Encircling Africa

Encircle Africa was the first solo and unsupported overland circumnavigation of continental Africa by public transport.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me that I would be attempting to achieve something never completed before in such as manner. Africa’s a big place; the second largest continent. So I was even more surprised to learn about the ways in which Africa had been encircled before my idea developed into the expedition it did. Perhaps it is because although Africa is the second largest continent, its coastline, somewhere around 16,000 miles plus (and that’s still quite a lot) is rather smaller than that of other continents. While Europe has a land mass a third of the size of Africa’s, its coastline is at least 4,000 miles longer.
Here’s a rundown of some of the circumnavigations of Africa that preceded my own.

In an article headlined “To Encircle Africa” The Brisbane Courier of Friday 21stOctober 1927 described November 18th of the same year as the start date for an attempt by Sir Alan Cobham to travel 20,000 around Africa by air, using his flying boat Short Singapore. The article goes on “he hopes to bring Kenya Colony within seven days of England, and South Africa ten days. It will be the most diversified flight yet attempted”.

Not quite a submarine, Tripoli, Libya

Only six years after Cobham flew around Africa, and with a very similar headline of “Submarines Encircle Africa” it was reported by the Advocate from Rome that two Italian submarines had arrived at Spezia in Italy having cruised for 17,000 miles around the continent under the waves. The crews of the Seless and the Toti were warmly welcomed back by Mussolini, then Prime Minister of Italy, on their unique performance.

Four-wheel drive
In more recent times South African explorer Kingsley Holgate and his family traversed Africa’s coastline by Land Rover in the Outside Edge expedition. A doyenne of exploration in Africa, Holgate spent 450 days on the road, comparing closely with my 396, delivering malaria nets to coastal populations.

Sand can make four-wheel drives imperative in parts of Namibia

It was up to another South African, Riaan Manser, to cycle around the continent. Thinking it would take a year, it took him 2 years and 2 months, cycling an average of 90 kilometres a day. He started, like Holgate, from his home country of South Africa, travelling north towards the west coast of Africa first. What stands in the memory for me about Manser’s trip was the need to continually pull out his toenails, damaged by his heavy daily footfall.

Motorcycle and foot
There are currently a couple of expeditions aiming to be not only the first circumnavigations of Africa by motorcycle, but also the first females to do so. I have yet to find anyone who is looking to circumnavigate by foot, perhaps the last option for a first in African circumnavigation without the need for a unicycle or pedalo.
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