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Dakar to Cape Town: Driving the Western Trans Africa

Dragoman guide and Wanderlust Guide of the Year 2018 Julie Gabbott is currently on the road for us leading the brand new Western Trans Africa, Sahel to the Cape. This mammoth 134-day overland tour down the coast of West Africa takes in Dakar, Freetown, Accra and Cape Town (and plenty of destinations inbetween).

Jules is keeping us updated on the group’s travels. Over to you, Jules!

Part Ten

 

We make our way up to the Chappal Waddi range which separates Nigeria from Cameroon. This is overlanding at its best, following the road less travelled we climb up to 1700mtrs.


 


We meet an unexpected checkpoint. Thanks to Brigit and Andreas for the laughter.

 


At our last stop in Nigeria, we are hosted by the Community of Kanylyaka, setting up camp in their primary school. Before we head across the border the following morning, we say our goodbyes and donate two footballs to the school.

 


Name: Joe
Where do you come from? Ireland

Why did you decide to travel Accra to Cape town with Dragoman?
I had done Dakar to Accra, and Namibia to Cape Town previously and this will complete this section of Africa.

What is your essential item in your backpack?
Smart phone

What advice can you give to future overlanders who would like to travel in West Africa?
Expect the unexpected

If you were an animal what would you be and why?
An elephant because they have a good memory and they all look after each other and work together. They never forget their roots.

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Nigeria, I must say I am sad to leave. From a traveller’s perspective I would love to come back and learn even more about the diversity of beliefs and linguistic groups, learn more about the history of the kingdoms that still exist today such as the Obs of Benin, and of course see more of the beautiful scenery which is all mixed into this one amazing country.

For me personally I loved the energy and humour of the Nigerian People. Every day I would share beautiful moments of laughter and banter, whether it be with an initially stern-faced checkpoint official, or a loud and energetic lady selling fruit.  Thank you, Nigeria - I hope to come back one day and share more dance moves and laughter.

 


After our first bushcamp in Cameroon, we enjoy breakfast whilst the sun is rising.  We camped at 1200mtrs so it was a beautiful temperature for a good night’s sleep had by all.

 


Cows on the dirt roads travelling through Cameroon.

 


We spend a morning in one of the oldest towns in Cameroon. Foumban was founded in the 15th century by Nchare Yen.  The sultan’s palace now houses a museum where you can learn about the history of the Bamoun people of this area.

 


Bamoun king Mbuembue allegedly had a voice that could carry over a mile, and Bamoun king Ibrahim Njoya invented the Bamoun alphabet and converted to Islam, becoming a Sultan.

 


Duncan can confirm there is lots of detail in the Ironwork.

 


After 5 days of the beautiful red dirt road we are on tarmac again, with the morning rising over the Central Hills of Cameroon.

 

Part Nine


NIGERIA!!! We crossed into Nigeria at Ketou and were welcomed with warm smiles.  Tourists travelling overland are pretty rare in Nigeria so we were stopped 23 times between the Border and our 1st night stop of Abeokuta. Most stops were to ask “what are you doing here?", "where are you going?", and "welcome to Nigeria”.

 


Whilst in Abeokuta, we visited Olumo Rock, which is 137mtrs high. It was used as a sanctuary for the Egan people during the Yoruba civil war. It also offers great views over the city.

 


We also got to see some of the wax print clothes that the city is famous for.  Whilst visiting the market there was a lot of “hello, welcome to Nigeria”.  Nigerian female stall holders have no fear to run up and give us big hugs, followed by an impromptu bit of dancing.

 


Enjoying the views over Abeokuta, I asked one of our Dragoman family a few questions...

Name: Andreas (AKA Dre)
Where are you from? Sweden

Why did you choose to travel Accra to Cape Town with Dragoman?
I wanted to visit a part of the world people rarely visited, and I wanted to see and experience the countries for myself.

What is the one essential item in your backpack?
A good quality sleeping mat.

What advice can you give to future overlanders?
Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
A sloth, as they never stress about anything.

 


Mangabey monkeys descend on the truck as we park up at Osogbo Sacred Grove.

 


At Osogbo Sacred Grove, we learned about the history and different gods of Yourba heritage. The goddess pictured above is the goddess of the river Osun. She is the bringer of fertility and holds her arms out to welcome us all.  The sacred forest art installations were constructed during the 1980s by the Yourba Priests and the artist Susanne Wenger. Swiss-born Susanne became a born-again Yourba and later a high priestess.

 


A refreshing shower is had at the Olumirin waterfalls.

Name: Paul
Where do you come from? UK

Why did you decide to travel Accra to Cape town with Dragoman?
Right location and right time.

What is your essential item in your backpack?
Torch/light

What advice can you give to future overlanders who would like to travel in West Africa?
Don’t bring light or white clothes

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
Leopard

 


Next stop is Benin city, part of the Benin kingdom which flourished between the 14th-17th centuries.  Unfortunately, the Oba (Benin Monarch) was not in residence today. We are hopeful that future groups may be able to have an audience with the king.

Down Igun Street, we learned about the lost wax process of casting bronze, which the Benin kingdom was famous for. It’s amazing to see these skills passed down to the modern day.

 


Heading east, we crossed the River Niger Bridge at Asaba/Onistha. The bridge is 1km long and can be very congested, but we made it across in 20min.

 

 

 


We spent two nights at the Pandrillus Afi Mountain Sanctuary.  We were hosted by the staff and the amazing Liza Gadsby.

When the Drills call together I can only describe it like a chorus of Mogwais (if you have seen the 80s movie Gremlins you will know what I mean!).

(Note:- the male Drill in the photo had been cut in the face so was kept in an enclosure whilst being treated and he will be released back into the forest in a few days. They do not keep the animals caged like a zoo.)

Due to the efforts of Liza, Peter and her team, they have managed to conserve the populations of Chimpanzees in the area. To learn more you should visit the website and this will make you want to visit even more: https://www.pandrillus.org

We were also treated to a night light shower of thunder and lightning from above.

 


Dragoman Crew Duncan was also brushed up against by one the Serval cats which was rescued, reared and released back into the wild.

 

Part Eight


We make camp at Coco Beach just outside Togo’s capital city Lomé. We obtain a visa whilst here, explore the thriving market and enjoy the breeze off the Bight of Benin.

 


After crossing the border at Hilla Condi, we enter Benin and head to the historic town of Ouidah.

 


During our tour of Ouidah, we visit the Python Temple where all pythons are sacred. Each month the pythons are released from the temple to explore the town, and if you find a python in your house this is seen as a blessing.  Here’s our Joe having his pocket picked ha ha.

 


We also learn about the West Africa Slave trade. The Door of No Return was the point from which slaves were sent across the Atlantic to work the plantations in the Americas. All the crops the slaves worked on - such as sugarcane, tobacco and cotton - were all essential items. You can see this at the forefront of the consumer culture around us today.

 


Andreas and Carme join in hauling the fishing nets in from the waters off Ouidah.  There is one person in charge of the timing who will keep the chant going. You can hear the haul chanting long before you see the fishermen on the beach.

 

Meet one of our passengers, Kate...


Name: Kate

Where are you from? Perth, Australia

Why did you decide to travel Accra to Cape Town with Dragoman?
There are very few places in the world where tourists aren’t. I want to travel to places off the beaten track, and get away from technology - although there is WiFi in West Africa.

What is your one essential item in your backpack?
Power bank.

What advice can you give to future overlanders?
Embrace the parts of the trip that don’t always go as planned. Often they are the most memorable and produce the most hilarity.

If you where an animal, what would you be and why?
Sloth - lots of sleep.

 

 

Next stop is Ganvie, where we take a boat out onto Lake Nokoué. Around 20,000 people live in the stilt houses of Ganvie. They descend from the Tofinu people, who originally built the water-bound settlement during the 16th century to escape the slave traders.

 


Our final destination in Benin is Abomey, home of the Dahomey Kingdom, which ruled this part of Africa right up to independence in 1960. The Dahomey Kingdom was famous for its female warriors, the Dahomey Amazons.

Benin is also the cradle of Voodoo, known locally as Vodun. During the Mask voodoo ceremony we are entranced by what we would see in the West as magic.

 


Some of the most flamboyant textiles are in Benin and we all love them.

 

This is Nigel and Terry Ward...


Name: Nigel

Where are you from? Wales

Why did you decide to travel Accra to Cape town with Dragoman?
To see West Africa

What is your one essential item in your backpack?
Head torch.

What advice can you give to future overlanders who would like to travel in West Africa?
Learn to adapt.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
Dolphin - swim the oceans.

 

Name: Terry
Where are you from? UK

Why did you decide to travel Accra to Cape town with Dragoman?
To see other countries and cultures.

What is your essential item in your backpack?
Torch

What advice can you give to future overlanders who would like to travel in West Africa?
Keep your sense of humour and enthusiasm.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
An eagle to soar high above.

 


This morning we load up the truck and head out of Abomey and travel to the Nigeria border.

 

Part Seven


We had to say goodbye to 7 of our Dragoman family at Accra. Thanks for joining us Marcus, Lisa, Chris, Donovan, Anthony and Brad.

 


And Kaz.

 


This is our final Dragoman family as we leave Accra, who will head all the way to Cape Town. Everyone is ready for the adventure.

 

 


Our first stop is in the town on Somanya, where we learn about the making of Ghanaian Cedi Beads. Recycled glass bottles are crushed using a heavy pestle and mortar. After being reduced to a fine powder, the glass is poured into a mold made of clay. The inside of the mold is covered in a mixture of kaolin and water to stop the glass from sticking to the sides.

 

 

 


Arriving into Togo is the first experience of African rural roads for anyone who joined us in Accra.

 

 


In the village of Mt Klouto, a local artist has constructed these rubbish bins, which are located all around the village to keep everywhere clean - great to see a local initiative.

 


Whilst in Mt Klouto we enjoyed a drumming and dancing spectacular from our local hosts, and also explored a sacred valley of bats. A common sight in West Africa is recycled liquor bottles which are filled with yummy coconut shavings or nuts.

Part Six


In Yamoussoukro, we visited the Basilica of our Lady.

 

 
Then onto the UNESCO town of Grand-Bassam. Ladies sell fresh fruit, drinks, and fabrics. We enjoy a drink whilst watching the sun going down.

 


We enter Ghana, our 7th country en route to Cape Town.  We visit the Gold Coast slave forts, such as Cape Coast, where we learn about the West African Slave trade. It’s terrible to think that anyone could treat another human so badly.  Anti-Slavery International estimate that approx 40million people are still enslaved today across the globe.

 


Leaving the Gulf of Guinea coast behind we head inland, staying the night in a treehouse within Kakum National Park.  The following morning we take an early morning walk along the canopy walkway which gives a whole new view of the forest.

 


We also visit the Stingless Bee Centre. Stingless Bees produce a different tasting honey which is a mix of sweet and sour with a hint of lemon.

 

 

Coffins are personalised and made to order in Ghana. As we travel towards the coast again we visit a coffin building workshop and see coffins made in the shape of a boat and a chicken.

 

Part Five

 


We headed north from Kabala and made the epic drive towards the Sierra Leone/Guinea border of Koindu Kurd. We got the roof seats open to enjoy the views.

 

 

 
The roads of Guinea can be one extreme to the other. As we travel through the Guinée Forestière region we go from a dusty road to new tarmac. As we travel along the tarmac, people leave coffee beans out to dry at the side of the road, and if the beans require some crushing we find them laid across the road.

 


The vine bridge is believed to be a few hundred years old. No cables are required; it is made completely from vines, which are renewed regularly to keep the bridge in good condition.

 


We make our New Years Eve bushcamp after crossing the border into country number 6 on our Trans Africa adventure. Happy New Year from Ivory Coast.

 


Heading north through Ivory Coast, we stop at the waterfall near the town of Man, and have a wash in between our two bushcamps.

 


On our tour of Korhogo in the north of Ivory Coast our first stop is the wood carvers. Each mask holds a different meaning; some are used for dancing, some for protection and some for good luck. Then it’s onto the clay bead makers, where the pigments of the paint are sourced from local rocks and plants.

 


At Sheilo Rock we learn that 60% of Korhogo have animistic beliefs. For animists, sacrifice is part of worshipping the ancestors. The word Sheilo means ‘my ancestors’.

They believe that the ancestors connected their souls to this rock for all of time. A sacrifice could be made for a negative or positive reason. For example, a negative reason might be that someone has stolen your motorbike and you want to curse them, and a positive reason might be that you are building a new home and want good fortune.

 

Part Four

 


We explored the Freetown Peninsular by boat. Using a line off the side of the boat, Brad caught a red snapper. Paul caught two in one go.

 


Heading East through Sierra Leone, we make a stop in a village to buy charcoal and firewood. Carme enjoys playing aeroplanes with Mende Children in the village.

 


Most main highways are paved now in Sierra Leone, although the last 20km drive to Tiwai Island Santuary takes us through the Gola Forest, which used to form part of a larger ancient forest covering all of West Africa.

 


Tiwai is a short boat ride from Kambana village. It is a 12km sq island set in the Beautiful Moa River, which boasts 11 primate species in close proximity. We spend two nights and the group enjoys guided forest walks in search of monkeys and Chimpanzees. Our group spotted Diana monkeys, red colobus and green monkeys to name a few.

We play a few rounds of table tennis at our camp after lunch, followed by an afternoon tree tour or Canoe trip along the Moa River.

 

 

 


On Christmas Eve, we make our way to the far North of Sierra Leone to stay in the town of Kabale, which is surrounded by the beautiful Wara Mountain.

 

 


To fill our Jerry cans and water tank it’s a team effort to pump water from the well and transfer it into our tank.

 


Duncan and I managed to pull off our homemade Santa Claus beards, and everyone joined in singing along to Jingle Bells.

 

Part Three


In Guinea, we headed up to the Fouta Djallon Highlands and stayed in the village Ainguel.

 


Marcus filling a jerry can from the well.

 


Lisa was a local celebrity with the villagers.

 


Len was guided around the village by the some very friendly children.

 


Tamsin has a go at weaving the brushes that are used to keep the village so beautifully clean.

 


Cassava is pounded into flour and used to make the local staple food of Fufu.  You can hear the pounding going on all day, like another drum beat of West Africa.

 


Children get involved from a young age, always active with the family chores.

 


Whilst in the Fouta Djallon highlands, the Dragoman family enjoyed a trek through the beautiful countryside and onto some amazing views

 


At our last bushcamp in Guinea, we are welcomed by the local community. Carme, Carolyn and Jane enjoy a big sing along with all the children, with lots of laughter and clapping.

 


On to our 5th country between Dakar and Freetown, we drive into Sierra Leone and head to beautiful Bureh Beach.

 


We spend a couple of nights at the Freetown Peninsular beach, enjoying the warm water of the Atlantic Ocean. Cheers from your Trans Africa crew Jules and Duncan!

 

Part Two


In Guinea Bissau we did a bit of an exploratory towards the village of Chèche, which is in the Boe régional of Guinea Bissau.

 


Firstly we crossed the Rio Corubal in a small motor boat.

 

 

 
We then took a forest walk, led by trained local guides and a Dutch NGO called Chimbo.  We walked through the Sacred forest in search of chimpanzees, which are difficult to find. Chimbo had set up some camera traps to monitor the chimpanzee numbers.

 

 


We saw from the camera traps that indeed there are chimps in the area.

 


We then headed to our 4th Country Guinea, and made a bushcamp, gathered around the fire singing along to the guitar.

 


Whilst in Guinea you see cars loaded high ferrying people around.

 

Part One

After leaving Dakar, our first stop is St. Louis, with the UNESCO registered historic center.

 

Here’s the group at Toubacouta camp, Senegal, where the owner Youssou has painted a Dragoman sign on one of his rooms. We visited the village Sipo and met the Queen of the village.

 

We entered Gambia and crossed the river by Ferry, which is always fun and games. It took us 2 hours to get on the ferry. The Spanish are building a new bridge which is almost complete. You can see the bridge in the background.

 

 

Whilst in The Gambia we went on a walk and spotted python trails.

 

We also enjoyed a boat trip through the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve.

 

It’s watermelon season in West Africa. They are for sale everywhere, so we keep one in the fridge and have a refreshing dessert at truck lunch.

 

 

Beautiful long beaches of Cap Skirring and a local gazelle beer does the trick.

 

Learn more about Dragoman’s Western Trans Africa overland tour.