Sunday, 27 July 2014

Jane's Adventures Between Accra And Freetown

This is a guest post from Jane De Le Vega, a recent passenger of ours from Australia, who had a great time on our overland trip from Accra to Freetown in January 2014.

"Earlier this year I went on the Accra to Freetown trip with OWA, a six week trip from Ghana to Sierra Leone, through Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Liberia. It was a most wonderful trip, and as I sit down to write this feedback I can only think of positives.

Kids were always fascinated by Jane's sketching; some colourful characters visiting our bush camp in Ghana.
The slow and peaceful pace gave us time to soak in the amazing landscapes and cultures we were passing through: I sketch, so a slow pace suits me. The crew had a thorough, extremely well organised and professional approach. This had been obvious from the beginning, from their comprehensive website, and prompt, clear responses to initial questions. 

It became even more apparent once we all arrived in Accra where, on meeting Al our leader, any tiny worries one may have had in relation to safety were put to rest.  Al’s experience and understanding of West Africa - its trials and tribulations, as well as its wonders and wobbles - and his quiet  passion for it all was impressive. Impressive  also was his  calm, cool persona which I liked. I felt very confident. He was the perfect leader. His offsider, Neville, was also perfect.

Sights, sounds and experiences in West Africa always keep you on your toes!

Looking at the photographs on OWA’s website says everything that needs to be said. I am sure that anyone considering travel in West Africa is doing so because they already know it is a diverse, complicated, different and sometimes difficult part of the continent, and they know that a trip there will be fascinating, intrepid and adventurous. A one-off- not tame. That was why I chose the trip, and it came up to all my expectations. Perhaps even better than I had anticipated. 

Good times on the Domes de Fabedougou in Burkina; Jane takes advantage of Valentine's day;
Niansogoni's former troglydyte settlement which we trekked to
I had asked only two questions to OWA before booking, and these may be helpful to others considering the trips.  
The first question (because I am 67 and therefore a fossil) was whether they normally had fossils on their trips, and what generally was the average age? I didn’t want to end up granny-loser-fossil-lonely-no-friends amongst 19 teeny boppers! The answer was that their groups were mostly of mixed ages, the average age being about 40, and always some fossils.  As it turned out, this was the case on my trip and, indeed, there were a few fossils.

Andy with Jane's great birthday card, which he drew
The second question I asked was which nationalities the groups were usually made up of. I  asked this question because I had noted from the website that much feedback was from Australians. Being an Australian myself, when I travel I am naturally more interested to meet people from other countries, and therefore I was hoping the group would be of mixed nationalities. This was  the case. Our group of 20 included people from Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, America, Canada, the UK, and 3 Australians of which I was one. 

West Africa's beaches are a real highlight of our trips: Bureh beach Sierra Leone;
bringing in the catch; and driving along the Ghanaian coast
So it was a wonderful mix, a wonderful trip, and it was a sad moment when we parted in Freetown at the end. After all, we had done a lot together. 

We’d rattled over endless rutted third world roads together, often at only 30 kms an hour, with Africa passing by out the truck windows; we’d sat together in the truck at tricky border posts in midday sun while Al did endless paperwork with the officials; we’d all helped fill the truck water tanks from precious village wells once Al had done the negotiations, many onlookers, tiny sleeping babies strapped to so many backs;  we’d rejoiced together as we washed our bodies and clothes in a beautiful waterfall that we found ourselves camped beside; we’d sat together at night around a fire swapping stories; stomped through fabulous local markets with our cook group in tow, looking for things to turn into dinner for that night; decamped excitedly out of our tents and into basic hotel rooms with showers when available; argued in the dark, over a steaming pot, with someone in the cook group who thought two packets of rice wasn't enough; rushed into markets and bought far too many gorgeous batik african textiles, perhaps thinking that one day, back home, we could look as beautiful as the African women who wore them so gracefully (alas no!); camped in villages at night, surrounded by 100 inquisitive locals, waking the next morning to watch daily African life- women tending babies, the stew in the pot, the grinding of grains, the water carrying, the cows being herded out to their fields.

