Tag Archives: Overlanding

Africa Expedition Support off-roading into making a real difference

Chief Mapengo comes to meet the Adventures Cross Country group at Napenda Solar Community HQ in Kajiado, Kenya

Chief Mapengo comes to meet the Adventures Cross Country group at Napenda Solar Community HQ in Kajiado, Kenya

Lee Erickson is one of the leaders of Adventures Cross Country Gap group currently in Kenya working with Napenda Solar Community.

Here is a blog entry from Lee

“The Adventures Cross-Country (ARCC) Africa Gap crew is currently 30 miles outside of Nairobi, in Kajiado County, Kenya, where we are working with the Napenda Solar Community assembling and installing solar power systems to the local communities to provide electricity and light in their homes for the first time!

I know you guys are probably thinking that that’s some pretty amazing stuff… and you are right! It has been one of the most rewarding service projects that I have ever been a part of, and is definitely a highlight for our group during our three month journey across East Africa.

Napenda Solar Community is a non-profit project that began in November 2013 in hope of improving the lives of many East African families by providing affordable, reliable and clean solar energy to their homes. Napenda is Swahili for “I love,” and in just two short years, Napenda Solar Community has installed solar power systems in 27 homes and have stolen the hearts of the communities that they have reached across East Africa thus far.

So who is behind Napenda Solar Community? Their names are Thiemo and Deborah. Thiemo grew up in Germany and is a master mechanic, car enthusiast and driver by trade. Deborah is originally from Australia and is a nurse, dog lover, and a crafty cook. They met in Africa while working with an overland company several years ago, and eventually started their own overland and guided Land Rover self-drive business called Africa Expedition Support (AES).

They started AES at a campsite near Nairobi with one overland truck and a couple Land Rover 4x4s. They quickly grew in popularity due to their work ethic, knowledge, and passion to create memorable and outstanding experiences for their customers. With currently four overland trucks and 12 Land Rover 4x4s in their fleet, they stay very busy running and organizing overland and self-drive guided trips for school groups and adventurous travelers that want to experience East Africa in a truly unique way. Coincidentally enough, our ARCC Africa Gap group is overlanding with AES for the majority of our journey!

As AES expanded, Debs and Thiemo moved further away from the capital city and built their dream home called The Castle in Kajiado. With no affordable way to acquire essential resources like electricity and water, Debs and Thiemo had to design their home in a way that they would be completely self-sustainable. By reading books and searching the internet, Thiemo taught himself how to make a proper solar power system and a wind turbine that powers all of their lights, washing machine, oven, stereo system, water heater, and many more amenities in their beautiful home. By making their dream home a reality, Debs and Thiemo have proven that solar energy is affordable, reliable, sustainable, and makes sense for any home where the sun shines.

It wasn’t long before a light bulb went off in their heads to design a smaller solar power system for the homes in their local community, which sparked the duo to launch the Napenda Solar Community project in order to make a positive impact for those families. ARCC has been an in-country partner with Debs and Thiemo for many years and we feel very fortunate to be able to volunteer on their Napenda Solar project for 10 days, and experience first-hand, how beneficial this project is to the many families it is directly impacting.

The reality here is that 50% of people living in Kenya do not have access to mains electricity in their homes. Most people use kerosene lanterns for lighting which is expensive and has adverse health effects. In Kenya, mains electricity costs $500 to get connected to the grid (plus monthly electricity bills) is simply inconceivable for the majority of the population that lives on less than $2 per day.

“The challenge was finding a good project that individuals can learn something from, is sustainable, accomplishes something big, and has a positive impact on people’s lives. We believe Napenda Solar Community does all of those things, and more” says Debs and Thiemo as we talk over a hot cup of tea. “This project provides poor rural households with efficient, clean and cost effective solar power as a positive step to eradicating poverty,” they state.

After installing three solar power systems in three nearby homes, the impact we made thanks to Napenda Solar Community could not be more evident for our group during our short time here. Each family has invested $50 of their money (which often times means selling a cow or goat) and with their new-found electricity, they understand how valuable this resource is to open opportunities to access information, education, and communication offering a tremendous platform for individual, community and nationwide development.

Debs and Thiemo’s goal for Napenda Solar Community is to install as many solar panel systems across East Africa as possible. “We believe it is our social responsibility to give back to our community to make people’s lives easier here,” Debs concludes. Napenda Solar Project largely relies on groups and travelers such as ARCC to fund the cost of the solar power systems and we couldn’t be more thankful to the two of them for allowing us to be a part of their inspiring and life-changing project.

Follow Napenda Solar Community on facebook, twitter , linkedin, and google+ or peruse Africa Expedition Support website for more information.



Packing for your safari

So now your trip is booked, flights sorted, and jabs done it is time to think about what to pack. The biggest mistake most people make is to over pack – everything barring the kitchen sink ends up in the luggage. How many times have you been on holiday only to return home with over half your clothes untouched?

It is easy to fall into the trap of “just in case I had better take this and this and that”. At the end of the day the more you take the more you have to carry.

The key to successful packing is not brain surgery.

Keep it simple, pack what you feel comfortable wearing from your wardrobe. There is no need to run out and buy an entire new “travel” wardrobe – unless your wardrobe is full of business clothes and suits and lacks any casual wear.

Over the years I have heard people say never take jeans – they are heavy and take too long to dry. I personally always travel with jeans – they are comfortable, warm and don’t need to wash them as often as lighter clothing.   This is just my personal preference.

There are plenty of products on the market, quick dry, light material, durable, made for trekking …. And the list goes on. I personally don’t see the point in spending a fortune on “travel” clothes. I have several faithful pairs of shorts, 3/4 s and long trousers all purchased from Kmart, Target or Mr Price – cheap and cheerful. They are nothing special, but they are presentable, comfortable, don’t take that long to dry and if they are lost or destroyed I don’t care.

I have put my washing into the hotel reception or campsite only to see them a couple of hours later being bashed against rocks in between dipping and scrubbing in lakes or rivers. You definitely don’t want your $100 designer T shirt being put through this torture ……..

The only thing I did splash out on was a warm durable jacket – preferably something that is spray proof on the outside and fleece on the inside. For years I have travelled with the same faithful jacket and it was worth the investment over and over again.

So now you have decided to go through the wardrobe and take stock of what you have. How many T shirts, shorts and long trousers etc to pack?

This is personal preference and will depend on where and how long you are travelling. If you are travelling to conservative countries (East Africa for example) then packing hot pants and tank tops may not be the most appropriate clothing. You may decide to pack more long trousers rather than shorts and more long sleeve shirts rather than T shirts.

No matter whether I am leading a safari for 2 or 8 weeks or travelling back to Australia to see family and clients I always travel light. A couple of pairs of jeans, a couple pairs of shorts, 3-4 T shirts, 1-2 long sleeve shirts, 6 pairs of socks, a warm fleece and couple of changes of good clothing that can be mixed and matched for the odd dinner out or when dealing with government officials.

In terms of shoes, for years and years I have only ever travelled with 2 pairs; my trusty blundy’s (pull on work boots) and flip flops. Underwear is something I do pack a healthy supply (10-14 pairs) bearing in mind in some cultures it is not appropriate to hand in underwear for washing at hotels/campsites so I can get away with hand washing them myself every 10 days or so.

Then there is my camera, extra batteries and memory cards, laptop (this is for work purposes), mozzie spray, moisturiser, sunscreen, cap, swimmers, head torch and basic toiletries (toothpaste, brush, shampoo etc), sleeping bag, appropriate power adaptors, yellow fever certificate, passport and a basic medical kit with antibiotics, pain killers etc.

The one item I do suggest and something that is not often in the laundry cupboard is a quick dry travel towel. Actually, I travel with 2 – 1 large and 1 small for my long hair. These are invaluable as there is nothing worse than packing away a wet towel!

My advice is to keep it small and simple and if you feel comfortable in something don’t let other people tell you not to pack it. Not only do you want to have a great time on safari you also want to be comfortable.

Happy Packing

Feel free to drop Debs an email info@africaexpeditionsupport.com for more specific information depending on when and where you are travelling in Africa.


Why do Hippos yawn?

I love stories from different African countries, there are so many of them. One of my all-time favourites is the story about why hippos yawn. Thousands of years ago Hippos were land dwelling animals but the hot African sun meant they were subject to sunburn on their delicate pink ears. So they called a meeting with God.

At the meeting they asked God if they could spend their days in the cool water of rivers and ponds so they could cool their hot bodies and prevent their delicate pink ears from sunburn. God, at first, was not sure about this. He was worried that the Hippos wanted to feast on the numerous fish in the rivers and ponds. The hippos protested at this assumption.

So they decided to make a deal with God. If he would let them spend their days in the cool water they would several times a day open their mouths toward the heavens and show God they did not have any fish in their mouths.

God thought about this proposal, after some time he agreed. So the hippos entered the water and several times a day opened their mouths to show God that they did not have any fish in their mouths. And all this time you thought hippos were yawning!

Deborah Thiele                                                                                                     http://www.africaexpeditionsupport.com                                                         info@africaexpeditionsupport.com

The Good Old Days

I was recently asked by 4WD Touring Australia to write a short article about how I left Australia and ending up living and running a tourism business in Kenya. While I was trying to put fingers to the keyboard I spent more time reminiscing over the past then I did writing about it. Over the years, Thiemo and I,  have had some incredible experiences both together and separately. Our most memorable experience was being bogged in the Sahara desert for 3 days in thick wet clay in 2013.

I still remember the sinking feeling (literally) I felt as I watched Tim, who was driving Medusa the MAN, break the crust of the salt pan and start to slow down. He thought he had a blocked fuel filter, until he looked in the side mirrors and saw the rear sinking.

What started out as a “oh well this is overlanding, this is what it is all about” soon turned into a mission. The more we dug, the more we sank. Medusa was heavy. So we needed to lose weight, off came the beer (that made a considerable difference!), the luggage, spare tyres, kitchen and everything that could be removed. Still sinking …..

sand driving tips

my greatest memory and achievement in overlanding


Sand mats simply had no grip and although we had 28 people to push and me trying to pull Medusa out with Betty, our support truck, it was not enough to get us out of the clay. We were still sinking ….

On day 2 we stopped digging and as Tim wrapped steel cables around the tyres the rest of us walked off into the distance to collect soft volcanic rocks from about 700m away. We filled the tracks with rocks and tried to get them under the tyres as much as possible. Finally by the middle of the 3rd day we were ready to try again.

I hooked Medusa to the back of Betty, Tim climbed into the cab of Medusa and 28 people were at the back ready to push.   I gave a shunt and effortlessly Medusa drove out of her hole much to our relief.

Thinking back now it was one of the most stressful times of my overlanding career. As road crew our number 1 responsibility is for the safety and well-being of our clients. While we knew we had more than enough food and water to last us days (and we had passed a fresh water hole only a few kilometres before being bogged), we still had to ensure we kept level headed and confident.

We always knew we would get out …….. Eventually

Although we still drive overland trucks, the routes we take through East Africa are a little less isolated.  Sure there may be a random dirt road somewhere along the way where we may slide to the side and get bogged but nothing like our Trans Africa days (UK to Cape overland). And with our land rovers on our guided self drive expeditions …. well …. They are pretty hard to get bogged!

Go Green, Go Solar ……. Napenda Solar Community

For the past few months our focus has not always been on our overland safaris and guided self drive expeditions but on Napenda Solar Community.

What is that I hear you ask?  For those who have been on a safari or expedition with Africa Expedition Support and have met Thiemo or I probably recall at least one conversation about solar power with us.  Yes, solar power, this is not a misprint.  This is a topic we are pretty passionate about, we believe in it and proved that it works time and time again.  After all we could not run our workshop or office without solar power.  You see we are based only 1 hour from Nairobi, Kenya yet we don’t have any mains power – so for us to run our business we rely on the sun – solar power.

In addition to our guided self drive expeditions we also run a number of, what are called, “service trips” for school, university and teen groups.  These are tailored trips with all the usual Africa bells and whistles (game parks, beaches etc) with service projects – projects where students have the opportunity to give something back to less fortunate communities while learning about their culture and experiencing their lives.  It is not uncommon for families and couples to also want to participate in a community service project.

Our area is pretty underdeveloped in every way, there are very few schools, dirt roads that are lucky to see a grader once a year, no electricity, no clean water and the list goes on.  Hence Napenda Solar Community is a way to bring solar power to our local community by involving students and tour groups in solar power workshops that result in solar power systems being installed by the students and tour groups in poor rural homes, schools and clinics.

teens hard at work building a solar power system

teens hard at work building a solar power system

A clear win win for all.  Let’s face it, with the depleting world resources, there is a strong focus on clean renewable energies.  Throughout the USA, Australia, UK and Europe there is a push to go green – the recent People’s Climate March was testimony to this.  In Africa there is no choice, with very limited infrastructure and high cost of mains power the most economical way to go is solar power.  Although not expensive the costs of setting up solar power even in a small home are  prohibitive especially for those living on less than USD$2 per day.

Napenda Solar Community heavily subsidise these costs enabling communities to get connected to power.  A way for tourists and student groups to experience and learn from a local Masai community, go back home with greater understanding and appreciation of renewable energies; and valuable skills to set up their own solar power system if they choose to.

Who would have thought you could come to Kenya to learn amazing new skills?

For more information on our solar power workshops check out


If you would like to add a solar power workshop to your safari or expedition email me, Debs, at info@africaexpeditionsupport.com or Anne at solar@africaexpeditionsupport.com

Don’t forget to like us on http://www.facebook.com/napendasolarcommunity (tell your friends to like us also!) The more who know about Napenda Solar Community the more poor rural communities in Kenya will benefit!

Livingstonia – Off the beaten track

No I have not made a spelling mistake – Livingstonia is not the town of Livingstone where Victoria Falls are located in Zambia but a little town hidden in the highlands of Malawi overlooking Lake Malawi.

This is just one the little gems off the beaten track we travel to on our guided self drive expeditions. Most people have never heard of Livingstonia, which is a pity as it is an incredibly beautiful place with a rich history. High up on the escarpment overlooking Lake Malawi it is not an easy location to get to but it is worth the effort. The road is a narrow dirt track winding its way up to the little town; although passable all year round (in the right vehicle) it can be a little tricky in the rain.

The road to Livingstonia is every 4x4ers dream, dirt road, switchbacks, and steep ascents

The road to Livingstonia is every 4x4ers dream, dirt road, switchbacks, and steep ascents

Known as “little Scotland”; originally a Mission built in 1894 by the Scottish doctor, clergyman, academic and explorer Dr Robert Laws. However this is not the original Mission. The Free Church of Scotland originally built the Mission near Cape Maclear in 1875. However it was found the area was too malarial so it was moved to Bandawe; after which it was decided to move it to its now location.
The Mission is named after Dr Livingstone as a tribute to his work throughout Central Africa. Most people only know of Dr Livingstone the explorer, but his true passion was the Church and Missions. Dr Livingstone opened up Central Africa to missionaries and initiated education and health care to local communities. He was instrumental in the abolishment of the slave trade and at times a thorn in the side of the British government. Dr Livingstone was very respected and held in high esteem by many African chiefs. It is understandable this place was named in his honour.

Dr Robert Laws

Dr Robert Laws

Dr Robert Laws shared many of Dr Livingstone’s passions. His dream was to establish not only a Mission but to introduce Malawians to university education, high standard of health care and technical training. He believed university education was essential to develop a self-sufficient Malawian population with well-educated ethical leaders. Although he led the Mission for 52 years and established one of the best schools and colleges in all of Central Africa he was unable to see through his dream for a university. It was not until 2003 that Dr Laws dream became a reality with the establishment of Livingstonia University.

However during Dr Laws time he transformed the Mission into a small town, overseeing the establishment of schools, hospitals, houses, post office and workshops. The David Gordon Memorial Hospital opened in 1911, at the time it was the biggest and most well equipped hospital in Central Africa, today it still serves a catchment of 60,000 people.

David Gordon Memorial Hospital

David Gordon Memorial Hospital

While Livingstonia is still today an education hub of Central Africa it is also a living museum and worth at least half a day exploring the little town. The Museum is an obvious first stop, the exhibit tells the story of early European exploration and missionary work in Malawi. There are still original artefacts belonging to Dr Livingstone on display. Near the Museum is the church dating back to 1894, with a stunning stained glass window of Dr Livingstone and his two companions Guze and Juma; nearby is the very English looking secondary school, the post office (now a small bookshop), clock tower, the Khondowe Craft Shop selling carvings and clothing made locally and David Gordon Memorial Hospital.

A full day can be spent wandering around the town and exploring the little shops and historic sites, there is also Manchewe Falls approximately 4kms away which is well worth the walk, a spectacular waterfall 50m high with a cave behind it where local people used to hide from slave traders.

For some locally grown and brewed coffee, light refreshments or hearty lunch head to the Mushroom Farm or Lukwe organic restaurant.

Jan, one of our drivers, standing next to the Livingstonia Synod

Jan, one of our drivers, standing next to the Livingstonia Synod

We visit Livingstonia on our Dr Livingstone 4 week and Africa Discovered 8 week guided self drive expeditions. For more information contact Debs info@africaexpeditionsupport.com or peruse our website http://www.africaexpeditionsupport.com

Let the tires down and a little brute force was all re needed to get through this soft patch

Driving Tips for Overlanders: Sand Driving Part 1

Whether you want to cross the Sahara or just go for a quick safari in Namibia or Botswana, sooner or later you will encounter a sandy track and most likely you will get stuck on it.  But you wonder how the guys before you got through without problems since it is a more or less used track?

For a start, don’t panic.  Sand is your friend, it is easy to dig and you don’t get dirty unlike mud.  Before you unpack the sand anchor and unhook your winch cable, start with the basics first. Driving on soft sand is all about weight and tire pressure. In the ideal case your landy should be floating on the sand.  The moment you are too heavy you will sink.  So how to lose weight? You don’t, unless you want to leave all your gear and your doors and panels behind!  Keep your weight and instead increase the surface of your footprint by deflating your tires.

A flat tire is as the word says – flat at the bottom instead of round.  This increases your footprint tremendously and decreases the pressure per square inch on the ground.  You start to float.  How far you let the tires down is a matter of feeling and you will gain confidence through experience and experimenting.  It depends on the weight of your landy and the softness of the sand.  On one of our self drive expeditions I told the group to let their tires down to 20psi, which is usual on soft dunes, one of them did not believe me and only went to 30psi.  The result was 30% more fuel consumption and the engine started overheating – all cars were all totally identical – discos all weighing the same.


all great 4x4ers must read this

all great 4x4ers must read this

A wide tire increases your footprint only by an almost negligible margin; besides it is more prone to punctures and side wall damages.  Ideally you want a tire as high as possible as it creates a much bigger footprint once deflated and also makes a long footprint instead of a wide one.  It runs in its own track which means less resistance.  It goes without saying that low profile tires are not suitable for sand since you can’t let them down!  Friends of our actually met a guy who took his brand new city cowboy 4×4 on 20 inch mags and low profile tires into the Kalahari desert in South Africa he didn’t get very far …….

Another crucial factor on sand is traction; of course you will need some but only minimal.  Too much of it and your landy will dig itself in.  So keep your hands off the diff locks and don’t put low traction tires on.  The best tires for sand are slicks; we used to bring totally bold tires on our desert trips and put them on once hit the sand.  Since we picked them up for free, of course, we did not have to worry about any side wall damages.  Tires are not designed to run flat nor at speed for long distances so you will do some damage.  But you are also doing damage to your landy going of road in the first place and unless you let your tires down you simply won’t get through.

There is a story going around in overlander circles about a tourist couple who hired a landy in Namibia and headed out into the desert.  They got stuck and tragically died of thirst a few days later; they didn’t manage to get out of a sand bog.  After they had been found the guy in charge to recover the landy simply let the tires down and drove off.