All posts by Jonathan

Jonathan has sailed yachts, flown paragliders and paramotors, and driven through snow, mud and sand in various places around the world. He started out by bungy jumping dressed as a pantomime horse. All this to show being vegan doesn’t limit your potential?

Vegan Choices

While we ended up in Southern and East Africa, this journey was primarily about West Africa, so I feel I ought to come up with a blog looking back on how that went. Rather than focus on the great experience, or the scenery and the heat and the fantastic (or less fantastic) people – I will just sign off with some thoughts on what making vegan choices in the UK has to do with West Africa.

Driving through West Africa left on balance a highly depressing imprint on the memory. Passing before your eyes you see the before, during and after of human economic development in progress – and it is not a pretty sight. Human activity invariably diminishes the biodiversity of our world, but it is the impact of the current global systems of trade and consumption which have accelerated this on a frankly terrifying scale. It is also clearly driven by the continuing impact of ‘developed’ countries – which started in the colonial era when we first set out to plunder the rest of the world for resources and impose our ‘culture’ and systems. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same cultures and systems which led to the depletion of our own local environment should lead to the depletion of the environment where those cultures are spread. Traditional colonialism is now replaced by abuse of capitalist economics, right down to keeping a few locals wealthy through corruption and property ownership to maintain power; keeping the people poor enough that their labour produces cheap produce for export to developed countries. From minerals to food, natural resources are being stripped from West Africa for our consumption – making a few people and some big multinationals lots of wealth in the process.

Then there’s the global population problem we hear about so often – and something which I touched on after the first trip. In West Africa, however, the issues are even more apparent. It is something we like to think we have got under control back in Europe? But the problem of the world’s human population is twofold – the accelerated consumption of the natural world by a growing number of people, and the increased per-person consumption which is driven by development. It seems to me that this is at very least as much our problem in the developed world as anywhere else – especially our personal consumption. Both of these elements are enabled and driven by the global economic system to feed the system’s need for growth – and well beyond any natural balance of need or sustainability. And even when we do talk about sustainability it is from a narrow, human-centric viewpoint which assumes that we own the world and all its inhabitants. Apart from being jaw-droppingly arrogant, this view fails to recognise that the long-term survival of life depends on the diversity of its species.

What has this got to do with making vegan choices back in the UK? More than ever! At home we do not produce enough food for our local population – even though we have stripped the fertile land of its biodiversity to grow a few species for our personal use. So we import food from Africa using the inherent unfairness of the global economic system to  buy on the cheap from poor people. In doing so we are driving the destruction of the African environment, directly as well as by driving up the local populations to serve our needs – making sure we keep them poor of course, otherwise we couldn’t afford their produce. But a lot of this produce is fruit and vegetables so it doesn’t seem buying vegan helps that? Well it does – and beyond the basic fact that animal production anywhere uses more resources than plant-based food production – if we stopped wasting our own natural resources on producing vast numbers of animals, and instead produced more and greater variety of plant-based food for humans, we could feed ourselves. Maybe then we could even produce real things that people in Africa need and engage in genuine Fair Trade: Exchanging things at equal value rather than abusing twisted economics to swindle them out of their  natural wealth. This is something we can all help with – our buying patterns will drive changes in production. It is the most effective and direct action an individual can take – if you care about the world, don’t consume things that damage it the most.

OK, making vegan choices won’t save the world by itself – but it is a necessary, big and easy first step in the right direction. Then we can think about where things come from and whether we should buy locally produced food, and whether the places we import from are getting anything fair in return for the trade. But if we don’t change our local production to be truly sustainable and feed ourselves, we don’t have anything of real value to trade with.

And if we don’t, what will we do when the economic tides are turned on this little island we call home?

What depresses me most about human psychology is our ability to compartmentalise our knowledge so that 3 meals a day we can make choices that are worse for the things we profess to care about than the equally tasty and nutritious alternatives. Evolution is to blame, I guess – after all this capacity to focus is part of what makes us such a ‘successful’ species…so far. But evolution is hit and miss – there have after all been more dead-ends in evolution than successes. We have the opportunity to make sure we’re not just another fossil record of failure, to avoid leaving the legacy of another geological footprint of mass extinction. But so long as we have an excuse that lets us sleep at night and feel happy, maybe it doesn’t matter?