Curtis on a the few remaining vine bridges in Guinea; chimpanzees at a rehabilitation centre in Sierra Leone, and in the wild in Guinea, close to our camp
We’d visited wildlife sanctuaries, ex-colonial coastal forts, Cote d’Ivoire’s version of the Vatican, and marveled at the quirky, crazy, pink and turquoise corrugated iron shacks in Liberia built by the freed returning slaves from America - New Orleans style!

And finally, things like just walking with a new friend along a remote and very long African beach, and coming at the end to a fishing village, with men scaling their catch beside brightly coloured fishing canoes, all painted various shades of turquoise and blue with crazy red dedications to Jesus on their hulls. Photographs, photographs!

Captivating sights and sounds at the village we stay in to witness an incredible stilt dance, in Cote d'Ivoire
So, together we all shared this really wonderful experience in West Africa. And we couldn't have done it without OWA.

Thank you very much,  OWA. You do a really excellent job.

And to anyone else... YES, DO IT!

Many thanks to Jane for taking the time to write us this great post! Looking forward to seeing you on another trip in the near future Jane!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Busy Times Preparing For The Adventure Ahead

We've had a busy few months since getting back to the UK with Aminah at the end of April. There's only a few seats left on our Southbound trips this coming season, starting in October, so now is the time to get in touch if you want to experience the magic of West Africa with us!

Al and Hatter have been busy getting Aminah spick and span for her next adventure. She's now all spruced up, safely parked up in the UK, and ready to head back down through Europe in a few months time.

We're in the process of having some videos made from all the footage taken on our recent trips. We'll be releasing these on our You Tube Channel over the next few weeks. Below is the first of the videos, showing off some of the incredible dancing and singing our Dakar to Freetown and Freetown to Dakar groups got to witness at Tendaba camp on the banks of the river Gambia....what a night, check it out!

Stay tuned for more inspirational footage highlighting the music, dancing, colourful characters, epic roads, truck life and more from our recent adventures. Many thanks to all of the passengers who provided some of the footage used in this video we really appreciate it!

We're very pleased to announce that Jason Parry will be joining Al as co-driver and mechanic for our upcoming 2014-2015 season. We know Jason well from his time working for Dragoman Overland; he has been away from overlanding for the past few years doing a 'normal' job in the real world, and is itching to be out on the road again!

Jason fixing a passing donkey cart, and taking some down time!
We’ll let Jason introduce himself:

‘Africa has been under my skin since I spent 4 months working in South Africa back in early 2000. Since then, I have travelled independently in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia,, as well as riding solo for most of my time running Encounter trips for Dragoman Overland between 2006 and 2008.

I reluctantly left the road in 2008, intending to knuckle down for a couple of years in a ‘proper job’, and secure myself some sort of financial security for my future years. My intention was always to return to overlanding, and after too many years of masquerading as a grown up, I am finally in a position to do just that. OWA approaching me earlier this year could not have been timed any better.

I know Dave & Jimmy through Dragoman, last seeing them in person just prior to their first OWA trip. Having recently met up with Al in preparation for the season ahead, I cannot wait to get back out on the road, and am looking forward to immersing myself in the diversity of cultures, customs, terrain, and of course passengers!

Jason making sure nothing goes to waste!
We have recently partnered with 'Friends of Conakry Refugee' School, where 26 staff offer an education to 500 students, provide them with a meal each day, and help with safe housing for the vulnerable. Guinea has historically received rather less NGO assistance than some of its neighbours, so it is great to see a UK organisation involved with such a valuable project.

Many of the children are orphans from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire and simply can't afford to go to school. The school is setting up small business initiatives such as catering and soap making, and running IT and English classes for the local community so it can subsidise the education of the poorest. We plan to visit the school on our Freetown to Dakar trip, bring out supplies from the UK, and make a financial donation to the project.

There is much more information about the project here on the Friends of Conakry Refugee School website.

