Owner of Ex­plore Africa Ad­ven­tures

Mak­ing your pas­sion your oc­cu­pa­tion

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - martin slab­bert

Alot of peo­ple dream about swap­ping a cor­po­rate cu­bi­cle for a life of travel and ad­ven­ture, but few ac­tu­ally do it. Martin Slab­bert, how­ever, did what many peo­ple only al­low them­selves to dream about. A few years ago, he pur­chased the well-known Ex­plore Africa Ad­ven­tures sa­fari com­pany and changed his life com­pletely. Th­ese days, he’s al­ways on the road, trav­el­ling to some of the most beau­ti­ful spots on the African con­ti­nent. While this life has its own chal­lenges, it’s not a de­ci­sion that he’s re­gret­ted for a sec­ond. Hav­ing paid his dues in the cor­po­rate world, he’s now liv­ing the dream. Leisure Wheels spoke to him about his dra­matic ca­reer shift. Can you give us a bit of back­ground on your­self? I was born and raised in Bloem­fontein. Af­ter mil­i­tary ser­vice in 1982 and ‘83, I joined the SABC in Bloem­fontein as a sound tech­ni­cian. I met my wife Magda there, got mar­ried, and re­lo­cated to Pre­to­ria in 1987. We sub­se­quently moved around quite a bit, but we even­tu­ally set­tled back in Pre­to­ria in 2002. How did you end up tak­ing over Ex­plore Africa? Dur­ing hol­i­days, I was al­ways trav­el­ling through Africa of my own, and I was in­ter­ested in hear­ing from other peo­ple. I wanted to know where they had been, how they had done it and what they would rec­om­mend in terms of the dos and the don’ts. Over­land travel was a pas­sion for me. I met An­dre van Vu­uren, the pre­vi­ous owner of Ex­plore Africa, at a so­cial event or­gan­ised by mu­tual friends. I spent quite a bit of time chat­ting to him and ask­ing him about all his ad­ven­tures. As we con­tin­ued to talk, it be­came clear that he wanted to sell the com­pany. I re­alised that this was my op­por­tu­nity. Af­ter 19 years of cor­po­rate life, it was a real no-brainer: I had to buy it. A week later, we shook hands and the deal was done.

Where and in what did you first learn to drive? I was priv­i­leged to grow up on a fam­ily farm in the south-western re­gion of the Free State. My first driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was with a Ford­son trac­tor, but I later up­graded to a 1972 Hilux. At the age of 15, I had my first run-in with the law. I was driv­ing on back roads, ob­vi­ously with­out a li­cence, and I was pulled over. I even­tu­ally passed my driv­ing test in my mom’s Dat­sun Pul­sar, in 1982. What do you drive to­day on your trips, and how has it been kit­ted out? To travel over­land through Africa for pro­longed pe­ri­ods of time, you need a well-kit­ted ve­hi­cle. Cur­rently, I drive a Hilux D-4D, which has been fit­ted with an Alu-Cab canopy, roof-top tent, 60-litre wa­ter tank, long-range fuel tank, builtin kitchen, a freezer for ice and meat, a sec­ond fridge for other food, a dual-bat­tery sys­tem, re­place­ment bumpers, and a raised sus­pen­sion with LAS Pro­fender shocks. What’s your favourite spot in Africa?

It’s dif­fi­cult to say, since there are so many amaz­ing places on the con­ti­nent. As I travel and ad­just guided trips to keep them fresh, I dis­cover new places that I love. If pushed to name a cou­ple of favourites, though, I’d men­tion Senga Bay on Lake Malawi and Lakeshore Lodge on Lake Tan­ganyika. Both are spec­tac­u­lar. Have you ever had any close en­coun­ters with Africa’s wildlife? Yes, I was chased by ele­phant in Zam­bia no less than three times, and I was told that four fe­male lion once in­ves­ti­gated my tent at Buf­falo Camp in North Luangwa Park with such in­ten­sity that the oth­ers present were gen­uinely wor­ried that the lion would try to pull me from my lit­tle co­coon. I don’t re­mem­ber this in­ci­dent, since I was fast asleep, but I was told that my snor­ing sounded ex­actly like a warthog, which was why the lion were so in­ter­ested. An­dre van Vu­uren, the pre­vi­ous owner of Ex­plore Africa was there, and he tried to di­vert their at­ten­tion and chase them away. Any other scary sit­u­a­tions you’ve found your­self in? I once ran out of ice in Tan­za­nia, that was very scary. What’s been your most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence since tak­ing over Ex­plore Africa? My first ex­pe­ri­ence of wilde­beest cross­ing the Mara River dur­ing their great yearly mi­gra­tion, un­doubt­edly. We plan our an­nual Serengeti trip in such a way that we max­imise the chances of see­ing this river cross­ing, but noth­ing is guar­an­teed. It takes about a year to plan, and it’s a long drive to get there, so see­ing this amaz­ing event was over­whelm­ing the first time I got to ex­pe­ri­ence it. Be­ing able to pro­vide that once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence for clients was just an amaz­ing feel­ing. It made all of the ef­fort worth­while.

What ad­vice do you have for peo­ple when it comes to over­land travel in Africa, es­pe­cially north of our borders?

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go to­gether. Also, once you cross the Lim­popo, leave all your neg­a­tive ideas at home. Africa is not South Africa. Africa is an ex­pe­ri­ence: feel it, see it, hear it. The peo­ple work hard, are friendly and want to please you. Em­brace that and be friendly. Do not ex­pect En­gen sta­tions in Africa, clean ablu­tions, world­class ser­vice or credit card fa­cil­i­ties. Just travel: mix with the peo­ple and buy food from the lo­cal street ven­dors. If you go with an open mind, any trip through Africa will be a mem­o­rable and re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. What cru­cial items don’t you ever leave home with­out? Apart from the ob­vi­ous things like pass­ports and cash, I take old-fash­ioned maps of each coun­try I will travel through. Other cru­cial items in­clude a GPS unit, MP3 player, braai grid and ‘white gold’ (toi­let­pa­per).

Martin Slab­bert is the owner and op­er­a­tor of Ex­plore Africa Ad­ven­tures, which of­fers self-drive guided trips into Africa. Be­fore pur­chas­ing Ex­plore Africa, Martin worked as a sales man­ager for Nam­pak. The Nam­pak job was the last in a string of cor­po­rate gigs. When Ex­plore Africa went up for sale, he de­cided to pur­sue his dream and hit the road.

Main: Ex­plore Africa’s spe­cial camp­site on the Mara River in Serengeti. Note the wilde­beest in the back­ground want­ing to cross the river. Op­po­site page, top: Martin’s love of over­land travel started years ago with a bike trip to Lake Malawi. Op­po­site page, bot­tom: Wild camp­ing, get­ting ready for another braai.

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