What does it take to follow your dream? Quite a bit, if your dream involves crossing Africa. That's what one couple discovers when they set off on a seven-month overland journey from London to Cape Town.
As dedicated independent travelers, they'd already traveled around the world. But was a trans-African odyssey too much for even them? Who do you "cadeau?" How do you create tantalizing dishes from grubs? Or avoid having a spear tossed through your camera?
With trepidation, they join an English do-it-yourself overland safari. Flung into the midst of twenty odd companions, they're shocked to discover that many of them have never even camped before. And the "guides" know Africa as well as the dark side of the moon. After their dream turns into a nightmare, they eventually set off across Africa-alone.
DEAD MEN DON'T LEAVE TIPS is a captivating tale filled with a passion for travel, spontaneity and unbridled adventure. It is often funny, sometimes anguished, yet always real. Nothing is held back or glossed-over. Wilson takes you onto the crazed roads of Africa, through the everyday ups and downs, and into the lives and hearts of its people. He shows us once again that the real joy of travel is the thrill of getting there.
From the Lowell Thomas gold award-winning author of Over the Top & Back Again, Along the Templar Trail, and Yak Butter Blues.
"Journeys of body and soul in every sense of the word... Interlaced with this honesty and detail are Wilson's beautiful prose, obvious passion for adventure and a deep inquisitiveness about other cultures, making this book a pleasure to read. Highly recommended." ~ Midwest Book Review
"A masterful crossroads of characters, exotic places, history and human drama in a rig that never stalls, and allows the devil to drive his own ill-behaved backyard..." ~ Richard Bangs, legendary adventurer, author of "Mystery of the Nile"
"Entertaining and a monument to those who would take on the challenge of land travel across one of the most dangerous, unhealthy continents in the world." ~ Heartland Reviews
"Honest, gritty and insightful...it makes the world's most exciting continent read just like that." ~ John Heminway, author of "No Man's Land: A Personal Journey into Africa"
"I was swept away by the drama and storytelling...Wilson is never a tourist. He travels heart-first with both feet solidly on the ground and his curiosity always in high gear. He is exactly the right person to be writing travel books for the rest of us." ~ Joseph W. Bean, Maui Weekly
"Travel writing at its most sublime, a paean to Africa in all her contradictory beauty, and a tribute to the resiliency of those who travel beyond boundaries not only in search of meaning, but also of understanding." ~ C.W. Gortner, author of The Secret Lion
"One of the most engaging travel books we have read." ~ RealTravelAdventures.com
"Powerful and gripping story...Fascinating, informative, humorous, poignant, surprising...a terrific read from first page to last-would make a popular addition to any personal or community library Travel section." ~ Midwest Book Review, Travel Shelf
"Aficionados of travel books will delight in "Dead Men Don't Leave Tips"...a hybrid of Paul Theroux and Tom Robbins, combining the raw frankness and keen observation of Theroux with the intelligent humor & playful language of Robbins...Readers who have a penchant for traveling will happily devour this book and be sorry it ended. I was!" ~ A. Buklarewicz, Reviewer, Amazon.com
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.62(d)|
|Age Range:||15 Years|
Read an Excerpt
Reaching Ngorongoro Crater, we slowly inched our way up to the ridge of its outer shell, then stopped the truck and got out for a walk. Gazing two thousand feet below to Lake Magadi, we were amazed to spot a pink, fluttering swath shimmering like miles of satin wrapped across that sea of turquoise-thousands of flamingos. It's also home to one hundred other bird species that are found nowhere else in the Serengeti.As we returned to the truck, three Masai men and a woman approached us, apparently from nowhere. They were remarkably imposing. Standing nearly seven feet tall, the men wore large, beaded, triangular earrings with pendants, similar to ones we'd seen in Mwanza. One had a white, blue and red beaded headband from which dangled a small triangle in the center of his forehead. Another's elongated earlobes were fastened together under his chin. All were wrapped in red plaid capes covering a crimson toga-style cloth. The statuesque woman wore a navy blue cape over a beaded, tan water-buffalo hide skirt. Poised, almost regal, she wore more elaborate halo-like beadwork on her neatly shaved head, while around her neck she wore circular hoops of probably sixteen strands of blue, orange, white, red and green beads. What a fantastic photo they'd make. But I've heard how sensitive the Masai are about having their picture taken. They've even been known to toss seven-foot spears through cameras-and overland trucks. We finally approached and asked if we could take their photos. They agreed, but demanded four hundred shillings from each of us, an outrageous sum. We'd never paid anything remotely close to that in the past. Truth was, in the past five months, I'd only paid for photos twice and that was the equivalent of about fifteen cents. We continued negotiations until a deal was finally struck. For one hundred-fifty shillings ($4 U.S.), all of us could take as many photos as we wanted before they walked away.
That's fair-and involves no spears. We weren't surprised to learn that it was impossible to take our lumbering truck down the steep crater walls of Ngorongoro in the morning. That gravel path was just too narrow and we didn't relish climbing out to sandmat if we became stuck in the wetlands below. So Nigel arranged to have guides with 4 four-wheel-drives meet us about 6 a.m. for the journey into that Eden. Later that evening, in stillness and bone-chilling temperatures, we quickly set up camp on the crater's edge. The sky was a sea of stars. For once, the music was silent. As I curled deep into my sleeping bag, the only sound I heard was a lion's distant roar. The aroma of breakfast cooking and raw anticipation had us awake well before dawn. It was still frigid, but Nigel had cooked cowboy-style baked beans, stiff oatmeal and fried potato pancakes on the grill. Normally, that was enough to set biscuit-rationing Prudence into a tizzy, but nothing was said. Although we'd never used those rations she'd been "Saving for Zaire," our Spartan diet continued. Now, supposedly we were preparing for the latest rumored catastrophe-Tanzania's cholera epidemic. Our four-wheelers rolled in at 6:30, but there was only one Land Cruiser and a dilapidated Volvo-a file cabinet on wheels. The third and fourth cars were nowhere to be seen. Why wasn't I surprised? Since wildlife waits for no man, we drew straws and Cheryl and I ended up in the gutless Swedish wonder, along with Pooky and Bongo, Bear and Clara. From the moment we sat down on the bare metal floor inside the cab, (there were no seats), I sensed we were in trouble. As we pulled out and headed for the road leading down the steep crater wall, my worst suspicions were soon confirmed. That truck had no brakes-or shocks. The driver couldn't shut off the engine, since its battery wasn't recharging. The four-wheel drive was only two at best, and both tires were bald. Plus, I suspected the gears were nearly toothless. However, John, our strapping seven-foot driver and guide, stripped what gears were left, as he shifted directly from third-gear to low, then coasted to a stop without bothering to use his nonexistent brakes. How will we ever get close enough to anything in this wreck?
It would have been hilarious if it hadn't been so dangerous. That heap of moving junk rattled and shook, bouncing us off the floor, as we inched our way down the narrow side of the crater. To make matters worse, there was a blinding morning fog. We couldn't see thirty feet in front of us. "We'll crash into an elephant before we see it," Cheryl screamed over the engine roar. Through divine intervention, somehow, we made it to the bottom of the immense crater, fourteen miles across at its widest spot, and sprang clear of the foggy veil. It was positively magnificent below. It was much warmer than the ridge had been with just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Verdant grass waved high across the floor until merging with tall hardwoods. Its lake stretched as far as the eye could see. And if there was a better day for game spotting, I just couldn't imagine it. As we jarred and jiggled across the narrow dirt path on the crater's floor, we quickly spotted several lions lazing alongside the road. John brought our rolling disaster gliding to a stop. There, just fifteen feet away, stretched three nonplussed females preening in the morning air. To our surprise, a young lion cub curiously poked his fuzzy head out of the safety of the camouflaging grass twenty feet behind them. Then another. And another. And one more-four in all. We were speechless. Sure, we'd expected to see lions, but who'd have imagined we'd be that close, or find so many all at once, so soon. Those cubs were a special treat. Like the mountain gorillas, they showed no fear, totally indifferent to our presence. For awhile, we sat quietly studying them, then slowly advanced down the dirt trail. Moving nearer the lake, there were zebras, ostrich, hartebeest and Grant's gazelles in such abundance that we lost count. There were jackals and fox, scores of Cape buffalo, and those comical trotting wart hogs, tails waving in the breeze like oversized antennas. The lake itself was beyond belief. One solitary hippo grazed on shore, surrounded by thousands of brilliant flamingos, a splotch of gray in a sea of pink. At the slightest sound, those awkward looking birds, perched on pogo stick legs, suddenly rose up as a group, spreading their white, red and pink feathered wings and swooped off for distant shores. "But where are all the rhinos, elephants and wildebeest?" I wondered aloud, hooked on the adrenaline of discovery. Not wanting to waste a precious moment, we combined lunchtime pilchards and hippos. John drove us to an immense, jade pool inhabited by ten giants. At first, just their beady eyes and flared nostrils protruded from the murky pond. Then they'd submerge, resurfacing a minute later. Snorting against the water, they'd toss back overstuffed heads with wide, toothy yawns. As we sat enjoying those legendary, tutu-ed stars of Disney's film Fantasia, I was reminded of a story we'd heard in Zaire. A traveler found a lake deep in the steamy jungle. It was a warm day and he was dusty and tired from his travels. So, he decided to take a dip. What he didn't realize was that hippos also inhabited that lake. He soon discovered his mistake after he was chomped on the backside. The bite was so severe that he had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital that could handle such a catastrophe-and that was in Uganda. Of course, there was a lot of red tape to get clearance to land because of their civil war. All in all, he was lucky to make it out alive, as they've been known to bite a human in half.