Stay tuned for more travel videos in the next few weeks, like this short one of Al and Nev driving through the jungle in Ivory Coast, and we hope to see you onboard Aminah in West Africa later this year!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Election Fever In Bissau and Relaxing Days In Casamance and Gambia...

We left Bissau at the height of election fever. The city was heaving with activity and thankfully peaceful, with a positive mood all around.  A drive day took us to Senegal’s Casamance region, where we spent a week exploring and relaxing: Fishing trips, exploring villages and craft markets on bikes, boat trips to nearby islands, and plenty of live music and dancing.

Relaxing days by the Casamance river, Senegal
Nicky, Steve, Derek, Paula, Adrian Getting Into The Rhythm Of Senegal!
Ali Joins In With The Limbo
The fishing port we visited in northern Casamance was quieter than usual as the previous night’s fishing had been poor. Luckily we got to see the vast quantity of fish that was caught in previous days being salted, dried and smoked to be sent upcountry, an extraordinary sight!

Fish Smoke House And Fish Drying In The Sun (Sascha's Photo)
These Guys Collect The Fish That's Been Dropped As The Huge Catches Are Brought Ashore
Our stay in Abene with Simon was a real highlight of the trip. The Koumpo dance we saw started slowly, as the Koumpo is a forest spirit who needs calling to the village with drumming. Fortunately, the spirit does also have a mobile phone so he knows roughly when and where he will be called! A stilt dancer joined us as the music and dancing built up ahead of the Koumpo’s arrival.

Ash Prepares For A Cameo Appearance
The Stilt Dancer Warming Up For His Performance With The Drummer Calling The Koumpo In From Afar!
The Baby Watched The Ceremony With Bewilderment!

It's very difficult to visualise what the Koumpo is doing under all the leaves; the spike comes out of his head, and remains stationary in the ground as he rotates around it.
The Koumpo Has Arrived!
The Koumpo Whipping Up A Storm In Senegal!
Later, two dark creatures turned up for the next stage of the ceremony. The children ran away in terror too quickly for us to catch them on film!

Koumpo Dance Senegal
This Creature Came On After The Koumpo And Scared The Kids Off In a Frenzy!
Koumpo Dance Senegal
A Hot And Sweaty Performance From This Child-Scaring Creature In Casamance, Senegal
Senegal Tourism Overland
Ladies In Their Colourful Fabrics Singing Along To To The Performance (Photo From Passenger Liz)
The next morning we visited a giant fromagier tree, considered sacred by the locals; it's actually 6 trees fused together. We also visited the local bat colony and met the chief before some relaxing beach time.

Fromagier Tree Senegal
Liz Climbing The Impressive Roots Of The Giant Fromagier Tree (Photo From Liz)
The Kora performance that the talented Gambian Griot, Hami Saho, gave us in the evening was much more subdued than the Koumpo dance the night before. He took time to explain Griot traditions, the history of Kora playing, and the meaning of each song.

Hami Saho Gives A Beautiful Performance Of Kora Music
Gambia Tour Overland
Ben, Ash, Laura, and Adrienne, Learning About The Kora and The Life Of A Griot
A short drive saw us leave Casamance for a few days in the Gambia. We took boat trips to see birdlife on the Gambia river, and had a great evening of music and dancing around Aminah courtesy of the village.

Tendaba Camp Gambia
Lazy Days By The River At Tendaba, Gambia
Dave, Liz, Kim, and Nicky Dance Around Aminah At Night, Gambia
The ferry across the Gambia river at Farafenni was as entertaining as ever; long periods of waiting around for something to happen, entertained by the many people selling colourful fabrics and cheap Viagra, punctuated by sudden frantic bursts of activity as the traffic moved onto the ferry.

Does Anyone Know Why A Drainage Culvert In Gambia Is An Irish Crossing (Photo from passenger Birgit)
Overland Group Africa
Steve, Adrian, Julie, John, and Liz On The Ferry With Aminah Tucked In
Our last full drive day of the trip took us back to Senegal, for a last night of relaxing on the beach before finishing our journey in Dakar.

Overland Tour Senegal
Derek By The Coast On Our Last Night Before Arriving Into Dakar
Cows Casually Strolling Along The Beach In Senegal (Photo From Di)
We had some excellent French food on our last night and a sample of the local nightlife. There's lots to see in and around Dakar, and many of the group headed to Ile de Goree on the last morning of the trip. 

For Aminah and Al the epic overland journey was not quite over. A 7,000 km + journey lay ahead in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, and Europe......long days cruising across the Sahara, listing to lilting desert be continued.....

Trans Africa Overland
Al, Alice, And Aminah En Route Through Western Sahara Heading For Morocco

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sierra Leone Into Guinea-Bissau And The Fouta Djalon Highlands...

A few visa applications, time on the beaches for some R&R, and we headed off to Guinea, a real contrast after several weeks in English speaking countries. A windy drive through the mountains brought us into the Fouta Djalon for a relaxed week of trekking and waterfalls.

West Africa Tour
Cooling Off On Our Drive Up To The Highlands, And Al Buys A Beautiful Piece From A Local Sculptor (Liz and John)
4x4 Adventure Tour Africa
The GPS Struggles To Know What Road We Are On So Settles For 'Potholes'! (Photo From Liz)
West Africa Overland Truck Tour
BBQ Dinner At Our Sunset Bushcamp In The Guinean Highlands (Laura)
We spent a couple of nights in a small village, tucked away on top of an escarpment, with stunning views of the surrounding gorges and waterfalls. We went trekking each day, sampled the local food, enjoying relaxing evenings with beautiful sunsets, and chuckled at the great turns of phrase of our colourful host!

Fouta Djalon, Guinea, Africa
Exploring The Beautiful Fouta Djalon With Our Local Guide - Vine Climbing's Always a Highlight!
Derek Cooling Off In The Waterfalls And Al Taking In The Views
Africa Overland Hiking Tour
Passengers Exploring The Surrounding Escarpments, Waterfalls, and Canyons In The Fouta Djalon Highlands!
Hiking Tour Fouta Djalon Guinea
Steve Climbing The Vines, With Ben, Kim, and Simon Below
This set of waterfalls make a huge drop from the escarpment to the plains below, a stunning sight, and a welcome relief for the chance for a refreshing swim after an hour or so walking through the forest to get there.

Guinea Waterfalls West Africa
Kim After A Dusty Drive As We Arrived At The Waterfalls (Photos From Liz and Laura)
John At The Waterfalls, Still Flowing In The Dry Season (Photo From John)
The road from Labe to Guinea Bissau is gradually being improved by a Chinese company, but is still a dusty, bumpy few days of old school overlanding; crossing rivers, swimming in streams, with some great bush camps under starry night skies!
West Africa Off Road Overland
A Real Overland Adventure As We Drive Through The Highlands Between Guinea and Guinea-Bissau (Liz And Laura)
West Africa Roads
The Road Between Guinea and Guinea Bissau Is Being Improved...But For The Moment Remains Bumpy And Dusty!
Into Guinea-Bissau and we reached Saltinho Falls, a lovely spot for a relaxed morning taking a swim and watching the fishermen hard at work. We then headed west to one of the worlds most relaxed capital cities, Bissau, for some great food, club nights, and wanders around the port and fading colonial-era buildings. Election fever was in full swing, but in a very hopeful and friendly fashion. Elections are due any day now!
Overland Group Travel West Africa
Steve, Liz, Ali, Lindsay, and Andre Wash Away The Dust! (Photo From Liz)
Sculptures In West Africa
Some Great Sculptures For Sale En Route In Guinea Bissau (Photo From John)
Camping In Africa
Ash Cuts His Birthday Cake At A Bush Camp In Guinea Bissau (Photo From Laura)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Through Liberia, Sierra Leone And Into Freetown...

