A veteran travel author takes a look at life (especially life for women) in modern Africa.
Jones’s journey began as an idle conversation during a vacation in the mid-1990s: while canoeing on the Zambezi River, she was asked by one of her companions where she wanted to go next and decided then and there to drive across the continent in a variation of the old “Cape-to-Cairo” trek. She returned to the US, collected the necessary equipment (and funds), and began to plot out an itinerary while her fellow traveler Kevin Muggleton, a former soldier now working as a photographer, went back to Britain and bought a used Land Rover. They then met up and traveled together through Europe before boarding a ship bound for Morocco. By this time Jones had learned of the existence of a tribal queen in South Africa who was renowned for her supernatural powers, and her journey began to take on many aspects of a pilgrimage—although, in the best Chaucerian style, it was one that involved many detours and few straight lines. From Morocco, they crossed the Sahara desert into Mauritania, one of Africa’s forgotten countries—a vast, arid region torn by civil war and ethnic hatreds. They survived the desert and traveled south into Nigeria, which was a nightmare of checkpoints—at least 27 in the first few kilometers. Muggleton, obsessed with covering distance, soon began to irritate Jones, who wished to take a more leisurely journey; their sojourn in Zaire tried them even further, as Muggleton came down with malaria, the rivers lacked bridges, and the roads were mostly gulch-deep potholes. In Kenya they parted company, and Jones completed the trip with two African women she had met along the way. Eventually she did meet the queen, who ruled over a greatly diminished territory north of Pretoria and claimed to control the rainfall. By journey’s end, Jones had discovered a kinship with the women of Africa but was happy to return home.
An honest and illuminating study that portrays the process by which the investigation of a continent becomes an examination of the self.