Walgren's Africa Trip Logs
The logs below are 21 letters written by Wesley Arthur Walgren over the period October 1972 through May of 1973. Wesley and his wife Vivian were in their early 70s when they began this trip with their friends the Cases. Wesley and Vivian were Annette's grandparents and I (Ed ) met them for the first time when they visited London at the beginning of their adventure. Annette and I had been married for about 18 months and had just finished a work contract in Libya. We worked in London for three months before heading to Houston, Texas in January of 1973.
The Walgren's trip was not the usual guided tour of African game parks. The Walgrens and Cases purchased Volkswagen campers and shipped with them to South Africa. Their intent was to drive across the African continent from south to north, crossing the Sahara desert to the North African coast. Wesley was a retired pharmacist and Gordon had retired from his pharmaceutical supply company. They were long time residents of San Diego, California and this was their first trip off the American continent.
letters had been "lost"
and were discovered a month ago
amongst moldering family
artifacts. The spelling and
punctuation is pretty much as the
original but the OCR software may
have inserted an l or a 1 instead
of an i". I tried to get most
Letter #1 The Hotel Loftleidir, Reykjavik, Iceland October 3, 1972
It hardly seems possible that we just left San Diego yesterday morning. We took off from San Diego International Airport at 8:45 a.m. and landed at Kennedy Airport in New York about 4 1/2 hours later. It was cloudy when we left I but climbed rapidly to 37,000 feet and soon came out above the clouds. It was certainly a beautiful sight looking down upon the snow white billowing clouds with the sun shining brightly upon them. It had the appearance of a vast, snow covered landscape with hills and valleys and bushes.
After a five hour wait at Kennedy Airport, we boarded an Icelandic Airways plane and five hour's later landed in Iceland. A 30-mile bus ride took us in to Reykjavik in time for breakfast. Being rather tired after the long trip, we rested until noon and then partook of a delicious Icelandic lunch - smorgasbord style.
After lunch we took an interesting guided tour of the city. Iceland has a population of about 200,000 inhabitants and approximately half of them live in the capital. It is a country of great contrasts. Besides having the largest glacier in all of Europe, it also has many hot springs, hissing steam jets and bubbling mud pots. The whole city of Reykjavik is heated by natural hot water piped to all buildings and dwellings. The water is pumped from deep thermal wells into huge insulated storage tanks from where it is piped throughout the city. It costs the average home about $100 a year for all the heat and hot water they need. There is also an open air, year around swimming pool heated with hot spring water.
Among the many interesting places we visited was the National Museum and displayed there among the ancient artifacts and historical articles was the famous chess table on which Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky played their world championship match.
Tomorrow morning we take off at the crack of dawn for Luxembourg.
More next week.
Letter # 2 Saturday, October 14, 1972
Three hours after leaving Iceland, we arrived in Luxembourg. We wandered around the town awhile, then took the train to Hanover. But we goofed. We were under the impression that we had to go to Hanover and then to Wiedenbruck. Wiedenbruck is just about four miles from the railroad station of Gutersloh and as we were on the way to Hanover, we passed right through Gutersloh. Just, imagine our chagrin. The train stopped there but we couldn’t t get off because all of our luggage was in the baggage car checked through to Hanover. Well, an hour and a half later (1:30 A M) we arrived in Hanover. We decided to look for a hotel and then go back to Gutersloh the next morning. After the third try we found a hotel that had two vacancies for which they wanted $ 48.00. (Wow). It was about 2:30 then so we went back to the depot and took the next train for Gutersloh, arriving there about 6:00 A. M. We hunted all over for a place to get some breakfast but no luck. We finally found a bakery that was just opening and bought four little chocolate covered cakes and stood shivering out on the sidewalk eating them. Then we went back to the depot after our luggage but it wasn't in yet. They told us to come back after 8:00 o’clock. We didn't want to wait so we took a taxi and went to Wiedenbruck. Finally, about 10 o'clock, we got our campers and went merrily on our way after retrieving our luggage at the depot.
The Autobahns here (freeways to you) are fine, fast, well marked highways. Mostly, they are only two lanes, one fast lane and one slow lane. The fast lane traffic travels about 80 miles per hour and the slow lane about 50 miles per hour. From Hanover, we drove to Helmstedt where we looked up a young man that we became acquainted with when we were in South America. He and a companion, both University students, were on a worldwide tour with a Land Rover and a small trailer. He took us sightseeing around the town and helped us find some housekeeping equipment we needed for the campers. He1mstedt is a very interesting place. It is more than 400 years old and nearly all of the principal streets and buildings are original and all are remarkably well preserved. We left Helmstedt the next day for Munich where we had to get car papers for traveling through various countries in Africa. We went through Dachau and past the Olympic Grounds which are now deserted. On the way to Munich we stopped in Ettlinger where we were told we could buy a 12 Volt compressor for our ice boxes but found that it was too large to fit in the available space. We had the address of another manufacturer of small compressors in Luxembourg so back to Luxembourg we went arriving yesterday afternoon. We saw the equipment and it seems satisfactory but it was too late to get them installed Friday and they don't work Saturdays so we have to wait until Monday. That is what we are doing now in the little medieval town of Vlanden in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The great point of interest here is the ancient castle of Vianden which occupies the summit of a rocky hill that overlooks the village of Vianden nestled in the winding canyon of the OUR River. The castle has occupied this site since the 4th Century A.D. It has been remodeled, enlarged and extended by its various owners and was in continuous use until 1818. It has been under the rule of Germans, Romans, French and the people of Holland and Luxembourg. It was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. We have spent the greater part of the afternoon wandering through its spacious rooms, towers and terraces. The largest room is the Hall of Knights - 50 feet by 100 feet. It can accommodate 500 people. It is hard to visualize the spectacular events that have taken place here over the centuries.
SUNDAY We have now driven a little over 1,000 miles in Germany. The countryside is beautiful. Rolling hills covered with dense forests of tall pines, oaks, ash and many others. The deciduous trees are now all in fall colors; all shades of yellow, gold, red and brown. Driving through the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers we saw dozens of ancient castles similar to the one at Vianden. We failed to get pictures on account of the heavy mist that hung over the valleys and on the few occasions that the weather was suitable for picture taking, there was no place to turn off of the narrow two-lane road we were on.
It has been quite cool since we have been here. Several mornings there has been frost on the ground and this morning when we got up, there was ice on the windows inside the campers. The thermometer read 22 F. MONDAY NOON Refrigerator is installed and O.K. so on our way again. Not, so cold last night. No frost.
More later. Wes and Vivian
Letter #3 Sunday ~ Oct. 22, 1972
After getting our refrigerator installed, we reluctantly left the unique little village of Vianden and drove on through the picturesque countryside of Luxembourg and Belgium. The country is so peaceful and serene with its neat farms, green meadows with herds of fat beef and dairy cattle and its tall, dense forests that its hard to realize that it was once ravaged and devastated by the second world war. Only an occasional fortification or pill box remains as a reminder of that time.
Driving here is quite an experience. The country roads are extremely narrow and very winding and there is no shoulder to pull off on. Sometimes we will be traveling along at about 50 miles an hour with a huge truck tail-gating us, then suddenly around a curve, we come upon a farm tractor or a bicycle rider traveling about 10 or 15 miles an hour. If there is no oncoming traffic, it is simple to turn out around them but if there is, we feel like we are about to become the meat in a sandwich. We made it through and stopped at Dunkirk for the night. Traffic there was a nightmare. Being a busy shipping port, big trucks and trailers were coming and going all day and night with their cargos. As we watched the traffic from the parking lot where we stayed, we watched two little boys on a bicycle riding nonchalantly along the busy street with three lanes of traffic. Big trucks, buses and cars were buzzing past them on both sides. They looked to be about 10 and 6 years old. Bicycles are a common thing here ridden by people of all ages.
The next morning, we drove on to Calais, France where we boarded the ferry boat for England. About 45 minutes later off in the foreground we sighted the White Cliffs of Dover. We did not land in Dover however, but in Folkstone - Just a few miles south of Dover. We drove on toward London. About 20 miles before we reached London, we found a nice campground called Abbey Woods. It is situated in approximately a five-acre grove of tall oak and chestnut trees. About a five-block walk from here we take the train to London Charing Cross Station at Trafalgar Square. We went in Friday and picked up our mail (nothing from Annette and nothing from San Diego). After lunch, we took a bus tour to see some of the sights. Here are a few of the high lights.
The "Olde Curiosity Shop", a little hole in the wall sort of place in a building built in the year 1567. It was once the office of Charles Dickens. St. Paul's Cathedral - one of the architectural masterpieces of Sir Christopher Wren. It was partially destroyed during the war and has never been completely restored according to the original plans. The Tower Bridge - a twin to the London Bridge which is now at Lake Havasu. McCulloch is now bidding on the Tower Bridge and it seems pretty certain that he will get it.
We also saw the new modern London Bridge which is still under construction.
We visited the Tower of London where the British Crown Jewels are kept. We were conducted through the vault where they are on display. The three largest diamonds and the largest ruby in the world are mounted in the different crowns. The Tower of London is actually a complex of several towers surrounding a courtyard. It is guarded continuously by a company of Beefeaters dressed in their traditional costumes. If you look at the label of a bottle of Beefeaters Gin, you will see the costume. They acquired the name of Beefeaters because in the olden days they were required to taste all of the food consumed by the royal family as a caution against poisoning. We were also shown the spot where two of the wives of King Henry VIII were beheaded - Queen Ann Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard. All in all - it was a very interesting afternoon.
Well, Gordon just knocked on the window calling us to come for refreshments. Refreshments and supper over and now for some kind of game until bedtime.
It is now Sunday night. There is some kind of convention taking place in London and this campground has been filling up all of Saturday and today. There must be at least 2,000 campers, trailers and tents here now.
Tomorrow we go to London to get visas and car insurance for some of the African countries. We go by train. We will drop you a line as soon as we know where to send the next mail.
More later. Wes and Vivian
P. S. Gordon dumped a bucket of s--t out in the ferry parking lot at Calais.
Letter #4 Tooting - near London November 3, 1972
We are about to leave England now and go back to Calais, France. We are going this time on the “HOVERCRAFT”, a huge ferry that skims across the channel on a cushion of air at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. We planned to start early this morning but when we got up, there was a heavy fog and fog warnings were out on the radio so we are going to wait until later when we feel it is safe.
Driving here in England is not the easiest thing in the world under the best of conditions. The traffic is heavy, the streets are narrow and winding and many of the intersections consist of circles with several converging streets and to top it all, we drive on the left side of the street, watch the map and the street signs, keep out of the way of converging traffic and keep each other in sight. Now I hope you are all as confused as we are.
We have been here 10 days and with the exception of Saturday and Sunday, we have been spending every day going back and forth between Annette’s house and London (a trip of about 45 minutes on the underground railway) trying to get visas and sea transportation to proceed to Africa. We finally had to change our original plans considerably on account of shipping schedules and the political situation in some of the African countries. We found out that we couldn’t enter the Cameroons or the Congo if we had visas for Angola, Rhodesia or South Africa and we couldn’t enter these three countries unless we had prior visas so we ended up by booking passage on a ship from Barcelona, Spain to Capetown, South Africa. From there we can cover the whole Southern end of Africa below the Congo. We are supposed to leave Barcelona on December 1 and arrive in Capetown December 15. We have to go to Lisbon, Portugal first to confirm our reservations with the shipping company, the Lloyd Triesterro Line. We will write again from there and let you know what the situation is.
Oh Yes - I must tell you about Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Ed and Annette took us out to “Stonehenge”, about 100 miles from London. In school we were taught that “Stonehenge" was built by the Druids but recent archeological discoveries have disclosed that it is of a much earlier date. The original structure consisted of 30 upright stones placed in a perfect circle 97 feet in diameter. They are irregular in shape but all are about 7 feet wide, 13 feet above ground and 4 to 6 feet below ground. They were capped by stones of approximately the same size. It appears as though some of the stones were brought from as far away as Wales.
Sunday we went to London where every Sunday they have a market place called “Petticoat Lane”. The stores are closed and the street is blocked off for several blocks and stalls line both sides of the street like a huge swap meet with wall to wall people. The crowd is so thick that it is almost impossible to get near enough to a stand to make a purchase if we wanted to.
That is all for now. More later.
Wes and Vivian
Letter #5 Lisbon, Portugal Nov. 11, 1972
Arrived in Lisbon Friday A M on Nov. 10 and went to the shipping Line Office to verify our reservation for the trip to Capetown. Everything is in order so we 1eave Barcelona, Spain on Dec. 1 and arrive in Capetown, S. Africa on Dec. 15. Then we went to the Embassy for our mail but no mail yet so we will wait till Monday. Hope it is there then.
Now a little bit about our adventures since we left London. As you know from our last letter there was a heavy fog the morning we left so waited until it cleared a little then started out for Dover to catch the Hovercraft for France. We had about two hours of driving through the heavy morning traffic, bumper to bumper over narrow, twisting, winding streets. There were buses in front of us, lorries (trucks) behind us, cars to the left and cars to the right of us, but onward went the four intrepid geriatrics. I will say this for the British: "They sure are good drivers - not one of them hit us although we gave them several chances”. Well, to top it all off, we missed the corner where we were supposed to turn for Dover and drove about 10 miles out of the way. As a consequence, we missed the Hovercraft and had to take a later one at 6 P M so we had to cross in the dark and in a dense fog. When we reached France, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see a dozen feet ahead so stayed all night in the ferry parking lot. Next morning was still foggy but we started out anyway because we had to be in Lisbon by the 10th or lose our reservations. We drove through France for three days but didn’t get to see much of the country as we were in pea soup fog all the way.
When we reached Spain, the fog had lifted but it remained cloudy and had some rain the second day. All through France and Spain, it was fairly easy driving - good roads, level country and light traffic except in the cities. When we crossed from Spain into Portugal, it was like going into a different world, the change in scenery was so great. The parts of France and Spain that we passed through reminded us a great deal of our own Midwestern plains - in fact some areas looked almost identical to certain parts of Wyoming that we pass through. .
When we crossed the border into Portugal, we were immediately into the mountains. The terrain is very rocky but the soil is very fertile. Rocks being so plentiful, everything is built out of them. The houses, streets, fences and even the posts that support the grape trellises are cut from granite stone.
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would find it hard to believe that a post 4 x 4 inches and 7 to 8 feet long could be cut from solid granite. We saw hundreds of them in use and several stacked along the road ready for use. They were just as square and straight as a wooden post. The road through Portugal twists and winds up hill and down through some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen in all of our journeys. The terraced hill sides and the valleys below are covered with grape vineyards. The grapes have all been picked but the leaves are there in all their full (or fall - I couldn’t make the spelling out) splendor - all colors of the rainbow, green, canary yellow, gold, maroon, crimson, purple and many shades in between. Mere words cannot begin to describe the sheer beauty of the drive. Besides the vineyards, we pass through dense forests of pine, each tree with a little clay pot under a slash in the bark to catch the pitch that oozes out. Then through groves of cork trees that have been stripped of bark and the bark stacked like firewood along the roadside to be picked up by trucks. From time to time, we come up on a gypsy family, 12 to 18 people of all ages, trudging along the road with a one-horse, two wheeled cart loaded with all their belongings and some of the smaller children and now and then a team of oxen pulling a load of hay. Those who have no oxen, horse or donkey use the women for the heavy work. Once we saw a woman pulling a plow while the man walked behind guiding it. We see many of them carrying heavy loads on their heads such as a bundle of wood, a shock of hay or cornstalks, or a big basket of barnyard manure. In the valleys, we see them with baskets of fish on their heads going from door to door selling them. Many of them are barefoot.
The streets in most of the towns and villages are so narrow that in many places two cars cannot pass, yet they allow two-way traffic. We were going up hill on a narrow street in one town when we had to stop and wait for two trucks to pass each other. They were rubbing each other as well as the walls of the buildings on each side of the street. They finally made it through and we were able to go on.
When we reached the coast, it was at the city of Porto, the city from which Port Wine derived its name. The richest and best port wine in all the world is made from the grapes grown in the valley of the Douro River which flows into the sea at the city of Porto.
While there we visited one of the city's oldest wineries. We 'were too late to see the grapes being processed as that was finished in September. They did show us through the caves back in the mountains where the wine was stored and aged. We saw a lot of dusty old barrels that were stored in 1955 and were not due to be bottled until 1995. They told us that they had about 900 million liters of wine in storage. Then of course we had to visit the sampling room where we were treated to several of their rare old wines. When we finally left, we were looking at the world through rose colored glasses even though it was dark and cloudy.
More later. Wes and Vivien
December 7, 1972 Near the Equator Letter # 6
We have been at sea now for a weak and for the past two days the weather has been, warm and balmy. It is the first real “one shirt weather” we have encountered since we left home. The flying fish and dolphins are playing alongside the ship. The sea in as calm as San Diego Bay on a warm, summer day and we are skimming along the African Coast at about 22 knots with hardly a noticeable motion to the ship except a slight vibration of the giant engines.
Now I'll take up where I left off in my last letter from Portuga1. We spent four days in Lisbon, stopping at a beautiful municipal camp ground. Lisbon, like all European cities, is very old AND very new. Modern homes, high rise apartments end factories surround the old original city with its narrow, winding streets, many of them too narrow for auto traffic, and its buildings hundreds of years old. The shops along these narrow streets are small but all are well stocked and business seemed brisk in all of them.
As we left the city by .way of a modern four-lane freeway, we had just reached the outskirts when we saw ahead of us great crowds of people and cars in the opposite lanes. When we got there we saw that there had been a terrible chain reaction accident involving six or eight cars and trucks. We didn't stop but as we passed we saw that some of the small cars were completely demolished and I suppose the people were also. Wrecked cars and trucks were strung out a1ong the highway and center median for about one quarter of a mile. Fortunately, none of them got over into the lanes we were driving in. It is hard to conceive how such an accident could have happened with traffic all going in the same direction. About a mile and a half further on, we saw another accident involving two trucks and a car also in the same lanes as the first. These two accidents shook us up somewhat but as we drove on we soon began to enjoy the scenery again. This southern part of Portugal is quite different from the rocky mountains and valleys and the terraced grape vineyards of the north. It is a rolling, hilly country with vast forests of cork, pine and eucalyptus trees; also thousands of acres of olive groves.
We soon crossed the border buck into Spain and headed south toward Gibra1tar. We wanted to visit “The Rock" but when we arrived there, we found the border between Spain and Gibraltar had closed. Gibraltar, as you know, belongs to the British and Spain is trying to get them to give it up, so they are making things as uncomfortable as possible for the British. Since we couldn't v1sit "The Rock”, we took the ferry boat “Virgin of' Africa” across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco. We arrived there about 6 p.m. and parked for the night at the ferry landing parking lot. Next morn1ng we started our tour through Morocco. At first the country was hilly and much like Southern Spain - cork, olive, pine and eucalyptus trees. Then we came into farming country. There had been a recent rain and the farmers were all out plowing with their wooden plows and their oddly mixed teams of farm animals. Hitched together, there could be a camel and a donkey, a cow and a horse, or a cow and a donkey - sometimes two of the same kind. All of the farm animals we saw were small, scrubby stock. As we approached the small vil1ages along the way, we would pass people going to market with their produce. There would be a donkey with a big pack on his back and on top of the pack sat an Arab taking it easy while trudging along behind wou1d be a woman and little girl, each with a big pack on their backs. We didn't see any women pulling a plow as we did in Portugal.
The first large city we reached was FEZ, one of the ancient trading centers on the caravan route through the Sahara. It was founded 1n the year 808.
As we approached we could see the remains of the ancient walls and medieval castles' that formerly guarded the city. We stopped near one of the castles to orient ourselves; a small boy approached and asked if he could be our guide. He spoke fairly good English so we engaged him. He took us first to a. museum in an ancient castle. The displays consisted almost entirely of antique flintlock rifles, pistols, cutlasses, cannons, etc. He then guided us to the "Medina” or Old Town. We entered through a narrow stone arch in an ancient stone wall that surrounded the area and found ourselves in a veritable labyrinth of narrow, twisting, winding alloys paved with well worn cobble stones. Most of the buildings in this maze are more than 1000 years old and it appears that the customs and living conditions of the people using them have not changed in all of that time. There is no uniformity in the width of those passages. Some are wide enough for four people abreast and others barely wide enough for two to pass. When a loaded donkey comes through, people have to step back into a doorway in order to let it pass. The place is packed solid with people and pack animals and you can hardly move without coming in contact with other people. I thought, "What a perfect place for pickpockets!”; so I kept my hand in my money pocket all the time. The passages were lined on each side with small stalls which have all kinds of merchandise and services. There is one with baked goods, another with fruits and vegetables, then a blacksmith shoeing a mule. This stall was so small that the mule could get only halfway in. He didn’t like the idea and every once in awhile he would aim a kick at whoever was near. Then there was a man making back packs for the pack mules, and another making the wooden plows used here. All he had to work with was a pile of hardwood tree trunks and a crude saw in a wooden frame similar to the old buck saw we used to use on the ranch to cut up firewood. There was a shop where they were hand carving beautiful table tops out of exotic tropical wood and another shop turning and carving the legs for them. There was also a metal craft shop making all kinds of items out of copper, brass and silver. Then we came to a larger, more pretentious building; the walls inside and out were entirely of ceramic tile and the floor of mosaic tile. On display inside were hundreds of Persian rugs ranging 1n price from a few hundred dol1ers up into the thousands. We were invited inside and were served glasses of hot Moroccan mint tea while a handsome Arab rolled out a number of fine rugs for us to see and gave us an explanation of the designs in each one. He quoted us prices on each rug including transportation costs to the U S which sounded very reasonable to us but of course we were not interested in purchasing rugs so his efforts were all in vain. Even though we didn't buy, he invited us to go upstairs and see the rugs being made. We climbed a steep, narrow stairway and entered a 1arge room where a number of looms were set up with rugs in various stages of completion. The rugs are not woven.
Strong cords are stretched perpendicularly on a loom of whatever size the rug is to be. The rug makers stand in front of the loom with a double strand of yarn in the right hand and a small pair of scissors in the left. They pick up two cords at a time, slip the yarn around them and tie a knot so that one end of the yarn is precisely one inch long, then with a quick snip of the scissors the yarn is cut so that the two ends are exactly the same length. This procedure continues until there is a row of knots all the way across the rug, then the next row is started, using alternate cords - thus binding the rug tightly together. The rug makers were all females of the Berber tribe. Little girls do the backgrounds and solid colors and the older, more experienced women do the intricate designs. There were four little girls in the group we watched, the youngest being eight years old and the oldest fourteen. They would slip that yarn around the cords, tie it with one hand and snip it with the other with such speed that we couldn't follow the action. We were told that it takes from three to four months to complete a 9 x 12 rug like the ones offered for $ 400 laid down in the U S.
As we left the rugmakers, we continued along these dark, narrow, winding passages. Pretty soon a terrible stench assailed our nostrils that almost made us vomit. Holding our noses, we peered through an open doorway and observed several half-naked men bending over large vats poking and stirring raw goat skins soaking in tanning liquid. They laughed at us for holding our noses. Then we were led up on the roof where we could look out over a vast yard full of round tanks containing various colored liquids where the tanned goat skins were dyed, thus producing the famous Moroccan leather.
Leaving FEZ, we drove on to visit other cities - Marrakech, Rabat, Casablanca and others. All were interesting but more modern than the old part of FEZ. We would have liked to stay longer in Morocco but had to get back to Barcelona, Spain in time to get the ship to South Africa on December 1. Our first stop after leaving Barcelona was the port of Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands. We approached Santa Cruz just before dusk on the 4th and by the time we were close enough to distinguish the buildings, lights were being turned on all over the city. It was a beautiful sight. Our dining room schedule is for 6:30 so we were not able to be on deck as the ship docked. However, the next morning, there was a bus tour of the island right after breakfast. Santa Cruz was founded in the year 1494 and has been an important commercial and shipping center ever since. It now has a population of approximately 200,000 people. The mild, semi-tropical climate has also made it a very popular resort center. There are many new, modern high rise apartment houses and hotels to accommodate visitors.
That's all for now. Will write more after we get to Cape Town.
Wes and Vivian
Dec. 28, 1972
Port Elizabeth, S. Africa
We have been in South Africa now since Dec. 15 and have had a busy, interesting time. My last letter was from the Canary Islands and now I will try to fill in on what has happened since. The balance of the sea voyage was very pleasant sailing o'er the indigo blue sea while dolphins raced alongside and flying fish scattered ahead as the ship plowed through the white foam. The fish would come up out of the waves ahead of us like a flock of birds and soar over them for a distance of 200 yards or more. As we approached the equator, the water became warmer and one day it reached 86 degrees: F while the air temperature was 82 degrees according to the ship's daily weather report. After we passed the widest part of Africa and headed south toward the Cape we were within sight of the shore nearly all the way. All we could see was bare desert like mountains and sand dunes. We made a 5 hour stop at Walvis Bay to discharge cargo and passengers. All of us went ashore and found a very nice, clean town with modern houses and wide paved streets. Most of the population was white. Two days later we landed in Capetown about 9 A M. By noon, we were through customs and had our V-W s on the road again. In this country, like England, driving is on the left side of the street. However, it is nothing like driving in London where traffic is side to side and bumper to bumper all at the same time. We spent 2 or 3 days in Capetown getting our mail, mailing a few cards, getting our cholera shots and obtaining information about traveling on to Rhodesia. Then we began our tour to see as much of Africa as we possibly can.
First, we drove out to the Cape of Good Hope, out one side and back the other. Here we saw the first wild animals of Africa. There was a baboon mother with her little one sitting along side the road begging morsels from passers by. Then we entered· the "Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve”, an area of about 20,000 acres that the government has set aside to preserve the natural flora and fauna of the Cape. There we saw in their natural habitats - ostriches, springbok, bontebok, vaal ribbok and many exotic birds and wild flowers. We then proceeded on to the little coastal village of Gans Bay where we called on Mr. and Mrs. Karl Neuman. You will remember that when we were in South America two years ago we mentioned meeting two German college boys who were traveling around the world with a "Land Rover" and small trailer. On this trip when we were in Germany, we called on one of them, Frank Reinold and he gave us the address of his companion’s father, Mr. Neuman, here in South Africa. The Neumans were very kind to us and gave us a lot of information about various places to see. From there we drove on South to Cape Agulhas, the most southern town in Africa. We camped all night on the beach at the very tip of Southern Africa. The coastline here is very rocky and the surf is very rough. The big breakers start rolling as much as a half mile from shore. Many ships have been lost here during severe storms. Our next point of interest was the "Bontebok National Park", another area preserved in its original state. As we drove through this park, we saw even more animals than we did at the "Cape". From there we drove to the town of OUDTSHOORN which is the center of the ostrich farming industry. Back in the year of 1850, the first wild ostriches were captured in this area. Now there are very few left in the wild except in the National Parks but there are more than 10,000 on some 300 farms here in this area. We visited one of the large farms. They maintain from 900 to 1000 ostriches on 1000 acres of land. The birds are grazed on green alfalfa, each bird consuming about 15 lbs. per day. The ostrich has no crop like other fowl - the food goes right to the gizzard where it is ground to a pulp by a couple of handfuls of rocks and other assorted junk. We were shown a quart jar full of coins that had been swallowed and also several jars of rocks, some up to the size of a golf ball and chunks of iron and even some electrical parts. The ostrich will live to be 40 to 50 years old but after 15 years, the quality of the feathers begins to deteriorate so they are butchered and all of the feathers removed; the skin is tanned for leather and the meat is made into "Biltong" (same as jerky); Commercially the birds are plucked twice a year and the feathers bring from $ 5 to $ 15 per pound. They lay from 12 to 15 eggs before setting. It takes 42 days for them to hatch. The eggs weigh about 4 lbs. each and will withstand 250 pounds of direct pressure without breaking. To date, this is one of the mist interesting visits we have had. Yesterday we visited the "Addo Elephant National Park” where we were supposed to see lots of elephants in the wild. The “Wild” was there alright but the elephants were NOT except for a couple of old scabby ones hanging around the park office. This was very disappointing but am sure we will have better luck when we get to Rhodesia; at least that is what everyone tells us.
I must tell you my impression of the countryside of South Africa as we have driven through. Nearly everything reminds us of some part of California or of Baja, California. There are many pepper trees, also eucalyptus, acacia and pine. We could be driving through Pine Valley or the grain fields from Perris to Hemet, the sand dunes of Yuma or the coastline of Baja. The cities remind us of Southern California cities and towns. The weather here today on the beach at Port Elizabeth is much like a June day at Mission Beach. This morning was cloudy but this afternoon is bright and a gentle breeze is blowing in from the ocean. We are parked in a paved parking area of approximately three acres in size and at the moment it is about 3/4 ths full. The beach is clean and has an ideal bathing area and a little farther up is a great surfing area. From here, we will follow the coastline up to Durban, then go inland to Johannesburg and possibly to the Kimberly Diamond Mines. (Will write more about that later.)
Letter # 8 January 1, 1973 Durban. So. Africa
We are parked here this bright and sunny New Year's Day on Durban’s Beach Promenade, a narrow one-way street that extends about three miles along the shore. The beach today is crowded with people and is almost completely covered with a canopy of beach umbrellas. The beach here is very clean as there is NO kelp in this part of the ocean. It is a good swimming and surfing area. Durban has quite a large Indian Moslem colony and tomorrow we plan to visit their famous “Indian Market", then drive on to the "Valley of a Thousand Hills,” a vast Zulu reserve. We hope to have a story about these places in our next letter.
When we left Port Elizabeth three days ago, we passed through farming country that reminded us of the grain fields around Perris and Hemet - all rather dry. At about 200 miles northeast, we came to the border of TRANSKEI, one of the several homelands set aside within the boundaries of South Africa for the various native tribes. The tribe residing in Transkei is the XHOSAS of which there are 1,700,000. Evidently, there is a great deal more rain in this area, as the fields became greener and greener as we drove north through the rolling hills and valleys. Native villages dotted the landscape along the way. Sometimes from a high point, we could see 7 or 8 villages at the same time. Their huts are perfectly round with conical thatched roofs. They are so uniform in size and shape that from a distance they reminded us of the round steel grain storage tanks seen in the wheat fields of the Mid-West. They appeared to be made of adobe blocks, then plastered over with mud so that the wall is perfectly smooth. Designs are painted in white on the sides of the huts. They are laid out in a straight line and placed precisely the same distance apart. The grounds around them are remarkably clean. There is not a rock, bench or table, or a household possession of any kind in the yards near the huts. With the exception of a few small garden plots, there was no agricultural activity. However, we passed many flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle.
The villages all seemed to be built on the hillsides and their only source of water appears to be the "milk-chocolate" rivers, the stagnant pools in the nearly dry river beds and muddy ponds that dot the nearby pastures. In the mornings as we leave, we can see the women starting out with empty pails for the nearest water hole or they are returning with full ones balanced on their heads. Some of them have to walk a mile or more for their water. All of the loads here are carried on the head and mostly by women. In addition to pails of water, we have seen them with suit cases, shopping bags, large boxes, big bundles of wool and everything else imaginable balanced on their heads. We even saw one youngster with a big watermelon balanced on his head. "TRY IT SOMETIME” Another time we observed a woman with a baby tied on her back, a large bucket of water on her head and a smaller pail in one hand climbing up the hill toward her hut.
Letter # 9 January 5, 1973 Johannesburg, So. Africa
We arrived here yesterday after a 3-day drive through some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen in Africa. As we drove inland and northward from Durban, the scenic highway took us through an area known as “The Valley of a Thousand Hills.” The hills are densely forested and the valleys are vast green pastures dotted with grazing cattle and sheep. The roadsides are very colorful with varieties of flowers well known in our gardens at home but growing wild here. Cosmos, calla and canna lilies, lantana, jacaranda trees, poinciana and acacia trees - all in bloom. This is part of the vast Zulu Reserve where thousands of Zulus live in their natural habitats. Our first stop was at a Zulu village where tourists (for 25 ¢ each) were permitted to witness a ZULU dance in native costume and also to inspect one of their KRAALS (huts). The native costume consists mostly of SKIN with only a short skirt for the women and a breach clout of goat hide for the men with only bare skin for the children. The KRAALS are built differently here than those we saw in the Transkei. They are woven like a huge inverted basket and completely thatched with grass on the outside. They look like small haystacks. There is only one opening which is just large enough for one person to pass through by stooping low. It was very dark inside - just like a cave. There was very little in the way of furnishings; a few articles of clothing were hanging from the walls and a couple of grass mats were on the hard-packed earthen floor with a couple of smiling babies sitting on them. The principal and most important item that we saw was a huge iron pot big enough to cook a missionary. Leaving this village we drove on to another village known as “Tugela Ferry.” This is the administrative center for the Zulu reserve and we had an introduction to the magistrate of the district from the Neumans in Gains Bay. Unfortunately the magistrate was away on official business. There was a trading post there and hundreds of Zulus were milling around in their native dress (or lack of dress). The scene reminded us of the travelogues of Lowell Thomas or Bill Burrud. I mentioned in my last letter the items we saw carried on the heads - including the watermelon. We saw another good one passing through Zululand - a woman walking along with a quart bottle of orange pop perched on the top of her head. l'd loved to have taken a picture of that but there was no chance to stop and anyway they frown on having their pictures taken.
We are camped here today in a shady camp ground beside one of the many lakes that supply Johannesburg with water. We are resting and cleaning up - showers, laundry, etc. There are several things of interest around here and will write more about these later.
(A clipping was enclosed that shows that the U S is not the only place facing inflation. For price comparison, one "Rand" (lOO¢) is equal to about $1.32 U S currency.)
Letter #10 January 13, 1973 Kruger national Park, So.. Africa.
What an exciting day we have had. We entered Kruger National Park, a huge wild life preserve, just after lunch and drove 35 kilometers (about 21 miles) to the first park station and camp ground. In that distance we encountered the following wild animals roaming in their natural habitats: several giraffes browsing among the acacia trees, two herds of zebra with their young, a pride of lions lying in the shade near the road, several elephants off in the distance near a river, hundreds of impalas, several kudus and water bucks and many exotic birds. This huge sanctuary for animals came into being through the foresight of President S.J .P. Kruger who realized that something had to be done to preserve the vanishing wl1d life of Africa. The park attained its present dimensions of approximately five million acres, about 200 miles in length with an average width of 40 miles. That is a lot of ground and we intend to see as much of it as possible.
We have had an interesting week since my last letter. Whi1e in Johannesburg we wanted to visit one of the gold mines. The city is encircled with a gold bearing reef and there are several mines there that extend under the city streets. We were very disappointed since reservations had to be made in advance and they were already booked for three weeks. However, we were able to obtain tickets for an inter-tribal dance festival that is given each Sunday by the black miners at one of the mines. There were fourteen dances performed by nine different tribes - complete with jungle drums and native costumes. It was stated that the dances were given primarily for the entertainment of the “Santu” workers but at least half of the audience was white.
Leaving Johannesburg, we drove north to an Arabian horse show being put on by all the Arabian horse breeders in the district. We were invited to the show by a friend of the Case's son and daughter-in-law, Miss Felicity Sue Morgan. Miss Morgan’s father is a leading breeder in the district and was one of the judges of the show. Miss Morgan, herself performed as a rider in the show. We were invited to visit the Morgan Ranch and were very impressed with the 20 or more fine Arabian horses there.
We then drove on to Pretoria and made the rounds of the points of interest. The most interesting by far was our visit to the Premier Diamond Mine at Cullinan which is approximately 25 miles from Pretoria. This mine was discovered at the turn of the century by Thomas Cullinan and in the year 1905, it produced the world’s largest diamond to date - known as the famous Cullinan Diamond. The diamond was perfect and weighed 3,024 carats. It was purchased by the Transvaal Government for $400,000.00 and presented to King Edward VII as a birthday gift. It was cut into nine major stones and ninety smaller ones all of which are now in the Crown Jewels of England. The largest one weighs 530 carats and is set in the Royal Scepter. It is known as the Star of Africa. We were privi1eged to view these jewels when we were in London and were shown facsimile of the original stone and the cut gems at the mine. The mine originally operated as an open pit but now the diamond bearing rock is being mined from two levels, 1,060 feet and 1,510 feet below the surface. The rock is brought to the surface at the rate of about 21,000 tons per day. It is crushed to release the diamonds which are separated from the rock by a very unique method. The crushed rock is passed through tanks of liquid having a specific gravity greater than the non diamond bearing rock but less than the diamond bearing rock. The diamond bearing rock sinks and the non-diamond bearing rock is then floated over tables coated with soft grease. The diamonds stick to the grease and the rock floats away. For each diamond recovered, 14 million times its weight of rock has to be mined. The mine produces about 2 • 1/2 Mi11ion carats a year. A large portion of these are industrial grade but many fine gems are also recovered.
Wes and Vivian
Letter #11 Salisbury, Rhodesia January 23, 1973
Following our entrance into the Kruger National Park as described in our last letter, we spent an exciting three days driving over 150 mi1es and viewing thousands of wild animals in their natural hab1tats. We did not see any more lions after that first day but talked with several other people who did. However we did see where the lions had made a kill several days previously. The remains were so covered with a mass of vultures that at first we thought it was a huge elephant lying there but when we stopped the car, the 'vultures started flying away. As we drove along we came upon a pack of about 6 or 7 wild dogs, also called “Hunting Dogs" in the animal book that we purchased. They look something like hyenas only without the massive shoulders and long hair. They were lying alongside the road and were hard1y disturbed when we stopped the car to take a picture. Of all the animals in the park, the Impala is the most plentiful, numbering more than 150,000. One morning we started out at 6:30 and came upon a herd of more than 1,000, all out on the road. As we drove (slowly) they ran along ahead of us for about 1/4 mi1e before veering off into the brush by leaps and bounds. They can jump to heights or 10 feet and lengths of 30 feet. In spite of all their speed and agility the lions, wild dogs and leopards are able to catch them whenever they wish. One evening as we were returning to camp we sighted a herd of about two or three hundred African Buffalo (said to be the meanest in the jungle). We stopped to take some pictures and a couple of big bulls looked us over with a nasty gleam in their eyes so we moved on. We saw quite a few elephants - one herd or about 24 walking along a river bank about 1/4 mile away, also several others either singly or in pairs. We came across one big bull elephant near the road standing with his forefeet up against a tree trunk and reaching up as high as he could pulling down branches and eating them. He paid no attention to us. Another common sight were the giraffes, usual1y found in pairs or small groups of four to six. There are approximately 4,000 of these in the park. Some of the other animals sighted were waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu, eland, reedbuck, bushpig, jackal, hippopotamus. crocodi1e, baboons, monkeys and "Old Ugly Himself", the warthog.
I might mention that the rules for trave1ing through all game reserves are very strict. We can travel only on designated roads and not over 25 miles per hour. We are not allowed to get out of the car except, in the official camps. We cannot leave the camp unti1 6:30 A M and must be back by 6:30 P M. There is a heavy fine for violations. One man was fined 100 Rand (about $134.00) for getting on top of his car to photograph two fighting 1ions. The last night we were in Kruger, the Ranger gave a movie of scenes that we would never be able to see due to the strict rules mentioned above. We saw a crocodi1e capture an impala that came to the water hole. After two or three misses the croc got hold of one and 1iteral1y tore it to pieces there in the water while the rest of the herd continued to drink. We watched a lion capture and kill a wildebeest; also a leopard carry a 130 pound impala up into a tree. The whole film was very interesting and a fitting climax to our visit to the park.
When we left the park we did not expect to see any more animals for awhile but while we were stopped for lunch a few mi1es from the Kruger boundary, a big giraffe crossed the road right in front of us AND a group of about 25 baboons crossed just a short distance to the rear.
Leaving South Africa, we drove on to Rhodesia. Our first visit of interest there was to one of their Historical Monuments, "The Zimbabwe Ruins". This is a vast complex of stone wal1s and bui1dings similar to some of the pre-Columbian ruins we visited in Mexico and Central and South America. Next day we went by ferry across Lake Kyle to the Kyle National Park Animal Reserve. Here we saw our first rhino in the wild. We stayed a11 night in the park and the next day drove on to Salisbury where we spent the day picking up our mal1, shopping, doing laundry etc. We are now sitting here in a beautiful green trailer park beneath huge tropical shade trees writing and resting. We don’t know for sure just where we are going next but will write again soon.
Wes and Vivian
Letter # 12 Feb. 1, 1973 Lusaka, Zambia
We arrived here in the capital of Zambia yesterday morning after driving all morning through a tropical rain storm with thunder and lightening. Up to now there has been very 1ittle since we have been here, but according to the weather records we can expect a lot more as we go on toward the equator. Of course all of this rain makes the countryside more beautiful. Ever since we left Sa1isbury, we have driven through dense tropical forests with many varieties of beautiful flowering trees, some with fragrance similar to orange blossoms and some with blossoms 1ike snow white orchids with delicate creped petals and others too numerous to mention or describe.
Going back to where I left off in my last letter, I will try to give some of the highlights of our journey from Salisbury to Lusaka. We enjoyed Salisbury very much. It is a completely modern city, well planned with wide streets and beautiful parks. With & map of the city given to us by the Visitors Bureau, we were able to find our way about with ease. While there we stayed nights at the municipal camp ground, a beautiful park of about five acres fully equipped with rest rooms, showers and laundry faci1ities. When we went to Salisbury we had planned to drive on north to the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River and take a hydrofoi1 trip up Lake Kariba to Victoria Falls but when we found out that our campers would have to be shipped by car ferry, which would take 24 hours longer for the trip, we decided against it. We did not feel that it would be safe or advisable to leave the campers and all of our possessions out of our control. Instead we drove southwest to Bulawayo, an industrial city and Rhodesia’s second largest; It is also the hub of Rhodesia's railway system. The city is well planned with wide, tree 1ined streets. Many factories and industries are located here. It is also historically important, being the place where Cecil Rhode finally made a peaceful settlement with the native Matabele tribe. From there we drove 29 miles south to Rhodes Matapos National Park where the body of Ceci1 Rhodes is buried. The park is a national game reserve but most of it is closed to the public at this time of the year so we were able to view just a very few of the wi1d animals. However the unusual scenery made the trip worth whi1e. The entire area consists of low granite hills with fantastic rock formations rising up out of the verdant tropical forest. The spires of granite seen against the skyline were not monolithic but consisted of huge granite boulders piled one upon the other as though some giant Paul Bunyan had placed them there. Some were delicately balanced and appeared to be ready to topple at any minute. The outlines of others resembled people or animals. We enjoyed this side trip very much.
From Bulawayo we drove northwest toward Victoria Falls stopping over a day at the Wankie National Game Park. About three-fourths of this park was also closed but we did enjoy what we could see. We stopped at a viewing stand built to overlook a watering place where people can observe animals coming down to drink without being observed by the animals. There was nothing but birds using the watering hole at the time we arrived but shortly afterward, we observed a crocodile crawl out on the bank and walk slowly to a clump of bushes about 50 yards away. He disappeared into the bushes, stayed about ten minutes, then went directly back to the lake and disappeared under the water. We surmised that he didn't want to foul up the water he had to live in. Now on to the falls.
Victoria Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Africa. Dr. David Livingstone heard of the falls from the natives who called it "The Smoke that Thunders" and “The Place of the Rainbow.” He first viewed the falls in November of 1855 and named them for Queen Victoria. The falls, on the Zambezi River (4th largest river in Africa), are approximately one mile wide and the curtain of water plunges over a sheer cliff more than 300 feet to the gorge below. A fine spray rises constantly and falls on the trees along the banks, than drops through the leaved like rain. We had to wear our raincoats to walk along the banks of the gorge. When the sun shines there is a constant rainbow over the falls. It was truly a fantastic sight.
After viewing the falls and other attractions around the town, we took a sunset boat trip up the Zambezi River, which is the boundary between Rhodesia and Zambia. We saw baboons frolicking on the shore and hippos in the river. They stayed mostly submerged but every once in awhile one would rise to the surface and open his big fat mouth, just 1ike those at Disneyland. The following morning we left Rhodesia and crossed into Zambia. Zambia is an independent black ruled country which was the former British colony known as Northern Rhodesia. Rhodesia and Zambia are now having a border dispute and we weren't sure if we could get across. We made it OK with a minimum of trouble even though it did take us a couple of hours on the Zambian side. The police went through our campers from stem to stern but the only thing they took away from us were some Rhodesian newspapers we had. We drove onto Lusaka and stayed a couple of nights in a campground there.
I started this letter in Lusaka but didn't get to finish it because most of our time was taken up getting visas for Tanzania and Kenya. We left immediately after comp1eting our business there and drove on to Malawi, where we are now – Sunday, February 4th. We were permitted into this country without the formality of visas.
To be continued later.
Wes and Vivian
Letter #13 February 16, 1973
We are in the city of ARUSHA, Tanzania today, parked in a beautiful grassy meadow by the side of a rushing, mountain river. This is the starting point for most of the big game hunters and mountain climbers. We are trapped here temporarily because of lack of funds. Ever since the international money crisis, the banks here have refused to honor traveler’s checks or U S currency so we will just have to wait here until the money situation is stabilized. We had an interesting day yesterday driving up the slopes of the famed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The mountain is 19,340 feet high but we were only able to drive up to a little less than 1/3 of the way because of bad washouts on the road above there. We could have gone the rest of the way by foot trail but it would have entailed spending three nights of camping out which none of us felt equal to. There were quite a few people making the trip though but they were equipped with back packs, sleeping bags and pup tents. Can't you just p1cture four old fuddy duddies like us on a trip like that??
I'll try to go back now to where I left off in my last letter. I think I told you about the border dispute between Rhodesia and Zambia and or our crossing the Zambia border. Well, we learned from another traveler that three days later Zambia closed their border to all traffic. We were lucky not to be trapped down there. We made a rather uneventful trip across Zambia and entered the small country of MALAWI. Malawi is a long narrow country bordered on one side by Zambia and on the other by 365 mile long Lake Malawi. We saw only the Northern half of the country but enjoyed the trip very much through the dense, tropical forests interspersed along the way with picturesque African villages. The roads were all unpaved and quite dusty when dry and very muddy when we passed through tropical rain squalls. When we finally reached the northern border, everyone had pink hair from the fine red dust that settled on us. The farther north we drove, the more narrow the roads became - also rougher. In many places, the elephant grass growing along the shoulders or the road was higher than the tops of our cars. At least we were not troubled with traffic jams. We would see only three or four cars every 100 miles or so. Unlike the other countries we had traveled in, there were no place along the road where we could camp at night but we found a couple of schools that had large cleared fields and got permission from the Head Masters to camp there. They were very kind and friendly to us and the children did not overrun us 1ike so many did in Central and South America.
In order to get into Tanzania from Malawi, it was necessary to cut across the corner of Zambia again for 59 miles. This entailed going through Custom and Immigration again and here again, we had money problems. It is unlawful in the black African countries to bring in any of the local currency or to take it out so we have to be careful not to get any more money than we can use while in each country. When we left Malawi, we had money left for gaso1ine but when we went to the Zambia immigration, they required 2 .25 "Kuacha” per person to enter. They wouldn't accept U S dollars or travelers checks and were going to make us go back into Malawi to the District Commissioner's office to get some money changed. It was six miles to his office and the time then was 4:45 P M. His office closed at 5:00 P M and we couldn't possibly cover those six miles of rough dirt road in fifteen m1nutes so the Zambia immigration officer finally relented and marked on our exit permits that we owed 2.25 kuacha each which we would have to pay before leaving. There was a small village at the border; a bank was there so we anticipated no trouble getting money. Well, we got to the border town about 6: 00 P and found a safe camping spot. Next morning we set out to find the bank. The village reminded us of a Mexican fishing village down on the coast of Baja, Calif. We finally found the bank sign on a little wooden shack about the size of a one-car garage. A sign on the door read “OPEN 10 to 12 ON THURSDAY." On checking our daily diary, we found that we were in luck. IT WAS THURSDAY! At 10,00 o’clock, the door was opened for business and we went in with four or five Africans who had also been waiting at the door. The furniture consisted of one wooden chair and table; also a small wooden counter. Several empty cans were set out on the table to hold the different denominations of currency. We cashed two $ 10.00 travelers checks which would give us enough to pay our debt to the immigration department and buy gasoline but when we went to look for a gas station, we were told that NONE was there. The next station was 28 miles away in the oppos1te direction from where we wanted to go. We looked at our gauges and decided that we could probably get to a gas station in Tanzania before running out so we started to look for a place to spend the extra Zambia money we had. We went into several STORES?? but couldn’t find any groceries we could use. I ended up buying a gross of lollypops (to give away to kids) and six bottles of Coca Cola (the man wouldn't sell me any more because I was taking the bottle with me even though I paid the deposit). We then went to the border, paid our debt and entered Tanzania. This entailed some more financial juggling since we had no Tanzania money. However, one of the customs officers agreed to cash a travelers check for us and after paying our entrance fees, we had a little change for gasoline so we drove on hoping to f1nd some before running completely out. We drove about 40 miles before coming to a village that looked large enough to have a gas station but none was there and the next town vas about 40 ml1es farther. There was nothing to do but go on hoping for the best and watching our gauges go down and down. When they were just about out of sight, we spotted some gas pumps behind a chain link fence in a construction camp. There were several Africans by the gate and we asked if we could have some gas. None of them seemed to know but one man told me to follow him up to one of the bui1dings. It turned out to be one of the many construction camps the Red Chinese have established here while building a railroad for Tanzania. The Chinese boss came out and told us we could have some gas. Our luck was still holding! When we got to the next city, MBEYA, our first stop was at a service station where we had our tanks fi1led. It was a good feeling to have a full tank and have money in our pockets again. We stayed all night at the service station and the next morning went to the bank for more money, then got stocked up on groceries. Nearly everything is expensive here so we buy only the very essential things like coca-cola, beer. etc. Mangos, papayas and bananas are cheap and very, very good so we eat plenty of them.
From MBEYA we drove east to DAR ES SALAAM (Haven of Peace), Tanzania's capital and the principal sea port. We spent two nights on the way. In these countries, it is not considered safe to sleep along side the road as we have done in many countries but one night we found ourselves on a narrow road with no turn outs and no service stations sometimes for 200 ml1es. It was just about stopping time when we spotted a gravel pit with a nice hard level area so decided to take a chance and stay there. The next morning while we were eating breakfast, two Africans dressed only in loin cloths came out of the bushes about 100 yards from us. One of them was carrying a BIG LONG KNIFE. They stood and eyed us for awhile, then one of them disappeared into the bushes and came out carrying a big oil drum on his shoulder. To our relief, they turned and went away. The next day we were in DAR ES SALAAM and found a nice place to stay on the beach about five miles from the center of the city. It was a long, grassy park with tall coconut palms maintained by the city. There were showers and restrooms with an attendant on duty from 7:00 AM unti1 7:00 P M. They charged 7¢ (U S) for the showers. Two other VW campers were there and before dark, another one arrived so there were five of us all grouped together. When the attendant went home that night, he warned us to be watchful because there were robbers around the park at night. We all thought that with five campers grouped together we would all be pretty safe but after dark while Gordon and Ina were in our camper playing cards with us, a sure enough prowler got into their camper. Some of the other people who were sitting outside in the dark saw him and hollered. We all ran out and the prowler took of in a quick, fast hurry but with him, he took along a pair of Gordon's pants. That was all he missed. The next night, we were playing cards in their camper but left the light on in ours so that; we could see inside it all the while we were playing. All of a sudden Vivian cried out “There is someone in our camper." We all jumped up and ran out and chased the fellow but he soon lost himself in the dark. We found that he had gotten the wind wing by the back seat open, reached in and got his hand on Vivian’s hand bag but it was too big to get through the opening and we were all after him before he had a chance to work on it. We were a little nervous going to bed that night but nothing else happened.
It is now after supper and I wi11 try to finish this letter.
We have just had a. visit from one of the local policemen. He welcomed us to Arusha and assured us that we would not be molested here.
This afternoon whi1e I was writing, we had a short rain storm, but apparently there was more rain in the mountains above us because the river is about a foot and a half higher and very muddy.
Before leav1ng Tanzania, we plan to visit (among other places) the Serengeti National Park and the NGORONGORO CRATER, where there is said to be the largest concentrat1on of wild animals in Africa. The Serengeti National Park covers approximately 5,000 square miles and it is estimated to contain 2,000 lions, 350,000 w1ldebeets, 180,000 zebras and all the known species of animals in Africa.
Wi1l write more from Nairobi, Kenya.
Wes and Vivian
Letter #14 February 24, 1973 Nairobi, Kenya
We arrived here Tuesday after a very interesting trip through the game reserves of Tanzania. We immediately went to the American Express for our mail. We have been back every day but no more letters. Until now, we have not been sure exactly how we would return home but since we've been here In Nairobi, we have met several travelers who have driven down through the Sahara with V-W' s like ours and other motley vehicles. They all report the trip as satisfactory so we decided to return via the Sahara. If everything goes well, we should reach Algeria in about two months. We are going to put racks on top of our vehicles to carry about 30 gallons of extra gas because stations are few and far between. The people we have met here have given us very detailed information about our requirements so I think we will make the trip fine. There are a couple of other V-W's that want to join us so there will be plenty of help along.
After leaving Arusha, where we mailed our last letter, we had a most interesting trip. Our first stop was at the NGORONGORO CRATER. We camped in a beautiful camp ground on the rim where we could look down into this 2,000 foot deep hole. Its 102 square mile floor contains a large lake and teems with all kinds of wild life. There is a road (using the word loosely) that leads down 1nto the crater but no one is allowed to go down except in a 4wheel drive vehicle and accompanied by an official guide. We satisfied ourselves by looking over the rim since we expected to see plenty of wild life on the SERENGETI PLAINS and WE DID. There are over a million wild animals living in total freedom in the Serengeti National Park fully protected from hunters. As we drove for nearly 100 miles across this vast, grassy plain,
We passed through vast herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Springbok, Impala, Buffalo, etc. They covered the landscape from "horizon to horizon in all directions. We had to drive slowly and carefully because every once in awhi1e, large groups of animals would decide to cross the road in front of us. We stayed all night in the park and there were buffaloes and various antelope types grazing within sight of our camp all the time. In the morning when we got up about 6:30, I looked out the window and saw a long, dark object moving through the grass between our two cars. At first, I thought that it was a long, brown snake but on looking more closely, discovered that it was a column of ants marching along a well worn trail. The ants maintained a uniform column about two inches wide and were packed so closely together that they appeared to be a solid body. I tried to trace them to their source and destination but was unable to do so because of the thick grass in some spots. However, I did trace the column for over 100 feet and it never varied in density. When we left camp at 9100 o'clock, the ants were still marching in the same direction.
We drove from Serengeti into Kenya, still seeing plenty of wild life - several herds of giraffes, buffalo and springbok. In Kenya, hunting is permitted and we encountered several hunt1ng parties and passed through three game checking points. When we first entered Kenya, we got into a terrific rain and hailstorm. The rain came down in such torrents that we had to stop until it let up. We were on dirt roads all this time and in spots, it became pretty sloppy but we were able to keep going after the rain stopped. In about five miles, we ran out of the rain area and on to dry road again. Boy - what a relief! We will be here in Nairobi for several days, getting visas for all the countries we pass through from here to Algeria. We are very glad that we can bypass Uganda. It is doubtful if we could get through there alive. We have read in the Kenya papers that "soldiers?" there confiscate cars driving along the road and the drivers simply disappear.
Will write more later.
Wes and Vivian
Letter # 15 March, 1973 Nairobi, Kenya
We are still here in Nairobi trying to get visas for our trip North. We are in a little camp ground in the City Park about two miles from the City Center. It is a beautiful park with a huge botanical garden containing hundreds of exotic tropical plants and trees. Our little camp ground is completely surrounded by a six foot high solid hedge of bougainvillea. There are from 15 to 20 cars in camp all the time - some for a day or two and some for a week or more. About 90% of the campers are in their twenties and nearly all are the long-haired, bearded type. They hail from all over the world: Australia, England, Canada, United States, Germany, France, Switzerland, etc. Some have Volks-Wagons, Land Rovers, English Fords and other types of vehicles but many of them are just hitch hik1ng with back packs. Those we have met seem to be very intelligent, well-behaved kids. We are the only old fossils in the park and these kids can't understand how we manage this rough life.
As I told you in my last letter, we have decided to drive North through the Sahara Desert. There are several others here 1n the park who are going North also. We are going to team up and help each other over the arduous and difficult route. We will have one 650 mile stretch without water or gasoline so we have equipped ourselves with a roof rack and seven jeep cans for gas and water. We have been told by those who have come through that gas is $ 1.50 per gallon in some places. Bread, butter, eggs. milk and fresh meat are unobtainable so we are laying in a supply to last, the things that will help - of' course. Thank God for our little refrigerator. At least we can have cold drinks when it is available. Will write more about these obstacles after we encounter them.
Right now, we are stalled here in Nairob1 waiting for visas for one country - ZAIRE (formerly Congo). They are making it very difficult for almost everyone who wishes to go through their country. All others gave us visas in 24 hours but these people have been stalling for over a week.
Our next mail pickup is as fo1lows:
c/o POSTE RESTANTE Bangui
Central African Republic
The one following that is:
c/o POSTE RESTANTE Kano
Don't forget to write on the envelope that it is tourist mail and hold for pickup.
More later. Wes and Vivian
Letter # 16 March 8, 1973 Tarime, Tanzania
We finally obtained all of our visas for the north bound journey. The one that held us up so long was ZAIRE(Congo). It was quite obvious to us that the 10 day delay was a deliberate form of harassment by the officials because of our white skin. They seemed to enjoy causing us this unnecessary inconvenience. They probably feel that they are retaliating for the oppression they endured for years under the white man's domination. For all of the other countries, it was a simple routine of fi11ing out forms one day and picking up visas the following day.
We left Nairobi about noon on Tuesday and by stopping time, we were in the little village of NAROK, just outside the entrance of the Masai game reserve. As we were filling up with "petrol” (gasoline) a young Masai boy came up to the car and invited us to come and park for the night in his yard. He said that his parents would be glad to have us there so we agreed - not knowing what to expect. We drove about a mile out of town, then turned off the road into the BUSH. We wound. around through the bushes up hill and down dale, over foot trails and goat trails, finally ending up in the center of a Masai village of mud huts. The villagers all gathered around our cars to shake our hands and greet us with the African greeting “Jambo" (Hello). It was very interesting being in close contact with these people. The women's costumes are very colorful and they wear lots of jewelry - beaded necklaces 4 or 5 inches wide and earrings that dangle to their shoulders. The men and women both decorate their ears with all kinds of ornaments - not only the lobes but the upper parts as well. We saw one man with a safety pin dangling from his ear; another with a key ring and several others with shirt buttons sewn to their ears. All have had their lobes pierced and stretched, some of the holes big enough to pass a teacup through. One fellow's was stretched so large that it broke and all he had was two tassels hanging down. That night after supper we heard some loud singing in one of the huts. Peter (the boy who invited us) told us they were having a party and drinking NUBIAN GIN. He brought some over to us in an old rusty tin can and it looked like old dirty dish water. It is a kind of native home brew that they drink right out of the fermentation jar. Peter told us that it was made from corn, sugar and “other things". However, we have different version of the ingredients from an article we read in an African magazine entitled “Curse of the Nubian Gin", written by an African humorist by the name of MALIMOTO. He calls it a “DEADKY RECIOE” composed of SURF, OMO, (both washing detergents) TOOTHPASTE, NAILS AND THE BARK OF A TREE FOR DYEING CLOTH. It is quite an interesting artic1e and I am bringing the magazine home with me.
The next morning we left early and started out on the long, dusty road through the Masai Game Reserve to the Kenya -Tanzania border. We saw lots of game along the road - giraffes, buffalo, springbok, wi1debeestes, zebras and many others. We stopped for 1unch by a river and there was a large group of' baboons scampering across the bridge and off into the trees. The road was very poorly marked and we took a wrong turn once - then had to retrace our route 15 miles. We finally arrived at the border and crossed into Tanzania. We are now on our way to RWANDA. We don’t know what.wil1 happen when we get there. There is a triba1 war going on now between the HUTU and TUTSIE tribes and according to reports, there have been quite a number of deaths already.
We will find out more about conditions before going through.
More later. Wes and Vivian
Letter # 17 Sat. March 17, 1973 Deep in the heart of Ituri Forest
We are camping tonight in a dense jungle deep in the heart of Pygmyland. We have been trave11ng in this jungle for two days now and have seen hundreds of pygmies as we drive along. Some are quite friendly, some are wild and run from us and some just scowl as we pass by. Most of them are reluctant to have their pictures taken but some permitted us to photograph them if we gave them a little money or a few cigarettes. Many of them have come out of the forest. and are living 1n huts alongside of the roads. We passed many gangs of them today working along the road filling in the ruts and potholes (they sure did need it). We are about 1400 miles from Nairobi and the only pavement we have seen was a few short-strips in some of the towns we passed through. It is the roughest long stretch or road we have ever seen. One hundred miles is about the limit we can drive in one day. We twist and turn dodging potholes or straddling them. Then there are the deep ruts, deeper than the car wheels which we also have to straddle. They never run straight so we have to twist and turn to keep on the ridges. If we would ever slip down into a rut, we would surely rip the bottoms out of our vehicles. Since we left Nairobi eleven days ago, we have had some rain every day, mostly during the night though and then only enough to settle the dust for which we were thankful. However, we did have a hard rain one morning that really gave us a bad time. We were in hilly country and the road got so slick as we were going up grade that our wheels began to spin and slip back and forth across the road so we just stopped and waited until the rain stopped and the sun came out. If we hadn't stopped we would surely have been in the ditch. In about three hours the road was dry enough for us to proceed. On another day whi1e driving through high mountains, we had two tropical storms. Thunder cracked, lightning flashed, the wind blew and the rain came down - first in dollar size drops and then in sheets. It didn't last long though and the road was good gravel so we had no problem with slipping. Well, this is enough about our trials and tribulations with the weather and roads. Let me assure you we are enjoying every minute of our trip. These past eleven days have been some of the most interesting of all our trip. We are now in the real Africa where Africans rule supreme. A white face is rarely seen unless it happens to be a tourist or a missionary.
Upon leaving Kenya, we crossed again into Tanzania for the third time. We saw more game, monkeys and baboons. We forded two creeks and rode two ferries; one across a jungle river and one across an arm of Lake Victoria. From Tanzania we crossed into the small country of RWANDA and out of the English speaking countries into the French speaking countries which we wi11 have from now on. We also switched from the English style of driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right side. It was a little confusing at first and I kept finding myself drifting back to the left side of the road. Passing through Rwanda customs and immigration was quite an experience. When we reached the border there was a long pole across the road barring the way. On the other side was a small canvas tent with an African woman sitting in front of it reading a newspaper. There were two or three mud huts nearby and beneath a big shade tree, three or four Africans were lounging. Not being able to speak French or whatever native language they speak, I made motions to all who would look toward us indicating that we wanted to cross. The woman said something that I didn't understand and then went on reading. No one e1se paid any attention to us. After standing thereabout 1/2 hour a barefoot African approached us and indicated that we were to follow him into the tent. It was a low brown canvas affair and stifling hot inside. He picked up a record book from a packing case in the corner, sat down on the edge of a folding cot and proceeded to copy all the data from our passports into his book. His pen didn't work so he borrowed mine and kept it. It was so hot inside the tent that I thought only of getting out as fast as I could. When he had finished, he indicated that we were to proceed down the road about 1/2 mile to a couple of tin roofed shacks where we went through the whole procedure again. This took most of the afternoon so we didn't make many miles that day. We stayed all night at a Catholic mission as it is not advisable to stay by the road in most of these countries. I told you in my last letter that there was a sma11 tribal war going on in this country (Rwanda, but everything was tranquil when we were there and the government denied that there had been any bloodshed as had been reported in Kenya newspapers.
Rwanda 1s a beautiful country and we enjoyed a variety of sights and scenery. For a short distance the road paralleled a 1arge river and there were quite a number of hippos cavorting in the water and sunning themselves on the bank. We crossed a wide grassy treeless plain and saw two large herds of buffalo, three herds of elephants, numerous impala, springbok and other species or antelope grazing in the lush green grass. From the plain, we climbed a mountain by a rough, dusty switchback road. From the summit we looked down into the valley below. It looked exactly like the scenery we found in Colombia and Equador with fields of sugarcane, coffee and banana plantations covering the hillsides. And here there are people and people and people. This area and part of adjoining Zaire (Congo) are said to be the most dense1y populated in all of Africa and I believe it. For mi1es and miles people line the roadway on both sides - some walking and some just standing. It is curious to watch them as we drive along waving our hands at them and calling “JAMBO” which is the African equivalent of “HELLO." Most of them smi1es and return our greeting but some only scowl. No one has thrown a spear at us yet, but one youngster threw a. rock one shot at us with a slingshot. No damage was done. And there are huts and huts and huts. 1n one stretch they lined the road on both sides for more than 25 miles without a break and sometimes three or four rows deep. I think everybody moved out of the jungle and settled along side the roads. It amuses us to see the women with a load on their head watch us go by; be it a pai1of water, a bundle of firewood, a stalk of bananas or what have you. As the lead car goes by, the head and the burden turn as though on a pivot to follow it. Then when they hear the second car approaching, the head and burden swivel back to watch it go by. No matter what the burden is, it always stays in the same place or position on the head.
SUNDAY NIGHT Our camp site was in a small clearing just off the road. There were no people around, just us and the jungle creatures. During the night we could hear the harsh cough of a hunting leopard and sounds of many birds and insects. It was the first time we had spent a night in the jungle not near a human habitation. It was a great feeling to get up at the crack of dawn and have our breakfast in such a picturesque setting. We had no rain Saturday or Sunday so the road was quite dusty and most of it settled on us. However, we found a camping spot for the night at a private club where we could take a
nice shower so we feel quite refreshed tonight. Most of the road was quite a bit better today and we were able to make 20O miles instead of the usual 100. It was a beautifu1 drive through dense forests of tall trees draped with flowering vines, tall palms and giant tree ferns. Exotic tropical birds fly across the road in front of us and myriads of butterf1ies in all shades of the rainbow swarm like bees around the water-fil1ed potholes and wet spots along the road. They settle on some spots so thick that they comp1etely obscure the ground beneath them. At times there are so many in the air that they look like colored snowflakes. There is another hazard we are sometimes faced with that I failed to mention earlier and that is fallen trees across the road. Some are pushed over by the elephants and others are uprooted by the fierce trop1cal storms. We encountered one such tree directly across our path. It was about five feet or six feet in diameter at the base and approximately 200 feet tall. It was too large to cut up or move with the primitive equipment ava11able so a detour was cut through the jungle around it. A pygmy was making a good thing out of it by getting people to take his picture beside the tree for a small fee. The powers that be were attempting to remove the tree by burning it but at the rate they were progress1ng it wi11 take at least a year to complete the job.
We arrived in this town tonight with empty gas tanks expecting to get them filled but all of the stations are completely out of gas. They say there might be some tomorrow. We have been told that this is a common occurrence in this part of Africa so we are going to wait here until the gas arrives.
Even with the 30 gallons we are carrying in our jeep cans, we wi11 need a full tank to be able to get to the next supply. Will mail this tomorrow and write aga1n soon.
Wes and Vivian
Letter # 18 Wednesday, March 21, 1973 Deep in the African Jungle
We have had an adventurous three days since my last letter. I didn't mail it as I had planned because the POST OFFICE? there didn’t look very reliable to me. I will mail it along with this one when we get to a more suitable place. Now to get back to where I left off about waiting for the gasoline. There was a fellow camped near us who scouted around and found a place that had some 50 gallon drums of gas but they would only sell it by the full drum so between us we could see the entire 50 gallons. We had to syphon it out into a 5-gallon jeep can and then pour it into our various tanks. There was a crowd of Africans clustered around us while we were transferring the gas and one of them reached in the car and stole our flashlight. You don't dare leave anything unguarded for a minute. It took us until noon to finish with the gas so we ate our lunch and then started on our journey over a hot dusty rough road. It wasn't long before we came to a river. A ferry was on the other side but it seems they would not cross until there was some one wanting to cross from their side. Whi1e we were waiting along with a couple of trucks and a Land Rover, a hard gusty wind came up and blew and twisted the trees around so hard that we thought some or them might topple over on us. Then a big black cloud came over and the rain began to pour down. It rained hard for about 30 minutes, then stopped as suddenly as it started and the sun came out again. After about a 3-hour wait a truck f1nally showed up on the other side and the ferry brought it across. The ferry consisted of three metal pontoons with heavy planks laid across them to support the vehicles. We had to board the ferry by driving up two big planks leaning against it. It was so steep that several men had to get behind us and push to get us up. They took one truck, one Land Rover and two V-Ws the first trip, then went back for two more trucks and another V –W. On the second load one of the trucks ran of the planks on one side and the wheels went down into the river. The other truck pulled him back up on the bank and they all finally got loaded. It was after 6: 00 P M when they finally got everybody over the river. I failed to mention earlier that there are three V- Ws in our safari now. We are traveling with a man, his wife and little daughter who are going back to Germany. They are Hans and Catherina Rodding and 3-year old Michaela. We first met Hans in Capetown, then in Dar Es Salaam the night Vivian's hand bag was almost stolen, again in Nairobi, then a couple more times on the trail so we decided to proceed the rest at the way as a team and help each other as necessary. (Oh - Oh - as I sit here writing it has started pouring down rain again). Well, back to our story. When we all got across on the ferry, it was almost dark so we bedded down for the night on a level spot near the ferry landing. During the night, again we heard the leopards and other jungle sounds. We are in real primitive Africa now and the Africans we meet are still 1iving as they did before the white man ever came to Africa. As we drive along this Jungle trail, we see them standing in the bushes, spear in hand and immobile as a carved ebony statue. (It has stopped raining now). Today we came up on one of the natives holding up a big pineapple. We stopped and traded two plastic plates (that we never used) for the pineapple. The man seemed very happy with the deal. When I refer to this route as a jungle trail - it is just that, only two wheel tracks through the dense forest. The only traffic we have seen is two or three trucks a day picking up bananas or cotton. They grow cotton here on a very small scale.
As we go along we see two or three large woven baskets of cotton beside the road in front of a hut. This is apparently their whole crop. Mangos grow wild in the jungle here and the trees are loaded with fruit. Unfortunately they are not ripe yet or we would be gorging ourselves on them. The monkeys and baboons are something to see. We have seen several groups or them in the trees today but they always scamper back into the jungle as we approach. The bridges on this trail just about give us heart failure. They consist of' about 1/2 dozen logs laid lengthwise across the stream or gully. They are flattened somewhat on the top side. Not being straight - there are big gaps between most of the logs. Sometimes the gap is filled in with a smaller log or tree but more often it is just left open. God help you If' you slip off into one of these gaps. The bridges were made to accommodate the big dual-tired trucks and it is a pretty tricky business to get a V-W across them. We crossed 14 bridges today and each time one person had to stand on the other side to gu1de the driver across very precisely because sometimes there was no more than an inch to spare to keep from dropping a wheel into a crack. Tonight we are camped by another ferry?? It consists of' planks laid across seven big dugout canoes. We cross in the morning at 6:30. Will write more tomorrow.
This is TOMORROW and we're still on the go. That ferry was something to see. The dugouts were rotting away and all were leaking so they had to be bailed out before we could load. Some even had big ferns and other plants growing on them. We got up at the crack of dawn and at 6:30 drove up two rotting planks onto the rickety ones laid across the seven canoes. Six Africans got into the canoes and pushed us across the river with long poles. The river was full of big rocks and we got hung up twice. One of the boatmen got out in the waist deep water and pried us loose with a piece of driftwood. This was our unlucky day. When we started the engine, we found our car was runn1ng on just three cylinders. We changed spark plugs and tried other th1ngs but nothing did any good so we just chugged along on the three. About the middle of the afternoon we had to stop and put a couple of cans of gas in the car when I noticed one rear tire was about half flat so had to change that. It is about 200 miles to the next V_W garage and just hope we can make it. This trail we are on really is in the boondocks. We saw only one truck all day and it didn't sound as if it could go much further. We passed a few scattered African huts and the Africans we saw wore only scanty breach cloths. They carried spears, bow and arrows and big knives. Most of them smiled and waved as we drove by. We had a few more of the log bridges - most of them short but one was rather long and particularly bad. It was about 75 feet long across a large river. About six big 1ogs were laid side by side across the river and heavy planks were across them. Originally it had been quite a sturdy bridge but now the planks are cracked and rotting; two of them are completely missing so we had to be guided very carefully in order to get our wheels on the logs in the vacant spots. Tonight. We stopped by a little group of huts and asked the African who seemed to be the Chief if we could stay all night in a cleared space in front of the huts. He Indicated O.K. so we proceeded to set up camp for the night. We sure had an interested audience. About fifteen or twenty natives stood in a circle around us and watched every move we made. Finally we went over to them, gave them cigarettes and other presents and they brought us a couple of dozen oranges. I mystified them with my string trick and they all got a big laugh out of that. Then I bought some eggs from them for one Makuta each (about 1 - 1/4 cents - US). They left soon after the sun went down and we haven't beard a peep out of them since.
Friday: Up at 4: 30, had breakfast and were off by sunup. The Africans were beating the drums when we left. Guess they were sending a message ahead that we were coming because for the next two or three miles groups or natives were standing out along the trail watching us go by. We made only 83 miles today and stopped at a Mission about 3:30 P.M.. I dismounted my flat tire and found two big nails in it. Gordon cleaned his air filter. Hans did some work on his car and helped me with the tire whi1e the women washed clothes. We are all pooped tonight. We did pass through some beautiful jungle scenery today. Huge forests of giant bamboo that formed a complete canopy over the trail. It was like driving through a green tunnel. There were long stretches of tall palms,
more wild mango and wild fig trees. There is one tree called the strangler fig. It does not have sufficient strength to support itself so it attaches itself to another tree and comlete1y encircles it with basket-like network of roots so tight that the host tree is eventually killed by strangulation. The palm trees are very tall and resemble coconut palms but they bear an odd type or fruit that I've never seen before. I can't find words to describe the fruit because I know of nothing to compare it to. These palms are covered from top to bottom with lush ferns, elk-horn, philodendron and many other vines. Pineapples crow at random along the trail and I even found some in the untrod jungle where it seemed unlikely that they had been planted. The Africans along this trail apparently do not see many white faces because we seem to be such a curiosity to all of them. When we stopped for lunch today, not a soul was in sight but within ten minutes we had a crowd of more than twenty Africans surrounding us. I gave each of them a piece of candy and shook hands with all of them. They stayed and watched us until we finished lunch. This is such an interesting part of Africa that we would like to stay longer and visit with these people in their villages BUT we have to hurry and get past a place about 1,000 miles from here before the BIG RAINS start or we might be here until next winter. The Mission has showers available to us so we are going now and get some of this road dust off. We'll start again at the crack of dawn and hope to make more than 100 m1les tomorrow.
CRACK OF DAWN Saturday, March 24. We got an early start and thought we could make it all the way to the border between "Zaire" and “Central African Republic" but didn't reckon with another ferry. THIS ONE WAS MORE MODERN??? It was constructed by laying planks across three factory-built steel hulls. A ramp was at each end to let down on the river bank. It had a capacity of only two V-Ws. The ferries in Zaire are operated by the government and are not supposed to charge but the “Captain" of this one was loaded on "Nubian Gin” and demanded money before he would take us across. At first he wanted 100 zaires but finally settled for 1 - 1/2 zaires for the three of us. Hans can speak a 1ittle French so he did a11 the arguing for us. The Capta1n was so drunk that he couldn't even stand up on the way across and had to 1ie on the deck. Oh Yes - the center hull of the terry had a motor but it wouldn't run so six Africans poled and rowed us across the river. By the time all three of us got across it was too late to go on so we camped by the ferry landing and listened to the sounds of the jungle through the night.
Sunday: Up and away through more of the same African villages, dense jungle and ROUGH roads. We st1l1 couldn't make it to the border before dark so we found a nice quiet spot along the trai1 away from any human habitation and spent a peaceful night. We did cross into the Central African Republic but the Customs office was closed so we washed clothes and read for awhile after we parked. We also got in some much needed rest. We do get dirty and tired on these rough dusty red roads. Monday through Sunday we have gone only 530 miles. We have to wait here for Customs to open on Monday morning.
Wednesday, March 28: We arrived here in Bangui this morning - 455 miles from Bangassou (the border). The last fifty miles we were on paved roads and the seventy-five miles before that we had well graded but dusty roads and were able to drive about forty or fifty miles per hour most of the way. This country is much more developed than Zaire. The roads have all been graded but for about 200 miles we had mostly washboard roads that shook us to pieces and we would have to slow to about ten miles per hour, to keep from jumping off the road. There are no more makeshift ferries either. All the rivers have First Class?? bridges. The people seem more prosperous also. Nearly all of them wear nice clothes and a few even have motorcycles to ride. They are very small and are built here in this country.
On the way we passed through two jungle fires. At a couple of spots the fire was so close to the road that we had to close the u1ndows to keep the heat out.
Monday night we stopped at a Catholic Mission in a small African village. The Padre was African and he welcomed us then directed us to a nice level spot beneath some mango trees. Well, I guess you know that we were the center of attraction for the whole village. They swarmed around us - watching every move we made and every bite of food we ate - jabbering all the time. Pretty soon a couple of' fellows came with their jungle drums and for about an hour we were entertained by a regular African “Fling Ding.”
I am sti11 chugging along on three cylinders so have to go to the V-W garage here this afternoon to try to get it fixed. Hans is having trouble with his starter and the spare tire rack broke on Gordon's car. We will all have to stay here until repairs are completed. We have spent all morning getting money changed and getting our visas extended. - We went to the post office or course and got our mail. There was one mailed on March 8, which arrived on March 19. Another was mailed March 15 and arrived March 23. Today I am mai1ing the letter I wrote in Zaire. I didn't see any place there that I wanted to take a chance on.
Prices are very high here too. The first seven gallons of gas we bought here cost $ 10.00 and the first beer we bought cost $ 1.00 for a quart including deposit on the bottle.
So far we have all been in good health and thoroughly enjoying our trip.
Will write more later.
Wes and Vivian
In my last letter mailed from Bangui, I told you some of our experiences in the garage there and that they promised to get us out by Wednesday night. We didn’t get out on Wednesday night OR Thursday night but finally did about noon on Friday. Even though it was exasperating to watch the MECHANICS??? work and frustrating because of our inability to communicate with them, it was also comical to watch them. They didn't have any trouble taking the engine apart, but when it came to putting it back together, it was 1ike work1ng a jigsaw puzzle. There were two of them working on it; they would pick up a part from a box, look at it and jabber about it, then would try it on different places on the engine until a place was found that it would fit. Sometimes they would get the wrong part on first, then have to take it off in order to put some other part on that should have gone on first. When it became time to put the eng1ne back in the car, seven of them were WORKING??? And all were jabbering up a storm. Some of them got disgusted and walked away until only three were left. After struggling with it for awhile, they finally discovered that they had to take off some more parts before the engine would go in. By Thursday night the engine was back in but not running yet. By that time we were really tearing our hair. We11 - Friday morning one man started the finishing touches on it and got the engine running. It still needed some adjustment on the carburetors but we were so anxious to get out of there that we didn't wait to have it done. I picked up a handful of' nuts, bolts and assorted hardware that was left over and left hoping that the engine wouldn't fall out on the road. So far the engine is doing alright. I must tell you a couple of other interesting things about our stay there in the garage yard. Almost every morning, some of the employees would come into the yard, pick up a tool or some motor part and hide it - then during siesta period from noon to 2:30, some other African would come in the yard, pick up the hidden article and make off with it. At night though, they had an armed guard (armed with a SPEAR) . About 8:00 o' clock he would light a candle by the back door of the garage, then crawl into a packing case “hut" and that is the last we would see at him until daylight.
It has taken us a full week to get this far - about 1,000 miles from Bangui. We had about 200 miles of road that was in all stages of construction from preliminary grading to finished pavement. We had many detours around bridges and work areas where we had to plough through hub-deep, fine, powdery dust most1y in low and second gears. As I told you in one of my previous letters, we were hurrying to get out of the rain belt before the heavy downpours started. WE ARE OUT OF IT! The country here looks similar to the deserts of Baja, California and the Mojave: nothing but thorn bushes and other desert trees. The river bottoms are all dry but there is some subsurface water in a couple of them. The Africans were scooping holes in the sandy bottoms to get down where there was enough water seeping through to wash their clothes and to get a few jars full to take home. In one place where the road was under construction, a water truck was sprinkling the road; then we saw women come out of their huts and run behind the truck with buckets and dishpans to catch as much water as they could. At another place, people were filling their water jars from a green stagnant pool in a nearly dry river bed. There are quite a number of African vi1lages along this road and most of them seem to have community wells where the who1e vil1age can get water. We passed by one well where we saw a group of women (NECKED AS JAY BIRDS) taking a bath by pouring bowls of water over their heads. Their black bodies really glistened in the bright sunshine.
April 25: Kano Nigeria
We arrived here this afternoon, went to the Post office at once and picked up our mail.
Now you are about to hear a tale of woe. Three days before reaching Maiduguri, Casey (Ina Case) came down with malaria in spite of the fact that she had taken her anti-malaria pills faithfully. She was so sick when we arrived at Maiduguri that we had to get her into a hospital immediately. We made inquiry after inquiry about where to find a doctor as we drove along and the only advice we could get was to go to the “General Hospital". We went there and found about one hundred or more Africans lined up waiting to be treated for all kinds of complaints. Casey was too sick to wait in line so we left. Then we had a stroke of good luck. We found the “Sudan United Mission" and when the lady in charge found out about our problem, she sent us to another branch organization 7 1/2 miles out of town where there was a resident physician. It was after dark when we got there but with her detailed directions we drove right to the place without any mistakes whatsoever. The doctor met us and put Casey to bed immediately. She was there until yesterday (Tuesday). Then to top it all off, Gordon's car began to misbehave about the same time that Casey got sick and by the time we got to Maiduguri, it was just barely chugging along on two cylinders. We took it to the V-W garage the next day and the head mechanic, a German, diagnosed the trouble. He told us the engine would have to come out to be repaired but they couldn't do it there because they had no spare parts for this model. Then we had another stroke of luck.
We met a young Canadian couple, Mr. & Mrs. Lyle Watts and he is a mechanic. He had a friend who owned a V-W and did all his own mechanical work. They checked the car over and agreed with the German that repairs could not be made in Maiduguri. The nearest qualified garage for V-W repairs was in Kano - about 400 miles away. Here again Lyle filled the breach. He knew some top people in the public works department and through them he arranged for a truck to haul Gordon's car clear to Kano. All of us agreed that the car could never get there on its own power. So Gordon went to Kano last Wednesday on the truck and we stayed at the Mission to wait for Casey to get well enough to travel. The doctor released her yesterday at 11:00 a m and we left right away. Gordon got here Thursday afternoon and got to the garage just before they closed. Friday was a holiday, they work just 1/2 day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were two more holidays so they didn't start the job until Tuesday. It is supposed to be ready some time tomorrow. All these delays have caused us to give up the Sahara trek. The doctor said that Casey should not attempt such a trip in her present condition and besides that, it is now too late in the season for any of us to try it. A month ago everything would have been fine. The temperature in Maiduguri was around 120F or more every day and from 100F to 110F at night. One day was so hot that our thermometer broke. The only way we could sleep was with a wet bath towel over us and the electric fan blowing on it all night. (Try it sometime on a hot night). When we leave here we will go to Lagos, Nigeria and book passage on a ship for SOMEWHERE. We haven' t any idea where until we investigate all the possibilities. I have many more interesting things to write about but this hot weather has me too weary to think right now but will write again soon.
Wes and Vivian
Letter #20 May 7, 1973 Monrovia, Liberia
We1l, Folks, our African Safari is ended and the Wandering Walgrens and Cases are wending their weary way home. I mailed three letters from Kano, Nigeria and sure hope you get them all. I told you that we had to cancel our planned trip across the Sahara because of car trouble and Casey's malaria.
While getting our cars worked on in Kana we were permitted to camp in the fenced Yard of the garage, this time facing the street instead of in the backyard as in Bangui. We were able to make some interesting observations while there which I will now relate.
Across the street in front of a high block wa1l, two Africans made their "home". Their entire possessions consisted of two blackened cooking pots and a five gallon oi1 can with the top cut out. They slept on the ground under the trees at night and did their cooking over an open camp fire. A little further down the street, an African family had a THRIVING restaurant business. Their equipment consisted of four crude tables and some benches made of rough boards and all were very black and greasy from long usage. The cooking was done over charcoal or wood fires built in the bottoms of cut down oil drums. From what we could observe the meals consisted mostly of rice and chunks of meat roasted over the open tire. The customers served themselves out of the open cooking pots. All the cooking and dish washing was done by two women bending at the waist over the cooking pots and dish pans on the ground. They took their pots, pans and other supplies back and forth every day on a hand cart built on two old auto wheels. The table and benches were left there under the trees. We don't know how they operated when it rained as neither they nor the two men I mentioned above had any shelter.
The garage was completely surrounded by a chain 1ink fence w1th a guarded gate as the only entrance. When a customer would bring in a car for service, the guard would take a complete inventory of everything in the car or on it, such as tools, spare tires, head lights, mirrors, etc. Then it was all checked off when the car was delivered. Each night the entire garage was swept by a man squatting on his haunches and swishing the dirt ahead of him with a bundle of stiff broom straw tied like a whisk broom without a handle.
Letter # 21 May 11,1973 On Board the M-V Aureol
Tomorrow we make our last stop before reaching England. It will be at Las Palmas, one of the Canary Islands and where this letter will be posted.
There are a few more interesting items about our African safari that I don't remember mentioning in previous letters so will try to tell you of as many as I can think of now.
As we drove through the various countries, we found many different tribes, each with his own type of dress and tribal customs. Some filed their teeth to sharp points and others had bright red teeth from chewing the betel nut. We even saw some with long heads made by binding the infant's skull until the head grows in this shape. Some tribes shaved their heads as smooth as a billiard ba11; others bound their hair in long pigtails about the size of a pencil. Some let the pigtails st1ck straight out from the skull in all directions and others would intertwine them like a loose net over the head. In one tribe the men were smoking little pipes that appeared to be made of some kind of a seed pod with a straight bamboo stem stuck into it. Some of the tribes completely covered their bodies while others wore nothing but brief loin cloths. In some of the tribes both men and women wore wrap-around skirts. Nigeria, the country we just left is a Moslem country and most of the people wore the traditional dress of long flowing robes and small skull caps. It was an odd sight to see them riding bicycles or motorcycles with their robes flapping in the wind behind them. Some of the Sahara Desert tribesmen had drifted down into Nigeria and some of them were riding camels and sleek prancing Arabian horses. They were completely swathed from head to toe in long flowing robes with only their eyes showing through a narrow slit in the headdress. Some wore sheathed swords dangling from their belts. One might think he was on a Hollywood movie set but this was the real thing and not the “reel” thing. As I write about these interesting things I think of how much more of primitive Africa we were able to see than the people who travel on air plane tours.
In one of my letters I think I mentioned something about the termites that invaded our camper in a wooden case we were carrying. There are many different species of termites and each has its own distinctive type of "architecture." There are some that build a huge mound like a small hill. We have seen some as much as fifteen feet high and forty feet in diameter. Others build a structure that looks like a many spired castle. Each spire contains a ventilating shaft finished inside as smooth as a plastered wall. They are only five or six feet in diameter at the base but we have seen some at least fifteen feet tall. Then there is another type that is very conical looking. They are built mostly in open fields and are shaped like large toadstools. The base is usually about six to ten inches in diameter and the umbrella like cover is about twelve to fifteen inches in diameter. There is no external sign of life on any of these structures but inside they are honeycombed with passages teeming with termites.
I have commented from time to time on the conditions of some or the roads that we have seen but don't think I ever mentioned the wrecked, stripped and abandoned vehicles that dot the landscape. We saw many trucks, a few buses and cars that had been left parked on the road until they had been stripped of all movable parts. The road from Kano to Lagos was 1iterally lined with wrecked and burned trucks and gasoline tankers. In one morning we saw three trucks that had overturned on curves. One was loaded with cases of beer, one with bales of cot ton and the other with bags of corn. There was a gang of men with each truck busy salvag1ng the loads. This was a good paved road and we could see no excuse for all these wrecks except poor driving or faulty brakes as they a11 occurred on curves. This road crosses the wide Niger River about half-way between Kano and Lagos and there is only one narrow one-tray bridge that is shared by the highway and the railroad. When we arrived there was a long 1ine of trucks waiting to cross so we pulled up behind them and waited. After waiting for a couple of hours we could see that no progress was being made in getting the vehicles moving. Then we saw a Land Rover and a couple of other small vehic1es pull out of line and move on ahead so we decided to follow suit. We were lucky and after pass1ng about a mi1e of trucks we found the head of the line moving and were able to squeeze in ahead of a truck that wouldn’t start so we got across the bridge OK If we had stayed in line we probably would have been there all night. When we arrived in Lagos we saw a newspaper article stating that there had been an accident on the bridge and that over 4,000 vehicles and the trains had been delayed for twenty-four hours. We were very lucky to get through. If we had been another day getting to Lagos, we would have been too late for this ship and would have had to wait five weeks for the next one.
Lucky, Lucky, Lucky US.
Wes and Vivian
Casey recovered completely from her
brush with Malaria. Wes, the author of these letters,
died just over a year later from cancer at his home in San Diego, California.