Aside from the route, my journey across Africa was obviously light years away from Grogan's. He and Harry Sharp, Gertrude's uncle and his partner for part of the trip, moved by boat and boot leather — and occasionally, when one was too sick to walk, in a hammock slung from a pole. They were in no hurry; safety and security were far more important than speed. Apart from the food they were able to kill and trade for along the way, they had to bring everything they needed with them, and since they were 19th-century gentlemen it was a long list:
Compared to most African expeditions, Grogan and Sharp traveled light. Their main weapons for hunting and defense were two magazine-fed .303-caliber rifles, which could bring down anything from ducks to large antelopes. Grogan brought a giant black-powder "elephant gun" for bigger game [each four-inch shell held a bullet as big as a man's thumb], and both men had backup rifles and cases of ammunition.
Wooden boxes held tents and folding cots, shoes and clothing, fishing rods and mosquito nets. They took surveying tools and a camera, three Union Jacks, a phonograph and books of poetry and classic literature, including the complete works of Shakespeare. For trading with the natives, they packed beads and multicolored rolls of "Americani," a type of cloth made in the United States.
There were 64 cases of food and drink in all, including whisky, brandy and champagne and plenty of Worcestershire sauce, Grogan's favorite, "without which life…is intolerable."
The medicine chest held quinine for malaria; Elliman's Universal Embrocation, a cream made of turpentine, eggs and vinegar, for aches and pains; and plenty of permanganate of potash (potassium permanganate), dark purple crystals that made a disinfectant and antiseptic when mixed with water.
They hired natives along the way to carry their gear, a fixed distance for a fixed price negotiated up front. Occasionally the porters would subcontract other porters en route for part of the fee, and so on, until some boxes had three or four men walking alongside them. (The explorers put a stop to that.) At one point they led a caravan of 130, but by the end the party was down to Grogan and fourteen men.
Riding in a public pickup truck.
In contrast, I traveled mostly by public minibuses, usually white Toyota Hi-Aces with a dozen or more people crammed inside. Next came full-sized buses, about half as big as a large school bus and much, much less comfortable, or and sometimes pickup trucks. On one short stretch in Mozambique I rode in the bed of a pickup truck with 21 other people. (Notice a pattern?) Two overnight ferry rides up Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, and the occasional bicycle or motorcycle, rounded things out.
In a way, traveling through the hinterlands of sub-Saharan Africa is easier than traveling in, say, the US or Europe. Just about anything on wheels will stop if you wave it down (and they have space), from mopeds to cement trucks, and the ride usually costs pennies, at most a few dollars, and occasionally nothing. No matter how far you are in the backcountry, the most remote little village in the middle of nowhere, you can depend on some sort of vehicle coming and/or going at some point in the day. No schedules, no train or bus stations to find or tickets to buy, just a slow shifting of bodies from every point to every other point by any means available, eventually. The trick becomes learning to wait until the vehicle in question is full of enough paying passengers for the driver to decide it's worth leaving. You learn quickly that "full" is a culturally relative term.
Kampala Uganda public bus station, typical room.
I carried everything I needed for two months in a convertible bag/backpack. About three changes of clothes, hand-washed along the way. (Speaking of easy traveling—after a week or two of this, the idea of "what to wear today" becomes quite abstract.) A pair each of off-road sneakers and Tevas. A toiletry/medicine kit with more pills than I think I've ever brought on a trip. (Many of these, along with a raft of shots, came courtesy of the excellent travel clinic in downtown Portland. Two digital cameras, an SLR and a point-and-shoot; the latter ate too much sand and crapped out somewhere in Tanzania. Two absolute essentials: a Swiss Army knife and foam earplugs. An old-school iPod, music only. Used paperback books came and went from town to town, a sort of alternate traveler currency. For a while I carried a PacSafe, a steel mesh bag you can secure your stuff inside, but I never used it—never left my bag anywhere except a locked hotel room—and it was heavy, so I gave it away. Most important, a Neo word processor to take notes. Designed for grade-school classrooms, it's nearly indestructible and runs forever on three AA batteries. Much less headache than a laptop or writing by hand, and a great conversation starter.
Lake Tanganyika ferry.