Tim Baily is more than just a safari operator, he is a man with a passionate love for his native Africa, and with some justification he can also claim to be an expert on the more violent side of African politics.
For the past eight years, Tim, in his efforts to set up his trans-African safari company, has continually found himself in the middle of whatever juicy African conflict seems to be simmering at that particular moment.
Tim led the first expedition to cross the Congo safely after the Simba war, and when his convoy of battered Land Rovers reached the Oubangui River, which separated the Congo from the Central African Republic, they found both banks full of African trigger-guard troops. easy. The two countries were ready for war over a sudden disagreement over the future shape of “African Unity”.
Tim’s knowledge of Swahili saved them here. He borrowed a native canoe, rowed across the river to confront the stunned Congolese troops and diplomatically convinced them to allow the ferry to cross the river to pick up the rest or their convoy.
Today, Siafu Safari Company is a driving business. It is named after the Siafu ant that stops at nothing. If he can’t go around, over, or under an obstacle, he’ll just plow through it. The original four battered Land Rovers are now replaced by entire fleets of shiny new vehicles, and the routes between London and Nairobi are carefully planned. Today the Siafu expeditions crossing Africa know that they will reach their destinations, but this was not always the case.
Tim was born and raised on his father’s farm in Kenya until independence forced him to emigrate to South Africa. Seven years ago, with car salesman Peter Hooper and a short-wheelbase Land Rover, Tim left Durban at the start of what would become a 20,000-mile journey through a turbulent new Africa. The journey would take sixteen painful and dangerous months, and Tim’s mind would be filled with the crazy idea of going on commercial overland safaris.
To pass through the newly independent countries of Libya, Tanzania and Kenya, Tim and Peter had to go through every item of their gear and clothing and remove all traces of South African origin.
Their real difficulties started when they tried to leave Kenya. All the main roads into Ethiopia had been closed due to bandits raiding the border, southern Sudan was also closed, and to the west the Congo remained a bloody battlefield fought over by mercenaries and Simba rebels.
They finally managed to find an Ethiopian border post that was open at Kalem, near Lake Rudolph. From there, it took them 42 days of back-breaking, sweaty, back-breaking work to cover 170 miles of Africa’s four highways. They unloaded their Land Rover a thousand times to drag it through mud holes as big as the vehicle itself, or worked like slaves to widen roads that had been intended for nothing more than camels.
In Addis Ababa they were denied visas to cross through Sudan, but instead of making a return journey through those horrible Ethiopian roads, they chose to continue north without visas. They left Ethiopia, bypassed the Sudanese border post by driving through the desert, and then made a frantic non-stop race along the Red Sea coast towards Egypt.
They almost made it, but their outdated map had shifted the position of the northern border a vital ten miles.
They arrived at the Sudanese starting point believing they had won their bet and were in Egypt, and were promptly arrested when they realized their mistake.
Fortunately, they were not very well guarded, and while the Sudanese officer in charge radioed Khartoum to ask what should be done with them, they managed to steal their passports and make a frantic overnight escape to Egypt.
Almost immediately they were arrested again. Their Egyptian visas, which they believed to be valid for three months, were valid for only one month and had already expired.
Ironically, the two travelers explained that neither of them knew how to read Arabic. They were taken under escort to Port Suez and held there in jail for two nights before their guilty plea was finally accepted.
From there they crossed the deserts of North Africa to complete their journey to Europe.
For most men, those sixteen months would have been packed with enough adventure to last a lifetime, but not for Tim Baily.
“My ambition,” says Tim, “was to organize expeditions for young people, offering them a genuine adventure mixed with the romance of traveling to Africa that I know so well. I wanted to show others the fascinating towns and places I have seen, and give them the same opportunities to share the experience: and the emotions that have been mine”.
In England, Tim Baily worked for a year with the South African immigrant organization and was ready to prepare for a senior position when he played with his future again. He felt that he had learned enough about office management and that the next step for him was to learn the travel business. So he took a big pay cut to work as a tour operator. After eight months, he resigned again and then rebuilt his finances with six months of hard work digging the underground tunnel for London’s new Victoria line. He was then ready for the biggest gamble of all: the purchase of four second-hand Land Rovers and his return to Africa.
“All my friends and relatives thought I was crazy,” he recalls. “Only a fool, they said, would risk his career in this way. I tried to explain that we don’t all yearn for the securities of modern life, and that for me there was a much greater sense of fulfillment in the kind of number of other young people bored with safety and routine who might feel the same way, and who would be grateful and eager for the opportunity or to throw off the shackles of civilization for a few months in Africa.”
“I tried to explain the camaraderie of a campfire at night, the majesty of a bull elephant with its ears outstretched ready to attack, the dusty splendor of an African sunset, or the native sounds or music wafting through through the nocturnal jungle. very The uncertainty of Africa makes every moment a new experience. Africa, I told them, is like no other place on earth, and I must see every corner of it, and help others to see it, before to leave, because unfortunately he is leaving.”
So, in November 1968, Tim Baily launched the first Siafu expedition across Africa; 50 young men and women driving six Land Rovers, for two private vehicles had also joined his convoy. Sudan remained a hurdle when it came to visas, so their route lay through the Algerian Sahara and the Hoggar massif, heading south through black ironstone hills, wild red mountains and vast yellow sands. On this pioneering journey, the task of keeping his old vehicles running tested all of his combined mechanical skills, but Tim Baily was learning invaluable lessons in bush mechanics.
South of the Sahara this was a period of violence and upheaval. Siafu’s group avoided the Biafran conflict, but when they passed through northern Nigeria they found military checkpoints everywhere along the route and Land Rovers were repeatedly stopped and searched by rude soldiers who left Expedition members repack. The delays were endless. Entering Chad they found more war tension. The last remnants of the French Foreign Legion were waging a little-known war against rebellious tribesmen in France’s former colony, and northern Chad was a maelstrom of raiding bandits.
Then came that dramatic crossing of the Obangui River into the Congo. The most recent waves of blood in that unhappy land had been subdued only a few months ago, and at any moment they could break out again. The whole country was still nervous and eager to shoot, and the expedition had reason to break a sweat a dozen times over 1,300 miles of troop-infested muddy jungle roads before they finally crossed safely into Uganda.
In East Africa they were finally able to relax, visit the great game parks, cruise the Victoria Nile to Murchison Falls and just laze and swim off the Kenyan coast, activities that remain a major feature of every Siafu Safari. As they continued south, they encountered an angry political atmosphere as they crossed from Libya into Rhodesia, but it was their last tense moment. Four and a half months after leaving London, Siafu’s first expedition arrived in triumph in either the South African city or Johannesburg.
Since that original hair-raising journey, there have been a dozen or more successful Siafu safaris, and the Siafu ant emblem painted on the white door of a Land Rover is fast becoming a familiar sight on the desert and jungle roads of Africa, the hardest continent. all of them for overland travel.
Today, Africa has settled back into a shaky peace, if you ignore the odd coups here and there. But as Tim Baily warns all of his clients: “With a lifetime or experience in Africa, I think there is no question that I can get you to your destination, but I don’t guarantee it. After all, what good is an adventure? an element of risk attached?”
NOTE: This article was written in 1971 when the author made the trans-African voyage with one of Tim’s Siafu overland expeditions.