Who are we and why are we doing this?

In answer to why are you doing this? there is of course more to be said than because I can, or even have you ever lived through a Scottish winter? And while my life so far led me to this is trite, it’s not that far off the mark. We should not under-estimate the carpe diem factor, that need to grab life with both hands, which in my case was only reinforced after a bad motorcycle accident in ’95. The unattributed quote that captures this fairly well, is this: Life is not a journey to the grave, with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, 'shit, what a trip!'

But I have always enjoyed travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people. Growing up in South Africa, there were many road trips taken as a family, usually in a minibus. Most notably in the context of a trip across Africa, was a trip in the late ’70s up the length of what was then South West Africa, as far as the Etosha National Park. The bug had probably bitten by then, but other memorable trips followed: with my family by road through western Europe in 1982 and with my friend Jake by rail, zig-zagging across Europe in the winter of 1989/90.

In the several years spent as a student in Edinburgh in the mid to late ’90s, I went on a couple of hitch-hiking trips through Scandinavia. Well hitch-hiking to a wedding in rural Finland seemed like a good idea at the time ... and anyway, poverty determined the mode of transport - at least at first - but the sense of freedom that came with carrying a ruc-sac and a tent was immeasurable.

At school, studying (I use the word loosely) British colonial history and the shenanigans of dodgy chaps like Mr Rhodes, I found the idea of being able to travel from “Cape to Cairo” very appealing. The self same school was big on so-called Outdoor Pursuits. That should come in handy.

The appeal of a trans Africa trip, plus travels already enjoyed, meant that I had been unwittingly working towards a big self-sufficient trip, like the one we’re planning to do from August 2004. The travel bug having bitten and the dream of traveling the length of Africa happily germinating, all that was lacking was opportunity.

The opportunity came once I got all my ducks in a row, with life being stable and resources being in place - oh, and before life becomes too stable. This requisite level of stability allows me to take year-long “career break” from my job doing health research at the Scottish Parliament . Which brings me to the final motivating factor: a year out. This is traditionally done in one’s late teens, between school and university. Rest assured that doing it 20 years later is not akin to a middle aged man buying a Porsche - except insofar it is only now affordable (ok, so the metaphor is good for the dream, but completely breaks down when using a Series IIA Land Rover as one's preferred mode of transport, with which words like “comfort” and “luxury” are not traditionally associated).

And lest we forget: because it’s there.


Life is a dog. It is also a miracle.

Recently, I realised it was time to spend a while experiencing some different miracles.

Having done a degree in genetics in Sheffield, I decided that working with people might be more my forte. To get some experience, I started by doing a stint with community service volunteers in Bristol, helping folk with physical disabilities. Back in my home town of Edinburgh, I then started working for a local charitable organisation called Garvald Centre as a support worker, working with adults with learning disabilities.

I have worked with people with learning disabilities for many years. For the first seven doing residential care work I was living where I was working - almost living in the shop rather than above it! It was certainly more a way of life than a job. It seemed like a microcosm of life all happening in this one busy, chaotic and fascinating household. The tasks were many and varied. A day could involve unblocking the loo, fathoming the rota, showering myself when I was really trying to shower someone else, numerous forms, the cat being sick, the phone going whilst trying to tie someone’s laces and make the porridge at the same time, and so by breakfast time I’d need a cup of tea. It has been full of trials and tribulations whilst at the same time truly humbling and joyful. I owe these folk a great debt.

Certainly life is messy, fun, and difficult to fathom much like our four legged friends. It races ahead without our really noticing and we realise we’ve been trudging along after it without really taking in the scenery on the way. About a year and a half ago a trip to visit South Africa with Murray rekindled my love for travel and whetted my appetite to see more of this amazing continent. Over the years I’ve been privileged enough to take many wonderful trips, which have included travels in Europe, North America, Egypt and Israel, New Zealand and Borneo. But a year’s journey is on a whole new scale. With our tent on our roof we hope to make slow but steady(ish) progress through the continent.