Our trans-African honeymoon from Pretoria to the pyramids

The joke in our house goes that my husband drove over 14 500km on a scooter through Africa while I spent that 14 500km telling him how to drive. Not quite true, but not quite false either. There were days when I just sat on the back of our 150cc motorbike, lost somewhere in Zambia or Sudan, without saying a word.

Packing up your life and cutting all the strings that tie you to society is much easier said than done. It is only when you attempt it that you realise just how many things are pinning you down. Banks, cellphones, rent, vehicles, jobs, debit orders, credit cards, medical aid, pensions, doctors and insurance. Everyday things that most of Africa spent their days without. Something we would learn along the way from Pretoria to the pyramids is how little you need to be happy if you just learn to be content. And how, when situations are really bad, the smallest things, can create immense joy. Like an old, dirty bed after sleeping on the floor for weeks on end or a piece of dodgy-looking goat’s meat, served in a dirty plate, after you’ve spent the last 36 hours lost in the desert without food.  But I’m jumping the gun here.

Strapped for cash and desperate to explore the rest of our continent, we devised a plan towards the end of 2011. Cash everything in, including our pension funds, savings and most of the money we would have used on our wedding, quit our jobs – I’m a social media manager, Guillaume is an engineer – and travel through Africa. It sounds super romantic, which is probably why we chose to do it for our honeymoon, but let me tell you, there was very little honey during the 153 moons we spent on the road. We could not afford a 4×4 or even just a semi-decent vehicle, which is why we opted for the little motorbike standing in our front yard. It was cheap, it was there and it was absolutely ridiculous – that includes the bright orange coat of paint it was given. But it could average a speed of 75km/h and my husband knew how to drive it so it seemed like a plausible idea. Having finally gotten rid of all those things tying us down, we tied the knot on January 21 2012 during a very small, informal ceremony in the Kruger National Park, packed a single backpack and drove off into the sunset nine days later … aiming “north in general”.

Outriding elephants in Botswana was one of many nerve-wracking experiences.

A trans-African journey can be done in one of two ways: with a lot of planning and preparation, or the way we did it – the “fake it till you make it” way. We suggest you opt for the first. We aren’t total fools though and did do some planning. We read a few travel guides, scanned a map, got the necessary visas and learned how to do first aid but apart from that we had only the bare necessities and decided to just “let the journey guide us” –  from South Africa through Botswana, the Caprivi strip (now called the Zambezi Region) in Namibia, parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and eventually Egypt.

The picturesque, wet and Ethiopian highlands on the way to the city of Bahir Dar.
The picturesque, wet and cold Ethiopian highlands on the way to the city of Bahir Dar.

In the end, it turned out, it was the locals and not so much the journey that guided us. Without a map we got lost often so we’d find our way from place to place and country to country by asking locals for directions. Things get strange when you stand in front of a Masai warrior next to the ‘highway’ in Tanzania, point in a direction and ask, “Kenya?”. Often we would get to the next town after having “turned left at the big tree on the right before following the long, winding road and after spotting the little house, turned right and drove until we saw town” It was fun, at times.

Most days were tedious. We’d be on a bike from early morning to late afternoon. A bike that broke down a lot, sometimes up to four times a day. There were lots of obstacles like potholes, thunderstorms, running out of petrol, and going without food for 10 hours and a mere 200km after our departure point. But it was worth it.

Down and out at the border between Tanzania and Kenya after 10 hours of driving, a crash, three breakdowns and no food.
Down and out at the border between Tanzania and Kenya after 10 hours of driving, a crash, three breakdowns and no food.

We just had look around us to fall in love with Africa all over again. Greeting shepherds walking with their cattle in Ethiopia’s highlands, almost hidden in the thick mist left by the passing rains. Stopping to watch a road race between competing schools on what is considered the main ‘highway’ between Rwanda and Tanzania, cheering with the crowd as the children finish their race, some barefoot, some wearing mismatched shoes, but all smiling the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. Spending an hour with the magnificent mountain gorillas in Uganda. And if you drive for long enough, Africa rewards you with her unimaginable natural beauty too. Like when the clouds open for just long enough to reveal Mount Kilimanjaro watching over the landscape below her, or when the sun sets over the Meroe Pyramids in Sudan and all you hear is the silence of the desert echoing through the dunes.

Camping in the Nubian desert between Khartoum and Atbara in Sudan.
Camping in the Nubian desert between Khartoum and Atbara in Sudan.

We cried at the mass graves in Rwanda, and spent time in villages where the possessions of all the residents put together was worth just a little more than our bike. Yes, we were robbed once, lied to at times and were witnesses to some of the cruel realities of life in much of Africa. But most people we met were much more eager to share their stories of triumph and happiness while boasting about how beautiful their continent is, than focus on their suffering.

A local shows off one of his crafts in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.
A local shows off one of his crafts in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

Cutting those strings and driving from South Africa to Cairo turned out to be so much more than what we bargained for, but the best thing we did was to rely on others to make it there. Every direction given by someone we met, whether right or wrong, was a friend made, a new adventure and a discovery of an African road less travelled. When we returned home in August 2012, we knew we’d had one of the biggest privileges in life – to discover Africa.

And our beloved but temperamental bike? At the end of our journey, we gave it to a friend we made on the border between Sudan and Egypt.

Admiring the Great Sphinx of Giza. Tired, dirty but so happy to be at our final destination!

 Dorette de Swardt lives in Port Elizabeth with her husband Guilllaume in a home that’s a recent upgrade from a two-man tent and self-inflatable mattresses that don’t inflate. 


  1. chanachevhu says:

    Great adventures! But unfortunately I do not give too much recognition to people who go around the world wasting their energy and resources and then come back and do nothing besides publishing their journey-story. Don’t you feel like you could help make some of the places you passed through better places to live for the inhabitants? Don’t you have the edge to improve the lives of those people who eat “dodgy-looking goat’s meat served in a dirty plate” everyday?

    • I do Africa says:

      We were, and still are involved with many different charities along the way. We also met people and families, in various countries, whom we helped and are still helping as often as possible even though we are now back in South Africa. Many of our friends also got involved, from afar; helping us to help those we met that were in need. We also believe in sustainable “help” and apart from donating to and getting involved with charities we helped a couple of people (in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya) to start up their own businesses and uplift their families, friends and hopefully eventually also their community. In the end we helped these people because we wanted to, not for the publicity, so we did not go around publishing all the charity work we did to make ourselves look good. You can however read about some of them, and how to get involved yourself, on our blog.

    • Firstly, I do not believe it is the traveler’s responsibility to make the places they pass through better places to live for the inhabitants. It is the responsibility of politicians who makes it their promises and commitments to uplift the country. Tourism is a crucial income for government to fund uplifting endeavors, fuel entrepreneurship and economical growth in a sustainable manner. The people you refer to travelling around the world wasting their energy and resources are the source of tourism income and market for local entrepreneurs of the countries. Discouraging and disregarding tourism will cause damage to a crucial revenue for all of Africa and developing countries in general.

      Secondly, travelling through developing countries will break the heart of the strongest of men when bearing witness to the hardships found, especially to the children, in these countries. I have not met a traveler who has not tried to improve the life of at least one individual/family or project during or after their travels. Much more so than those who are not ‘wasting’, according to you, their time and resources visiting foreign countries.

      Thirdly, it should be recognized that ‘helping’ in developing countries in a meaningful manner is an extremely complex and challenging task. It is not merely pouring out money to every hand reached out to you. Constructive, sustainable projects are the only method of help that would have a meaningful impact on countries facing economical hardships of this kind, working with people you can trust. And this is far from an easy task.

      Lastly, FYI, on this 6 months journey which my wife wrote about, I have met and helped numerous amounts of people, and I am proud that I have contributed to three sustainable success charity projects. Two are businesses we procured funding for, guided and marketed. A brand new hair salon in Zambia is allowing my friend to be able to spend time with his children and wife as he no longer requires to work 12 hours through the night as a security guard. My friend in Mombasa’s tourism business has taken off and is a great success, the website and marketing I build for him contributing to his reputation and clients. Clients being those people you refer to wasting their time and resources. These people are the main source for his income. He got married two weeks ago and we contributed a hefty amount of money to his wedding as a gift.

      I do not help people to brag and publish myself. I also did not help anyone because it is my responsibility to help, it is not. I helped people because I wanted to help them, since meeting them on my travel touched my heart.

  2. Sebe says:

    Oh dear! I feel like I can relate…I packed my bags and left Joburg to come to Ouagadougou – for the sheer love of African and my strong sense of adventure.

    Once you have been to any or most African countries you do feel humbled especially if you are coming from the better developed Southern tip. I have learned to travel in a car with 6 other people squashed in hot scorching summer heat and not complain – yes MetroBus in Joburg is so much better and I will tell the passengers who climb on it every day they have a lot to be thankful for!

    Lovely read!! What a honeymoon…you guys are damn brave!

  3. Christiaan says:

    Well done! So well done you two – great story and it certainly was a once in a life-time experience! Wish you lots of happiness! And lots of kids!

  4. Arthur says:

    Fabulous, simply marvellous. Glad you made a sensible bike choice. Everywhere in Africa you find machines like that, often with a family of five on board. Buda buda is the way to go.. especially here in Kenya.

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