A hat, a kayak and dreams of Dar
Review: Karen Watkins
There are many adventurers nowadays, crossing the oceans solo or swimming in icy waters. Terry Bell and his pint-sized wife, Barbara, undertook their adventure in 1967 and have finally put it down on paper.
It all began in 1965 in a smoke-filled hotel room in Morocco. A political exile living in London, journalist Bell accepts a challenge from his friend, Canadian Kent Warmington (for whom the book is dedicated) , to paddle a kayak from London to Tangiers in Morocco.
Initially they did not take it seriously until Kent made a trek across Europe to Afghanistan to get back Terry’s favourite bush hat, which had been stolen by another Canadian.
Terry felt he owed it to Kent to at least attempt the challenge, especially because he and his then new wife, Barbara, agreed it was time to get back to Africa.
However, they decided to make it interesting and paddle to Dar es Salaam, a journey of 11 000km.
They asked the Royal Marines if the trip was feasible and were advised not to take arms or ammunition.
With little to no paddling experience, they bought a five-metre fibreglass kayak and named it Amandla. Setting off from the Thames with support from ANC cadres, they negotiated the French canals to the Mediterranean.
The end of each day is punctuated by Barbara’s one-pot dishes concocted from minimal ingredients, on the ground, sometimes as she is blasted by the mistral, drenched by sea spray or torrential rain. Some of these recipes are included at the back of the book.
Amandla becomes their home with everything carried onboard. Read how Terry drops the compass in the sea as they lose sight of the land in a white-out. He assured Barbara that it was no problem as long as they could see the sun. But soon there was no sun. Another time she told him “eff you” when he told her to help pull the water-logged kayak ashore. In the end it took four men to do it.
Now, after all these years and encouragement from friends and family, they decided to mark the golden anniversary of the start of the voyage by recounting the story. Details were gained from postcards (some pictured in the book) with information sent while on their journey and stuck in an album made by Barbara’s father.
Kent also contributed correspondence he had kept dating back 50 years and more. There were also audio tapes, which have been transcribed to disc.
They might not have made it to Dar es Salaam that trip but their dream became a reality when Oliver Tambo invited them to Tanzania to start a primary school at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, set up to cater for the flood of exiles following the political upheavals in South Africa in June 1976. That was in August 1980, 13 years, two continents and two children later.
Their children were involved with the book. Ceiran Bell, who lives in Zambia, illustrated the cover, and Brendan Bell did photo research and retouching.
This book has all the ingredients of an adventure: a newly married couple, a hat, Amandla, a typewriter, a compass and big dreams.
Mix everything together and it’s a recipe for a gripping, often chaotic and superbly wacky shaggy dog story, which I loved. At times I could not help but wonder that Terry did not see the misery and pressure he was putting his new bride through.