Safaritalk: Africa in a Beetle

Interview with

Tumbledown house in Bosnia and Herzegovina What pushed you to travel as a freelance journalist?

I have been living in Egypt with my family for a year back in 1979/80, so traveling was a part of my life from very early on. I was involved with some type of journalism ever since I was 12.

After doing my A-levels, I was offered a job at a regional radio station here in Switzerland. There, I also took care of the weekly travel show; so I also developped a professional interest for travels and destinations.
In between jobs and before starting to study international relations here at the Graduate

Institute of International Studies in Geneva  (Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales), I decided to set off for longer periods of time, usually three month in one place or region.

Initially, I didn’t have the idea to actually combine travelling and journalism.
Then I inquired with some newspapers and magazines, and since I was already involved in journalism, they liked the idea to publish something about areas where they are never invited to. So gradually the idea became reality: Traveling to less-known regions with few travelers and travel journalists around, and actually paying for the trip afterwards with hopefully lively reports and (also hopefully) good pictures.

So that’s how I started to go to places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Zambia.
But I have to emphasize that the main thing is not the report, but the trip. Even if I couldn’t publish anything, I would still travel. For me traveling to less developed or otherwise special places is a part of life that I would never give away. The fact that I can share it with others makes it even more worthwhile.

You seem particularly appealed by African, Asian and East European countries. Why those countries? Was it a personal choice or a random one?

Part of both. When I choose a destination, there are of course reasons of money and practicability that I have to take into account. But the main thing is that I would like to discover places less spoiled by tar roads and TV than others. My experience is that the worse the access, the more fresh and natural people (and nature) are.

To sit on a bamboo toilet in the tropical forest of Laos where the pigs are waiting to recycle your biological waste; to meet the Lozi people who clap their hands to great each other in Western Zambia; to talk to a fighter pilot of the former South Vietnamese Army; to be in a Buddhist monestary in Cambodia; or to sleep in a tent out in the wilderness of Botswana where you hear the Lions roaming at night…

Those are all wonderful, unique, undescribable experiences that are very different to have in places where Visa cards and air condition busses are already common.

So part of it is certainly a choice, a choice also, unfortunately, to go to these places before they are permanently destroyed by the arrival of the US $, the Euro, and the Yen.

Another part of it was “coincidence”, as they call it. I was never interested in the Mekong region (the former French Indochina) before my father started to work for the Swiss government as director of a develoipment program in Ho Chi Minh City. I quickly became fond of this fast-changing region, and I will always return to it to follow developments.

That may be another constant throughout the very different places I’ve been to: they are all changing.

I went through all of Eastern Europe just after it decided to use its new freedom to go for a market economy and a representative government. There was still enthousiasm in the air.

One year after the first democratic elections in South Africa, Sandra and me set foot on that wonderful country. Then, there was a lot of talk of the “New South Africa”, something we rarely heard two years later..


In Asia, Vietnam is on its way to become another Asian tiger with its 80 million inhabitants, Laos was almost completely closed to the outside world until 1989, and Cambodia went through a lot of troubles during my two visits there (1997, 1998) and is more stable now than at any time since 1970.

The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have seen war and destruction in Europe, and now find it harder to reconciliate than most.

To see these changes at close hand, to talk directly to the people, is a memorable experience.
At the same time it makes me sad to see how materialism is reaching the last ends of this world.

 Scuba diving in Lake Malawi After such outstanding travelling experiences, what do you think you’ve learned?

The most important things are those that I have learned about myself.

If you talk to a crying elderly man who has lost everything except his life in the war in Bosnia, if you are in an empty pharmacy in Zambia, or in a poor village in Mozambique, you put your own little problems in perspective.

I have learned how I react under extreme circumstances such as gunfire, disease, and being confronted to poverty. I also learned to enjoy moments.

And this may sound strange to some readers,but I have also become much more spiritual.

“God created a wonderful paradise right here on Earth”, I wrote in my diary when I sat alone at a huge waterfall in Bou Sra, Cambodia, in the middle of the jungle.

The second thing that I’ve learned is about others. The two most important lessons are probably: We are all different; and we are all the same.
While singing Karaoke with a generator-powered juke box, a Cambodian boy showed me that he was much happier than me despite his 30$/month salary and his much increased likelyhood to die of malaria.

In Africa, there is never need for a special occasion (or one is invented fast) to sing and to dance, and even in poverty-striven Mozambique, people can give you a more natural smile than they do in France and Switzerland.
Other than the many discussions I have had with locals, I also enjoyed meeting other (strange/interesting) travelers at the (strange/interesting) places I went to.

The third thing that I have learned are just the “facts”, the “sightseeings” – which are nice, but become ever less important for me.
Where there is nothing to see and nothing to do, that’s where I have seen and experienced most.

Which one of the countries you have visited it’s been the most significant for you and why?

That’s the most frequent question I have to answer and also the most difficult. People normally push me for an answer, and the names of the countries vary according to my mood and what comes to my mind. Right now, I probably have to answer: Cambodia.

When I first went there in 1997, it was still very dangerous to travel outside Phnom Penh, Siem Reap/Angkor, and Kompong Som/Sihanoukville.

I witnessed the first pre-coup fighting before the coup in 1997
and felt that I had to return the year after. Then, I had the chance to work as an international election observer, which made my three-month stay (just in Cambodia) even more interesting.

Trekking through the cambodian forest

After the elections, I traveled to a lot of provinces where guide books were only in the making. Imagine taking an airplane to a place called Mondulkiri somewhere in the forest where not even the provincial capital has electricity and you just don’t know what to expect.

