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Thursday, April 14, 2011
Meet Pete Mandra-- And Overland Travel From Capetown To Nairobi
Pete Mandra is an experienced Africa traveler. He's the author of the humorous novel describing a real life, 6-week overland tour through Africa-- Overland. Here's the first of a series of posts he's agreed to do for us about his adventures:
The day my future wife Jessica and I had finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa will forever be burned into my mind.
Cape Town is a city of contrasts, contrasts that appeared even sharper after our brutal flights to get there (14 hours in the air, from Chicago to Amsterdam to Johannesburg to (finally!) Cape Town). I see shanty-type huts, constructed from wood and sheet metal, crowding the main road, eventually giving way to the pristine, gated communities of those better off. Pollution and trash exist here as in any other city, yet seem markedly out of place as Table Mountain towers overhead, glowing in the setting red Africa sun.
We visited Africa, which led to the inspiration behind my book Overland, to get a taste of adventure and to see this beautiful continent for ourselves. In a way, Jessica and I were a contrast as well-- at a time in our lives when most couples are worrying about what school to send baby Timmy to, we were ending our apartment lease, cashing in our savings and quitting our jobs (since US firms NEVER give you enough time off!) to see the world.
Our plan was simple-- we had given ourselves three full days to explore Cape Town before meeting up with our tour group-- a full, six-week overland junket that would take us and an entire truckload of strangers from South Africa to Nairobi, Kenya and all points in-between. And as a launching point for our Africa odyssey, Cape Town proved perfect, a mix of majestic beauty, soaring landscapes and proud people.
Table Mountain? Magical (though take a cab back to your hotel, if you plan on hiking it!) Looking out from Cape Point, you can imagine how it earned its deserved reputation as the ‘point of no return’ for many a sailor. In the Cape Town area, I also had my first African wildlife experiences-- first spotting the playful Jackass Penguins near Port Elizabeth (again-- more contrasts!), and then foolishly slowing the car when I spied some baboons who interpreted my actions as a lunch delivery.
But as much as I loved Cape Town-- and I am very looking forward to returning one day-- I am very grateful that we didn’t decide to make it our only stop on the African continent. Africa is a very rich, very diverse land that can’t be represented by a single country within its geographical space, as we quickly found out as we moved through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. One would not visit Greece thinking they’ve seen all of Europe-- South Africa is much the same way.
For strictly selfish reasons, though, I am certain staying put in Cape Town would not have afforded me the material for Overland, as the book, which I describe as ‘Bill Bryson meets Generation X’, is as much of a celebration of traveling through Africa as it is the trials of ‘joys’ of group travel. Travelling through a constantly churning continent like Africa will provide its share of anxiety from time to time. Throw a group of strangers into the mix, each one stranger than the next, and THEN you’ve got something...