Why are you going there? What's there to see anyway? Who goes to West Africa?! I took their point; the UN says it is the poorest region on Earth based on economic terms and quality of life, it is an area riddled with wars, poverty, corruption, coups, dictators, malaria, Ebola, fundamentalists, Boko Haram and an uneasy history centred around slavery and colonialism, not to mention it's pretty damn big. But it was that fact that nobody went there, that it was fairly uncharted territory and that there were as many reasons NOT to go that enticed me to it. I joined a tour that covered 12 countries and along the way we encountered robberies, bush camping, road blocks, bribery, voodoo, became bogged, defied FCO warnings and dived with sharks. Strap yourselves in, it's a busy one. Independent in Senegal
Before joining the tour I wanted to experience at least one country in the north west on my own just to please the backpacker in me. Senegal won due to it being a stable and decent sized country, although its population of 14 million people all seemed to be in Dakar
at any one time. It has a 90%!M(MISSING)uslim
population and French is spoken everywhere, which didn't bode well for me because at school I received my lowest grade in French which ensured most locals thought I had some kind of head injury or speech impediment whenever I tried to organise anything. Dakar itself was like many a busy African capital city with its usual mix of heat, noise, bedlam and chaos, but luckily for Dakar it has a number of highlights such as Lac Rose
(Pink Lake) which lies around an hour away. This was a nice opportunity to get out of the steaming city and to see more of the rural way of life and smaller villages: the sights, smells and tastes are always so evocative. The lake itself is famous for it's mix of high salt content and bright sunlight which results in the calm waters turning a vivid shade of pink and it is well worth a visit, once there you can take a float in the water without sinking or paddle out in a boat to watch men toiling to dig out the massive heaps of salt in the intense heat. I also took a visit to lll de Goree
, a short ferry ride
to a tiny island that holds a huge chunk of history relating to the slave trade
. The island is infamous for orchestrating a lot of the misery and suffering from this era although not too much remains there now, it is a peaceful place that only takes 30 minutes to amble around where cars are banned and only the rusting ruins of old cannons and a pink house give any clues to its history. This is the Slave house where the unfortunate souls were held in cramped, dark dungeons to be processed and then sent onto boats through the 'Doorway to Nowhere' and overall it was a sobering introduction. The word 'slave' seems synonymous with West Africa and we would encounter it all down the coast as for a few hundred years up to the end of the 19th century numbers ranging between 12 and 20 million (there's some debate) were ripped from their families and transported to the Americas by their colonial masters. However, perhaps even more painfully most of the African tribal kings were also complicit in the trade and benefited from it, even organising raids on villages to steal more slaves away; the thought of being sold
out by their own people must have been even more galling. A lot of European countries, not to mention local leaders, have a lot of shameful history swept under a lot of carpets and I would be reminded of this all the way down the west coast of Africa. Overall I felt Senegal was the gentle introduction I needed to West Africa but felt 5 days plenty and was ready to leave. Overlanding West Africa explained.
Next up was Ghana where I would join my Oasis Overland
truck which I found easily enough, mainly because it was a fetching shade of yellow and 18 tonnes. The tour leader Andi and driver Grant were superb throughout and made up for any deficiencies within the group, most people do a fair bit of travelling before attempting West Africa and our average age was well over 40 with 4 guys in their 60s which led to some interesting group dynamics and personality clashes at times but such is life overlanding, it is the mix of people that often make a trip what it is. The truck itself had lots of good features, ample storage (depending on your locker buddy) and the
novel idea of inward facing seats, which meant I spent the vast majority of my days on my knees leaning out of the window waving at locals and trying to match their beaming smiles. We 'bush camped' the entire way which basically involved rocking up to any empty field that looked flat enough and throwing our tents up. I say fields but it was actually anywhere we could find and by the end this included; churches, nunneries, border stations, garden centres (which didn't have a single flower), quarries, logging areas, oil fields, petrol stations, motorway lay bys, the top of mountains, the middle of deserts and next to Christ the Redeemer. On such bush camps even going to the bathroom was a mission of SAS style proportions and involved you wandering off into the darkness with a head torch lighting your steps, a garden trowel in one hand and toilet paper in the other. Particular emphasis was placed on not being near someone else's hole-quite literally, and coughing unsubtly lest anyone should stumble across you mid squat, once your hole was dug then aiming straight and true became an issue, as did squatting while avoiding mosquito bites on the backsides
