24 November 2023
Manon and Tobias’ Defender 110, Rafiki, is every bit the working Land Rover. Just not in the way you might expect…
The choice between a broken bridge or fun river crossing is easily made – we take the plunge!
Driving in convoy through Nigeria’s highlands was daunting, exciting and completely unforgettable
Our suspension is creaking, every fibre in our bodies is vibrating, and we are rocking uncontrollably from left to right. The road is bumpy and dusty, and the temperature outside is burning hot. Our windows are rolled down completely to let the wind blow through the cab, to cool us off. Thankfully, the dust from beneath our tyres stays behind the car. It is, as a matter of fact, the only thing we leave behind on these trails. Although these roads are tough, even for a 23-year old Land Rover, this is what a typical day in our Defender looks like.
While battling through the brush, we suddenly shuffle to the edge of our seats to stick our heads out of the window; we smell something. Tobias immediately whispers: “It definitely is the smell of wildlife.” We stop the car and decide to investigate. Tobias was right, because within minutes we hear an elephant in the bush, crushing leaves and branches in his tracks. We climb onto the roof rack, cameras and binoculars in hand in order to capture the moment. This is why we are here, spotting wildlife from the roof rack of our Defender, immersing ourselves in nature.
About us: We are Manon Verijdt, Tobias van Krieken and Nimba (woof!). Currently, we are travelling across Africa with our Land Rover Defender 110, capturing adventure and spotting wildlife whenever we can. We love to camp in nature, travel mostly off-the-grid, and combine our passions of photography, nature conservation, and outdoor living within our travels. We inspire others through our overland channel Rafiki on Tour, and create awareness for nature conservation projects through Ubuntu Magazine. Follow us on our journey...
It seems such a short time ago that we decided to combine our passions of travel, nature conservation and photography and depart for Africa. With only five weeks to plan the whole endeavour, we had an ambitious, bordering unrealistic, schedule. Nevertheless, we made it work. Within these few short weeks, we arranged vaccinations, passports, and all the other administrative stuff. We didn’t even get to plan our route. The only thing that was certain was that we were circumnavigating the continent anti-clockwise, heading south on the west coast. We were expecting to be away for a year, camping in wild, remote places every night, and see loads of wildlife. Yet here we are, 11 months into the trip, and we’ve only made it as far as Gabon.
A dozen sketchy bridges – big and small – had to be crossed to reach Gabon’s western lowland gorillas
It is clear that our expectations – the few that we had – were way off. Instead of circumnavigating Africa completely, we haven’t even made it halfway round yet. And although we did realise beforehand that it was going to be tough, it was even tougher than expected in reality. Of course, when looking into Africa, we saw pictures of beautiful savannas with elephants and jungles full of monkeys. We expected to drive south relatively quickly, enjoying this scenery along the way. Let’s just say, West Africa doesn’t work like that, not at all. There are villages everywhere, remoteness barely exists, supplies are scarce (there’s a lot, but a lot of the same), and it was hot and humid. West Africa was about people, more than it was about nature. It wasn’t necessarily what we were looking for, but it surely had a positive side as well, as we got to see super tight-knit communities firsthand.
The pair sought out the most scenic camp spots for working on Rafiki on Tour and Ubuntu magazine
Talking of expectations, it might have been a good thing that our plans weren’t set in stone when we left home. Mere months into this trip it became clear that a year would not be long enough to see everything Africa has to offer. Kilometres seem longer here, or our speed significantly slower, and buying groceries is more than just a short visit to the supermarket. With all that in mind, we decided to take our time and see how far our savings would get us. Surprisingly, we are still steadily driving south without a plan for returning home. However, our savings aren’t limitless which is why we have shifted our aim – travel without work – to creating a full-time lifestyle, including working on the road. A lot of our evenings are now spent on Rafiki on Tour and Ubuntu; our overland website and Instagram channel, and our conservation magazine respectively.
We love visiting projects and learning about local conservation efforts
Talking of the latter – our nature conservation magazine – it gives a whole new dimension to our trip. As nature and wildlife enthusiasts, we not only love to spend time in nature, but we also want to safeguard it for future generations. The aim of Ubuntu is to showcase stories from conservationists in the field, so that people all across the world get to know about them. Yet, before this trip we had never been in the field, visiting those projects. Now that we are travelling through Africa, we are able to combine field visits with the sharing of stories. For example, we were able to visit Tomas Diagne, a turtle conservationist from Senegal. Hearing his experiences, both locally as well as internationally, has opened our eyes to the real-life challenges of nature conservation. Despite hearing his hardships, it has fired our souls even more to be part of the solution.
A combo of carefully-selected spares and Tobias’ mechanical knowledge keep Rafiki in top health at all times
Water purifiers mean a cool drink can come from anywhere, with no plastic bottles
It is thanks to Rafiki, our Defender 110, that we can make it all work. Rafiki enables us to visit remote places, camp off-the-grid for a few weeks, and visit the projects for Ubuntu which can often be found deep in the jungle. It truly is our overland vehicle, home and office at the same time. It isn’t always easy though; travelling, living and working from a relatively small vehicle. Our recently adopted rescue dog from Nigeria – named Nimba – adds another challenge to the already limited space. Nevertheless, we are not considering moving on to another type of vehicle, as the Defender is a true family member. To us, it’s charming, practical and has personality. Compared to other brands or types of vehicles, the Defender keeps turning heads and opens a world of conversation. People love it. And talking of the practical side of things, yes, it’s relatively small compared to some of the truck-based overland vehicles, but the Defender’s size also makes sure we get where we want to go. Looking back at the tracks we’ve driven; a larger vehicle simply wouldn’t have fitted. So, we will be sticking with Rafiki for sure.
Tobias built the aluminium drawer system himself, and it has proven invaluable
With all the adventure that await us, we are looking forward to what lies ahead. In the next six months more of Gabon, Angola, Namibia and South Africa are on our horizon. Our hopes are high for these countries. With more sparsely-populated lands in our sights, the wildlife chapter of our trip begins. We hope that the coming countries provide us with even more off-the-grid and remote places where we can hike, photograph wildlife, enjoy the days with Nimba and build our future. Although there are definitely challenges combining all our passions, we are thoroughly enjoying our adventure here. This is why we set off on this trip.
Nimba the dog is our latest addition to the family. She is a great cuddle companion and night guard, and probably the most adventurous of us all!
We will continue to drive with our windows open in the coming months, in the hopes of seeing and smelling more wildlife. Well actually, there isn’t really an option, as there’s barely any room for our arms to fit inside while driving. Although many might say that we are crazy – with the dusty roads and an overly enthusiastic dog bouncing around in our car – it brings us joy knowing that this basic, rudimentary vehicle makes sure we are this close to the environment that we’re driving through. The Defender definitely has enriched our travels, in more ways than one, and we can’t wait for what the future holds for Rafiki and for us.
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