Taking Leo Home

And so we come to the end of this little adventure, but here’s a small innovation for the last travel blog – a combination of photo gallery and blog post with a couple of video clips thrown in. I hope Yury is happy with the balance between text and images at last? 😉

(Click on the photo to open the slideshow view)

Once I'd decided it was time to head for Tanzania, the Great North Road was calling.
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And that is about that. Troopy will be in a box until November and I seem to have brought the rainy season to the South of France. Its been entertaining for me – so until next time,  thank you for following!

Steve’s Vegan Safari – Zambia and Botswana

Steve Cox has joined me on a few little trips before, by way of the Dangerless Sports Club’s bungy jumping jaunts around Europe. This was a bit different though, and I was very happy to have his company, and even more so since he happily and wholeheartedly joined in with the vegan theme. We had a great time travelling around Zambia and Botswana…and he lived to tell the tale…despite some occasionally experimental and less successful cooking!
Over to Steve…
After 24 hours travel I arrived at Victoria Falls international airport, got my visa and picked up my bag.  Like a bottle of natural spring water I was looking for a sign with my name on which I was told would be there for my connection to meet Jon.  Instead I got an introduction into how things work in Africa, there was no sign and there was not going to be a sign so it was time to head to Maramba River Lodge.  The journey was relatively uneventful – I got my Zambian visa, then across the bridge by the falls and into the taxi on the other side of the border.  The taxi was genuinely terrifying, I was convinced it would burst into flames or fall apart at any moment and the lack of working seatbelts in the back made me automatically feel much better about the whole situation. #RoadSafetyMatters
Camping at Maramba
Camping at Maramba

At the lodge I have to say it was a good camp site, hot showers and good facilities.  Quickly we headed out to Victoria Falls and Jon and Agne did the jump whilst Leo and I watched on with great interest.  First night there Jon and Agne and myself had an adventerous vegan meal (their own words) lots of new and exciting things were tried, many of them turned out to be orange in colour which was good because I like the colour orange.  Not sure who knocked over the bag of Wasabi coated nuts I guess some things are best left a mystery but I hope the monkeys liked them – I am sure they were a surprise.  Agne then headed off to get ready for her return flight and I was getting tired so it was time to get some sleep to the sound of Hippos doing whatever it is Hippos do at 8pm.  I slept great that night, from what I can gather Jon also had a good nights sleep, no noise apart from the Hippos*.
* I take it this is a veiled reference to the snoring? 😉
Next day I saw my first Elephants just outside the lodge as we went into Livingstone to get some essentials and take Agne to the Airport.
The local gang own the road...
The local gang own the road…
We waved goodbye to Agne who had a bit of a crappy journey back by all accounts with flight cancellations, d’oh. >.<
Changeover day.
Changeover day.


Sunday I went to Victoria Falls and got some good pics.  Victoria Falls.  Very Big.  Very Wet.  Much Funs.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls


Got back just in time to head off to Botswana and set off down the road.  I say road and this time I mean an actual road, you know with actual tarmac and stuff – something of a rarity on the holiday I later came to realise.  One of the nicest things about crossing borders in Africa is the number of people willing to help you get through the organised chaos that is the border, that and the people with the machine guns.  After negotiating our way to Botswana, not drowning on the ferry and just about scraping over the line with fees for the car and visa it was onward to our next destination, another nice place where I can happily report I had no problems lowering the tone of with my presence.  The beware of the crocodile signs right by our spot right next to the gentle slope down to the river proved to be a highlight worthy of remembrance.

After not being eaten by the crocodiles it was off into the wilds for some 4×4 action and even if I do say so myself, some exceptional map reading and navigations skills exhibited by yours truly.  Saw some giraffes on the way, zebra, warthogs and went over some very bumpy sand, some smooth sand, some slidey sand and even some hiding holes in the sand sand. There were probably more types of sand we encountered but there is only so much I can remember about sand in a day.  That night we stayed at this place with a bucket shower just outside one of the national parks and had a close encounter with an elephant eating a tree in the dark.  I kid you not it was actually eating the whole tree.  Think Jurassic World when the troopers are looking for the giant escaped dinosaur and you see the tree and then you realise the dinosaur is in fact the whole damn tree, it was a bit like that…Largest. Elephant. Ever.  I won’t deny it – I bravely hid behind the van trying to cast Dispersing Orb.