(I was once bitten on the penis, it must've had a VERY good eyesight), before covering up your hole and leaving a marker so that nobody else attempted to use your cat litter tray. Showering was non existent and was instead termed a 'wet wipe bath' as you used the baby wipes to clean as thoroughly as humanly possible whilst crouched in a tent. Meanwhile food was prepared by cook groups (generally this vision of hell for me occurred once a week) who took care of breakfast (eggs, cereals etc) lunch (sandwiches) and dinner-based on whatever ingredients you could find in the local market using your limited budget of £1 a day per person. Cooking was done over a fire providing you could find firewood or if it wasn't raining, and when this happened we resorted to ravioli or beans from a tin, posh packing this wasn't. This could go on for many days based on the size/type of country and the record stint overall was 15 days without a shower, luckily our truck was open sided or there could have been the loss of lives. We would try to camp away from villages but occasionally entire communities would wander
over to stare bemused, especially at the strange sight of seeing a man cooking (or standing around trying to look busy in my case). At times we were moved on and forced to camp near police 'for our own safety' but generally we were left to our own devices and the nights spent around a camp fire chatting rubbish, drinking, eating and staring up at the stars in the middle of nowhere are some of my fondest memories of all. Beaches and robberies in Ghana
It all started in Ghana, the apparent golden child of Africa, often held up as a model for other African countries to aspire to; a stable, independent and safe country of 25 million with a thriving economy, plus they spoke English! It had a laid back and easy going vibe, although that could also be attributed to the fact that we spent most of our initial time on the beaches waiting on visas for other countries. We first stayed at Kokrobite
at a place called Big Milly's which had a prime location on the beach and was popular with foreigners and local alike, the pulse rate barely registered as we swam in the
ocean, drank cold local beer, chatted with locals and became dangerously addicted to the local ice cream sold in bags called Fan Ice (honestly it was like liquid heroin, although pleasingly it leaves less needle marks) and avoided entering the ugly and chaotic Accra
as much as possible.
We passed on to another beach called Abanze
that initially looked idyllic as we slept in tents on the beach but ended up with us being robbed when some locals from a nearby village slashed open a couple of tents and unzipped some others. Thankfully they were disturbed and ran off so the net loss was 'only' a phone, clothing and small amount of money but the experience put people on edge for a long while after. We left pretty rapidly for Elmina
staying at the wonderfully titled Stumble Inn which restored our faith a little as we played beach games and relaxed looking at the Atlantic Coast. Further mending was done at Kakum National Park
where we swayed unceremoniously along a canopy walk through a rainforest using 30metre high suspension bridges, although bridges is a loose term as it was actually a load of ladders strung together that wobbled ferociously
although through the blurry vision you did get decent views. We also visited a town called Cape Coast
which is infamous for its 17th century fort that does a good job of detailing how it became the largest slave trading centre in the world. Our final stop was to visit a hydro electric dam in Akosombo
which interested me about as much as a Keira Knightley movie. After 10 days I left Ghana slightly perturbed, if this was the golden child of the west coast and we were robbed then what would the rest be like? Fetish and fish in Togo
If Ghana is the golden child then Togo physically was it's malnourished brother next door, a thin slither of a country clocking in at just 30miles wide, although it still managed to squeeze in some 7 million people. The landscape changed a little with forests dominating the mainland and beaches along the coast, we first visited Kpalime
and it's waterfalls, although that is a loose term as I've produced more impressive water falls after a few cups of tea. We went for a hike amid the forests and cocoa/coffee plantations but even that was thwarted as the
Sahara's wide reaching effects meant hazy scenery. Travelling down the country epitomised why I chose West Africa as passing through villages that see trucks and white people perhaps once a year was a novel experience, there were smiles and waves from those who could achieve this but many just looked open mouthed in stunned surprise at the strange apparition in front of them. People lived a rural way of life with their simple houses made of wood or corrugated iron, living off subsistence farming and trading at markets, they dressed in extravagantly bright clothing with patterns of all colours and designs and usually the shoes to match, except on a church day when they looked muted in their Sunday best. The Christianity spread by the colonial masters is still very much in evidence today, every other building in West Africa seems to be a church and they are always the most expensive looking building while most shops were adorned with names such as 'God is in control boutique' or 'If god says yes who can say no fast food', although I think even he'd struggle to eat out of some of these places.