You step out of the plane onto the dirt road and wonder if there is a place to stay. You don’t order a specific type of food, you just order “food” there, because all depends what’s in the market today. You hire an elephant and treck through the forest. After the elephant has walked through two or three rivers, the guide asks you to give a sacrifice for the spirits of the jungle. Of course you also get this in Thailand, but here it’s real.

The special thing about my “90 Days in Cambodia” was probably that I went to many places which have only become accessible a very short time before I went there. That even includes the Khmer Rouge semi-autonomous province of Pailin, where you can play roulette with former Communist guerillas who have AK 47s on their backs.

Today, everything is already written down and more travelers are streaming into Cambodia. But for me, it had a bit of an exploration – both outside and inside me.

Who’s the most amazing person you have met ever since you’re travelling?

There were hundreds, including the personal secretary of Pol Pot and the Prime Minister of Barotseland (Western Zambia), but two people stand out:

One is a man I have met in the most distant corner of Cambodia. He was imprisoned by the Vietnamese-friendly regime that had toppled the Khmer Rouge. For eight years, he suffered from malnutrition and maltreatment on a daily basis. In general, there is a lot of xenophobia in Cambodia against the Vietnamese.

This man probably had even more reason to be xenophobic because of his prison experience. But after this humilation, he decided to dedicate his work to human rights.

He now works in a distant province – away from his family, which he sees very rarely – to educate people about their rights, independently of their nationalty. An American human rights organization pays his 150$/month salary.

Asked if he never thought of revenge against the Vietnamese, he said no, that is the past, we have to let it go. If it has something to do with him being Buddhist, I don’t know. And I don’t care.
Because this man is a hero for me no matter what his religion is. He inspired me and brought tears in my eyes when he described his sufferings.

With a bunch of friends in Vietnam

Another person I have met will stay in my mind because he drove the only other car up to the Livingstonia Mission in Malawi, at 2000 m altitude.
His Landrover was equipped like a car on an expedition.

Our VW Beetle from 1974 followed him on the dangerous curves up to the mission. In the evening, I asked the 50-year old British if he was a tourist. He was first reluctant to give an answer and reflected for a few seconds about the question. “I am definately not a tourist”, he said, “I would say, I live in this landrover”.

He has been traveling for the last five or six years all over Africa, without getting once malaria and without getting once killed in Algeria’s or Liberia’s civil wars. The money keeps flowing from the 50% of his company in Britain; his son owns the other 50%…

He wanted to get away from it all, and if you think that I have a lot of experience, think again, this guy has more true exciting stories to tell you than any other person I have met. At the same time, he didn’t get “backpackedized” but remained a “normal”, clean, friendly human being.

Children in Johannesburg
Which is your best and worst experience while travelling?

This shows why I wanted to become a journalist: It’s much easier to pose questions than to answer them 🙂
So here I go, with the same reservations that I’ve made above.

Best experience: Driving a VW Beetle through the potholes and sands of Africa.
Being observed by hundrets of children and adults everywhere you pass.
Digging the sand out and overtaking a Landrover stuck in the sand.
Listening to Kenny Rodgers “The Gambler” over and over again.

Talking to a car that you become to love because it takes you 11’598 km through Southern Africa.

Worst experience
: Talking to war veterans in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Almost every man who was not a refugee is one. I got very tired of these hero’s stories everyone likes to tell.
What is a hero’s story for one person is a horror story for another.
Guess what: Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the few places in the Western world where women don’t like men with uniform.
What kind of advice would you give to anyone wishing to make his/her way to a rather politically unstable country?

First of all, if you would like to go for the thrill of danger, go somewhere else. The US has a lot of theme parks. A bullet in your head is extremely bad for your health.
I met a German traveler who went with his motorbike through Zaire in November 1996, when government and rebel troups were approaching from both sides. He already knew about the danger when he entered the country, and was only saved through an air evacuation – and with a lot of luck.

So my first advice is: Don’t try to be “cool” or a hero. An American tourist who had just arrived in Phnom Penh was stunned about all the military presence on the streets – he has not heard about the elections…

Second advice: Don’t go if you don’t know anything about it. Read a lot of historical, political, and cultural books about the place. Follow the news. Go through reliable internet sources and directly write to people inside the country to ask them about the current situation.

And my third advice is to keep your eyes open when you are there and follow the advice of other foreigners. Last, but not least: There are many misconceptions about security. First, relatively safe places are considered unsafe just because of their name, i.e. Mozambique; and vice-versa, i.e. parts of the United States of America. Secondly, both in “safe” and “unsafe” countries, the real dangers are often ignored.
The event leading to your death in a developing country is most likely a traffic accident or an HIV infection, not a landmine or bad food.

  At a shooting range in Cambodia
What are you planning to do next year once you get your degree on International Relations?

I am open for any offer 🙂
Responsible journalism is what I am trying to get ready for (and trying to do, as far as possible), for example as a foreign correspondent or a freelance writer for a major organization.

But I said at a certain point in my life that I would like to be a positive factor for other people’s lives.

Journalism has some limits when it comes to ethic considerations. I have been very fortunate in my life so far, even no I went through a lot of crisis.

The fact of the matter remains that I am part of the priviledged minority of this planet. So development programs or NGO work would be another option.
But I will see what destiny (God?) has in mind for me. So far, I was guided in my choices by my inner voice.

I am convinced that a person with good will will approach me at the right time.

What I hope is that whatever I will do has a real meaning for other people and me, and that I will be able to live out my creativity.

