Magazine article Natural History

Traversa: A Solo Walk across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean

Magazine article Natural History

Traversa: A Solo Walk across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean

Article excerpt

Traversa A Solo Walk across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean by Fran Sandham Duckworth Overlook, 2007; $25.00

Following, if a bit shakily, in the footsteps of Livingstone and Stanley-the great ninteeth-century explorers-English travel writer Fran Sandham set out to walk across Africa at the end of the twentieth century. The trans-Africa trip of Victorian times, known as "the Traversa," was usually undertaken to fill in uncharted regions of the map, to advance the domain of the Crown, and to save the souls of "poor benighted heathens" (in Kipling's sardonic phrase). Sandham's path, in contrast, took him mostly along well-mapped tarmac, and, he admits, was undertaken as "an extremely self-indulgent episode." But he had been fascinated by Africa since he was a young boy, and his restlessness with the routine of life in the sheltered isles of his homeland was probably not so different from the ennui that had set the Victorian explorers on their journeys. Carrying a map and an eighty-pound backpack, he arrived in Namibia one day, bummed a ride to a barren spot on the Atlantic shore, and turned his face eastward.

What follows is a journey mostly of misadventure. Experienced backpackers (which Sandham definitely was not) will find something to wince about in nearly every chapter. Sandham quickly discovers that his pack is waaay too heavy, but his solution is not to jettison most of his gear or replace it with lightweight high-tech stuff. Instead, he decides to buy a donkey to carry the load-a decision that delays his departure from the coast for many weeks and embroils him in sometimes alarming encounters with local farmers, veterinarians, and fast-talking con men. …

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