Monday, August 30, 2010


On of the most popular posts on The Generalist is ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT Travel Guide, posted in August 2006. Many of you who used the Guide have contacted me and traffic spiked when the post was included in  a  feature on Slate entitled ‘Baboons  Are Simply Too Small for Leopard Bait: The 10 oddest travel guides ever published’ by Paul Collins (August 2008. Now, thanks to intrepid traveller Will Rogers, The Generalist Archive has acquired a copy of another BIT Guide: Overland Through Africa. The copy we have is the 4th Edition, published in July 1976. Here is the Introduction:


‘At the risk of seeming absurd we hope you'll give this guide away once you've made the decision to go since there's no such thing as a 'guide' to discovery and adventure. The only way you'll find these things is by direct personal experience. All a guide can do is point you in a fruitful direction and even then it runs the risk of becoming a leaning post and giving you pre-conceived ideas about what you will find. Having said that it would be naive to assume that you've got this far in life without being influenced in many ways by the media which is why we get these guides together - as a kind of counter-balance to the mountains of glossy tourist literature,TV and radio programmes and the like,which will take you on a whistle-stop tour of one Hilton hotel after another and leave you with little other than a numbing feeling of ennui.This guide is a collection of experiences from travellers who've tried to get out of that mould and have deliberately gone out of their way to try to experience life as it is lived by local people outside the capital cities and tourist spots. It's far from perfect since no collection of words can ever adequately convey direct experience and it is no substitute for your own initiative but it's the best we can do given these limitations.BIT AFRICA1695

Most places are far easier and cheaper to get to than Costa Lotta travel agents and discouraging Consular officials would have you believe. The hardest part is making the decision to go under your own steam. The rest is easy and you'll never regret it. Remember that wherever there are people there is food,shelter,company and transport of some description and the further off the beaten track you go, generally, the more interesting it becomes. lt's best not to have any definite plans or time schedule but to go the way the wind blows and stay as long as the inclination holds you. Don’t expect anything to be on time or to work in the way it does in Europe or North America - in many parts of Africa it's impossible to predict anything, especially during the rainy season when roads turn to rivers and bridges get washed away just for starters. Give yourself plenty of time, be willing to adjust to local customs and food, and try to see delays or forced changes of plans as an opportunity to do something else rather than waste energy moaning about them. There are few well-established travellers' routes as there are out East and, with the exception of South America, Africa is the one continent where you can still find real adventure - bearing in mind that you can find this in your own backyard: it all depends on how you approach it. Outside the capital cities it's still very uncommercialised and undeveloped and in many places its people are trying hard to develop an identity which won't usher in a Coca-Cola culture or a passive acceptance of Western techno-consumerism.

It's a very colourful continent with many different traditions and ways of life and the friendliness and hospitality that awaits you there is second to none. We receive letters from travellers all the time which go on at great length about the welcome they've received there especially in the small vill­ages and even in the cities perhaps best contained in a nutshell by one of Siri & Ebba's phrases:- "We're having nothing but the best of times and all fears are unfounded'.'

A lot of people find two is the ideal number for travelling. More than that can be unwieldy and become a constant exercise in balancing inclinat­ions. On the other hand, if you have the courage, travelling on your own is possibly the best way to go. Whichever you decide on you'll come across others who are travelling and with whom you can truck along if you feel like some company for a while. There are a number of fairly well-known crossroads where you'll meet other travellers or have the opportunity to change travelling companions. Travel as light as possible. Visas you can obtain along the way and with far less hassle and red-tape than from the Embassies in London. In many cases you can actually turn up at the border without a visa despite the fact that, officially, you're supposed to have one. Don't worry about diarrhoea and hepatitis - you'll almost certainly get the former at various points along the way if only because your body can't adjust fast enough to changes of food, but hepatitis can usually be avoided if you're reasonably fastidious and don't drink un-boiled water. The two things you must take precautions about are malaria (for which you take a preventative drug) and bilharzia (keep out of streams,rivers and lakes unless you know they're safe). Language is no real problem as you'll soon pick up enough to get you by and what you lack can be made up for in non-verbal communication. lt does help, however, to learn something of the languages of the countries you intend to visit as this makes the journ­ey far more interesting and puts you in closer touch with the culture and circumstances of people's lives. English and French will get you through most places. Arabic and Swahili will get you through the remainder. Many people will delight in teaching you their language if you show interest.

Leave your stereotyped prejudices at home where, hopefully, they'll wither and die, even if others display them - and they sometimes do. Be open-minded, honest and friendly. If things start bugging you, try to retain a sense of humour and don't lose your infinite capacity for patience - the bureaucracy in some places is incredibly complicated and moves very sluggishly. lt moves even slow­er if you start ranting and raving. At the same time, be firmly discriminating in who you trust. Lean on your intuition. Most so-called rip offs are due to the carelessness of travellers who leave valuables lying around unattended. Not all hotel managers are trustworthy. Don't leave money, passports and other valuables lying around at any time. Keep them with you and out of sight even when you go for a shower unless you're certain they're not going to walk. Best leave any­thing behind which you'd regret losing. If you act in an arrogant manner remem­ber that other travellers who come after you are going to pick up the pieces and it's a heavy number if local people are feeling resentful. Better to say little and learn a lot instead. These people have just as much right to their culture and way of life as you do to yours. Never make the mistake of thinking that a 'primitive' existence, a difference of opinion and way of going about things, or a different language is equivalent to stupidity. Please don t export this contemptible cultural superiority - they've had quite enough of that already and are still having it rammed down their long-suffering throats esp­ecially in southern Africa.

Many African countries are going through profound political and social changes which is often reflected in the instability and turbulence of national politics. They're still struggling with the legacy of colonialism particularly with regard to acculturisation and geographical boundaries which often bear little or no relation to the civilisations and tribal areas which were in existence before the arrival of the Europeans and they're having a hard time creating a sense of unity in the face of tribal rivalries, racial and linguistic differences, patterns of migration and geographical separation. Colonialist agricultural and industrial policies have also hindered development since, in many cases, they left a country with only one major export, the world price for which was still controlled from the business centres of Europe. There are, how­ever, a number of promising developments which will reduce this exploitation and eventually eliminate it such as the Ujamaa scheme in Tanzania and the land redistribution schemes in Ethiopia,Libya,Somalia and Mozambique among others. For the moment, however, many African countries are desperately poor and still very much subject to the vagaries of the weather and the availability of water. The Sahel drought, which lasted for years, on the southern edge of the Sahara desert had a disastrous effect on the countries in that area and spelt the end of a centuries-old way of life for many nomads. Famines still occur in places like Ethiopia though this undoubtedly had a lot to do with the distribution of land and crippling taxation under the feudal system before the revolution. In southern Africa there's the disgusting spectacle of apartheid and white suprem­acist regimes poisoning the air and where change must inevitably come - and the sooner the better.

Africa is not a cheap place to travel through especially if you are going to rely largely on hotels and want to travel fairly rapidly. If this is what you have in mind then six months could cost you around £500. Inflation has badly affected many African countries especially since OPEC's oil price increases. Obviously the further off the beaten track you go and the slower you travel (many travellers walk large distances especially in places like Zaire where transport is very erratic) the further your funds will go and the more hospit­ality you come across. Try to give something in return. Don't expect to be able to hitch everywhere for free. In most parts of Africa hitching a ride on a lorry is a recognised form of public transport and you'll be expected to pay for it. Generally,prices are more or less fixed on well-used routes though on lesser-used tracks you will have to bargain. Some lifts take days and in the rainy season there are frequent delays due to bridges being down or roads flooded. When there are punctures or the lorry gets bogged down in sand or mud, you’ll be expected to lend a hand along with everybody else – can be great fun.

Africa is one of the few remaining continents where there are substantial wildlife parks and reserves where you can see immense herds of zebra, antelopes and wildebeests together with Lions, elephants, rhino, giraffe, hippos, monkeys and an incredible array of bird and insect life. Give a thought for them if you are offered furs and animal skins. The demand for these puts severe pressure on their continued existence. If you want them to become a fond memory of the past carry on buying furs and skins. If not, refuse to buy them.

We wish you the best of luck for an amazing journey.’

1 comment:

Douglas L. Saunders said...

I bought one of the first editions, in 1973, in London and used them to hitch from Morocco to Ethiopia, and then across to India and Thailand eventually. They are pretty deteriorated now, if i could even find them, but they were very helpful. They were monstrous mimeographed sheets, double sided, impossible to read, really.