As part of compiling ever more detail of the intricacies of the pending odyssey from Cape Town to Cairo, what follows is a short interview with Audrey Mash, who I will be meeting up with in Lusaka, Zambia on 1 December. We will be travelling onwards from that point up until our final destination in Cairo, writing and generally sniffing out what interesting things we can along the way. You will be able to follow her take on events as they unfold on her blog, written in her own honest and entertaining style – and shake your communal heads at our courageous naivety with each passing day.
Tell me a bit about yourself
I don’t really know what to tell… I’m a student (sort of) although my lack of committment to anything except the open road and the party mean that I’ve been a bit of a failure in that regard. I have spent my life in a city, and I hate what it does to me here but I still consider it home. I like to drink, and to dance, and to read some seriously geeky sci-fi and fantasy books, but most of all I like to pull on a backpack and go, even if it is just to the Magaliesburg or Swaziland for the weekend! I spend a lot of time in summer at outdoor trance parties, because they are a fantastic excuse to combine the drinking, dancing and escaping into one wonderful weekend.
What made you first become attached to travelling?
When I was 15, my school offered a trip known as the ‘Saints Trek’. It consisted of a week spent camping in rural KZN, helping out in the community, and another week hiking through the Cape Vidal Wilderness area. No-one could understand why I wanted to go, as up until that point I had always been the sort of girl who was very into her home comforts. But go I did, and it instilled in me a deep love of experiencing different cultures, and of the outdoors. At that point in my life it was far and away the best thing I had ever done.
Then when I finished school I had 9 months off before the beginning of uni, and I knew I wouldn’t want to spend all of that in South Africa. So I took a trip to Nepal, where I volunteered teaching English in a government school. That trip cemented my love of travel, and of exploring off the beaten track. Both trips taught me that the best way to experience a place is to be willing to take it on its own level and to get involved. By the time I came home from Nepal, I knew that travel was going to play a major part in my future.
What is the most memorable experience you have had travelling before?
It would have, hands down, to be the 3 week trek which I went on through the Annapurna range in Nepal. It is a trip known as the Annapurna Circuit, which covers over 300km and takes you across the Thorung La pass, at 5416m above sea level. I didn’t want to hire a strange guide to go with me, and I didn’t know anyone else who wanted to do the trip, so I went alone. For the first 11 days I had little to no human interaction other than with the innkeepers who would put me up in the evenings. It was just me and the mountains, and they are nothing if not breathtaking. There aren’t really words which can do them justice.
Even though I was a young girl walking alone, there was no point on that trip at which I at any time felt threatened or insecure. The scenery was the most beautiful in the world, and the people the friendliest. I wish sometimes that I could spend the rest of my life in those mountains.
What was your worst experience?
It would have to be travelling with a friend. I have never had a bad experience from the people or places I’ve travelled through, but when I went to Madagascar at the end of last year with a good friend – the first time I had travelled with a friend as opposed to setting off alone and meeting people along the way – we suffered such different ideas about what the trip was about that our friendship was shattered completely. I saw her last night, in fact, and realised that there was no way we could ever repair it. Travel is something very personal, and in order to share it with someone you must be certain that you want the same things from it. I wanted to experience the country, and I think she just wanted a party and a beach holiday.
Do you have any particular pet peeves, or things you really like to do when on the road?
Not that I can think of! As a traveller I think I am fairly easy going. Unless I am sunburnt, at which point I begin to bitch like nobody’s business. There are times when travelling in developing countries tests my notions of personal space (there’s nothing like being crammed into a combi with 20 people and a couple of chickens to rub you the wrong way) but I do feel that that is what I am there for – and it makes for good opportunities to talk to the locals.
What made you decide to do a Cape to Cairo journey?
You suggested it! Sometimes it really is that easy. I had been hoping to go back to India and Nepal for 6 months or so in the next year, but had never got around to seriously planning it. Then when you mentioned that you were going it sounded like a wonderful opportunity. As a woman the African continent has been rather intimidating to me, and so the chance to go with someone else was one I couldn’t pass up on. Who knows when it would come around again? Besides, the notion of exploring these countries which see so few tourists is irresistable to me.