A little boy in Mostar
You have mentioned before the spiritual aspect of your travels. Do you have something like a motto, a conclusion?

Memento mori – it’s a latin expression difficult to translate. Consider death, see everything in the light of death.
For me it also means: See everything you do from the point of view of your last minute. Some things become more important, others less.

Africa in a Beetle

We were in a National Park half the size of Switzerland. We met a culture where people clap their hands to greet each other. We dived in between coral reefs that are some of the most beautiful in the world. But the guiding thread of our 1997 journey through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique was the mode of transport: a VW Beetle a.d. 1974. This is the story that made it three million times into newspapers, magazines and radio stations: Africa in a Beetle.

Randburg, South Africa, 0 kms. It’s green, just reconditioned and has nearly our age. A forest green 1974 VW Beetle shines inside the workshop. On that first day Africa has us back we have already  looked at many cars. There are no motorways where we want to go, or they are undeserving their name. The choice boils down to: old, unreliable and cheap (old pickup); old, unreliable and expensive (old four-wheel-drive); or new, reliable and expensive (everything else). In the end we go for old, reliable and pricewise somewhere in the middle: a Volkswagen 1600 (Beetle), 1974 model, reconditioned 1997, changes hands for 6,400 Swiss francs. We are told it is light (good for sandy roads), air-cooled, with back mounted engine as well as benefitting from rear wheel drive (also good for sand), and it is an unlikely highjacking target. Thanks to our friends Ken and Angela  Self who live in South Africa the administrative challenges (currency, insurance, road worthy test) are solved within two days.
Then the Beetle goes north. In it, spares, camping equipment and two young Swiss who have just purchased their very first car. An idea that is as mad as it is spontanious becomes reality: Africa in a Beetle.
Lion in Hwange National Park
Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, 672 kms. We are on our way to the ‘real Africa’, off the beaten tourist track. We have just crossed the Limpopo and have thus entered Zimbabwe. The border looks like chaos, but within an hour we are on the other side.
Main Camp, Zimbabwe, 1557 kms. Near the entrance to the Hwange National Park we are greeted by a sign: ‘Give way to elephants’. Welcome to Africa!
Even on the way to the inexpensive Main Camp we meet elephants and giraffes. In the evening dances are performed by the park’s own primary school which we are going to visit the next day. In the whole of Zimbabwe ecology is on the curriculum from class one.
Giraffe in Hwange National ParkThe next day: the biggest (125 kms) and so far best game drive we’ve had. At around 9.50 am, a time when few animals are to be seen because of the heat, we come across four obstructions on the road. Are they tree trunks, the kind of thing we will have to move out of the way frequently from now on? No, they are three male and one female lion lying peacefully on the dirt road. The magnificent cats do not seem to feel disturbed by our presence – and we are the only ones that could disturb them. Later an elephant literally crosses our path.
View from Sinamatella CampSinamatella Camp, Zimbabwe, 1773 kms. From this fantastic camp we can see Africa as it was 150 years ago. A fantastic indescribable view – one of the best in Africa – gives the impression of total wilderness all around. For around 13,000 square kilometres that is indeed the case. For lunch we sit outside and watch squirrels drinking out of a water container labelled ‘animals only’.
We have a close encounter with an elephant as we cross the bush early one morning on a ‘game walk’ accompanied by an armed ranger. We are actually  looking for the lion that was heard in the night. Instead we find the elephant. ‘He sees us, but he doesn’t smell us’, says the official. We don’t know what he means by that. But when the thick-skinned animal starts wagging its ears, we know. 3.5 tons (in comparison: the Beetle is 790 kgs) are coming rapidly our way. During out retreat to the back of a tree I quickly press the shutter again.
Charging elephantOne would wish an elephant would run over the bureaucrat in charge of  the organisation of the accommodation in the parks. If you haven’t booked in the Central Booking Office in Harare you have to queue up every day at 5 pm (an ideal time for game viewing) to find out if you still have a room the next day. Thanks to an unofficial (illegal) telephone call to Harare we beat the system pre-book the rest of our stay in Hwange..
Shumba Picnic Site, Zimbabwe, 1815 kms. A night in our tent at  Shumba Picnic Site. We are the only people for miles around. In the evening we have a barbecue, in the morning we are woken up by thousands of singing birds. We observe buffaloes, hippos, impalas and many elephants. ‘Buddy’ as we have now named our Beetle is still doing very well, even if we have acquired the first panel in in Bulawayo. The roads deteriorate.
A little preview of what's ahead of our Beetle; Hwange National Park near Nantwich Camp.Nantwich Camp, Zimbabwe, 2198 kms. In ‘Robin’s Camp’ you heat your own water on a woodburner. We just wanted to drive quickly through the Hwange Park; now we have been here ten days. Postcard Africa: acacias, then bush, then grass again… Fewer animals in this part of the park.
‘Nantwich’ then is the only camp without a fence. In the evening Sandra barbecues the buffalo meat we have bought from some hunters. As I am looking outside with my head lamp, I am spotting two eyes: a hyena is after the meat. We flee into the house, and it takes a while for our heartbeat to normalise…
Victoria Falls from an unusual perspectiveLivingstone, Zambia, 2324 kms. We are crossing one of the most spectacular border crossings in the world, a 111 meter bridge over the Zambezi. ‘You are now entering Zambia’ it says in the middle of the big viaduct. To our left the mighty Victoria falls thunder downhill, on our right some tourists try a bungee-jump. The Beetle glistens in the African sun. Livingstone is still a piece of real Africa, whereas Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side tries to be anything, just not  Africa. Bungee-jumping, Free Fall, River Rafting (two years ago, we were also on the adrenaline trip) – businesses owned by whites while the blacks have been driven away into the suburbs. Overnight stay at ‘Tatenda’, the only black tour operator in town, inexpensive and friendly. Don’t forget to say hello from Marcel and Sandra if you go there. Before we cross the border, we ask for the panel beater and the key master. The first one beats out the panel, or to be more exact, changes the shape of it, while the latter tells us we don’t actually need a new lock, the car would be safe, even in Zambia.
