I interview Nick de Vos, better known as 'Nick from Namibia' about his 5410Africa project.
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I got to know Nick last year when I was stuck in Kenya, waiting for whatever to happen so I could continue my travels. I was hoping to meet up with Nick somewhere in Southern Africa but well, that didn't happen!
Let me jump straight in and interview this guy, with questions from one long term traveller to another.
Nick, welcome and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Introduce 5410Africa please. The plan is to travel to every country in Africa, all 54 of them over 10 years. 5410Africa.
Starting in my home country Namibia and working anti-clockwise around the continent. This will be done with a Toyota Hilux that I purchased a while ago specifically for this trip. So, an overland type of trip, but not exclusively, as I will need to visit island states like Madagascar, Mauritius etc and might face conditions in certain countries where taking a vehicle in is not safe at the time.
Is it one continual non-stop 10-year trip?
That was the initial plan and might still be depending on the coronavirus. A year ago when I came up with the idea I guess we all thought the virus would be here for a short while and then be forgotten. Boy, how wrong we all were. There is talk of needing a vaccination certificate to entry countries etc. I’m now faced with the decision of signing another 3-year contract at work and starting the trip part-time or going full-time from June onwards. That decision will be made in the coming weeks.
Where did the inspiration come from?
The Covid 19 pandemic, lol. I’ve always been a bit different, daring and more adventurous than those around me. My earliest memory is of a friend daring me US$1 to ask Miss Universe for a kiss. I got my kiss and the dollar. But seriously, when the whole Covid thing hit us all I was working offshore and ended up being stuck there for nearly double the time I was meant to be. I did a lot of thinking, reflection etc. and concluded that I needed more control over my life, that life’s short and one should be doing what he loves. Naturally, the result involved two things that I love and enjoy dearly, travel and Africa and so 5410Africa was born.
What experience do you have with 4x4 adventuring, backpacking or any other hardcore long term trips?
I grew up in Namibia where 99% (slightly exaggerated) own a 4x4, people are infatuated by them so I’ve always been around them, but never owned one, never had the need. Now I do and have to learn fast. I must thank my friends who’ve been very helpful and of course, there are some great YouTube channels out there dedicated to teaching off-roading/overlanding. Fortunately, also growing up in Namibia I’ve been driving gravel and off-road before I was allowed to legally have a license so that helps.
I used to be a hardcore backpacker. South-East Asia, Europe & Africa. Nothing more exciting than a 12-hour ride in a stinky bus and a dorm room full of snorers.
My biggest/favourite trip was from Cape Town to Cairo, which I did in 3 months which was too fast, but enough to want me to go back. I spent long periods in the UK and India, but I can't call those trips hardcore.
This will be of much interest to all 4x4 overlanders. Tell us about your vehicle.
It will most definitely be. It is a 2000 Toyota Hilux 4x4 dual cab SRX. Australians and English will know the model. In the US the equivalent is the Toyota Tacoma. Toyota is synonymous with overlanding/4x4ing in Africa and depending on your preference and budget will either be a Land Cruiser or a Hilux.
Why did you choose this model?
The Hilux has been in Africa since the late 1960s. It’s built up a reputation as an extremely reliable workhorse that is apt in most African conditions. I chose an older model because its more affordable, easier to repair and spare parts and mechanics can be found all over Africa. The newer models are extremely expensive but more concerning is the electronics and other “gadgets” they are fitted with that can only be repaired by specialists with specialized equipment and software. Mine can be mended with a pair of pliers and a bit of steel wire.
What modifications have you made?
So many. Like I mentioned 4x4’s are very much part of the culture in Namibia and I was able to find one that a lot has been done to already, but for a trip of this magnitude I had to do a few more:
Replacement bumper, new lights, roof rack, off-road tires, extra fuel tank, aluminium canopy, fridge, a second battery, awning, snorkel & breathers (in case I need to cross deep water) 2nd spare wheel. I’m probably missing a few items, but that’s the gist of it. On the to-do list is a winch and a new suspension system.
What range do you have with 1 full tank of gas and how much spare fuel will you carry?
About 500kms main tank and another 500kms spare tank depending on driving conditions. 1000kms is sort of what you’re aiming for when overlanding, but the spare tank is only filled when needed. Lugging around 70kgs of extra fuel is pointless if there is no need for it.
On a scale of 1-10, (10 being most competent) what is your skill level as a bush mechanic?
Haha, you’ve got me with this question, a 2 maybe 3 out of 10. That is why I own a Toyota, it will not let you down as long as you love them and service them every 10 000kms. But like I said Namibia is Toyota mad and I have friends and uncles that have owned them for decades, so help is only a phone call away. If there is no phone, I can rely on Africa’s bush mechanics. This is one of the main reasons I got an older model Toyota as spares readily available and people that can fix them are all over the continent.
If I had more mechanical skills, I would have done the trip in a Landrover, that’s when you’ll need those bush mechanic skills the most.
I read that you have been road testing it whilst you are still in Namibia where everything is quite familiar to you. What issues have you had to fix having done these local adventures?
None so far, fingers crossed. A week or so ago I thought I messed up the differential lock. It did not want to disengage. After a consultation, I was to blame. It turned out red means engaged and green disengaged I had my colours mixed up.
So yes the testing has been extremely useful and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do a similar trip. Know your vehicle, your life will most likely depend on it. Another minor issue is that dust is being sucked into the main cab, I need to do some hole hunting.
What is your sleeping setup like?
I’ve gone with a ground tent, a Tentco Savanah 3, it’s 2.1x2.1x1.5 meter with a stretcher and a thick and comfy roll-up canvas-covered mattress. I also have a -5 degree C sleeping bag and two pillows. A man needs to sleep comfy at night.
So far I have not had any major issues except of course for an encounter with a scorpion and an elephant. People will be screaming at me for not fitting a rooftop tent, but both have their pro’s and cons.
And I won't always be camping. I'll be staying with friends and relatives, hostels and hotels when in towns and cities.
What about food and drink. How long do you expect to be totally self-sufficient for?
I don’t intend to go extreme overlanding, ie disappearing in the bush for weeks on end. Fuel wise I can carry 140lts if needed, I have a 40lt water tank, plus 2x5lts containers and food. I’d say water will be my limiting factor, with my capacity I would not want to be away from a source for longer than 2 weeks, that is about 3.5lts per day.
Visas are going to be a massive headache. As a Namibian, which countries give you a visa on arrival, and which ones don't you need a visa for, and which ones do you need to get in advance?
Correct, this was one of my biggest and first concerns. I was happy to see that with a Namibian passport I am exempt or can apply on arrival for about 35 African countries which is not bad. From the remaining 19 I classified 10 as ok and the remaining 9 are a pain in the ass. I will not be applying for visas in advance. If need be, I’ll just sit and wait at embassies in neighbouring countries.
Fortunately, a lot of African countries are moving towards e-visas that can be applied for online and I’m hoping this trend catches on as the years go by. Also, there is useful information out there, all you need to do is find it. If I remember correctly you’ve got a few good posts on visas in western Africa???
Yes, I do. Things change and experiences do differ dramatically but the ones I applied for were a breeze. I was never in a situation were a little 'cadeau' was required to get me through a border though the entry to Côte d'Ivoire was a long drawn out affair.
What experience do you have in dealing with corrupt border guards?
Corrupt officials, yes, corrupt border officials not so much. Growing up in South Africa and Namibia you tend to encounter corrupt officials more than the average Joe, but it is still going to be challenging. It is one of the reasons I’ve always preferred to travel with a backpack, fewer issues at borders. Having to take a car across a border, each country with its own rules, regulations and “costs”, not looking forward to the experience.
Are you going to be vlogging and blogging and also writing for any magazines?
I’ll be doing a YouTube channel, with a hybrid vlog/travel show feel. The idea is to provide information, instead of just showing destinations. I want to inspire other travellers so that they feel confident to come to Africa for themselves. I have the usual social media of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and I'll be posting on my blog: 5410Africa.com. Again, posts will be information-based.
I am speaking to local newspapers for a column which will most likely coincide with the blog. Nothing major, but you need to start somewhere.
What about sponsorship? Firms prefer giving physical things rather than cash and also are rarely interested in such long term projects as they want fast exposure and even faster returns.
For now, I am focusing on creating a brand that can sell or others see value in being a part off. I’m fortunate that I have time on my side to develop my own brand before needing to approach others for sponsorships, or even better getting them to approach me. In a perfect world, I would prefer not to be involved with any other brands, but costs need to be covered.
Sadly, we can not avoid the Covid-19 theme.
Have you had to reschedule your departure date?
Like I mentioned earlier, there is a decision to be made, but the result will not stop the trip, instead, I’ll do part-time a bit longer and then go full time. This is not ideal, but Covid has forced many of us into unwanted positions and there are people in much worse situations.
What is the situation due to Covid-19 restrictions with land borders in Southern Africa just now?
Its an extremely fluid situation. Namibia is open for visitors, but South Africa recently closed their borders. There was a time before the second wave that one could travel all the way up to Ethiopia, last I heard their borders were closed because of a civil war. Zimbabwe is currently being hammered by Covid-19. I’ve made peace with the fact that planning will be very difficult and flexibility key.
The vaccine rollout in Southern Africa has not started and it will be a long and slow process. I am most definitely not in any priority group, so might end up never receiving it, which will be problematic if countries start demanding vaccination certificates.
Nick, thank you for your time about your very inspirational 5410Africa project. I wish you all the very best with it and, well, I hope I can get back to Africa at some point and share a few cold ones with you.
All images on this post, courtesy of Nick from Namibia @5410Africa
If you are a Long Term Traveller Backpacker Adventurer and would like me to interview you, please DM me on Twitter @NomadicBackpac1