Read of the Week

A hat, a kayak and dreams of Dar

Terry Bell


Review: Karen Watkins

There are many adventurers nowadays, crossing the oceans solo or swimming in icy waters. Terry Bell and his 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 Terry, 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 the track 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 to paddle to Dar es Salaam, a journey of 11000km. They asked the Royal Marines if the trip was feasible and were given the advice not to take arms or ammunition.

With little to no paddling experience, they bought a five-metre glass fibre 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.

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. 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.