“We must begin by acknowledging our vehicle – the Hilux was a great travel companion and an absolute dream to drive, taking us on vast open roads, through various border controls (which were all friendly, fast and easy with simple forms of entry and exit), past some of the most breathtaking sites, to local villages, shebeens, campsites, backpackers and all the way back home in one piece.
We are grateful (and surprised) that there was only one flat tyre throughout the journey, especially after sinking into the potholes that littered the worst roads ever imaginable in Zambia! Driving at night was hair-raising with lots of free-roaming animals and rural folk on unlit bicycles to look out for. It certainly wasn’t ideal and although the rally was not a race, we had to keep going to make up the distance and get to the next location.
It was only when we hit Malawi that we heard that the original route for all 60 teams taking part in the rally had to be changed due to a rebel uprising in Mozambique. We were disappointed not to be finishing in the beautiful coastal country of Mozambique, but rumours of tourist busses being shot at was enough for us to reroute without much hesitation. So instead of finishing in Mozambique, a contingency plan rerouted all teams to Botswana which also meant we could tick off another two countries, as none of the guys had ever been to Zimbabwe or Botswana.
Team Bookmark Africa are back on home soil having just completed the largest social rally of its kind in Africa.
We navigated ‘old school’ style, leaving our GPS devices at home, and relied on maps which we often spread across the bonnet of the car. It made the adventure more rewarding and got us out of the car, chatting and meeting the locals, who were all very accommodating and proud to show their countries off.
The walky-talkies between the team’s two cars worked brilliantly, inspiring a lot of hilarious route planning discussions, debates, and a lot of voting. It kept us entertained much of the way, as we clocked the kilometres. We became pros at setting up camp in the dark and felt blessed to get a decent night’s sleep to recoup and rebuild our energy to get back on the road.
There was a great show of international participants in this year’s rally and we got to know guys from Argentina, Netherlands and the United States at the infamous check point parties. Everyone, from the 70-year-old couple to the rowdy Stellenbosch students enjoyed festive meals and engaged in many discussions about their experiences along the way. Overriding observations of poverty and struggle were enhanced by the glaring reality of how far behind the rest of the world Africa really is. Many were impressed with the cities, their development, entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity for new business, but the forgotten outskirts just beyond them was the eye-opener, often leading to unanswered questions about the future of our continent.
In Team Bookmark Africa’s experience every country apart from Botswana saw locals running up to the cars asking for money with a sense of entitlement. Botswana was different - locals are educated and tourists do not get harassed because of the understanding that tourists bring money in that benefits locals. Here, they know they’re getting a piece of the pie so they are able to see the bigger picture.
Zambia was the worst! Double the price of South Africa and everyone is poor. We saw some entrepreneurs at the border, who have made their business by driving big vans with 25-litre plastic drums across to Namibia to fill up with petrol only to bring it back across the border to sell it at a profit.
There were so many highlights during our 18-day African adventure: the Fish River Canyon left us all speechless - its enormity literally takes your breath away. We drank sunset tequilas on the roof of our car surrounded by the beauty of the Etosha National Park. We felt the world move from the sheer power and intensity of the Zambezi Falls, as we crossed a bridge and got soaking wet. The adrenaline rush of white water rafting saw us topple through rapids and get sucked into the wildest waters, leaving us completely exhausted and feeling lucky to be alive. We kayaked on the flat, clear waters of Lake Malawi, snorkelled and swam among fresh water fish immersed in total tranquil beauty. We discovered so many places off the beaten track, and bought all the beer in one local shebeen which forced the shop owner to close for the rest of the day. We bought artwork, climbed a baobab tree and played pool in the local pubs. We met the chief of a local village just outside Livingstone where we slaughtered, skinned and cooked a goat for the whole village to feast on. The excitement and joy, especially from the children, will never be forgotten. We licked our fingers after that special meal - tummies and hearts full.
The rally organisers hit their target by raising over a million Rand which will be used to support a handful of charities and fund future shoe drops.
After such a rewarding rally we would visit every country again, because just when you think it can’t get any better, it does! We kicked off our shoes, lost complete track of time and disconnected with our everyday reality. We have returned from a full-on adventure with an enlightened perspective and stories to tell for lifetimes to come, but more than anything else, we each found our inner African spirit.”
To read more about Bookmark Africa’s Put Foot Rally Adventures, check out their blog: www.blog.bookmarkafrica.org