Sometimes remaining dirty means remaining alive. That afternoon was even more remarkable. After leaving the hippo pool, we discovered a herd of nearly eighty wildebeest by the lakeshore. As we stood on the banks, completely entranced by their rutting ritual, each male defended his harem of at least ten females. They trotted around in circles, kicking with wild abandon, locking horns, leaping into the air and performing a helter-skelter dance. Rolling farther down the road, we practically ran over yet another pride of lions. By the time the Volvo slid to a stop, we were just fifteen feet from ten full-grown adults: five males with great, shaggy manes and five golden females. They growled as we approached, but didn't attempt to move or attack. The three males kept gnawing the bloody remains of an antelope that lay pinned beneath paws the size of baseball mitts. With crimson-stained muzzles, they took turns ripping and tearing the flesh from its soft belly. Their companions, however, never took their eyes off us. We cautiously drove past, trusting our car wouldn't pick that exact moment to get mired in the wet grass. Then, circling back around the lake, we spotted two shadows off on our right, nearly hidden from view. "John, take us nearer! Over there, quick."
He shook his head and refused. "I be fined if de ranger see me."
"But what about the other car over there?" The rest of our group was already looking at something. Reluctantly, John inched us a little closer, either afraid of getting ticketed or stuck in the spongy lakefront. Soon, those shadows ninety feet to our right developed into a pair of the most magnificent creatures we'd ever seen-black rhinos. There were less than seven hundred remaining in the world, due to man's reckless poaching. These are so close that with binoculars I can look right into their heavy eyes.
Understandably, hearing our cacophonous car with the fumes flaming out the back, they became nervous. So, we only had a brief moment before they stormed off.
"Come on John, let's follow 'em," Bear urged. Hesitant, we set-off along the far edge of the lake toward their watering hole. Fording a small trickle of a stream that we could easily have walked across, our car hit a hole. Bald tires spun and we jarred to a stop. "Oh, no," we sighed in unison. We'd thought we'd left that routine behind.
John rocked the car back and tried again to make it past the hole and up the three-foot embankment on the other side. Our wheels spun and black smoke poured into the mud, as we only dug deeper. We were stuck fast. A constant stream of water began seeping in through our doors. Then, to make matters worse, our engine cut off. It wouldn't restart. Defeated, we hopped out and suspiciously eyed the thick surrounding brush. Our other car had disappeared long ago. Of course, cell phones were an unheard of luxury.
And here we are, deep in lion country. Within ten nervous minutes, we were joined by a quartet of other four-wheelers whose drivers hopped out of their cabs and then stood around eating, as though this was all a regular occurrence, their afternoon tea break.
Is anyone going to do anything to get us out?
Eventually, John borrowed a battery from one of the other cars, and with endless cranking restarted his beast. After a whole lot of concerted rocking and rolling, pushing and teeth gnashing, Bear, Clara, Cheryl and I rolled the car free. It had taken almost an hour. We immediately started our ascent back up the crater wall to arrive in camp before sunset, because there were no headlights on the heap either. As we shimmied and shook our way up the trail, there were real doubts whether we'd make it out of the crater at all. It was touch and go, as we wheezed between first and third, and third and first gear for miles, all the way to the top. That heap slid from side to side, skidding perilously near the edge and deep ravine far below. Ready to slide over the edge, I flashed back on the wise threat that my friend Pascal had yelled to an incredibly bad taxi driver in India years before, and I screamed at John, "Dead men don't leave tips!" above the engine's roar.
Table of ContentsAfrican Route Map
Chapter I. Gale Force Getaway
Chapter II. Afffricaaaaa! (Morocco)
Chapter III. Survival In The Sahara (Algeria)
Chapter IV. The Cosmic Dance (Mali)
Chapter V. Voodoo Wakes, Python Snakes (Togo/Benin)
Chapter VI. Baboon Platoon (Nigeria/Cameroon)
Chapter VII. Ubangui Anguish (C. A. R.)
Chapter VIII. Jungle Trance, Pygmy Dance (Zaire (Congo))
Chapter IX. Gorilla Stalk, Volcano Walk (Zaire/Burundi)
Chapter X. Whirling Wildebeests (Tanzania)
Chapter XI. Land of the Masai (Kenya)
Chapter XII. Challenge of Kilimanjaro (The Climb)
Chapter XIII. Border Extortion (Tanzania)
Chapter XIV. Leave Your Pants at the Door (Malawi)
Chapter XV. Road of Pain, Legacy of Shame (Mozambique)
Chapter XVI. Zambezi, Sea of Torment (Zimbabwe)
Chapter XVII. Barking Dogs, Invisible Walls (South Africa)
Chapter XVIII. Assembling the Mosaic (Retrospective)
About the Author
Other Books by the Author
What People are Saying About This
"Brandon Wilson, author of 'Yak Butter Blues' has now written about a 7-month trip covering almost all of Africa. You're going to laugh and cry. With his wife Cheryl, they start out on a whole-continent-bound bus with the most eclectic collection of travelers I've ever read about. I couldn't stop laughing. But, despite the humor, Brandon also describes the sometimes heart-breaking images of people and places in the Africa you don't hear about from the Travel Guides. He really captures these moments, both good and bad. Highly recommended. [smile]" (5 stars)
"Wilson masterfully takes the reader along on a trip across the African continent to meet its people and enjoy its breathtaking beauty in ways few have written. He writes a magical story, indeed, laced with humor and tragedy. Well worth reading, it brings Africa to readers on an intimate level not found elsewhere."
author of The Swan: Tales of the Sacramento Valley/journalist
"It used to be only the British mastered the art of spinning the sweaty traveler's tale. Along comes Brandon Wilson who teaches us that an observant fellow from Hawaii can deal with Africa's grime, dysentery and uncertainty with superior grace and wit. Honest, gritty and insightful. Best of all, it makes the world's most exciting continent read just like that."
film producer/author of Yonder: A Place in Montana and No Man's Land: A Personal Journey into Africa
"Wilson clearly depicts the highs and lows of experiencing other cultures, and I thoroughly enjoyed (and learned from) his experiences. Traveling through Africa is not for the weak at heart, and "Dead Men Don't Leave Tips" is a great place to start learning how to navigate through such an unpredictable adventure. Through it all, I look forward to planning my upcoming adventure, and feel certain it won't include an overland outfitter. (5 stars)"
Copper Press Publishers
"Brandon Wilson jacks the vehicle of trans-African adventure for a ride so real you breathe the dust and drip the sweat while trundling down off-the-beaten tracks outstanding in the number and quality of their ruts. If adventure drives are a genre, Wilson has created a smarter, more brazen, more sweeping subspecies. This is a masterful crossroads of characters, exotic places, history and human drama in a rig that never stalls..."
author The Lost River and Mystery of the Nile/adventurer/executive producer Yahoo Media Group
"Dead Men Don't Leave Tips is an adventure journal only the craziest traveler would take as a guide. But we can dream, can't we?...I was swept away by the drama and the storytelling. Wilson travels heart-first with both feet solidly on the ground and his curiosity always in high gear. He is exactly the right person to be writing travel books for the rest of us."
Book Reviewer, Maui Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
'Dead Men Don't Leave Tips' documents a journey across Africa in a manner that lets the reader experience the trip as though they were there. It's a book that makes you realize that, indeed, such things as taking a trip across Africa are actually possible for 'regular' people. We see all the problems of arranging the trip, trouble at borders, problems with roads that are not much more than mudholes. It's presented with humor. But then there are the special moments, where the hassles of the trip fade into the background, and the reader is brought face to face with the beauty of Africa. It is these special moments, where the vital beauty of Africa is brought into focus, that stand out for me. For example, when the author visits gorillas in the mountains, he spends over 90 minutes with a gorilla family, moments that seem to pass in an instant. At one point '... the inquisitive baby climbed down again, this time headed directly toward me. Tottering back and forth, her tiny feet tramped through the tall grass. Finally, she paused just inches away. The pop-eyed, eighteen-inch high, thistle-haired imp stretched out her tiny hand toward me ... she caressed my beard then touched my lips with her slender black finger.' It's these unforgettable moments that make 'Dead Men Don't Leave Tips' stand out for me. If you've ever wished you could experience modern Africa, you'll like reading this book.
Dead Men Don¿t Leave Tips is the thrilling, captivating true tale of a honeymooned couple who quit their job, sell their home and cars, and leave everything behind to achieve a dream: cross Africa on a seven-month, 10,000-mile journey from Morocco to Cape Town. Join professional travellers Wilson and Cheryl as they bargain with villagers, struggle with incompetent guides and government officials, pass sleepless nights in deplorable accommodations, cross the Sahara amidst sand storms and blistering heat, meet gorillas and Pygmies face to face, and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, reminding us all along that simple things such as a nice meal, a shower and getting cash can become the ultimate luxuries. The tale is poignant with ironic humor and human drama. Each chapter begins with a witty, profound African proverb, and in the middle section the author includes interesting B&W photographs to complement his account and give a clearer picture of Africa¿s sights and sounds. What¿s striking about Wilson¿s books (he¿s also the author of the IPPY Award winner Yak Butter Blues) is that his journeys are not only physical but highly spiritual as well. His are journeys of body and soul in every sense of the word. The author writes with honesty and a sharp eye for detail, making this an invaluable amalgam of information for readers of adventure travel or anybody who is considering ¿do-it-yourself¿ safaris or simply visiting Africa. Interlaced with this honesty and detail are Wilson¿s beautiful prose, obvious passion for adventure and a deep inquisitiveness about other cultures, making this book a pleasure to read. Having already reviewed Wilson¿s previous work, this reviewer is already looking forward to his next. Highly recommended.
Dead Men Don¿t Leave Tips Reviewed by Hadley Goodman, Copper Press Publishers As a well traveled person myself, I was originally interested in reading ¿Dead Men Don¿t Leave Tips¿ as a guide for planning an upcoming trip to Africa. Once well into the book, it became more than a guide to Africa, but an in-depth, often times laugh-out-loud humorous look at the pitfalls of group travel in such a magical country. Brandon Wilson¿s sense of adventure and colorful use of imagery leaves the reader eager to turn the page to see what happens to this motley crew next. Although entertained by the antics of this group I was much relieved when he and his partner were able to break free from their travel companions and I reveled in their independent spirit. I cringed right along with him at the ¿Ugly Americans¿ he described as his fellow Overlanders, and I danced with the tribes they met along the way. I felt the nervousness of the unknown as he traded money on the black market, and the frustration of being scammed by the young locals in the busy street markets. I found myself thirsty as they crossed the Sahara, and eager for a shower as they went weeks without access to proper facilities. I gasped for breath as they summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, and relished in relief and accomplishment on the decent. But most of all, I felt the thrill of experiencing a magical cultural found off the beaten path in the depths of Africa. Wilson clearly depicts the highs and lows of experiencing other cultures, and I thoroughly enjoyed (and learned from) his experiences. Traveling through Africa is not for the weak at heart, and ¿Dead Men Don¿t Leave Tips¿ is a great place to start learning how to navigate through such an unpredictable adventure. Through it all, I look forward to planning my upcoming adventure, and feel certain it won¿t include an Overland Outfitter.
Brandon Wilson's DEAD MEN DON'T LEAVE TIPS is that rare event: a travel book that transcends its genre to become a transformative journey of the soul into a disparate and gorgeously challenging culture, as seen through the eyes of a man determined to experience life as it is, rather than as it's presented to us. Eschewing the typical tourist African safari, Wilson and his travel companion, along with a host of madcap dysfunctional fellow travelers, embark on a wildly funny, poignant, and at times terrifying, trip across the African continent. From the rapacious markets of Marrakesh to the stunning breadth of the Sahara and haunting domains of the Masai, Wilson brings to life in lucid prose the smells, sights, and sensations of being a foreigner in a strange land, who yearns for communion with the world he has set out to explore. This is travel writing at its most sublime, a paean to Africa in all her contradictory beauty, and a tribute to the resiliancy of those who travel beyond boundaries not only in search of meaning, but also of understanding.