Before the Elephant Came to Dinner.
Before the Elephant Came to Dinner.


Over the next few days we saw a fair few new types of sand, experienced new definitions of the word road that I didn’t even know existed and saw plenty from the antelope family, all of the big 5 (including the fearsome African Donkey) but no Lions.  We did have an interesting spin round a circuit with a water feature trying to get to a road we wanted to use.  Some lake / pond / river thing had inconveniently appeared right where the road was and had swallowed it up, so we went into the water and had a bit of a dip whilst some water buffalo looked on. Oh and we also did a bit of rallying on a large piece of mostly solid road with lots of sand on it which allowed us to get up a bit of speed on the way to Maun. Colin McCray would be proud.

Pan Driving.
Pan Driving.


Eventually we hit the Nwetwe and Sua Pans and stayed at Kubu Island camp.  This place was literally in the middle of no-where but the pans were awesome to see, a desolate dry huge lake bed for miles in every direction, worth taking a snap or two of that one.  At night it was pretty impressive although I think Jon got the better view as he did some paramotoring there so it probably looked pretty awesome from up there.

A little bit of Kubu Island
A little bit of Kubu Island

If you do ever go to Kubu Island and find a blue towel hanging up somewhere at one of the camps please let Jon know it’s probably his.*

* Yes, and also about 5 pairs of shorts/swimming trunks at various stops down Africa!
Kubu Island out of the way we headed ever onwards and looked around the area, more pans some more camp sites which looked pretty good but it was too early in the day to stop so it was onwards to the next location.  En-route we had a new passenger, one of the rangers in the parks who control the entry and exit points from various places, he got a lift to the town and we had a chat to him about his job and how things were going in Botswana.  Dropped him off at Nata and then headed down to a camp site that had an artificial river and a lot of elephant activity at night.  Stayed up and once it got a bit dark there were elephants all over the place, herds of elephants coming to the river to get the fresh water all hustling and bustling, bathing and interacting with each other.

We then headed back north toward Chobe and stayed at this place with an amazing view across the Chobe river, stunning it was. I took one of the paid safari tours through Chobe National Park for the late afternoon / evening tour and got to see loads of animals.  There was lots of everything but the highlight was the lions, we saw them waking up from their day napping in the sun and after a bit of yawning and saying hello to each other they all got up and headed off to catch their dinner.

The journey back to Zambia was much faster as we passed through the same border point again – as we had an idea of how it worked!
We paid the ferryman...before he got us to the other side.
We paid the ferryman…before he got us to the other side.
With one last night at Maramba River Lodge I hired out a Doom Tent (maybe they meant dome tent, I don’t really know) to stay for my last night which had a fold up bed.  A bed.  AN ACTUAL BED!  So shower and real bed that day felt good and a beer where I met somebody who lives not 20 miles down the road from me.  Small world.
The Tents of Doom.
The Tents of Doom.


So last day arrived, an uneventful journey back to Victoria Falls airport just some walking in the sun dodging the guy trying to get me to sit on his bike with him so he can pedal me to the other side of the border and charge me whatever it was he wanted to charge.  After a long journey I was finally back home and that 5L mini-keg of black cherry beer which had been waiting so patiently for me got my full attention.

Overall I had a great time on the trip and hopefully Jon enjoyed the company a little bit too.  I wasn’t even bothered by the vegan diet.  Although I will confess to missing milk with my coffee in the morning but aside from that it wasn’t really that bad once I got into the swing of it, didn’t really notice much of a difference.  That’s not to say knowing it was only going to last for two weeks wasn’t a factor. 🙂

Thank you Steve! Glad you had a good time – thank you for your company and masterful navigationing, and for getting into the spirit of it all! Where to next?