In Livingstone there is still something like a local population that greets us – like everywhere in Zambia- with exceptional friendliness. We spend the first night under a mosquito net on a tree platform. Another tree house, the so-called ‘lookout tree’ which offers a most unique view of the falls is in such a desolate state that even climbing up to it would be life-threatening.
View from Livingstone Island - that's where the mighty Vic Falls drop down more than 100 meters.For Sandra’s birthday we (I…) splash out on our most expensive lunch ever in the probably most bizarre place you can have lunch: on Livingstone Island, in the middle of Victoria Falls, only a few metres from where the Falls go down  more than a hundred metres. In the motorboat I am asking  the driver what he would do in case of an engine breakdown…’We often test the engine’ he says, ‘and it’s always worked so far’. On the island there is champagne a discretion.
By now we have decided we would travel to the remote Western  Zambia. ‘You’ll trash your car’, comments an arrogant employee of Jolly Boy’s Backpacker’s Lodge dryly. ‘You won’t get any further than Sesheke’. We will send him a postcard later on.
Wooden bridge in Western Zambia - to be checked on foot before crossing.Sesheke, Zambia, 2909 kms. Western Zambia is the first major challenge for our Beetle. With literally the last drop of petrol we reach the only service station for 300 kms, a BP service station. ‘This week we don’t have fuel’, a smiling youth is welcoming us, ’maybe next week’. ‘Maybe next week’ in Africa means: ‘definitely not next week either’. The only solution is the Caprivi strip in Namibia. We are driving to Namibia to buy petrol. At the border the first offer for the Beetle. No, we still need her. Back in Zambia the roads get progressively worse, first tar with the occasional pothole, then potholes with occasional tar, then only corrugated iron with occasional sandy gaps which remind us that we are moving towards a stretch of the Kalahari desert.
Somewhere in Western Zambia, 3020 kms. One of the sandy bits was our downfall: we’re stuck. Thanks to a beginner’s mistake of mine (I tried to reverse…) we are digging ourselves in deeper. It is 12 pm somewhere in western Zambia. To our east   the Zambezi, habitat for a few crocodiles and to be crossed by humans only by ferry, to our west, much, much more to the west, Angola. Vehicles hardly ever pass here. Merely irritating tsetse flies keep us company while we are trying  to dig out the car. Sandra develops a surprising amount of energy for digging. After a few hours we are as desert-coloured as the Beetle. At last help arrives. Ten rather lively Zambians carry the 790 kg vehicle back onto the bush road. I am so excited I even forget to take a photo.
Sandra developed an incredibly amount of energy digging out the Beetle in the Kalahari desert. I had to take a rest in the shadow first.... from where I took this photo that has been published almost three million times so far - to Sandra's great pleasure, of course.
We’re in high spirits now. From now on speed is the secret as soon as it gets sandy. Third gear, full throttle and the Beetle swims until the familiar corrugated iron shakes its bones again.
The legend. 
Maziba Bay, Zambia, 3042 kms. Our self-confidence is unshakeable now that we have passed five kilometres of fine sand without getting stuck even once and without hitting a single tree while negotiating a corner. The latter is a distinct possibility since the sand is so deep that the Beetle only reacts with a few seconds’ delay – much like a boat. Obviously sand gets into the pedals and the throttle stays down. The involuntary speed-governor is almost welcome: slowing down would almost certainly mean getting stuck again. Maybe we should not have listened to the Zambian up there who said ‘no problem’? The man probably only drives a bicycle. Sandra is covering her face with her hands at every corner. At the bottom of the hill the South-African co-owner Andre is greeting us with the unforgettable words: ’I have never seen a Volkswagen down here!’
A few nights in the tent, a trip to the Sioma Falls, a trip in a canoe as well as one in Andre’s ultralight aeroplane, driven with our reserve fuel. Good food, strange people (some of them racists) who live here almost as hermits.
In this remote area of Zambia the Zambezi still looks much the way it did when Livingstone was here. Only most of the animals have become extinct thanks to the poaching. Still, if it were not for the Victoria Falls 300 kms away the Sioma Falls would almost certainly be a big tourist attraction. This way we have them all to ourselves.
It can only be described as a miracle that we manage to get  up the said sand road again. Or maybe there is much truth in the Beetle legend.
Sioma Mission 
Sioma, Zambia, 3048 kms. Sioma’s secondary school is being built for ten years, for the last two years without any visible progress. Empty promises from the Government. Even more serious is the situation in the mission hospital: not enough drugs for the number one killer, malaria. The rooms look like you would get sick here not better. We leave our spare pack of ‘Lariam’ in the hospital. ‘God bless you’ says the Italian sister as we are leaving.
Restaurant without drinks in Sioma, Western Zambia.The fact that there is nothing to drink in the ‘restaurant’ seems a mere trifle. A trifle not without cause as we are about to discover for ourselves: the main supply line has been interrupted.
Kalongola Ferry Point, Zambia, 3135 kms. A suspicously large number of vehicles are waiting for the ferry, the only way back to civilisation. They have been waiting for three days. Once again the ferry has broken down and is being repaired with all the enthusiasm of a school detention. There is overtime pay to be had at the weekend so why not use the whole weekend? Spare parts are being transported by canoe to and fro. Most the stranded would have something urgent to do on the other side. We, on the other side,   keep our composure, pitch our tent and buy two live chickens for supper.

