MOTO-NOMADS AFRICA TAKES OFF!
It´s all just a question of taking the plunge.
I simply fell in love with Africa. It may sound like a cliché but I fell for her, both above water and underwater. During one of my African expeditions to Zambia I drove into South Luangwa, a park where you can spend the night in Flat Dog camp. These are so-called “wild” lodges, in other words no fences, no wire. If you have to go to the toilet during the night you have to be careful so as not to sleep-walk into a hippo for instance. And don´t be surprised if you see an elephant wandering around your car. During the whole day we had only run across two cars so that when a beautiful old Mercedes Benz LA911 done up into an expeditionary vehicle arrived in the camp I couldn’t resist introducing myself. And so I got to know a very pleasant married couple, Dora and Jupp who proceeded to tell me their moto-nomadic tale.
“I used to have a car sales company, working like mad 20 hours a day. It was too much, the pressure was chronic. I wasn´t feeling too well so I went to see my Indian doctor. I said: ´Doctor, I´ve been off colour lately.´ He just smiled. “Are you really surprised? It´s quite simple, Jupp. If you don´t change your life radically and, let me add, if you´re lucky, you´ll end up with a heart attack.” I laughed at him. “It must be your funny German. You mean, if I´m unlucky I´ll get a heart attack.” He looked at me with an expression I will never forget. “No, no, Jupp. I really do know what I´m talking about. Because if you´re unlucky you´ll end up with a stroke. The good case scenario will leave you driving about on an invalid´s wheelchair, the bad case scenario will leave you flat on your back gazing at a hospital ceiling.” Jupp paused to take a drink. I confess that he wiped the smile off my face there and then. Jupp continued. “I went home and told my wife what he had said. I had no intention of ending up the way my doctor had described it. Dora and I made a decision together. First we sold the company, then we adapted this Mercedes and took off into the world. You know, everyone reckons this must cost a fortune. The only thing that is expensive are the inter-continental crossings. The rest is diesel fuel and food. It´s all just a question of taking the plunge. We took off in 2005 and we´ve been living out our dream ever since.”
That meeting took place in November, 2011. By then Jupp and Dora had done South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Of course, I hadn´t been sitting at home idly either. Together with MANKA we already had several expeditions to Albania, the Russian Karelia and Iceland under our belt. But those were all trips that could be slotted into weeks. A long-term expedition to Africa had always been my dream but up till now all sorts of reasons had crossed my path forcing me to postpone this trip for “objective and urgent reasons”, first by a year, then by another year.
On my way home Jupp´s story kept resonating in my brain and I realised just how much the two of us had in common. Long years with my nose to the grindstone and an endless list of unaccomplished dreams. What am I actually waiting for, I asked myself. For more than twenty years we´ve had a group of friends, year after year at the beginning of January we all go skiing together. Some of us meet up only on this occasion but we still end up dying of laughter all week. On our last couple of outings I had noticed that the years of Jim Beam or bottles of plum brandy on our bedside tables were a thing of the past. Today the same bottles sit alongside bottles of back-ache pills, gels for arthritis, blood pressure pills and God knows what else. What am I still waiting for? After all, I´ve got two grown up boys who are learning to run the company. I know a wonderful group of soul brothers and sisters – Mirek, Lucie, Peter – who are just as obsessed with travel as I am. We know a whole group of other friends who would love to join us for some of the journey. As soon as I got home I confided my plan of spending more time travelling and less at home to my wife Ivushka. She understood me. After many years of marriage she knows I´m the prototype welcoming guy. In order to be welcomed back I first have to leave. So we arrived at a mutual decision: we´re off to Africa for at least two years! We´re not planning to do it in one piece but we´ll divide the expedition up into stages of several months each. We´ll end up with tons of filmed material and experiences which we will have to process gradually. After all, this is not going to be an excursion or holiday. The whole rigmarole of preparation was set in motion – obviously, you can´t just take off the next day. However, we deleted the word “postpone” from our vocabulary. Permanently. Summer 2014 – our departure date – was indelible. For our starting point we chose the Republic of South Africa – we´ll freight MANKA there by boat from the German port of Bremerhaven. Of course, planning is one thing but reality is a dreadful bureaucracy, piles of forms and endless correspondence. This alone would make for an entire chapter. Yet, day by day, we got closer and closer to our goal.
We decided to kick start our expedition in style at Europe´s largest off-road jamboree in Bad Kissingen, Germany (we wrote about in Heart Core 2/2013, City of my Heart). For a few days in June the meadows on the outskirts of this sleepy spa town turn into a gigantic moto-nomadic encampment. You can meet people here who have turned up from distant travels or who are about to take off on such a journey. A wonderful place for inspiration and picking up valuable tips. I was wandering through this cavalcade of cars when I noticed a vaguely familiar green Mercedes. Curious, I went to take a closer look. Yes, it was Jupp´s car alright, but I couldn´t recognise the guy talking shop with someone over the motor. He looked a little like Jupp but this fellow seemed younger. Had he sold the car and this was the new owner? My curiosity got the better of me and so I asked him: “Hey, you wouldn´t happen to be Jupp, would you?” He looked at me and nodded. “Yes, do we know each other?” “Yeah, we met three years ago in South Luangwa Park,” I reminded him. “Sure, now I know. You´re Honza from the Czech Republic. Dora, come here,” he called out to his wife immediately and went to shake my hand. “We just got back to Europe from Africa a month ago. Have you got MANKA here with you?” I will never forget that moment when I proudly told him: “Sure, Jupp. We´ve come here to say farewell to Europe, we´re picking up your African baton.”
All the headaches and frustrations of the past three years since our last meeting flashed through my mind. All this time Jupp had been travelling through Africa. I thanked him for having inspired me with his story about the Indian doctor and admitted that I had barely recognised him this time because he seemed so much younger. He just smiled. “I´m a happy man …” Before parting I managed to tell him all the things we had planned for starters: filming the great white shark as well as crocodiles in Okavanga; Lucie Výborna was certainly not going to miss out on riding the surf on the famous beaches of the Indian Ocean and was eyeing the summit of Kilimanjaro into the bargain; we were going to catch the sardine run, using MANKA with our own compressor and all our diving gear to follow these gigantic swarms of fish along the east coast of South Africa; taking a houseboat along the Zambesi River – something that Mirek Naplava, who has covered half of Europe´s rivers and canals, was dying to do; we wanted to witness the wildebeest and zebra migrations in Zimbabwe and Zambia; we were planning to visit all sorts of parks and reserves, have a bit of fun on the Kalahari dunes in Namibia etc. etc. All of this was going to be turned into a documentary film. And, naturally, we were going to file regular reports on our expedition with our Heart Core magazine. This was not about just devouring kilometres; we really wanted to get to know Africa. We wanted to “live” Africa. Our motto is: Travel slowly! Apart from that we were planning to screen our documentaries and other films about the Czech Republic en route to the locals. We want to show them where we´re coming from and what we do. That´s why we´ve packed a projector and loudspeakers. We´ll set up our screen on the walls of their dwellings. An off-road cinema! Somewhere I read that Europeans have watches while Africans have time. Maybe we can learn something from them in this respect.
How to shift a 12 ton MAN camping truck to Africa, how much filmmaking equipment we´re taking with us and who took part in the first stage of our expedition – you´ll find all of this in our next issue!