“I’m wearing a blue cap” read the text message from my new colleague who I was to meet at Cape Town’s International Airport. “I’ve got blonde curly hair and glasses. I’m near the candy store” was my reply. Truthfully I was in the candy store, but I didn’t want to give a bad first impression. I stepped out of the store to see a man in a blue cap disappearing down the corridor. Was that him? Should I chase after him and ask? How many blue-capped men are in this airport though?! It’s not a very defining characteristic.
“I’m in the lower car park” my phone beeps. What? “I’m at the candy store” I reply. Start walking towards lower car park. “Where’s the candy store? I’m at the Vodacom shop” my phone notifies me. This guy! If we can’t arrange a simple airport meeting how are we to run an eight-week tour from Cape Town to Nairobi together?!
Finally we found each other, after visiting several car parks, phone stores, upstairs, downstairs, chasing each other around the airport. It was the blue cap I’d spotted disappearing as I’d stepped out of the candy store. I offered him a sweet, guiltily. “Hi, I’m Tracey.” “Hello. Francis.” We walked to the car.
“So do you drink beer?” I asked as we drove away from the airport.
“Yes, of course. Why?”
“There’s a Beer Festival on next weekend. A bunch of micro-breweries gathering somewhere in town. I was going to go and meet some couch surfers there. Do you want to come?”
And so Francis and I became friends, aided with some local ale one fine Saturday afternoon (I learnt team-building skills working at the Department of Defence).
A week after meeting one another we had ten clients thrust upon us and we were off on tour. A positive tour leader/driver relationship is crucial both for a successful overland tour and for the mental well-being of that crew. You are together in a car for up to nine hours in a day. Before and after the drive you must help each other pack and unpack camp and share a meal. Your crew-mate is the first person you see in the morning and the last person you see before you retire at night.
I calculated that over that tour, Francis and I spent approximately 196 hours in the car together. It is little wonder then that by the time we reached Nairobi he had become my most trusted friend and confidante in Africa. His calm confidence in his own abilities left no doubt in my mind that I was working with a professional. We worked well together and the trust, care and respect we had for each other ensured we ran great trips. And despite the long hours driving, we still managed to find topics to chat and laugh about while I prepared the dinners.
On New Year’s Day we were in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, leading a tour from Nairobi to Cape Town. Being the day for resolutions, I asked Francis his goals for 2012. He answered that he had been dreaming for some years that he should like to have his own safari vehicle to run small groups around Kenya’s parks. I too revealed my dream of running my own tour company taking groups to far-flung corners of the earth. A look exchanged, a slight nod, a big smile: the Overland Travel Adventures concept was born.