Just imagine there was something to buy at the ferry point where we are stuck.

Mongu, Zambia, 3278 kms. The story so far: In Senega, on the other side of the ferry we meet with the nephew of the Prime Minister of Barotseland (West Zambia), which had been independent until 1964. The king (Litunga) and his Prime Minister still exercise power mainly based on old customs and sort out many local matters. The nephew asks us – since we are going north anyway – to take a present to his uncle: six coca-cola bottles and a personal letter.
Market in Mongu.The story: We are being shipped by canoe from Mongu, the ‘centre’ of West Zambia to one of the two capitals, Lealui. It is the capital that the king resides in during the dry season. After more than three hours in the canoe and a hike of about one and a half kilometres we arrive at a few huts. Is this supposed to be the capital? Our two Zambian boatsmen don’t know where to put themselves for pride and awe. As everywhere in Western Zambia the Lozi clap hands for a greeting and we show our respect by clapping too.
Timidly we ask for the prime minister. We are being shown to a concrete building where about ten elderly people are holding a court of law. In the middle are sitting  two people who have a disagreement (for example about land ownership). They have sometimes travelled here on foot for several days. In order not to disturb the proceedings we simply join the queue until we are seated on those two chairs surrounded by the eldest in Lealui, Zambia.
‘What is your mission?’, one of them asks, surprised to see two whites here. I am telling him that we have a present and a letter and only the best of intentions. While I am saying this I try to look at everyone at the same time because I don’t want them to know that I don’t even know which one the prime minister is.
Maxwell Mututwa, the Litunga's Prime Minister, in his house.He makes himself known: An old man, rather hard of hearing, asks me enthusiastically to give him the present. I am pulling  the cola bottles from the backpack. Now he is so full of joy that he cancels the rest of the hearings for today. He has two VIP’s from Switzerland, he announces.
As we walk through the ‘capital’ with the premier the people literally throw themselves onto the ground. And clap. We clap, too.
In his house there are luxury goods like a fridge. A photograph on the wall shows him at No. 10, Downing Street where he was once a guest in happier times. While he lectures us for several hours on the reasons why Barotseland must under all circumstances become independent again (we have to promise to petition our own prime minister in this matter), more people keep knocking and receive instructions from him. The situation becomes even more surreal as I suffer from diarrhoea and find myself forced to use the prime minister’s toilet twice – a hole in the ground. When I come back he tells us that president Chiluba called him yesterday. Some weeks later we read that the prime minister was in Singapore with the President.

Near Kaoma, Zambia, 3457 kms. Anti-poaching control. Do you have any firearms in the vehicle? Ammunition? A brief glance at our back seat – full of luggage, covered by our towels. Thank you, carry on, and as everywhere: ‘Thumbs up’.
Stuck in the sand again - in the middle of a national park with no people. 
Near Itezhi-Tezhi, Zambia, 4156 kms. ‘You want to drive that thing into the Park?’ enquires the envious owner of a Landrover. That is precisely what we want to do, drive into the Kafue National Park, half the size of Switzerland. With  fuel for 800 kms, food for four to five days and drinking water for the same amount of days we start this latest adventure. For several hundred kilometers everything goes well. In the north ‘Busanga Trails’ runs three excellent camps. During a single game drive we see no less than eight lions. The variety of antelopes is hard to describee. Only the elephant population has not recovered from the years of poaching. Never before have we seen so many hippos as here at ‘Hippo Pool’. Kafue is indeed the real, wild and romantic Africa.
In the deserted south of the park the back wheels are again stuck deep in sand. If we can manage these critical four kilometers we can manage the whole distance to ‘Nanzhila Plains’ we were told. Well, we didn’t manage. The National Park has the distinct disadvantage of lions, hyenas, and buffaloes running around as casually as your cat does in your living room. Theoretically it is not even allowed to leave your vehicle. Camping out in the wilds in Kafue National Park.
Practically we have not much hope of the TCS (Swiss breakdown service) passing by and therefore have to make plans. Collect firewood, camp outside, tomorrow I walk by myself, carefully of course… If I’m not back by four o’clock…It is an unpleasant situation, the only one (before our journey home)  that brings us very close to tears. We went too far. Apart from wild animals there are also poachers here that do not hesitate to shoot. Just when the Robinson Crusoe feeling was starting to take over we see a car! They are hunters – thank god no poachers. They help us, but we still have to spend the night in the bush. During toothbrushing our headlamps peer nervously out into the wild. Are those not two eyes?

Lusaka, Zambia, 4528 kms. Zambias capital seems a stronghold of civilisation with things liek showers (after a few days they even carry water) and supermarkets. We give our Beetle a break, too, and have a new horn fitted. An unnoticed pothole had muted the old one…
Market near Cairo road, Lusaka.During our stay in Lusaka we are neither robbed nor murdered, both of which had been prophesied to us. Even in the neighbourhood of the infamous Cairo Road we feel quite safe even though I might have second thoughts about asking the guys from the Soweto Market to babysit my little daughter. The private security guards in front of every shop in town deter even car thiefs.
We dive into Lusaka’s night-life with Jetty, a Zambian who works for an American AIDS project. It is dominated by the Zairan rumba – and of course ‘Mos’ -beer. More detailed memories escape us. The Zambians meet us with more friendliness, openness and warmth than we have found in any other African country so far. And these people more than make up for the poor infrastructure. We already know now that we will always remember them.
Only two big streets in Zambia...After stocking up on supplies we drive to the crossroads where the only two major roads of the entire country meet: the Great North Road and the Great East Road. We turn right.