Eventually we reached the coast and
the capital Lome
, it was a nice city of large avenues, a busy market and sandy beaches and we spent a few days downtime at Coco Beach
battling the powerful waves, sampling the ludicrously cheap but large portions of local street food (try the Schwarma) and enjoying the local beer or rum a little too much. There was also the opportunity to visit a local fetish market
, although I believe this is false advertising as there wasn't a gimp mask or whip in sight, I've no idea what gift to get the parents now. It was actually a market for voodoo which is prevalent in this region; locals believe in animist beliefs and that they can use white magic to fight black magic with plants having souls and such. We visited a market that had the head of every animal imaginable, plus furs, skins and even paws as well as the stories to match, for example mix in a touch of cat with a pinch of parrot and you have a remedy for bad memory, or throw in a smidgen of hedgehog, bat and a small buffalo penis to make yourself some Viagra. I remembered both of these recipes for
your benefits you understand. Before crossing the border we spent time at Ouidah
which gave further insights into the slave trade in its well informed fort museum. Briefly in Benin
Next up was a brief flurry through Benin, which was another skinny country with just 70 miles of coastline, in fact to me Benin was interchangeable with Togo and to my untrained eyes identical. There were 10 million people this time crammed in but it seemed just as stable, beachy and foresty (yes these are all made up words) as Togo. The main attraction here was the stilt village
, where 30,000 people live in bamboo huts on stilts above the water and is known as the Venice of Africa. They have their own separate community which you have to take a 30 minute boat ride out to see and it was a really interesting experience as they cast nets to fish, traded on their floating market and ran their own schools, shops and hospital etc. It was a really different experience and well worth a visit overall. Road blocked in Nigeria
Crossing the border took us to Nigeria, although this was a victory in
itself as applying for the visa at home was so wrapped up in red tape and bureaucracy that I only got my passport back hours before I was due to fly to Africa. I didn't know much about Nigeria before visiting aside from lots of princes needed a lot of money by email and that Boko Haram didn't like westerners too much. I knew there was a massive disparity between rich and poor, for such an oil rich nation Nigerians earn less than $2 a day-a rate lower than it was in the 1960s, while its roads are terrible and power cuts frequent despite posting a higher GDP than places like South Africa. This would be an interesting section.
It was certainly a busy and manic place, the most populous country in Africa with 162 million was perpetual motion, that is when you aren't being stopped by traffic police anyway. As if traversing along bumpy, dusty, potholed roads wasn't bad enough we were stopped and checked incessantly, the real police wanted to check passports, documents and the truck but this was at least done with smiling faces and to foil Boko Haram so it was understandable. However, there were
also many fake traffic police, guys who had bought themselves an orange vest, knocked up a fake certificate and stopped traffic by deploying sticks with nails through them. They would then try to impart some money from you for any range of misdemeanours or made up taxable items such as sewage tax, waste management, TV licence, being white or for driving in flip flops. One particularly drunk 'official' took our yellow fever certificates and refused to return them forcing us to literally snatch them and run. Sadly all these money makers didn't account for the bloody minded tenacity of our guide and driver who refused to ever pay, sometimes leading to lengthy stand offs and heated arguments until either passing locals would intervene on our behalf or we would drive back to a police station to get them to escort us, once we simply blocked the road with our truck and blared the horn until they gave up. It was all a game and at times good entertainment but could also be wearing, in one period we were stopped 60 times in 6 days and the record was 19 times in one day! There were many a long drive day
as we traversed some huge areas and at times it got so desperate people resorted to reading 50 shades of grey.
We travelled through the centre of the country so pretty much split the North/South divide that exists, Nigeria is almost two countries as the top half is Islamic and the South is Christian, mainly as a result of colonialism. Thankfully we avoided the largest city in Africa that is Lagos with its 25 million people and instead saw the more rural way of life in the smaller villages and cities like Lokoja
, marvelled at the bush taxis crammed with people and produce or the roadside guys selling freshly caught rats and envied the locals bathing and cooling down in rivers as we bounded past. We only made two main stops of more than a day, the first at Afi mountain drill ranch
near the Cameroonian border where we slept in the middle of the rainforest-after paying off the local chief with beer of course-and also visited an organisation that rescues chimps, drill monkey and mandrills. We finally relaxed and recapped on street food, laundry, air con and Wifi at the oil port of Calabar
but did find the
time to visit the drab marina and it's limp museums. The 11 days spent in Nigeria gave a good insight into the country overall and I found the majority of its people friendly and it felt pretty safe generally too (although admittedly Boko Haram did bomb a Cameroonian market whilst we were travelling through). I enjoyed Nigeria and its loud people but the taste of corruption leaves a sour taste, it seems to me in that if it's not Europeans taking advantage of Africa then it's their own kind doing all the screwing over. Climbing in Cameroon
Crossing the border into Cameroon brought its own range of dodgy tax collectors although they at least had some novel new tactics such as wanting to fine us for the steering wheel being on the wrong side ( it is a UK truck). Although I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as they are repeatedly shamed as being in the top 10 of most corrupt countries in the world, plus they speak French, so that says it all really. They did at least have good roads and infrastructure as newly tarmaced roads swept ungracefully through thick green forests, although I'm not
sure where the 20 million population were hiding as we hardly passed a soul on some days. It was also the start of the sweltering humidity as we headed towards the equator, some days this reached 100%!w(MISSING)hich is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds to sleep in.
Eventually we reached the coast at Limbe
where for 5 days we had the chance to do some rest and relaxation or visit the gorillas and monkeys in the nearby centre. For other idiots like me it was a chance to climb Mount Cameroon
in 2 days, all 4100 metres of it and a right royal bitch she was too. The difficulty came in the large change in altitude in a short period of time, some 3000 metres in 2 days, plus the steepness of the gradient and the terrain itself which was mainly ash or burnt shrubbery from a recent fire. After 6 hours of a perpetual step climb we reached Hut 2 and slept deeply despite being crammed 3 to a tent. Not many hours later we awoke at 4am to fuel ourselves with 2minute noodles and baked beans before ascending a further 4 hours in darkness to
the summit. The climax itself was a slight letdown due to cloud cover and we only stayed briefly thanks to a blustering wind before beginning what was to be a further 8 hours descent back to the start. This was even more Tourette's inducing and definitely more treacherous and it took full concentration to not go tumbling or slipping down the ashy slopes. Overall I'm undecided on the worthiness of Mount Cameroon as I felt the views walking up and the summit lacked the views or sense of achievement of Kili or Machu Pichu. What's clear is that it is most definitely tough, my legs have never ached more than after this climb and it took me a full 4-5 days to recover properly. A brief relax at a beach in beautiful Kribi
and sojourn in the uninspiring capital Yaounde
(although admittedly their patisseries were delicious) aside and that was Cameroon complete in 7 days. Gabon
Ok who's ever really heard of Gabon, let alone been? Me neither. But this small country with its mere 1.6 million population was a financially stable and thriving pocket of green sitting right on the equator, with the rain forests and rain
to match. Bumpy roads traversed through stunning scenery, monkeys swung from trees and mist clung to mountain tops. Some 10%!o(MISSING)f the country is dedicated to national parks and contain animals such as elephants and gorillas to name but a few and it's a teeming little paradise, it's just a shame it's French. We bush camped right through the heart of Gabon with the main stop off being Lope National Park
for a safari, although the 3 hour game drive only yielded a few elephants and some buffalo but the scenery and landscape was certainly worth admiring. We also crossed the equator which in true African style was indicated by a truly dilapidated and sorry looking sign alongside the skid marks of a road traffic accident. It's a shame Gabon it is little visited, but an undeveloped tourism industry and poor infrastructure makes moving around to see these delights pretty tricky, perhaps they just want to keep the beauty for themselves. Getting stuck in (Republic of the) Congo.
The Congo is a vast green country full of jungles, forests and gorillas, a huge snake like river carving through it and the people as traditional as they come. But
we sadly only travelled through a thin slither on the West side and instead got to experience the dire combination that bad roads and bad weather can create. We only managed to travel 4kms into the country before we found ourselves stuck fast.
The roads were muddy enough as it was so a torrential downpour and lightning show the night before did us no favours as we slipped to a halt trying to round a corner. What transpired was 7 hours of digging, chainsawing, bailing out, rock smashing, carrying, slithering, scraping, blood, sweat, tears and swearing as we battled to dig the truck out by night fall. At the height of our crisis we tried a range of plans including sending a couple of our group off with some locals to try and find help in a nearby village (where they found a Chinese logging firm) and even hailed down passing vehicles and asked them to tow us out, but 2 different behemoth trucks tried and failed to pull us out, in fact if anything they made the situation worse as the hole we were stuck in now resembled a ditch and had the truck listing at inconceivable angles.
Other cars tried to go around and got stuck as well, passing locals tried to help us dig, we altered the landscape by chopping down trees to use as traction and caked ourselves in the mud to stave off sunburn, eventually inch by inch we freed ourselves. Ironically the Chinese cavalry arrived in the shape of a huge Caterpillar truck rounding the corner literally minutes after we had escaped, but we still needed them to pull us back to the main road. You know you are relieved to have escaped-or perhaps that you have been overlanding for too long-when you then choose to lie in the middle of the highway and wash yourself in a puddle in order to get clean-what the locals made of 20 whities staggering from the truck like a scene from Thriller I don't know. Looking back now it was a great experience, but if I hear that Toto song I won't be blessing rains down in Africa, I'll be strangling someone, sadly all our cameras were stuck on the truck so no pictures remain of this experience.
Further fun followed when we had to wake up at 4am and drive under the cover of
darkness in order to pass through a couple of checkpoints before they woke up, it seems the police here are corrupt and ask for bribes-but only if they can have a lie in first. Feeling smug and content we drove on into the centre of Point Noire
-unwittingly knowing it was a few days before the general election so students were protesting, over a corrupt leader, civil wars and living on $2 a day so there was a heavily armed army presence, the weather was scorching, the streets jammed and the tension was palpable-so we drove through the middle of it. Congo has experienced a resurgence of kinds and is moving in the right direction and what I saw of the green and pleasant country I liked, it was good to visit another place that sees very few visitors and hopefully in the years to come Congo can sort its act out and further travel can be done through this intriguing country. Ignoring FCO warnings in the DRC & Angola (Cabinda)
Conversely, we should have known the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Angola were going to be interesting when our tour leader made us sign release forms to
enter. The FCO
(who advise Brits on which countries it is safe to travel to) declared the DRC a 'red zone' due to 'bandits operating' and thus I had to sign my life away and promise not to sue should someone decapitate me or sell us to ISIS. Decades of civil war, as well as falling out with the majority of their neighbours at various times has made a lot of the country a no-go zone and hugely unstable, trouble can erupt at any time and rebel groups such as M23 still operate. Meanwhile a tiny patch of land sits between the 2 Congos known as Mini Angola or 'Angola Cabinda', which is separated geographically from mainland Angola and considers itself a separate country, they therefore have their own rebel groups roaming the countryside fighting for independence and this once again meant signing our right to blame anyone should things go wrong. We therefore spent the next 4 days jumping at there mere sound of a car door slamming, or maybe that was just me.
Thankfully Mini Angola passed without incident but the DRC was a slightly different affair, it is the second biggest country in Africa but with
possibly the biggest sob story to tell and perhaps this partly explains the nature of the people. The rot started when King Leopold of Belgium first raped and pillaged the country and continued in modern times when a despot named Mobuto took charge and ruled through the standard African mantra of corruption and oppression, and not content with that the Congo then started 'Africa's first world war' in 1998. The end result was a country with no schools or hospitals until the early 90s, and the largest UN presence in the world currently trying to keep the peace, life expectancy currently stands at 47 for males and 75% live below the poverty line. It means that a beautiful land of rain forests, volcanoes and gorillas in the East of the country is unreachable, locals miss out on the income from tourists and we miss out on the chance to experience the beauty. Those people we did encounter were pretty aggressive and insinuated to us in all manner of ways to leave the country, although often they seemed to mistake us for Chinese who are the only 'Westerners' they see when they come to build roads/plunder resources. Most people asked for
Local mining for salt
money or food as a means of starting conversation, bribes were attempted on road blocks and even the army looked poorly equipped and asked us for food as we passed. The attitude is perhaps understandable due to the poverty but the begging, aggression, roads, greenery, heat, mosquitoes and FCO warnings are my abiding memories of the country. Although it definitely had a frenetic charm and atmosphere all of its own, if you want a truly rough and ready African country that is pretty much untouched by western ways then the DRC is the one for you. Angola
Angola was a surprise for different reasons, my only knowledge of it was of that in the not too distant past there was a pretty bloody war and so I envisaged a damaged and dangerous country that we'd have to be careful in. However, Angola is replete with oil and diamonds so the roads were smooth, the cars large and the cities expensive-in fact the capital Luanda
is reputed to be the most expensive city in the world for expats, that and the other large cities such as Lubango
could have been anywhere in the Western world with their Ikeas, KFCs,
high rise buildings, universities and expensive housing. It was that nice I didn't even feel guilty about stealing napkins from the fast food chains to use as toilet paper in the bush. The city got its revenge though in the shape of a truly horrendous haircut, my luscious locks removed to leave me looking like a refugee. As with all of Africa there is a definitive disparity between these cities and the poorer villages, and apparently the country could be thriving even more if it weren't for the usual corruption that exists, but my lasting impressions are of a pretty well off country and friendly people.
Perhaps it lacks some big name attractions to lure tourists but it did have some highlights in the South, mainly in the shape of well placed look outs that made for stunning bush camps such as the Serra de Lebe
which afforded a beautiful sunset over a rocky red coastline. The Mirador De Lua
was a beautiful stretch of mountain chain with a road that zig zagged through beautiful rugged scenery which eventually led us to an area called the Tundavala
which itself afforded great views of the landscape and we camped amongst
its mist covered mountains. They even have their own Christ the redeemer (called Cristo Rei
) which we camped underneath and this novelty compensated for its diminutive stature. We did manage to find one tank near the border and a company that was undertaking land mine clearing which hinted at its past but overall Angola was more in line with Southern African countries like Namibia and certainly not what I'd class as West Africa. In fact more than a few of those we have passed through could learn from Angola's post independence, post civil war recovery. Namibia
I have visited Namibia previously and it will stun you to know that I covered it pretty extensively so I'll just give the brief notes this time around. We first visited Etosha National Park
, a large dust bowl of a safari that means there are some good watering holes that the animals cluster around and for anyone keeping score it features fairly highly on my lists of places to safari: the Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater always wins, followed by the Masai Mara, Chobe National Park and then it's Etosha as it's a good bet to see a wide variety of animals. This 2 day trip yielded lions, both type of rhinos, elephants, giraffes and all those other boring vegetarian types. Next up we drove through the Damaraland
region full of table mountain style plateaus and stopped at Twyfelfontein
which is a Unesco heritage site of some 2500 rock carvings allegedly dating back to 4000BC. The barren Skeleton Coast
followed with its bitingly cold winds and sandy highways where we passed through dunes and alongside the shipwrecks which give this area it's name. A mention must also be made of the sky when camping in the outback of Namibia and indeed all along the West Coast, away from cities and pollution the sky's are clear and carpeted with stars, constellations and shooting stars, you could waste a lifetime staring up into space here. The desert coastline led us to quirky German Swakopmund
where the usual array of adventure activities such as quad biking and sand boarding took place. We spent 4 days here eating in nice restaurants and getting revenge on the boring veggie Etosha lot by eating as much game meat such as oryx and zebra as we could stomach. The capital Windhoek was pretty modern and pretty Western looking and therefore pretty dull overall. Finally we stopped at Orange River, the natural border between Namibia and South Africa, and after 16 days we left Namibia for the final country. South Africa
I have also previously travelled and described South Africa so will spare you the gory details, but once again I discovered a very manly appetite for Rosé wine in the Cederberg
region, checked out cute but smelly penguins at Betty's Bay
, visited the most southern point in Africa at Cape Aguhulus
and enjoyed the beautifully lazy seaside town of Hermanus
but sadly the whales weren't in season. The great white sharks in Gansbie
definitely were though so I decided to pop in a cage again and try to rub noses with some but none of the 6 we saw seemed to fancy it, must be my intimidating stare. The tour ended in Cape Town
where a lot of the group disbanded and so sad farewells were made, whilst others recharged the batteries before starting the second 20 week leg to Cairo. The journey
And so some 90 days and 12 countries later my trip came to an end and we experienced so much it is difficult to summarise easily. The corruption, despotic leaders and exploitation of the weak by others while the West looks on means this area can only ever move so far, it is tantalising to think just what this continent would have become if colonialism had not thrown Africa off its natural course of development and it seems it is still recovering from this. Although it wasn't the total 3rd world archetypal poor Africa you see on TV with everyone dying of starvation; obviously the way of life is different and far removed from the decadence of the first world but everyone was clothed, happy and as far as I could tell content as they live off the land and children find happiness as it should be as they play outside with simple items and not glued to technology. Different religions coexist side by side and ultimately seem united against evils such as Boko Haram who look to divide them, although I wish more money was spent on viruses like malaria which can be fixed with tablets costing $2 or a mosquito net rather than on churches. Looking back it is difficult to pick out any highlights from West Africa, there is no stand out Serengeti or Victoria Falls and no post card picture moment. But in essence that is exactly why you should travel West Africa, it is the hard kilometres gained, the way of life so different to our own, the look on faces as they see Westerners for maybe the first time, the daily assault to your senses and the opportunity to traverse the countries that you only know about through FCO warnings and lurid headlines. It was the journey and not the destination that evoked a sense of wanderlust that was impossible not to be captivated by.
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