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.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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
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

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum