Driving Yourself in Africa

Discussion in 'Before & After the Hunt' started by AfricaHunting.com, Mar 10, 2009.

  1. AfricaHunting.com

    AfricaHunting.com FOUNDER AH Ambassador

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    Driving Yourself In Africa Can Often Be An Adventurous Undertaking...

    Make sure to rent your car from a reputable company that has been in business for some time and get full insurance coverage from the car rental company.

    Most car rental companies in Africa will not let you take their cars into other countries, if you plan to do so make sure that your contract states that this is allowed and that the car rental insurance covers it. You may need to specify countries.

    Find out what their vehicle replacement policy is in case your vehicle is not functional anymore at any stage of your trip.

    Most of the rental cars will not have an automatic transmission, so for some this might be an issue. If you are not comfortable driving with a stick shift make sure to familiarize yourself with it prior to your trip.

    Make sure that you have at least one full good spare tire in the car and check the overall condition of the car and the spare. If you intend on traveling off road, long distances or remote areas, make sure to have at least two good spare tires... A couple of cans of tire filler can be also a great saver.

    Make sure that all the fluids of the car are topped off.

    In the first 10 minutes of driving, really pay attention to the way the car handles and what the engine sounds like. If it does not feel right, return it for another vehicle.

    Always carry plenty of extra drinkable water in the car, this can be used for the car or for yourself if stranded.

    If you do not need a 4x4, I would not recommend getting one unless you are familiar with driving them.

    Driving on dirt roads can be delicate, keep your speed down. It is easy to loose control on dirt or gravel roads. In many countries, and particularly in rural areas, roads are often poorly maintained.

    Beware of pot holes, they are not always easily seen and you never can anticipate the size of the hole just by looking at it. I have seen what appear to be small holes collapse into giant holes that have engulfed the entire front end of a car (this happens especially during and just after the rainy season).

    I would advice anyone unfamiliar with Africa to avoid doing self driven trips at any time during the rainy season if you will traveling on unpaved roads.

    It's not unusual to come across domestic animals such as sheep and cattle or game, this is the number one cause of death on the road in Africa, especially at dusk, dawn and at night. Stay alert, always use your seatbelt and avoid traveling at these times whenever possible.

    Make sure to get several road maps. From personal experience I know that the inaccuracy of maps in Africa is probable.

    Rent a satellite or cell phone for your own safety and well being. It is relatively inexpensive and a good insurance policy.


    Share your stories, tips and recommendations from your own travels in Africa or post your questions.
     
  2. Gerhard

    Gerhard AH Veteran

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    All great points and very important as well.

    If you want to drive around Angola....

    Get a driver that speaks English....

    Its a difficult place to drive but stunningly beautiful
     
  3. speedbump

    speedbump AH Member

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    Excellent points so far. The 2nd week of my trip to Namibia last year was spent camping and hiking in the Kalahari & Namib. That entails A LOT of driving from point-to-point, as Namibia is roughly the size and shape of California and Nevada combined ... with very few paved roads. I'll toss in a few lessons learned & passed on to me from others:

    • Have your personal data, credit card loss numbers, and a copy of your passport separate from your other stuff, in case of loss or theft. Also, keep your embassy contact info & extra cash handy just in case.

    • Allow for LOTS more time driving than your worst case scenario. Times and distances just don't compute in Africa. A good map, and the appropriate 'Brandt's Guide' are indispensable. Guides for flora, fauna, and especially birds are a must.

    • It is considered extremely rude to pull up to somebody and start firing questions or demanding directions. Courtesy and protocol require a lengthy greeting and polite inquiries as to weather, children, livestock, health, etc. Once preliminaries are concluded, offering a personal greeting with handshake is a must, and stating your home country are considered interesting. THEN move onto your questions. Showing genuine interest and respect are crucial.

    • Read the rental agreement CAREFULLY. There are often hidden caveats in there. Some have restrictions forbidding hitch hikers, driving over a certain speed on gravel, and at dawn, dusk, &/or dark, or even specific areas of the country. Drunk driving is a major taboo: DO NOT get on the wrong side of the law. Drunk driving accidents kill more visitors than almost anything else there. One crash claimed the life of a high ranking official recently. Violating rental agreements can VOID YOUR INSURANCE. As stated above, get the most insurance allowable.

    • Do not pick hitch hikers. This is controversial, and there were many times I wish I could've picked up folks and given them a ride. I remember two young guys standing on a dusty stretch of gravel north of Solitaire, south of the Tropic of Capricorn. A ride would've been most welcome, I'm sure, but many tourists have found out the hard way that all to often it's a ploy to get them to stop and be relieved of vehicle and all personal effects by accomplices hiding in the nearby camel thorn....

    • NEVER stop at a roadside rest park. A disturbing trend has been for thugs to wait in the bushes catching a nap, and when they hear a car door slam, approach with panga in hand to institute some 'wealth redistribution.' If you need to pee, wait a few minutes and you'll likely be on an extremely remote, deserted stretch of gravel where you can gain relief in a leisurely fashion in broad daylight.

    • If you have to stop in town for supplies or banking, find one of the official or unofficial car guards hanging around. Hand him a N10 and promise him N20 (@$3-4 USD total) when you return IF everything is OK. Cheap insurance.

    • One of the very best things I came up with was to take some extra Cokes, beer, & candy in a cooler. When paying car guards, asking directions or information, and generally having a conversation, "Have a Coke and a Smile" still works-in addition to payment when appropriate. I gained quality directions and conversation in Berseba/Mt. Brukkaros, Zarisghoote Pass, and other places with a cold Coke and a bit of hard candy. On my last morning in Swakopmund, the car guard who worked midnights was so happy to receive gemsbok filets, all left over candy, and two Windhoek Lights (+N20) that he got very emotional and gave me a bear hug ! I had my PH add several pounds each of filets of kudu, hartebeest, & gemsbok I had shot the week prior which was coveted by many I came in contact with. Cash is good, use your imagination for extras.

    • When driving on gravel roads and approaching an oncoming vehicle, move as far over tho the side of the road and slow waaaaaay down. If you or the other vehicle approaches too fast, more often than not gravel is flung all over the other's vehicle. Rude. Even more rude is to pass people on the roadside or on donkey carts at full speed and burying them in a dust shower. The same applies when driving through villages - covering the entire villages' laundry in road dust will make you an enemy and a moron in the same act.

    • When encountering Namibian police at roadblocks (they are in all directions from Windhoek) or other places BE POLITE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Show respect to him/her regardless of their age. Many of these folks are young patriots and they are very, very proud of their young country and their place in it. I'm sure other African countries have rampant corruption, but the Namiban Police officers I came in contact with were serious, professional, and proud of what they were doing.

    I'm sure I'll remember more things later and add to the list, but this is what comes to mind for now.......
     
  4. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    I sure hope a lot of people read this blog. It has a ton of great information on it. I think Speedbump is very right. Always be nice...tip a lot and show respect.
     
  5. Gerhard

    Gerhard AH Veteran

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    remember to plan your trip before you start driving.

    Planning will save a lot of lost time.
     
  6. AfricaHunting.com

    AfricaHunting.com FOUNDER AH Ambassador

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    speedbump, thank you for your post, a lot of great additions to the thread. It is especially valuable to hear from your own personal experiences. As Gerhard pointed out it is also important to know that all African countries are not created equally... some destinations are more reasonable than others for doing your own driving...
     
  7. speedbump

    speedbump AH Member

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    Jerome, you're quite welcome. That 2nd week of the trip was very memorable, as was the hunt. It allowed a much broader perspective of the country and continent. I was loathe to go from airport to camp ... and directly back to the airport without truly experiencing more of the place and people. I traveled alone, which freaks out some people, but I'm used to moving about in semi or non-permissive environments by myself.;) I'll add a few more points my feeble mind has recalled:

    • IMPORTANT: Namibia (I'm not sure about other countries) does not allow credit card payments for petrol or diesel. You MUST, by law, use cash. This is a radical departure for many Americans, so you have to prepare well in advance with N$ for a lengthy drive. All petrol stations are swarming with people - largely due to the cash on-hand. Be careful.

    • IMPORTANT: Notify your credit card company's security desk of your plans prior to the trip. If they see a cash advance request from Keetmanshoop, Namibia, the 1st thing they'll do (after asking where the &^%$ is Namibia?) is to DENY your funds and leave you stranded. I spoke to card security personnel at length prior to leaving and had no problems with them at all. Some ATMs are tricky though, most banks can handle any request you have in person with a modest wait in line. Also, check which cards are truly accepted in the country you'll be traveling.

    • Let people know your itinerary & routes and call in regularly. You can also send your itinerary to the US Embassy in the country you'll be transiting.

    • Know your routes by heart, but have an alternative in mind. Part of my route had been absorbed by the Namib-Rand Nature Preserve and was behind a locked gate. I detoured & it was OK.

    • Don't take photos of police & military installations or personnel. They consider that a breach of security and will probably take your camera and film/ chips, and possibly detain you for questioning.

    • Check your sat phone prior to leaving the car rental agency. Mine worked just fine to the States, but I could not call any place in Namibia. There is a surprisingly wide coverage area for cell phones, and you can purchase a conversion setup that works well along most routes. Do some research.

    More later, gotta get some sleep.
     
  8. Intu Safaris

    Intu Safaris AH Enthusiast

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    From my own personal experience and first hand reports, the easiest countries to drive yourself is in Namibia, botswana and South Africa, although you have to be careful in SA with safety issues. In most other countries the roads are terrible or for safety reasons you have to use a driver. Friends of mine recently travelled through Africa and got stuck in the mud in West Africa many times. It took them once 7 days of digging to get out. It won't take that long in the above mentioned countries.
     
  9. AfricaHunting.com

    AfricaHunting.com FOUNDER AH Ambassador

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    Take many pictures of your rental vehicle from all sides prior to leaving the car rental place... Also if there is any visible damage to the car, make sure to take pictures of that and make note of it on the contract.
     
  10. Stretch

    Stretch AH Fanatic

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    One more tip. If your coming from a country such as the USA remember that you will need to learn to drive on the other (wrong) side of the road. Instinctively turning into the wrong lane could be very dangerous.
     
  11. Nyati

    Nyati AH Legend

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    I know of a hunter who had a serious accident in Zimbabwe, resulting in the death of a local, and ended up in jail !

    No, I would not drive myself in Africa, using a local driver would be my option.
     
  12. AfricaHunting.com

    AfricaHunting.com FOUNDER AH Ambassador

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    Gravel Road Driving Tips
    - Take along enough drinking water, especially during hot conditions.
    - Inform your host of your route and approximate time of arrival.
    - Check pressure of spare tyre and ensure tyres are at the recommended pressure at all times.
    - Avoid driving at night. It is dangerous due to poor visibility and increased game movement.
    - Never exceed 80km/h. This ensures optimum control of your vehicle and will lessen excessive use of brakes, which in turn may result in damage to tyres or even blowouts.
    - If you need to overtake, avoid loose gravel at the side of the road.
    - Drastically reduce speed when transferring from tar to gravel and when approaching a motor grid.
    - Drive in the existing tracks on the road.
    - Keep to the left when approaching a blind hill.
    - Switch on your headlights in dusty conditions or traffic’s dust.
    - Watch out for sharp stones on the road (sharp stone + tyres = damage/flat).
    - Keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.
    - Be vigilant for flying stones that could chip or shatter your windscreen.
    - Watch out for any large rocks in the road that could damage your car undercarriage.
    - Pay attention to road traffic signs, particularly those that indicate a gentle or sharp turn ahead. Reduce your speed accordingly.
    - Always be on the lookout for wild animals and stock from farms. Slow down immediately when you see them.
    - Keep a safe following distance from vehicles in front of you.
    - Reduce speed when passing oncoming traffic and keep to the left of the road as far as safely possible.
    - Do not allow wheels to lock when applying brakes.

    In rainy or wet conditions...
    - In rainy or wet conditions, be aware of slippery roads, wash-aways and running or stagnant water.
    - Do not try to cross streams unless you have verified the speed and depth of water, as well as substrate (sandy, rocky, holes) through the entire length of water to be crossed.
    - If it is raining and roads are wet, slow down. Take your foot off the accelerator and let your speed drop gradually. Never use the brakes suddenly, because this may cause the car to skid.
    - Be extra careful during the first few hours after rain fell. Roads are much more slippery.
    - Slow down in areas where vehicles have passed already and have left ruts in the road. Your vehicle may follow these ruts, possibly resulting in a loss of control.
     

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