Travel: Trapped in a truck in Africa

Nine weeks travelling overland to Cape Town from Nairobi should have been the trip of a lifetime. But for Caroline Synge, it turned out to be a bit of nightmare

Two weeks into a nine-week overland trip through Africa, I began to panic. "Get me off this truck!" I scratched onto the airmail letter I was writing. Perched inside a 9m-long Mercedes-Benz truck with 22 strangers, I was trying to endure another giggling fit from silly Sally, a 31-year- old fellow passenger who had, it seemed, never been away from home. She had taken off her T-shirt and was sitting in her bra, enjoying the proximity of the Danish boy on her right. Had I been a tad optimistic when I booked myself onto this trip?

I was travelling with a company called Exodus through Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, starting in Nairobi and ending in Cape Town. That night, we arrived near the border of Tanzania and Malawi, and it was the turn of my "cook group" to brew up the noodles and vegetables we had bought in local markets that day: relief from exhaustion and backache.

It was like that, this trip - up and down. In normal life you can walk away from irritating company once you have had enough of it. But on an overland truck there is nowhere to go. For 24 hours a day, week after week, you are with the same people: driving together, cooking together, sightseeing together, even sleeping together (sharing a tent that is).

One solution was to get out of the group as often as possible - a couple of nights at a hostel or hotel, or just a meal out with less than 20 people. But unspoken rules still lay beneath any actions. One night we had arrived at a campsite in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and another girl, Sabrina, and I decided we needed a break. We told the cook group there'd be two less for dinner. Sally was not happy: "What about the cooks, how do you think they feel?" "We're on holiday, not on an army training course," we replied. We went, but unasked questions hovered on our return.

We were a mixed bunch, comprising Britons, Danes and Australians aged between 18 and 54. Other than quite a few people who had escaped from office life for the first time in years, personalities included an 18- year-old North Londoner on time out before university, a raucous social worker from Lincolnshire, a Scottish engineer who had spent the last 17 years working on oil rigs, and a policeman and his girlfriend - a designer - who were at the beginning of a two-year trip.

The 18-year-old was absent-minded but excellent company, and ended up being my second tent partner. She would come in at 2am while I slept, and then snore in an alcohol-induced haze at 7am while I rose. The engineer once saved me from near-death after I went walking in the Fish River Canyon in Namibia in 45C heat. The social worker, on the other hand - I ended up wishing she was dead, which was a shame, as we had both thought we would end up bosom buddies. The couple caused resentments as they sat on the best seats in the truck every day, but I rather admired them. "If we're still together at the end, I'll marry him," said Geraldine the designer.

The beginning of the trip was on a par with freshers' week at university and some people never lost that initial urge to drink themselves into a stupor and fabricate romantic situations with other truck passengers. Had anyone got off with anyone yet? Why not? What about the other trucks from other companies - maybe our Derek would go for that blonde? In fact one girl (the social worker) had sex with one boy (the Dane) on a beach by Lake Malawi, but in general, our truck was not the "nooky bus" some people wanted it to be, apart from a fumble between one of the leaders and an Australian girl, a kiss between yours truly and the engineer in Cape Town, and a doomed liaison between Sabrina and a management consultant.

Five weeks into the trip, seven people left and seven new people joined, which for me offered a welcome influx of new and older people - but which for others signified an alien intrusion. Christopher, an eccentric 40- year-old Belgian with a liking for vodka, was a case in point. "Why are we here?" he scoffed as we unloaded at a Penguin colony in South Africa. "To see the penguins," I replied. "Penguins, penguins!" he babbled. "I hate camping, and all of this!" Another newcomer was Sean, a chatty 54- year-old Irishman, who got off on the wrong footing with a girl called Gail who kept dumping his loose possessions outside the truck during the dreaded daily Truck Clean. "The stupid cow! She was a fascist in a former life!" Another day, another row.

I can't say there were no good moments. There were times when the group camaraderie was genuine, particularly during life-risking diversions such as bungee jumping, white-water rafting, bareback horse-riding and quadbiking. I remember a water fight on Christmas Eve in Namibia's Etosha National Park, when we ended up in the swimming-pool at midnight fully clothed, singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and holding hands. This was then rather spoilt by the fact that we had to decorate a shrub from the Namibian desert and hang tinsel in the truck.

Had I been a novice, this might have been a good way for me to put my toe in the water. It was also extremely cheap - at pounds 145 for three meals a day for nine weeks, the food kitty represented about 80p per meal.

But how much of the "real" Africa did I see? I learnt about the human need to chat, I questioned whether my empty head was a sign of total relaxation or total boredom, and by the end of the trip I was tormented by the question of whether we were extremely interesting or extremely dull people. But about Africa I remain unsure.

OVERLAND THROUGH AFRICA

GETTING THERE

Caroline Synge paid pounds 1,930 for her trip from Kenya to the Cape with Exodus Overland Expeditions (tel: 0181-675 5550) - this year the price is pounds 1,850. This does not include flights to or from the UK - Exodus can arrange these for you (into Nairobi and out of Cape Town) from around pounds 520 depending on exact dates. The food kitty is pounds 145 per person.

Extra activities are not included: for example bungee jumping costs $90 (pounds 57), white-water rafting $95 and quadbiking $50. Allow around pounds 150 for relevant visas and vaccinations and pounds 60 a week for general spending.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss