In this day and age of relentless communication, we have had to have a long think about what we will use for keeping in touch when we are away in Africa.
The obvious choice is the humble mobile/cell phone. There are a number ways these can be used, but by far the cheapest is to purchase a prepaid SIM card in each country that you want to use it in. Obviously the phone would need to be unlocked, so it will accept SIM cards of all networks. And coverage for mobile phones in many places in Africa is surprisingly good. It’s far easier to install a mobile network in an emerging Country, than to start to think about a land line type system. Prepaid SIM’s in many African Countries work out much cheaper than the equivalent card supplied by a European provider. The obvious downside to a Cell phone is the probability that the one time you need it, there’s no signal!
The alternative is a hand-held Satellite Phone. There are quite a few options on the market today, not just with the actual handsets but also the satellite networks. At the moment, the company that seems to operate the most reliable phone connection is Iridium. The Iridium system uses 66no low orbiting satellites operating at 485 miles from Earth. By contrast, the rival Inmarsat system only uses 3no satellites but these are 22,000 miles from Earth. But the main difference is that the Iridium satellites are whizzing round the earth at very high-speed, hopefully ensuring that as one is disappearing from overhead, the next has already appeared! Whereas the Inmarsat satellites are in a fixed orbit, one over Central America, one over South East Asia, and one over the DRC in Central Africa. This means that the Inmarsat system works better the nearer you are to the equator (more on this below). So we have decided to buy an Iridium Hand held Sat Phone as this will be the most versatile and hopefully will prove reliable when we need it. Indeed it is the only system with truly global coverage.
Obviously we will want to regularly up date our blog! So what are the options? Obviously, when available we will use Internet cafes, and WiFi. However this is not going to be readily available in the “interesting” places.
One option is just to use the Sat Phone as a Modem, this will be extremely slow (maximum of 2.4kbps) and not very cost effective. Another is to use local Data SIM cards in a Dongle, again slow and very hit and miss.
The other option is to use a BGAN terminal, (Broadband Global Area Network) these use the Inmarsat system (so good coverage over Africa), and offer Broadband speeds anywhere that there is a clear line of sight to the satellite (the nearer to the equator, the easier this is to do as the satellite is basically right overhead). The main down side to these units is the cost, the terminal units are over £2,500.00. This was clearly not an option. But Ebay is a wonderful thing! I found a second hand unit on there, which had just gone on the site. After a long phone call to the Seller a price was agreed, and I drove up to Silverstone to inspect it and pay for it.
The unit is a Thrane and Thrane Explorer 500 set, it was complete with charger, 2no phone hand sets ( as it can also be used for calls), various accessories and complete in a custom-made Pelican case. Altogether about £3.5k worth new, obviously I only paid a fraction of that. When first set up, I checked the historic log and found it had only been used about half a dozen times, all in South America. We did however had to purchase a new rechargeable battery for it as it had been standing in a discharged state for too long.
Using the BGAN is simplicity itself, you simply angle the unit towards the satellite using the build in compass and the audible beeps, until a strong signal is received, then plug it into your laptop, and instantly you are connected to Broadband. Speeds are 348kbps to receive data, and 240kbps to send data. It can be used for calls but it’s not something that can be carried around very easily. The unit itself is 220mm high and 170mm wide, and weighs 1.4kg, so not huge but not something you want to be lugging about with you, when out and about.
You can see the size of the Explorer 500 on the right hand side. You can also see the hand set that came with this particular unit.
There are more up to date units on the market now, that are faster, but these are well out of our price range and the Explorer 500 is proven in the field, and is perfect for what we want from it.
With the hand-held on Iridium, and the BGAN on Inmarsat, it means that we are not tied to one operator, and if there is a problem on one we can hopefully still use the other.
So hopefully we be able to stay in touch via phone calls, text messages, email, blog, and social media.
So much for getting away from it all for a couple of years!!!
Today, we finally got round to having the Colonel “stickered up”
The work was carried out by Mark from Lion Logo’s of Ashford, (01233 220317), the service from Mark was first class, and was quite happy to amend the Logo and map as many times as we wanted until we were happy with the design. I’d thoroughly recommend Lion Logo’s for car wraps, van sign writing, web design etc.
The fitting was carried out in a tyre fitting bay, near Woodchurch, and as soon as I looked at the height of the roller shutter door, I thought blimey that’s gonna be tight! I know that the height of the truck at the highest point is 3.5m, and after talking to the workshop owner he confirmed that the door clearance WAS 3.6m, but the shutter refuses to rise all the way in, so it was a case of reversing very slowly into the bay with a couple of guys strategically placed on ladders to check it would clear. Apparently there was about half an inch clearance. Very tight indeed.