Mfuwe, Zambia, 5808 kms. Some of the potholes on the Great East Road could have swallowed up our entire car without too much trouble. The state of the road is as up and down as my adrenaline levels during the journey. Sometimes it looks almost like a real road, so we accelerate, 70 kmph, even 80, after all, we would like to get there today, please, 90 kmph – then out of the blue a road section that reminds us of a bomb site or a moon landscape – hit the brakes!
On top of that, a bush fire helps to stop any boredom setting in. Seeing it licking across half of the road is a good moment to consider that we have 75 litres of spare fuel on board. And being surrounded by fire altogether only leaves one option: go for it! Passing through we feel the flames and keep the fire extinguisher ready.
Baby elephant in South Luangwa National Park.Change of scenery: Game viewing  in the South Luangwa National Park. Turning the engine off seems to startle the elephants every time, but they carry on chewing unimpressed when the vintage motor rattles loudly. Sometimes we can observe them close up, while making sure the car is in reverse gear just in case any of the beasts feelling disturbed after all…
Do YOU look better after weeks in the bush?The South Luangwa now has one of the highest densities of elephants in Africa. In other areas, too, the park can compete with all the important national parks. Herds of buffaloes two to three hundred strong are not uncommon. Lions and leopards, too, can be observed. While in South Africa you will find at least five cars around every lion, the reverse is sometimes the case. We can recommend particularily two activities:
Firstly, game walks. For several hours we walk through the bush led by two competent guides. We observe two lions trying to attack a buffalo but the buffalo drives them off with the help of his herd. We hold our breaths. As we drive back to the Wildlife Camp two tyres burst. Spare tyres we have, but not with us. An extended game walk.
Leopard on a night drive in South Luangwa National ParkSecondly, night drives: controversial but unforgettable. Powerful lights light up the night. A magnificent leopard lies on its back under a tree and seems entirely unperturbed by us. If you have your own car you should also visit the south of the Luangwa valley. It is very scenic and for observing wildlife it can easily compete with the central part of the valley.
The Wildlife Camp is more pleasant than the Flatdogs, but we are severely disappointed by the German owner, Anke, who cancels the promised drive to the practically deserted North Luangwa Park, we hear along the grapevine that she does not earn enough out of two people.
The 120 kilometer road from Chipata down to Mfuwe resembles a dead-end road  into the bush more than the road to one of the main attractions of the country. At times the gear jumps out at only 20 kmph, the road is so bumpy. On the way back we pass no less than four broken-down vehicles. Of course we ask if we could help. And yes, of course we are married but we are still working on the children.

Chipata, Zambia, 6061 kms. We are sad to be leaving Zambia soon. One last night at the camp site of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Chipata. In the bar in the evenings the local foreigners and the Zambian middle and upper classes meet. One man is from West Zambia and finds it hard to believe that we met the Prime Minister of Barotseland. As recently as last year, he insisted, we would have been shot only for showing up there. It turns out to be an inexpensive evening: The people here are so pleased with these two young Swiss  with their VW Beetle and their mad stories that the beer and food supply is ample without our help.

The friendliest border post of the world.The border into Malawi, 6079 kms. The Zambian side of the border (picture) is probably the friendliest border crossing in the whole of Africa. The Malawians, however, are less than enthusiastic about our arrival. It takes half a day before the precious visa stamps adorn our passports. No more visa at the border, you have to queue up for one in the capital Lilongwe. The official who bullied us there discharges us with the words: ’You will not like Malawi.’
In Lilongwe – where we visit among other things a tobacco auction hall – we discuss earnestly the option of dropping Mozambique and instead visit Zambia once more – we really miss it. The vote goes for Mozambique, just. Sandra does not feel well for the first time.

Forest Rest House, Malawi, 6606 kms. An unforgettable trip is neither ‘sight seeing’ nor luxury accomodation. It is Joseph, for example, the friendly caretaker of the Forest Rest House between Lilongwe and Mzuzu. The 38 year-old man provides accomodation (approximately US$ 3) that he could easily demand $ 100 for. A wonderful, tastefully furnished wooden house in the middle of the forest. The shower resembles a turkish bath. He learnt his trade from the British woman who previously owned the house. Whatever one’s attitude towards British colonial rule, this man clearly has style. He’s a fantastic cook and lights a fire for us in the evening. He simply treats us like royalty and assures us that God will make sure we will have children, as ‘He’s the boss’.

Livingstonia Mission, Malawi.Livingstonia Mission, Malawi, 6830 kms. At 2000 metres above sea level the British missionaries had found refuge from the malaria here. For us it means negotiating twenty horrible S-bends. At the top there is only one other car, a Landrover reminiscent of an expedition. It belongs to two drop-outs, Chris and Estelle. ‘I am definitely not a tourist’, Chris answers my question and them muses: ‘I live in this Landrover, I’d say.’ For more than six years by now. During this time he has been several times to all African countries except Sierra Leone, Angola, Lybia, Liberia and the Cape Verde Islands. He travelled completely on his own in the Landrover for a full year. He never caught malaria once and it was always others that got shot by the Tuareg in Algeria. Chris made the interesting observation that the first time he saw the Tuareg they were riding on camels – machine guns in their hands – guns and the second time they were already on motor bikes – still with machine guns in their hands. Oh yes, and if we have no hot water in Stone House (where the first missionaries used to sleep)  he would always have some in his bush shower. Chris and Estelle now want to get married, up on top of that mountain.
A  boy washes the car in exchange for the privilege of a ride. I drive him through Livingstonia and tell all his friends I am the new taxi driver. His familiy invite me for lunch. An opportunity for the numerous siblings of getting a good look at me.