Into the Wild North West – Namibia

Slowly crawling over and between rocks and boulders we descended Van Zyl’s Pass, and saw the grassy Marienfluss Valley spread out below us between the mountains. I’ve heard people describe this moment as all sorts of special, but until you see it, you can’t feel that emotion. Photographs struggle to capture the grand scale of the scene or the feeling of remoteness. All I can say is that it was one of the most unique experiences of all my travels so far, and we took some time to breath it all in before descending into the wide savannah with its jagged mountain backdrops.

Taking advantage of a flat bit to admire the valley...
Taking advantage of a flat bit to admire the valley…

People have told tales of abandoned vehicles and shredded tyres, of people stuck for days waiting for someone to come along and help them out of trouble. Others have said its nothing so bad, a bit rough but no problem. I have to say Van Zyl’s Pass has elements of both – getting it wrong could land you in a lot of trouble due to its remoteness.

An OK section of the track...lunch stop.
An OK section of the track…lunch stop.

It is a very rough track, with difficult elements and sharp rocks, and is extremely steep in places that have you staring straight down at the ground out of the front window, the car sliding over loose rocks the size of large watermelons.

Screenshot from GOPR0182.MP4 Screenshot from GOPR0186.MP4

But with care and good equipment it is easily passable, and we made the trip from Opuwo to Marienfluss in a day, skipping the stop off at the Van Zyl’s Community Campsite. Of course, getting in is only half of the fun – the way back out again is a long and sometimes challenging route of its own through the most remote of Namibia’s landscapes.

This has been a short couple of weeks to fit in so many spectacles, and we were left a little dazed by the kaleidoscope of ever-changing vistas and magnificent scenery. I hope some of the photographs convey a little of the magic of the wild North West of Namibia.

We started at a fair pace, heading out of Windhoek towards the Brandberg Mountain – Namibia’s highest, and visible for what seemed hours of dusty driving before it loomed closer.

The distant Brandberg
The distant Brandberg

Then up the Skeleton Coast and inland again to Palmwag.

Skeleton Beach
Skeleton Beach

Around here the fences largely disappear, you enter the land of the Himba people and road signs warn of wandering elephants.

From Opuwo the trail thins out, and then turns into a collection of narrow tracks through the thorny brush heading North to the sandy turn-off for Van Zyl’s Pass.

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Van Zyl’s Camp Sign

The pass itself winds its way down from the high plains at 1000m  into the Marienfluss Valley at 280m, which together with the Hartmann Valley form vast flat plains of sandy grassland spreading North to the Kunene River.

Dropping into the Marienfluss Valley
Dropping into the Marienfluss Valley

Once through the pass, a couple of hours drive on the red sandy track through tall grass brings you to the frontier with Angola. And the beautiful Syncro campsite on the riverbank, patrolled by crocodiles.

Valley Grasslands
Valley Grasslands

Here we paused for 2 nights to soak in the scenery and wilderness, and I got another paramotor flight in early in the morning before the wind and thermals got going. Sadly, the GoPro continues to malfunction and all we have in the way of footage is some blue-hued and bleached shots of Troopy I got while taking a brief aerial view of the valley on the way back South…but I can tell you it was a lovely place to fly!

The way out of Marienfluss took in the length of the valley, heading 100km South before clambering through Red Drum Pass and making our way across the ever more desert plains to Purros.

Approaching Purros
Approaching Purros

Here we camped at a community campsite on an island in the wide, sandy riverbed – usually frequented by elephants, but for now they have gone down the river in search of water so it was a quiet night under the stars. Followed by the first cloudy morning in memory!

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Purros Community Campsite

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Heading East the next day along the riverbed we crossed our outbound track at Sesfontein – refuelling again at the tiny station which is apparently out of fuel for 5-6 months of the year…fortunately not today!

Riverbed Giraffe
Riverbed Giraffe

Then again cross-country towards the Western end of Etosha along what my map described as a ‘game-track’, through deeply rutted dry river crossings full of deep feche-feche which covered the car and blocked out the sun, passing the spot we camped in the bush on the first trip but opting for an official campsite with showers this time.

Next up, a couple of days of wildlife watching in Etosha, which is always an exciting experience, if at times a little like a giant wildlife park with marked viewing spots and borehole waterholes. Check the photo gallery for the animals!

Etosha: Elephant hogging the waterhole.
Etosha: Elephant hogging the waterhole.

