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Book Review : Traversa
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15th Sept 2008 
Traversa: A Solo Walk Across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean
by Fran Sandham
  Reviewed by Kate Moss

As travel books go this is a gem, the true tale of a determined and courageous man’s solo walk across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast in Namibia to Bagamoyo on the coast in Tanzania. A mere 3,000 miles! Why? Well read the book and you’ll find out and be thoroughly entertained at the same time.

Fran Sandham sets off from Namibia’s Skeleton Coast armed with ambition and determination, and a strong desire to follow in the footsteps of famous explorers such as Livingstone and Stanley. And an unfeasibly heavy backpack! His determination to follow his planned route has him scrounging a lift into the depths of the Skeleton Coast National Park (note the skull and crossbones!) and walking back down along the coast to the place he started from, with many a choice encounter on the way. Having then set off inland the infamous backpack proves too much and he opts for the idea of purchasing a donkey to share the load, and there follows many weeks of hilarious experiences with the local characters and wildlife, Tsondab the donkey (fondly remembered!), Marieke the mule, all culminating in the decision to discard as many material possessions as possible and go it alone!

When he finally manages to make some progress across Namibia he brings his experience to life in his writing, with wonderful descriptions of changes in scenery and wildlife. Outside the towns this part of Fran’s journey is rather devoid of people, excepting a few quirky encounters. He must of course be very fit but I love the way that whenever he gets a chance he smokes like a chimney, drinks large amounts of alcohol, stuffs his face with junk food, tries (unsuccessfully) to chat up girls, and is generally very funny and self-deprecating. I like the way he’s so open about his cravings and fears, a good example of the latter being walking through the Caprivi Game Reserve (still in Namibia) where lions, elephants, and crocodiles abound and he did an involuntary fosbury flop when he nearly stepped on a big puff adder.

Having eventually crossed Namibia Fran is excited as he enters Zambia and reaches the next huge landmark of the Victoria Falls. His various physical ailments are starting to become a feature, and in fact it is here that his whole body seizes up in protest for several days. Not a bad place for that to happen! His sandals also start to fall apart and at various points on the journey he amuses and horrifies us with stories of how they barely survived, along with his feet. Zambia heralds more people and it becomes clear that Fran is a great observer of our species, and a genuine and humorous affection for Africans develops. Despite that though it becomes increasingly difficult to camp in peace what with all manner of wildlife and chance encounters with nearby villagers or even robbers.

When Fran crosses over into Malawi I (the reader) realise that I’m learning a lot about the geography and culture in this part of Africa, which is a great bonus. It is on the way to Lake Malawi that Fran almost gets stuck again in Lilongwe, although he has the excellent excuse of needing time for his feet to heal, but the lure of drink, smoke, and living life in a haze becomes a welcome diversion for a while. Still, the lure diminishes quickly and he’s very happy to get back on the road again. And so we progress to the beautiful Lake Malawi and then into Tanzania and the long trek to the coast. I am becoming increasingly worried about Fran’s health by this time but incredibly he made it, although sadly Malaria hit when he was recuperating in Zanzibar.

This book is a must. It’s exciting, fascinating, hilarious, reflective, and illuminating. I thoroughly recommend it.

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

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