These Books Will Change Your Life

Africa Trek I, From the Cape of Good Hope to Mount Kilimanjaro

Africa Trek

Summary of the book Africa Trek I, From Cape Town to Kilimanjaro, 14,000 kilometers in the footsteps of Man: Sonia and Alexandre Poussin have embarked on a crazy adventure, to travel up through Africa from the Cape of Good Hope to Lake Tiberias, along the Rift Valley, in the first footsteps of Man: an epic trip of 3 years to travel 14,000 km, across more than 10 countries,  with the aim to discover Africa and African civilizations of today.

By Sonia and Alexandre Poussin, 2004, 450 pages.

Chronicle and summary of “Africa Trek I, From Cape Town to Kilimanjaro, 14000 kilometers in the footsteps of the first humans”.

The Project

“The wind howls into our disused bunker at the end of the world: The Cape of Good Hope. After all, we need it! We are at the start of our ambitious mission: to walk all the way up through Africa.”

These are the words before they start their long march on the “Africa Trek”.

The project is ambitious and symbolic: as they travel up through Africa from Cape Town (South Africa) to Jerusalem (Israel), these two travelers attempt to follow in the footsteps of the first humans and retrace history. From the Australopithecus where they left the cradle of humanity to spread out to all corners of the world, they retrace the march of time, from the dawn of Humanity to Modern Man, all within the space of just three years.

Throughout their journey, they have many questions about Man: who is “Man” and since when did he acquire this “status of Man”? What is it that defines Man and what are his characteristics?

Travelers

Alexander is someone who is a traveler by heart. At the age of 24, he cycled around the world with his friend Sylvain Tesson (also a traveler and writer, known for his book “Petit traité sur l’immensité du monde” – A short treatise on the immensity of the world – “, 2005). The two of them also crossed the Himalayas.

This isn’t Sonia’s first big trip either. She has taken part in several humanitarian missions (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ho Chi Minh, Kathmandu) and has traveled by backpack through India and the Indochinese peninsula. She also joined Alexandre and Sylvain at different stages of their journeys.

This time, however, Sonia and Alexandre joined forces to put together the Africa Trek project.

Mode of transport

Simply to walk for three years: to do nothing but walk, to think only of one foot that moves in front of the other, of the landscape ahead and of the route to be taken. Three years to discover “the real Africa”, far from the beaten track and avoid any preconceived perceptions, to live the life of the locals who make up the current day Africa as much as possible and who will build the Africa of tomorrow. One of the objectives of this project is to dispel the stereotypes of the continent and to show that Africa is not just about AIDS victims, civil wars and famine.

Three years to burst blisters with a needle disinfected with alcohol, to sleep every night under a different roof or in the moonlight, to dream of “the” moment of the day when twilight breaks… Three years of life as a couple with time as the only luxury: the time to walk, the time to see and discover, the time to meet and the time to love each other.

The adventure

Alexandre shares what he experiences with the reader and offers accounts of their long journey, whilst at the same time he adds his thoughts and emotions, which allows us to follow the things he discovers and the development of his perception of Africa, of their journey and of their relationship.

The rhythm of the words is how we get to experience the rhythm of their footsteps: their encounters warm the heart, sickness brings worry, human misery causes sadness, courage gives inspiration, wild animals lead to fear, flies are a source of annoyance, the hot sun causes thirst…This walk would lack meaning without all the events that occurred as they went along: be it the local tribes, distant villages or scientists and paleontologists.

The book

This book has had a profound effect on me, not only thanks to the adventure it recounts, but also in the way it is written, both in style and content. Here is a selection of three “favorite” quotes from Africa Trek (Volume I and II):

  • “It is not we who walk, it is the walking that walks in us. Like the most natural thing in the world, as if we knew nothing else to do and had no other destiny. It is an axiom, an inexplicable theorem. Just like that. It’s so simple. That’s all it is. That’s us. (…) It’s our cogito: I walk so I am.” (p. 293-294)
  • “I could never have undertaken such a journey with anyone else (other than my wife). (…) It would have been too long, too hard, too intense. Only a couple can confront the excess, to replace the sporting feat with such a comprehensive and personal adventure.” (p. 294)
  • If you walk it enhances everything and also makes it seem more beautiful where a car trivializes and distorts everything. The car chooses the world. It is an intermediary stage between television and reality (…). “(Africa Trek II, p. 68).

Alexandre, author of the books Africa Trek, is neither on his first trip nor his first book. With Sylvain Tesson, he co-wrote “On a roulé sur Terre” – We rode the earth –  (1996) and “La marche dans le ciel” – Walking in the sky – (1998). As you rapidly take in this beautifully written text, it’s obvious that this isn’t the author’s first attempt at this kind of thing.

Awards

Two best-selling books (Volumes 1 and 2) and a film entitled “Africa Trek” have resulted from this “Africa Trek” experience. I am not the only one to have fallen under the spell of Africa Trek books, which were awarded the Golden Fleece of Adventure Book 2004 and the Book of Angels prize in 2005.

Moved by Alexandre’s story and what he writes, I tried to find out more about this couple: they are now a family, together with two children who make up the “Poussin clan”. And wonderful news: they still travel, film and write. I only have one wish: to continue to read about their adventures with Africa Trek II (from Kilimanjaro to Lake Tiberias) and to read the stories of their subsequent adventures!

Strong Points:

  • Beautiful style: The style with which Alexandre Poussin writes makes this book a worthwhile read, a real pleasure to read.
  • True story, where the two walkers share their daily life, what it actually involves, their state of mind, their thoughts…
  • A beautiful introduction to discover other ways to live and travel: a tale of how to travel by foot, to “slow travel”, to travel long distances, and to make journeys together as a couple.
  • A sensitive vision of Africa, as true as possible to the daily life of Africans.

Weak Points:

  • Two books: which can discourage casual readers (but this obstacle is soon overcome once the first pages have been turned: they are quickly devoured by eyes hungry for more!).
  • It’s a shame that the book couldn’t be written with 4 hands rather than 2: Sonia’s insights would have slotted in well to this latest book from this adventurous couple.

My rating : Africa Trek adventure  Africa Trek adventure  Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure Africa Trek adventure

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Photo Credits: Marie and Hervé NIEUTIN for Histoires de partir, Valérie and Fabien MAURICE for Terre d’Éveil (Land of Awakening), Sonia and Alexandre Poussin for Africa Trek.

Note: This column is the last of three parts (3 travel stories to change your life: Stories of leaving, Land of awakening, Africa Trek) of a guest column written by Amandine from the blog Un sac sur le dos, where she shares her passion, advice, personal favorites and insights around her journeys.

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