A seasoned globe-trotter’s travel memoir of her journey down the African continent, spanning 10 months, 17 countries and myriad adventures.
After years of travel, O’Kane and her husband have settled into a lucrative career of home renovation when a Jeopardy! answer (“What is ‘the Amazon’?”) spurs their dormant wanderlust. They plan a largely overland trek from Casablanca to Cape Town, buying seats on a truck captained by an Australian man known only as “the Mechanic.” Destined for Cape Town with this cantankerous escort and eight fellow passengers, they cross Morocco and the perilous Western Sahara, then transit Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana before deciding to tackle the rest of Africa on their own. This road-trip portion of their journey is studded with amusing conflicts among the truck-mates, who include an alcoholic and a pair of “tongue-swabbing” middle-aged lovers. O’Kane is an endearing and enthusiastic narrator, whose observations of her fellow travelers, as well as the native Africans, are both generous and simplistic. During a month in Ghana, O’Kane contracts malaria, battles an extorting bus driver and finds her dinner choices so unimpressive she opts for vegetarian fare for a few days. Though affable and compelling, O’Kane’s storytelling is episodic, without much overarching or internal conflict, and at its weakest, reads as a “Gidget Goes to Africa.” Leaving Ghana, the couple witnesses the tumultuous lead-up to an Ethiopian election, observes a Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha, recovers from a nastier strain of malaria at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and is mugged in Johannesburg. Transcendent moments within the natural landscape punctuate the action, and O’Kane portrays these with reverence and vivid detail, if a sometimes erring choice of tone and pacing. A spectacular moment of flying over the Zambezi’s Victoria Falls is undermined by its brevity, and O’Kane’s admission, “I almost tossed my cookies.” Her bountiful interactions with animal life are the most affecting in the narrative, with notable moments in an elephant orphanage, fleeing a charging hippo, and a toe-curling insect-larvae incident.
An enjoyable and good-hearted romp, despite low stakes and some prosaism.