Calum Buckmaster and Willie Badenhorst have challenged themselves to break the African record for the longest cross-country distance travelled in a tuk-tuk, which is more than 13000km. Here, Calum tells Eleanor Bonsor about how the journey has gone so far
What made you decide on a tuk-tuk for your mode of transport?
The tuk-tuk is the most unsuitable vehicle for travelling through large parts of Africa! Due to this unsuitability, it allowed us to draw a lot of attention towards our cause — raising awareness for conservation and the endangered species of southern Africa.
What made you want to do this expedition in the first place?
The idea was born on another big road trip through Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. We decided we wanted to do something with a purpose and for a good cause. So, we came up with the most ridiculous, crazy idea we could.
Your first goal was to drive from Cape Town to Nairobi. Why did you choose this route?
The route highlights a number of countries currently battling with illegal poaching. It includes countries, such as Botswana, that are making positive progress and doing all they can to protect their animals. We wanted to show the various efforts and successes in each country in an attempt to promote various initiatives en-route, and hopefully draw more attention and funding towards them.
Which countries did you travel through?
South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya.
Your second goal is to break the African record for the longest cross-country distance travelled in a tuk-tuk (over 13,000km). What is your route for this?
Starting in South Africa, we travelled north into Botswana before entering Zambia. From Zambia, we headed east into Malawi, following the lake north until we crossed into Tanzania. From Tanzania we entered Kenya, reaching our initial goal. Then, heading south we travelled around Lake Victoria into Uganda, then into Western Tanzania and Zambia. We also had a brief stop in Zimbabwe before entering back into Botswana. Once finished we will have completed close to 18,000km and smashed the African tuk-tuk record!
Why did you choose Africa as the place to do this challenge?
We were both born in Africa. We knew conservation was the primary cause we wanted to represent, so Africa seemed like the perfect place to do such an expedition. We also wanted to disprove those unfortunate pre-conceptions of Africa as dangerous and full of deadly diseases. In fact, it is actually perfectly safe if you have your wits about you.
What has been your favourite country, and why?
People often ask what was the best place we have travelled through. The answer is never easy, because there’s never just one. Each country we passed through had a number of amazing and memorable places. Whitewater rafting in Zambia, the coast of Lake Malawi, the bustling tuk-tuk crammed city of Dar es Salaam, the stunning Kenyan coast, the shores of the White Nile, the beauty of west Tanzania and Lake Tanganyika as well as following routes travelled by David Livingstone. There is just too much each country has to offer to pick just one.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Probably driving over 1000km of rough dirt road in western Tanzania. The conditions were pretty terrible. But, this section of the journey was also one of the most stunning and rewarding parts of our expedition so far; the fluorescent green forest and bright earthy red dirt roads will stick in our memories forever.
How did the tuk-tuk handle the roads?
Surprisingly well. The way it handles sand and mud is also particularly impressive, we only had to get out and push three times! The only thing that really got to us were the corrugated speed-bumps, which have absolutely no effect on any other vehicle. After long sections of dirt road, we would have to check nuts and bolts to make sure nothing was loose or lost.
Any funny anecdotes you would like to share?
Dar es Salaam is home to huge numbers of tuk-tuks. We thoroughly enjoyed racing them in the streets at every opportunity we got. However, one night as we were hooning along, we hit a speed bump at full-pelt, which sent us into a full front wheel-stand — not something we recommend in such a small vehicle.
You were driving almost every day, where do you sleep?
Most of the time we looked for places we would be able to camp and cook food we carried, as we were on a strict budget. This would see us staying in some incredibly beautiful places as well as some rather dodgy ones, notably a certain filling station in southern Tanzania. We carried tents with us that could sleep 3 people, but would sometimes end up sleeping inside the 1.4m by 1.4m back of the tuk-tuk. If we were lucky enough, people provided us with a bed in a lodge or guesthouse, giving us a chance to really stretch out when we slept.
Tell us about the Prince of Lake Kariba.
In a village next to Lake Kariba in Zambia, we encountered a man dressed to the nines, so much so that he stuck out almost as much as we did. We were told he was a Prince of this region, which he confirmed. He generously offered to give us a boat ride on the lake, which sounded like a nice idea. However, since he controlled this area, he felt the need to carry his butt-less AK-47 with him at all times. The way he was handling the Kalashnikov getting onto the boat did not breed any confidence within us, and after he fired off a few rounds right in front of us, we began to seriously question his sobriety. He told long stories about diving for diamonds in the area and that he was a qualified marine diver. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a relatively peaceful trip out onto the lake and waved goodbye to the Prince with our bodies still in one piece.
Your aim is to raise awareness of the endangered species of southern Africa. Why?
We both have an undying love for the continent and all it holds. With conservation of our endangered species being a huge issue for not only Africa but the whole world, we wanted to do something to draw more attention to it.
You have stopped and worked at different conservation sites — tell us about that.
Along the route, we tried to stop at various initiatives to interview the park manager or ranger, to get an idea of the work they do on the ground and their numerous conservation operations. We would then promote them though our social media outlets in the hope they would benefit from the exposure. At the Greenpop festival in Zambia we helped plant trees, took part in permaculture activities as well as going to rural schools and assisting them in education and other activities.
Would you recommend others use a tuk-tuk as their form of transportation around Africa?
We would, depending on your use and time available. In cities such as Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, Kampala and Lilongwe a tuk-tuk is a very suitable vehicle as you can easily dodge the huge amounts of traffic. A tuk-tuk is also extremely fuel-efficient and will save you quite a bit of money in comparison to other modes of transport. But beware, the top speed is 40km per hour. It will take you a long time to get anywhere — but you will have the most incredible time.
Are you raising money for a particular charity? How can readers get involved?
We have three beneficiaries: Elephants Without Borders (EWB), Mokolodi Nature Reserve and Greenpop. EWB is doing a lot of hard work opening and protecting elephant migration routes in southern Africa. This includes applying tracking systems to elephants in order to monitor their migratory process and protect them from poachers. Mokolodi has an educational facility that handles over 9000 school children a year; through hands on education, they teach future generations about human-wildlife conflict with the hope to protect the future of our animals. Greenpop is a tree planting and permaculture organisation working specifically to plant more trees and educate local communities in southern Africa about the harm of deforestation. Readers can get involved by looking at their websites, where support in any form will be greatly appreciated.
What’s next on your Africa bucket list?
There will always be another expedition on the list. Next time we would like something a little more physically demanding. We have our sights on circumnavigating Lake Tanganyika via kayak in an unaided expedition.
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