Getting a glance at the foreigner in Livingstonia Mission.     


How can we dance when the earth is turning? How can we sleep when our tent is burning?Nyika Plateau, Malawi, 7028 kms. Horse-riding on the Nyika Plateau. And a last night in Zambia, without border controls, on the Zambian side of the plateau. There we accidentally cause a bush fire which destroys a quarter of our tent. ‘Let it burn’ is the reply of the fire police, having rushed here on their bicycles.

Nkhata Bay,Overloaded boat at Nkhata Bay, Malawi. Malawi, 7303 kms. Nice little town, nice beach at the big Malawi Lake, but we can’t quite warm to this country. Rather irritating are also the countless backpackers that steal their way through the country and display the most remarkable ignorance. One German backpacker for example tells us how he asks for everything to be put on his bill and then disappears from the hotel early in the morning. And well, this mission, it doesn’t really appeal to him that much. Dope (Malawi gold), beer and sex seem to be the main reasons for a visit to Malawi. The latter incidentally applies to women too. Despite an HIV rate of up to 80% there are shocking scenes to be witnessed on the beach. A 35 year-old woman in the arms of a 14 year-old boy. The first senses youthful stamina, the latter a lottery win.

Nhkotakota, Malawi, 7539 kms. Malawi may not represent the greatest of adventures but we still get surprises. Suddenly the sky turns black over Malawi Lake. Millions of seaflies are being blown inland by the wind – a remarkable spectacle of nature. The Malawi people wield baskets and turn the flies into a sort of pie. When the flies reach us they hail down onto our Beetle and thousands are stuck to her.
A little later hundreds of people are dancing happily on the streets. A village celebrates the successful circumcision of ten boys who can legitimately call them men now. The chief himself welcomes us and soon all the attention is diverted to this unusual round thing in the shape of a…beetle!
Everyone wants us to take their address as our number plate ‘BTL 886 GP’ stands not only for Beetle but also for Gauteng Province and that represents the dream of a better life in a big city.

Senga Bay, Malawi, 7635 kms. A roadblock. Insurance documents! Horn! Wipers (average rainy days in September: 0)! Neutral gear (for whatever)! And if we could possibly spare some salt, they are just cooking. One official asks me for ‘papers’. As I hand him the bundle of documents he says: ’Only two’. Which of the two, he doesn’t care.
On the way to Cape McClear 
Cape McClear, Malawi, 7843 kms. On the way to the tourist village of Cape McClear we cross a small river – and thus add another true story to the stock of stories to be related to the grandchildren..
Suddenly my travel partner Sandra runs a temperature of 40 degrees centigrade. The first doctor is absent, the second one a few kilometers down the road is not there at the moment. When will he be back? In six weeks… Another 80 kilometers further, a hospital. ‘You’ve got malaria’ – the lab assistant says, clearly bored.  Malaria is a daily business here in Malawi. Surprisingly, we get the drugs for free.
On the way back to Cape McClear the potholes are now demanding a sacrifice. It happens to be our clutch cable. Now ‘Herbie’ is out of the ballgame. Sandra is supposed to take the pills as soon as possible and rest afterwards. A four-wheel-drive full of British tourists stops. ‘Any problems?’ one of them wants to know. ‘Two’, I say, ‘the car is broken, and she’s got malaria.’
The diving course in Lake Malawi gave us Billharzia, but also some unforgettable experiences.They give Sandra a lift while I push the car with the help of one of the locals several kilometers to the nearest ‘bush mechanic’. He indeed fixes the problem within an hour. And thanks to early treatment Sandra is also better the next day. We continue our diving course at Lake Divers (PADI basic course $150 – very professional). The underwater world will become our hobby during the rest of the journey.
Traditional dancer 
Blantyre, Malawi, 8464 kms. On our way across the Zomba Plateau it rains – in the middle of the dry season. Sandra sees another doctor. Later we will learn that she caught Bilharzia. (Contrary to what the tourism industry wants to be true, Lake Malawi is not Bilharzia free.) And a dose of typhoid. We still decide to go ahead for Mozambique.

Tete, Mozambique, 8703 kms. The Malawi border official assumes we work for the Red Cross when he sees our red passports with the white cross on them. Apart from that the farewell is as friendly as the greeting three weeks earlier. But on the other side in Mozambique we evoke pleasure: ‘The year before last we had another Beetle here’ the friendly border official smiles at us and makes us feel that Mozambique is now just as safe as its neighbouring countries. We cross the Zambezi for the second time – we have come full circle.
Sometimes we could see out of no windowTo our great surprise we find brand new roads in Mozambique. They seem ghostly at times because they are so little used. At the first police control a smart officer all in white: ’7kmph over the speed limit – you can pay in Zim-Dollars, Malawi Kwacha or Meticais’ – we had bought cigarettes in the vain hope that they can be bribed…
Despite dire poverty the people greet us with incredible joy. Stopping in a village we are immediately surrounded by dozens of children and nearly as many adults and at times can’t even see out of our windows. Our lack of knowledge of Portuguese does little to help the communication but the people try very hard and are happy to have visitors again in their country that was destroyed by civil war.

