There was never a set destination in mind. I just booked a one way ticket to London, bought a motorbike when I got there, and then made the rest up as I went along...
I started in the UK, and then, running away from a European winter, I rode my bike down to Spain. When I ran out of Europe to ride the bike south to, I jumped across the Gibraltar Strait, and then, basically, moseyed on down to Cape Town, all down the West Coast of the entire continent. It's been one hell of a journey.
I just wanted to ride my bike. There was, however, a catalyst, an enabler, in the form of an Australian I met in a Barcelona hostel. He'd travelled all up the east coast of Africa and then into the middle east and then, finally, to Europe by hitchhiking. The stories this guy had...
Essentially, I adopted him, put him on the back of my motorbike, and we rode down to West Africa together. I wonder if I would have done Africa in quite the same way if he wasn't there to "show me the ropes..."
I could have only done it one of two ways: on my own two wheels, or hitchhiking. Doing with four wheels - four wheels that I own... - in Africa would be a nightmare. There are some roads that you just can't do on 4 wheels... If I was hitchhiking it would be fine, if the car breaks down or cant go any further you can always hitch on a motorbike! Of course, my preferred way is by motorbike, but you need to be prepared to put in an insane amount of time in the saddle...
I had to learn French. It's either that or be very good at charades... Most of the countries down the west coast speak French (a hangover from the colonial days) and there are a sprinkling that speak English, and even Portuguese. As for what's unique about Africa. It's Africa. There's no place in the world like it.
Where to Stay:
My standards for accommodation gradually dropped the more I travelled through the continent... I would, in the vast majority of cases, stay in a cheap hotel wherever I ended up at the end of the day. And when I say cheap, I mean cheap. Somewhere in the range of two to ten dollars... There were a few cases where cheap hotels weren't an option. In which case I either stayed with locals, pitched a tent (you'd know I had a bad day if I was pitching a tent...) or, even, staying in a brothel (there were no other options in Monrovia, Liberia... link: here.
What To See & Do:
Just be there and do what the locals are doing. You can watch Senegalese wrestling in Dakar, or go hiking in the mountains of Guinea, or surf in Sierra Leone, or hike in Gabon, or drink wine in Cape Town. It's an enormous continent, with massively varying people and landscapes. Just being there is enough!
Where To Eat:
My biggest hurdle... Took me a while to get over it (and to trust it), but the way to go is to eat what the locals eat. That means sitting on a street corner with the frest of the locals, getting spooned something mysterious by a "big mamma". It's always delicious. And, yes, you're going to get crook often, but you'll get used to it. It's a great way to meet locals too. They love it when a foreigner eats the food that they're eating, and it's always a conversation starter. My advice would be to eat anywhere that's popular, never mind what it is that they're serving, if it's popular, then the turnover is high and it's likely that your getting something fresh. It's your best bet...
I loved Guinea and Gabon. The nature in these places is insane. The locals are very friendly (particularly in Gabon). Couldn't recommend these places highly enough. It's not a "shallow dive" into Africa, but you'll certainly get a genuine, African experience. I'd avoid Ghana, which, bizarrely, is rather touristy and feels a little cheap to me.
Number 1 Travel Tip:
Don't take a MasterCard, it won't work. Visa card will. I had to learn this lesson the hard way...
5 Word Travel:
Hold on to your knickers....
Don't be scared. And don't plan. Planning is futile. Just go, be open ended, and make up your own story as it comes.