After visiting the wild chimps and vine bridges in Guinea, we had a chance encounter with Steve and Sita from Belgium! We knew they were in the region, and luckily through the power of social media we managed to cross paths just before we headed south on bumpy jungle roads to Liberia. Steven and Sita and their truck Izzie are on a big journey down to South Africa...great to meet you guys!

Overland Tour Guinea West Africa
Aminah And Izzie The Mercedes Sisters! Meeting Steve and Sita From Belgium En Route In Guinea
First stop in Liberia: Kpatwee falls, a very special spot, a bit out of the way, but a great place to spend a relaxed afternoon in the shade of big trees, swim under the waterfalls, and walk up the trail to more falls higher up.

Overland Liberia Tour
Liberian Man Washing His Tractor In Kpatawee Falls......As You Do!
A Great BBQ Feast At Kpatawee Falls, Liberia
Overland Tours West Africa
The Enormous Tree At Kpatawee Falls, Liberia, Dwarfing Aminah!
West Africa Truck Tours
Andy Draws Jane A Great Birthday Card
Next we saw something we hadn't seen in weeks: the ocean! Time to enjoy the Liberian coast and the beautiful golden sand beaches and the famous local hospitality. 

Some of us paid a visit to an island inhabited by a group of chimpanzees known as 'Monkey Island'. These chimps were rescued from a research lab run by the New York Blood Centre in Monrovia after being abandoned during Liberia’s troubles. They were released on this island and are fed daily by a devoted carer. 

You can see a short video and learn about the history of these chimps here:

West Africa Chimpanzees
This Poor Chimp Carried A 'Seat' Around With Him Wherever He Went, Much To The Amusement Of Others!
West Africa Overland Group
Kim, Curtis, Paul, And Derek On A Boat Trip In Liberia
Further along the coast we spent some time on the beaches around Robertspsort, a great spot to unwind amongst the crumbling remnants of former grandeur. We celebrated Martin’s birthday here with plenty of time to relax on the beach the following day!
Beaches In West Africa
Martin, John, Andy, Julie, And Simon Strolling Along One Of Liberias Beautiful Beaches
Saying goodbye to Liberia and heading west to Sierra Leone, the road was just as bad as we remembered, if a little drier this time around. We spent a couple of nights in a village, enjoying the local food, hospitality, fishing trips and swimming in waterholes.
Travel Through West Africa
Roads Through The Jungle, Broken Down Trucks, And Curtis Catching Dinner
Overland West Africa
A Warm Welcome In Eastern Sierra Leone, One Of The Friendliest Villages We've Ever Stayed In!
Our drive to Tiwai Island was disrupted by a missing bridge which was being dismantled and replaced. Fortunately it was hastily put back together for us! Tiwai Island is known for its pygmy hippos, but they are notoriously difficult to see, so we settled instead for a pleasant time on the river watching plenty of primates and birds rummage around this beautiful setting.

Sierra Leone Overland Tour
Aminah Crossing A Makeshift Bridge En Route To Tiwai Island....Nervous Moments!
Sierra Leone Tourism
Morning Awakes At Tiwai Island As The Group Get Ready For A Boat Trip
Tiwai Island Overland Trip
A Warm Welcome For The Group And Aminah At Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone
Our last night of the trip was spent relaxing at Bureh Beach on the Freetown Peninsula, taking a well deserved chance to relax and recharge. Some of the group headed off to visit Banana Island.
Trips In West Africa
There's No Denying The Beauty Of Freetowns Beaches!
Africa Overland Tour
Windows: Gary, Paul, Curtis, Nicky And Simon
Standing: John, Kelly, Kim, Lisa, Jackie, Martin, Al, Juliette, Jane, Julie, Claire, Derek, Andre, And Andy
Crouching: Laura And Nev
A drive into Freetown’s busy traffic and markets bought us back to reality as we said goodbye to some and welcomed others to the group for our next trip up to Dakar.
Sierra Leone Travel
Driving Aminah Into Downtown Freetown, Always A Hectic Affair When Going Through The Market
Sierra Leone Money
The Farewell Group Meal Produced A Large Amount Of Cash!