Friday, November 11, 2011

Wanderlust: Fran Sandham’s Africa

As Today Show host Matt Lauer makes his way home after filming the “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” series this week, Overlook author and world traveller Fran Sandham reflects on tourism to Lauer’s first destination, Namibia:

“Westerners first arriving [in Namibia] tend to find that this is far from the Africa of movie clichés like vast herds of migrating wildebeest or bored-looking professional dancers dressed up for tourists in gaudy traditional costume. Instead, the very harshness of the landscape here is what makes it unique, a blend of grandeur in some places, emptiness and stark beauty in others — and sometimes just sheer oddness elsewhere.”

While Sandham notes in his article that modern day resorts springing up along Africa’s desert coastline now boast traditional vacation activities such as golf, fishing expeditions, air balloon rides, and 4-wheeling, Namibia’s climate and unforgiving landscape did not always lend itself to a beachside retreat.

Perhaps few know the trials and tribulations of traveling in that interminable desert landscape better than Fran Sandham himself, who chronicled a decidedly grittier and truly authentic African adventure in his book Traversa: A Solo Walk Across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean.

A critically acclaimed writer and speaker, Sandham was living in London and working as an editor for Rough Guides before a growing wanderlust compelled him to leave it all behind and embark on a life-changing adventure. Inspired by the legendary crossing of famed explorers who pioneered the way across the African desert, Sandham set out on foot from Namibia’s Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean near Zanzibar. The trek took almost a year to complete, spanning 3,000 miles and four countries: Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.

Sandham faced the dangers of his epic adventure—from malaria to rogue soldiers to lions, land mines, and more—completely alone, without a guide and without an escape plan. He stands by this audacious decision in his book:

"The idea of crossing Africa on foot seemed already firmly established in many people's minds as some exceptionally difficult feat. And yet how many people had actually done it? I decided to walk every step of the way from one coast of Africa to the other, completely alone: no backup, no support team, no one to make arrangements for me, no one to carry my gear, no sponsors, no funding, no film crew, no journalists, no fuss, no cheering crowds, and no strings attached. Above all, it had to be on a one-way ticket: no safety nets, no get-out clauses and nothing to fall back on ..."

Whether you choose to journey to Africa vicariously through a witty and genuine account in Traversa or pick up resort travel tips from his article shared on, Fran Sandham won’t steer you wrong when it comes to epic adventure.

Praise for TRAVERSA

"High above the vast pile of African-adventure travelogues."—The New York Times

"At last - intrepid dispatches from a traveller refreshingly aware of his own folly. Sandham is a likeable and self-deprecating narrator, and I found myself increasingly gripped.”—The Observer

“I didn’t want the adventure to end! This is a gripping read, one which unashamedly refuses to beat about the bush. It will leave you wincing, laughing, moved and inspired, not only by the extremes of Africa and the limits of human endurance, but most of all by the kindness of strangers.”—Real Travel Magazine

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