About 4 hours later, Colonel K had his new livery.
It was great to get a run out in the Daf, and obviously it’s always a good thing to move it, and give it a blast. It was -2c when I collected it, and the engine oil was thick and it was definitely more of effort for the starter motor to turn over the big 6 litre engine, but as always, the old boy fired up first time. But it did take me a good 10 minutes to de-ice the windscreen and side windows before I could move off.
The principle purpose of the logo (apart from pimping up the truck), is to promote the website.
The eagled eyed among you, will have noticed the slight play on words, with a certain celebrity and his mate that did a fully backed up ride round the world (The Long Way Round), then a similar mega budget trip from London to Cape Town (The Long Way Down). Those that know me, will understand my passion for all things motorbikes. So will also understand my dislike of the BMW GS1200 Adventure that Ewan McGregor and err…. em…. err…. his mate used on this mega hyped and highly successful jolly.
So it seemed fitting to use their font and a play on words over a map of Africa, on The Colonel. And of course the irony is, we will have absolutely no backup, no pre organised visas, no luxury hotels, and alas no TV crews!
The Colonel has now been tucked up for the winter, and will proberly stay in the storage compound until MOT time in February. With a fair wind behind us hopefully we will be heading South shortly afterwards.
We always said that this plan and route needs to be fluid and will be subject to change.
Well it’s changing at a rapid rate of knots, and can change without hardly any notice. Take proposed border crossings as an example. This week, Mauritania closed it’s border with the troubled country of Mali, due to a 2 year old girl from neighbouring Guinea contracting Ebola, and sadly later dying. At the time of writing no other cases have been reported from Mali.
Our plan was to enter South Eastern Mali from Mauritania, to avoid the countries hardest hit by the Ebola Virus, hopefully the situation will improve by the time we get to the area. So far the borders between Mauritania and Senegal and Senegal to Mali remain open, so that’s still an option.
Even more worrying is the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, this has been closed due to the security problems caused by the Islamist group Boko Haram, which are based in Western Nigeria, but have been crossing the border into Cameroon and raiding villages. Again, hopefully by the time we get there this situation will be eased and the border will be open. Apparently talks are taking place between the Islamists and the Nigerian Government in neighbouring Niger at the moment.
Below is a map showing current border issues: click on it to enlarge.
The options of avoiding the Nigeria/Cameroon border are much more dangerous and would involve crossing into Chad, Niger, Sudan, and Ethiopia, Niger and Chad have their own security problems, and are not really suitable for overland travel at the moment.
There is also the option of sea travel on a roll on roll off ship from Dakar in Senegal to Walvis Bay in Namibia. This is not what we want to do and it is hellishly expensive, to put the truck on the ship, and a complete nightmare paper work wise. It would also means that we would have to fly to Namibia.
So we just have to remain flexible with our plans.
It could all change again next week. Of course it will, this is Africa after all!
This week, we once again took another small step towards our Africa Trip.
Following our application, we received back from the RAC, their quotation for our Carnet de Passage. This is an importation/exportation document for the Truck, a passport for the vehicle,and is required for most African Countries and even if it’s only recommended, it can make life a bit easier at border crossings. The RAC are the only issuing entity in Britain.
The following map shows the countries around the world that it is obligatory to have a Carnet (in Red), and those that it is recommended to have one (in Orange).
We had a pleasant surprise as the RAC agreed our valuation for “Colonel K” of £5,000.00, and this brought the total price down for a 25 page Carnet, including deposit, and International driving Permits ( IDP’s) to just under £2,000.00. This is the initial cost and after repayment of deposits and 50% of the insurance premium that will be refunded on them receiving the fully completed Carnet back, it means that the cost is less than £950.00 for each 12 month period. Result!
We had originally budgeted for valuing the Colonel at £45k, this would have meant that the total cost after refunded deposits etc would be about £6,000, this is a massive difference and translates into about 8000 litres of diesel in Africa, or an extra few months on our trip, ha. It seems that the valuation is done on the V5 and does not take into account any modifications to vehicles. This means that if we took the KTM bike, the Carnet would be twice as much as for the Truck that was carrying it!
The only thing now is trying to work out how and where to renew the Carnet after it expires after 12 months. At this time we are still waiting to hear a definite answer from RAC. And have so far had 2 completely differing answers from them, neither very helpful.
Our quotation covers all of Africa with the exception of Egypt, and Libya. We knew it wouldn’t cover Egypt and the requirement for this Country is 800% of the vehicle value, whilst the remaining African countries are requirement is 250% of vehicle value. We are still not sure about the exclusion of Libya, but as the country is still in turmoil after the civil war, I guess we have no immediate plans to cross this border!
For more info on Carnets, the following page from the RAC explains better than I can:
Obviously to get our deposits repaid, the Carnet de Passage has to be returned, fully stamped when crossing a border into a Country, and once again when exiting that same Country. But at least if it all goes “pear shaped”, and the Carnet gets stolen or some over zealous border official refuses to return it, it’s not stupid money to lose or to replace it.
The IDP’s also only last for 12 months and so will also need to be replaced at the same time as the Carnet. Also rather annoyingly, both the Carnet, and the IPD’s, start at the date of issue from the RAC. So both will need to be paid for right at the last minute before departure, otherwise by the time we’ve got going, travelled down through Europe, crossed The Med, and spent several weeks in Morocco, we could be halfway through our 1st Carnet etc before we even enter Western Sahara and Mauritania.
The cover of a typical Carnet de Passage looks like this:
Whilst the inside pages, showing the tear off slips, look like this:
The book has to be completed for every border crossing for the deposit etc to be returned, and should a claim arise from a country up to 12 months later, the RAC can ask for payment for any such claim.
It’s a bit of a minefield, but a necessary minefield to enable you to travel through the Continent of Africa. And a cheaper minefield than we were expecting.
We are currently up in Yorkshire to visit a couple of friends that have opened up “a most unusual teashop” in Whitby called “Rusty Shears”. This is an amazing place and seems to be doing well for Russ and Kirsty, and we wish them all the best in their new venture.
We timed our visit purely by chance, to co-inside with another old friend Neil, and his partner Jacqui (yeah another Jacqui), to be there. Lots of alcohol was consumed, and on the Sunday, Russ and Kirsty arranged for the staff at Rusty Shears to pack up a Roast Beef dinner with all the trimmings for the six of us to devour, back at the campsite ( Russ and Kirsty are living in the motorhome). It was decided that Colonel K was more suited as a dining room, so we would eat in there!
Now please remember that “The Colonel” was specifically designed for the two of us to live comfortably, and was not really made with an intimate dining experience for six in mind. But, we did actually all fit round the table and the food went down a storm (and the wine, and the beer, and the single malt, and the Baileys). We had a fantastic time, and once again our trusty Daf proved it was up to a slightly different challenge.
A Great weekend with great company, cheers guys
We now have the spare wheel secured onto the rear rack, which I’m sure will prove to be invaluable when it comes to changing wheels in anything other than a perfect environment. The wheel ( all 135kg of it), is mounted in a nice upright position, and is tucked back nice and tightly to the vertical sliding mechanisim of the galvanised rack. This has left a decent amount of room for us to carry both mountain bikes, nicely secured in the lockable cycle holders, without even having to remove the pedals.
Where the the spare was originally located, we have had a aluminium storage locker made up to fit in the space. We went with a company called Metallics Uk, to make this up, the sizes are 1040mm long, depth from front to back is 500mm and is 450mm high, we have had this black powder coated, and it is fitted with stainless steel locking handles and hinges. It is fitted with a waterproof/dust proof seal and is a thing of beauty! I’d recommend this company for anyone that wants something fabricated from Aluminium or Steel, and the owner Richard was a great guy to deal with.
I had Glen weld up a couple of angle irons to the underside of the chassis with some bolts drilled and welded to the steels, then the top of the locker was drilled and offered up to the captive bolts, then with a small amount of brute force, and help from a local, it fitted lovely! All fully bolted up and ready to go.
With the help of my nephew (master welder) Glen, we are currently working on relocating the spare wheel/tyre from the current under chassis position, to the rear rack. This will hopefully make the road/trackside changing of the wheel a much easier proposition, as the wheel and tyre together weigh a hernia inducing 135kg (or approx 21 stone in old money). The wheel originally is bolted in a roughly horizontal position under the chassis and is lowered down on a wired pulley system, then has to be dragged out from under the truck, this is not easy on my drive, let alone in the deep mud or on a rocky track in the 40 degree heat of Central Africa!
On the rear rack the wheel will be in a vertical position, and once unbolted, will just need to be wheeled round to the damaged tyre. Then the damaged wheel can be rolled onto the rear rack and bolted into position, and then hoisted up into the raised position by the electric winch.
In the vacated space left by the spare wheel, I am having an alloy locker made up which will give us even more storage, the locker dimensions are 1050x500x450mm, and will be bolted to the chassis, and used for items such as spare parts, tools, shovel, etc.
I will post a few pics once completed