Exploring the unseen Africa

Africa is a continent close to my heart. Although I’ve never lived there, both of my parents were born and raised in Zimbabwe and my ancestors are from Africa. Some of them were even part of the first white settlers on the continent.

Growing up, my parents told me lots about living in Zimbabwe. The climate, its beauty and stories from the war (my dad fought in the Rhodesian bush war). When I was nine, we went on a six week road trip through Zimbabwe and I got to experience first hand what a beautiful country my family comes from.

Zambezi river as a nine year old

Me on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe when I was nine

Driving around Zimbabwe, squished in between my parents in the front seat of a ute (truck), we explored national parks and camped out amongst elephants and hyenas. I think the adventure gave me a passion for travel from a young age.

To this day, that trip is still one of my strongest memories from my childhood and one of the most influential travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Francis Tapon to produce show on the ‘unseen’ Africa

Recently I found out that African explorer Francis Tapon is planning to produce a TV programme showing the unseen side of Africa. Having explored the continent extensively, going to many places tourists never go, he’s raising funds on Kickstarter to get the programme produced.

Aiming to show a side of Africa that’s rarely reported on in the news, published in National Geographic magazines or shown via David Attenborough documentaries, it looks like it’s a programme I’d certainly be interested in watching.

And as readers of this blog, I thought you might be too!

Francis with teenagers in Joal, Senegal Double-Barrelled Travel

Francis with teenagers in Joal, Senegal


So I interviewed Francis to get the low down on his TV programme:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Being a nomad is in my DNA because my mom is from Chile and my dad was from France and they met in San Francisco, where I was born. To see my extended family, I had to fly far and I did it often since I was a baby.

Tell us all about the programme you’re hoping to film via funds raised through Kickstarter

I’m sick and tired of seeing the same two basic images of Africa. It’s either heaven (National Geographic) or hell (CNN). I’m bored with hearing about the same five countries and seeing the same things in those five countries. There are 54 African countries. There are 1.1 billion Africans. Can we show a bit more of the rich diversity that exists? That’s what my show is programme is about.

How do you currently finance your adventures?

Out of my own savings. I worked hard for four years in high tech while living like a monk and investing it wisely. I also sell a few books and videos, but this is a minor income steam. Since 2006, I’ve always spent more each month than I’ve made. That’s why I’m doing the Kickstarter.

Chinguetti in northern Mauritania with local girl Fatimatu Double-Barrelled Travel

Chinguetti in northern Mauritania with local girl Fatimatu

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on your travels?

Too many to count. First thing that pops into my mind was in Hombori, Mali. I sneaked onto the tallest mountain (because the police were worried that I would be kidnapped, so they wouldn’t let me go). I left to hike to the top at 2am and then came back around noon. My two friends had been stripped to their underwear and thrown in jail on the suspicion that they had kidnapped me (the police didn’t know where I was and they didn’t want to tell them). So they went to jail for me. I got them out.

Wow! That’s certainly crazy! Give us an example of one incident where the kindness of strangers really helped you.

What I just mentioned is a pretty good example of kindness. But also in Mali my car broke down at night in the middle of a deserted road in Mali’s “red zone” – where you are not supposed to go. I waved down the first car that passed and they took me to the nearest village to find a mechanic and take me back. Instead of being kidnapped, I found a great guy.

Francis in Banjul, The Gambia Double-Barrelled Travel

Francis in Banjul, The Gambia

Has there ever been a time where you just thought, “Screw it! I want to go home because this travel thing is getting to me!”?

No. I just love travel too much. Also, Skype/email/Facebook make being away from friends so much easier since you can talk to them so often. Twenty years ago it was much harder, and 100 years ago it was impossible.

Have you ever been in a dangerous situation during your travels? How did you respond?

I’ve driven in areas where there’s land mines and gone into many countries that the US State Department says I should avoid. I respond to danger by being super calm because I trust that most people are good. It’s easier said than done, but my experience backpacking in the woods for months have taught me to stay relaxed.

What do you love the most about West Africa?

The people and the desert. The people are universally friendly, although in Liberia and Sierra Leone I met some people who were cautious at first. Most are supremely joyful and gregarious. Meanwhile, the Sahara is such a clean, quiet, and enchanting place!

What do you love the least?

The mechanics. Collectively, they’ve spend six months working on my car in the last 15 months. They are so slow and so utterly incompetent. And it STILL doesn’t work well.

Francis in Niamey Niger with mechanics Double-Barrelled Travel

Francis in Niamey Niger with car mechanics

When you go home, what’s the hardest thing to adjust to getting back into ‘normal’ living?

I don’t stay home for long, yet not having to move all the time can be a bit weird. Also, San Francisco is a fast-paced high tech city – which is the opposite of what I usually experience when I travel (wilderness, Eastern Europe, Africa).

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your travels?

That people are good and that homo sapiens have more things in common than we have differences.

If there’s someone who’d like to travel long-term to ‘off the beaten path’ places like you do, what advice would you give them?

Just start looking for such paths near your home. There are PLENTY within a three hour radius of where you live. Explore that with the eyes of a child.

To learn more about Francis, check out his website… and take a look at his Kickstarter page! He’s nearly reached his target, perhaps you can push him over the line?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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