Hello… My name’s Jo and I’ve been visiting Africa for many years now. It all began in 1996 when I met a fella in Devon who was planning to drive all the way down into West Africa. He was looking for volunteers to form a convoy of vehicles and take the trip with him. I was looking for something different to do at that time – and, wow, different it certainly was!
The trip took me on a camping tour through seven countries and seven cultures; sometimes with rough roads and sometimes with no roads! Our journey started with a Channel crossing followed by a tour down through France and Spain.
On arrival in Gibraltar, we took the ferry to Morocco. Having landed on the coast of North Africa and heading off south-west, we then went up and down both the Rif and the Atlas Mountains. This part of the trip was an abundance of ‘Wows’. Coming down off the Atlas Mountains brought us onto the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Finding a reliable guide, and haggling over a fair price, we went down the coast, through the disputed ‘Western Sahara’ area, into Mauritania. Hoping that we’d be guided in the right direction, and not come across a load of bandits or any land mines, we eventually arrived back onto some solid tarmac.
In the Sahara there ain't no roads, signposts or Spar shops for a heck of a long way. So, we required half a dozen Jerry cans of Diesel, the same amount of water, a load of dry food and a damn good shovel each.
The shovels were essential because, when crossing the Sahara, you get stuck in the sand several times a day. Sometimes we’d get stuck every hour with the 120-degree heat of the red-hot sun burning down on us. I can tell you – it ain’t no picnic having to dig your wagon out in that heat!
But you dig, or you walk with a five-gallon butt of water on your back, up and down the sand dunes for six days. By this time, we were all feeling a little bit mentally warped. Our friendly guide, who hardly spoke English, just smiled lots and pointed left, right or straight ahead shouting, “avance, avance”, which means ‘faster, faster’. After those six days, our guide then said, “that was the easy bit”!
The last leg of the journey was a race against the tides while driving down beaches on the western coastline. The beaches were only about 60 ft wide and the tide came in very fast. So if you didn’t get the timing right you got gobbled up by the sea.
There are huge sand dunes behind these beaches. After driving for about half of a day, there was an opening in these dunes. This is where we had to drive our vans to get away from the sea before the tide came in. We camped down for the night and got ready to dig ourselves out of the sand the next morning when the tide went out.
We went through the same routine again while the tide was out during the next few days. This made me realise why we had passed so many dead vehicles along the way – they must have been all the poor suckers that had got the tide times wrong!
When we finally got off that beach and onto some tarmac again, I jumped out of the vehicle, got down on my hands and knees and gave the tarmac a huge kiss. I didn’t think a tarmac road would ever have looked so good! We had now reached Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.
After leaving the city and driving down a long coast road for many more hours, we entered Senegal. I now felt I was in ‘real’ Africa. There were little villages on either side of the road. There were round houses with straw roofs and women in African dress stomping down rice with long sticks in wooden pots. There were little goats running around everywhere.
From the sea port of St-Louis (former capital of French West Africa) we continued down the coast to Dakar, on the Cape Vert Peninsula. Dakar is the westernmost point of Africa and has been the capital of Senegal since 1902.
Being wild and hectic, the largest city in Senegal can best be described as organised chaos!
We didn’t have time to stay in Dakar for long, as we wanted to reach our final destination in The Gambia. To enter The Gambia we got on a little ferry – I have never seen so many people get onto one boat. Getting off this boat, some seven weeks after leaving the UK, we had finally reached our destination!
To cut a very long story short, I stayed initially in The Gambia for around 6 months. During this time, I began a relationship with a local woman, who became my wife. I had to return to England for work, but constantly flew back to The Gambia to be with my wife, who, within a year, had become pregnant.
Although there were some complications at the birth, my daughter, Nesta, was born a healthy, strong and loving little girl. Her full African name is Nestafari, and so, in a sense, on that same day, the ‘Nestafari Sound System’ was also born.
Before long, my wife and Nesta came to live with me back in the UK. However, my wife found it hard to adapt to the weather and soon returned to The Gambia with Nesta. I soon started planning to repeat the long, overland haul back to The Gambia. The following winter, I did the whole trip again with just one friend who had come with me the first time. We had lots of fun, sun and chaos – but that’s just another ‘long story’.
I was shortly reunited with my daughter Nesta, and, over the next three years, we travelled all over Morocco and then through many European countries. I played music wherever I could and started raising money to help the kids go to school in the little village where Nesta was born.
Supporting children in Africa is still the main aim of the Nestafari Sound System. I want to give something back to Africa and say thank you for all the love and joy that my daughter has given to me. Every winter, we return with pens, pencils and books, and make lots of little black kids’ faces smile. All the donations we have raised I take to the school so that these talented children can get the education that they deserve.
I end by saying mucho gracias, merci bo coup, obrigado, and thank you very much to everyone who has made donations.