Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Couple injects 'WOW' factor into travel plans

Outlandish African expeditions include adversity, moving moments

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TOM Feuchtwanger and Janet Wilson are the Canadian Foreign Affairs department’s worst nightmares when it comes to travelling.

In the past three years, the audacious couple from Springbank, Alta., have made three separate eight-month overland treks through some of Africa's most perilous regions in a 1997 Land Cruiser fully kitted out to serve as their transportation and home.


They have travelled 80,000 kilometres up and down the east and west coasts of the continent. That's equivalent to twice around the world, taking them through some of the continent's most tension-filled areas. They've also gone to some of its most spectacular areas, including 14 game reserves and to Rwanda to hike with silverback gorillas.

It's the dangerous parts that would have the Foreign Affairs officials concerned, because part of the ministry's mandate is to advise travellers about the risks of visiting certain countries. The department issues daily advisories and warnings, like "avoid all non-essential travel" for places such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Angola, for everything from violent skirmishes to crime against foreign nationals to disease.

These are all places the "overlanders" have driven through and camped in -- and even observed an exorcism. They took what they call "calculated risks" to get from one place to the next and that included only travelling by the light of day.

Their reasoning for embarking on trips that most people would deem crazy, maybe even irresponsible, came from their desire to reach beyond their comfort level.

"I live this very cocooned life in Calgary," says Wilson, a 58-year-old nurse, from her home on a treed acreage in Springbank. "I live a perfect life; I wanted to kick some wow into it."

Wilson's not kidding, and she was dead serious when she floated the idea about the trek to her geologist husband a little more than four years ago.

"It took me two weeks to figure out this wasn't going away," says Feuchtwanger, 60.

The first trip began in 2005 and ended in 2006. It took them up the coast of East Africa, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa, and ending in Israel. The second trip, in 2007, also began in South Africa and took them north through the south-central coast, Namibia, Angola and into the Congo.

Their most recent trip was from Spain south to Cameroon, with stops along the way in Morocco, Mauritania, Togo and Nigeria.

The couple, both originally from South Africa, were highly organized every step of the way. They kept in contact with embassy officials, travelled with at least two week's worth of supplies, had a satellite telephone and Internet hookup, a medical kit, vaccination papers, extra tires and gas. They even downloaded CIA maps for their planned routes.

"You're completely dependent on each other," says Wilson. "You really have to love each other" to do this kind of trip.

Of all the places they visited, Nigeria and Angola were the most challenging for many reasons, and not just sometimes going without a shower for nearly six weeks. There was often heart-wrenching poverty, deeply rutted or rocky roads requiring two weeks to drive 30 kilometres, and roadblocks in Nigeria put up by armed military or police to extract bribes from tourists. (They haven't paid one bribe in their journeys).

In Angola, the biggest threats were the land mines, marked by red flags. The country, which has endured 40 years of civil war, has 15-million land mines -- one for every person.

Adversities aside, there were many memorable and moving moments.

"We saw so much and how people can live with nothing and still live an incredibly rich life. The people who had nothing were the most kind to us."

Not content to settle back into the cushy life, they are planning the same kind of trip through South America after selling their home and all their possessions.


-- Canwest News Service



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2010 E3

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