On the way to Chimoio.Chimoio, Mozambique, 9096 kms. This town in the Harare – Beira corridor will be forever remembered by us as the ‘Coca-Cola town’. The lemonade manufacturer has put up a factory here to supply the young and the rich of North Mozambique with the sweetened water. Not only do they seem to employ half the town, they also appear to have bought half the town. From shop window to playground: ‘Drink Coca-Cola’. Very friendly people.
Something we would never have thought possible in our wildest dreams is perfectly normal here: We can walk back to our hotel on foot, through the back streets- in Mozambique!
Light tower in Beira, Mozambique. 
Beira, Mozambique, 9332 kms. The motorway to Beira looks just like in Switzerland – perfect. A romantic lighthouse near a shipwreck. In the restaurant we meet two very interesting people: a German who just crossed the whole of Africa on his motorbike and just happened to be in Zaire when everybody else was trying to leave the country and a Swiss drop-out, a former delegate of the ICRC who bought the golf club in Beira and turned it into a bar/disco/restaurant.

Vilancoulos, Mozambique, 9899 kms. We park the Beetle for a week and clear off to the islands of the Bazaruto National Park. It was not quite so easy. ‘Mr. Rex Mr. Rex’, everybody says as we ask how to travel to the Bazaruto Islands. Finally we find the villa of the American multi-millionaire who owns one of the islands. He happens to be on the island. We radio: ‘Magaruque Magaruque Magaruque Vilanculos’ – he’ll collect us by boat tomorrow, we hear him reply in German, Swiss German at that. He has travelled quite a bit himself actually… He also recommends that we should spend all our money on his island.
Spending money is not hard to do in the Bazaruto National Park. Even on the more reasonable island Magaruque we spend US$467 all told for two days (including boat transfer). Not enough, states Mr. Rex, disappointed that we are not staying longer. There would also be a tax for parking our car next to his villa. $5 per day. When I refuse to pay this sum later as it had not been agreed, his housekeeper locks me in his estate.
Bazaruto Island, Bazaruto National Park, MozambiqueApart from the western highway robbers that have a keen eye on our money the place is paradise. It looks as if the civil war never happened: phantastic beaches reaching for miles and not a soul to be seen apart from a few fishermen. What they cath decides what there is for dinner. A diving trip at Two Mile Reefs near Benguela will always stay in our memories as will the phantastic food at Bazaruto Lodge. Small wooden sailboats travel between the five islands and the mainland. Only the bill prevents us from staying longer.
Benguela Lodge is the best accomodation by far, very tasteful with baskets and other objects decorating the walls.
Their catch decides what is being served for dinner on the islands of Bazaruto National Park.Some two kilometers from the Lodge a former employee has staged a revolt against ‘big business’: accomodation for backpackers. He even resisted the offer of money in order to stop him from trading, he tells us. Travellers come by ‘dhow’ – sailboats instead of the speedboats and bring less money, but more time with them.
Never in the world have I seen such beautiful beaches as the ones in Bazaruto National Park.

Morrungulo, Mozambique, 10153 kms. We would love to come back to Mozambique to see the re-opened National Parks and above all the north of the country, still largely untouched by tourism. This time, though, we have no choice other than to follow the sea. But then quite honestly, there are worse places indeed to end a journey like this one.
At this point, the Beetle has become used to everything.The thirteen kilometres down to Morrungulo are lined with palm trees: a palm tree avenue. Morrungulo is more of a camp than a village. 40 kilometeres to the south and 20 to the north there is nothing but virgin beach. The water is rather wild, the atmosphere romantic. The only nuisance are South Africans who have bought four-wheel drive cars on credit and feel they have to show them off on the beach.
The best Peri Peri Chicken of the whole of Mozambique is for sale on the main road just past the turning for Morrungulo – and he has dozens of different beers in stock, too.
When there is no electricity, hand work can still make sure gasoline flows.... 
Barra, Mozambique, 10349 kms. Indescribable beaches here, too, indescribable underwater worlds, indescribable drives through Mozambique. The roads are very good but the pedestrians are a little reluctant to share the tarmac with the motorised traffic. For decades, they had ruled the roads. Very few vehicles, sometimes almost ghostly, colossal, a phantastic experience. In between times the starter cable comes loose, an old problem that we can fix ourselves by now: jack up on the right, take off back wheel, crawl underneath, reconnect dangling cable, and hey, the Beetle starts again…

Maputo, Mozambique, 10937 kms. The capital of Mozambique, once among the most beautiful cities in the world, is our last stop before returning to South Africa. A city, incidentally, which is full of Beetles! We join a 24 hour party called ‘Feira Popular’ and celebrate our adventure which we already know we will be the only ones to ever really understand.

Ad to sell the Beetle. Randburg, South Africa, 11598 kms. Three months and 1025 litres of petrol later we end up where we started. The now treasured Beetle has carried us across sand roads, potholes and creaking wooden bridges, and has even crossed a small river. Now we have to sell her, not without, it has to be said, shedding a small tear. She changes hands for 4600 Swiss Francs to an employee of the French embassy. Ken, who sold the car for us did not point out to the buyer where exactly she has been…

Text and photos: Marcel Stoessel

I would like to thank Ken and Angela Self, two exceptionally nice people who helped us to buy and sell the car and assisted us in many other ways.. „It’s so easy to give”, Ken said – and I am impressed to hear that in a world where egoism has definately taken over. I would also like to thank all black and white Africans – especially the Zambians – for the legendary hospitality they live up to.

Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika