to Casablanca in Morocco under a Petronas sponsored expedition for the first Malaysian Team to successfully and completely cross the Sahara on wheels. It was great fun and an event that I will still think about when I’m old and grey, and can only watch TV for entertainment.
And here’s a picture of where we camped in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in Botswana. You’ll notice that several of our cars have a collapsible tent on their roofs. It’s convenient, safe and comfortable to sleep high above the ground, not because of Lions or hyenas or leopards, but more the dreaded black and green mambas, one of the world’s most poisonous snakes. The tents collapse flat into their own streamlined containers and cost about RM7000
The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is one of Botswana’s lesser known tourist attractions. There’s not much to see there for the normal type of tourists, just as there’s not much to see for the disinterested or the unknowing, in the Salar de Uyuni of Bolivia. However, if you have an adventurer’s heart beating inside of you, the very mention of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, will make your heart beat faster. Just to drive into the Massive salt pans alone is an adventure in itself. The powdery salt on the surface provides near zero traction, and just below the surface salt the material is like quicksand, making driving extremely difficult. But once you are inside, and camping out in the open where there is nothingness as far as the eye can see, the feeling is indescribable. The silence is deafening. Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. And the feeling of isolation and being completely away from the rest of the world simply cannot be experienced elsewhere. Covering an area of more than 16,000 sq km, the Makgadikgadi Pan is not a single pan as its name suggests, but many pans interrupted by sandy desert in between. The largest Pan, in which we camped, is the Sua (Sowa) Pan. Here are my friends Larry and Daisy enjoying a sunset in the Makgadikgadi Pan, just after a dinner of Corned beef and Brahmin’s Nasi Briani. When the temperature drops at night, we’d build a campfire, boil water for coffee, and sit around trading stories while nibbling on potato crisps. When sleepy, we’d sometimes drag our camp beds in the open, lie back and count shooting stars to lull us to sleep. That’s how life should be lived and not wasted in front of a TV set.
Here’s a picture of our cars kicking salt dust as we enter the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana:
The name Makgadikgadi means a ‘vast open lifeless land’. However, from mid-November, when torrential rains fall, the dry, salty, clay crust is filled with water and grass grows. The pans are transformed into huge flat sheets of shallow water, and the moisture is retained until April or May. It is then that this ‘vast open lifeless land’ becomes a fascinating refuge for all kinds of birds and migrating animals. Wildebeest and huge zebra herds journey from the Boteti River across the Pans. During the dry winter months, the migrations head westwards, back towards the Boteti River again, to lap up any remaining water, but many desert-adapted creatures also remain resident in the Pans. These include the aardwolf, African wildcat, caracal, genet, honey badger, spring hare, jackal, kudu, meerkats, yellow mongoose, porcupine, ground squirrel, steenbok and occasionally lions. The shy and elusive brown hyena, aardvarks and small bustard species also stay in the pans.
If photographing birds is what turns you on, you will be thrilled to know that a massive number of migrating waders arrive with the rains, and when the water dries up, hundreds of thousands of other bird species take their place in the slightly drier months. I’m no birder, but the Botswana information brochure said that sandpipers, ruffs, greenshank, stilts, pratincoles, wattled cranes, storks, egrets, lesser and greater flamingos, spoonbills, terns, teals, ibis, Montagu’s and palid harriers, brown snake, steppe and Wahlberg’s eagles, lesser and rock kestrels, swallows, swifts and martins usually arrive during the wet season. In the drier months, the bird species you can see include large numbers of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures, bateleur, tawny and martial eagles, black-breasted snake eagle, lanner and red-footed falcons, gabar and pale chanting goshawks. There are also, red-billed and orange river francolins, ostrich, secretary birds, guinea fowls, black and red-crested korhaans, kori bustards, crowned plovers, double-banded coursers, spotted dikkops, all species of sandgrouse, giant eagles and pearl-spotted owls, lilac-breasted and purple rollers, large numbers of hornbill, larks, cisticolas and pipits.
I saw some strange birds nests in the Namibian Desert
These huge communal nests are built by large groups of sociable weaver birds on the crosspieces of telephone poles. They are like apartment blocks for birds. The Social Weavers are desert birds about the size of a sparrow and they also look like the common Malaysian sparrows to my untrained eyes. Each nest can accommodate up to 600 Sociable Weaver birds, and often, other squatter-tenant birds like pygmy falcons, will also make these nests their homes. Set against the deep blue and cloudless skies of Namibia and the Kalahari Desert, these apartments on telephone poles for birds are a strange sight worth sharing.
I’ve been fortunate to have driven across the Tropic of Capricorn in all the continents it touches, in the Antofagasta region of Chile, in Brazil near Sao Paolo, in Paraguay near Concepcion, in Argentina in Jujuy, and in Australia in Queensland. In Africa we drove across the Tropic of Capricorn at three points – in Limpopo Province in South Africa, in Botswana, and in the picture below, in the Namibian Desert.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.