And then we landed on the tarmac again and made our way towards Livingstone  – randomly running into the Swiss couple I’d met in Lomo at a campsite in Grootfontein – they had shipped down to Gabon and driven the rest of the way. Talking to them over a beer and a campfire made me a little regretful, and a little relieved, to have bypassed the central parts of West Africa.

So via Caprivi to the Victoria Falls, and the end of Agne’s leg – though fortunately not as literally as Katana’s on the last trip! Bungy jumps done, waterfalls admired, elephants watched from the campsite and hippos shouting at each other all night, and the excursion was complete.

Right now Agne is on a plane back to London, which will I’m sure make the last couple of weeks seem even more like an unreal dream-sequence. Steve (who until yesterday reckons he’s never had a vegan meal) has arrived for his first taste of Africa and we will head off into Botswana in a bit. I think we’ll take this leg a little bit easier…

Trails Old and New – Namibia

It is 7pm and has been dark for an hour. Winter in the Namib is quite pleasant – warm and sunny during the day, and hardly any annoying flies or mosquitoes. This makes a nice change from Togo in the rainy season! We had a week of unusually hot and sunny weather due to east winds on the coast, but at night it can get chilly, especially at the the higher altitudes further inland. In Windhoek the other day I woke with a cold head to find it had dropped to 4 degrees C…tonight its set to drop to TWO!!

But we’re back on the road again and its good. After picking up Troopy from the port in Walvis Bay I spent a few nights in the Namib Naukluft Park before heading slowly to Windhoek to meet up with Agne.

The first night in the wild was just near the spot we camped last time and met the strange but friendly Rock Hyraxes. This time though I took the opportunity to do some more exploring, criss crossing my old trails and spending a night at the most remote campsite in the park. As usual I had the place to myself – camping in a sort of semi-cave of overhanging rock looking out over the Tinkas Plains.

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

I made a supper of corn and sweet potato on the braii – cooked using recycled wood and charcoal scavenged from old campfires.

The beginnings of dinner...
The beginnings of dinner…

I’m pretty confident there wasn’t another human being within 10 miles, which is a higher level of confidence than at any point on the travels so far – even back in the Mauritanian Sahara. It was strangely relaxing to be out there alone, though the sound of galloping zebra charging around in the night took a bit of getting used to. They seemed to be spooked and I don’t blame them – there were some strange noises out there!

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

If the Rock Arch campsite was basic and wild, the next night was its luxury cousin. Another overhanging rock to camp under, but this time on a ‘Guest Farm’ with running hot water for the shower – still outdoors of course, with a view across the rocky hills.

Shower With a View
Shower With a View

I have to say though that I preferred the real wilderness, rather than the fenced ‘safe’ version which didn’t seem to have much in the way of wildlife – just a pet Gemsbok and Zebra. My campfire cooking got a bit more adventurous and I came up with a couscous dish that reminded me of the daily vegetable tajine’s from the Moroccan leg.

Campfire Couscous
Campfire Couscous

There’s a lot to love about Namibia, but at the same time I’m already feeling a little uncomfortable about some things. History has left its mark in a different way down here than back up North – it is certainly a cleaner and more developed country, but you can’t help but notice the preponderance of white, German-speaking owners of the guest farms and lodges, contrasted with the poorer neighbourhoods of Walvis Bay. Then there was the sign at my campsite asking that we hand any donations of food or clothes for the ’employees’ to the owners for distribution. What Namibia does have however, which most of West Africa doesn’t, is tourists and the infrastructure to support them. It is a very easy place to travel, though not perhaps the most vegan-friendly!

Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass
Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass

So onwards to Windhoek and meeting up with Kevin and Heike again. Troopy had a trip to a garage to get a new front axle oil seal fitted – I’d have done it myself but looked at the Haynes manual and decided it would be a long, messy job that someone with all the tools and parts could do in half the time. I’m using the ‘iOverlander’ app on this trip for finding campsites and it also has other useful places like embassies and garages listed, with reviews, so I was able to pick a good mechanic who sorted it with no problem. Lets see how that works out later…

Tomorrow Agne arrives for the leg up to Victoria Falls, so we’ll have more to talk about soon. If I don’t freeze tonight, of course!