It’s funny to look back at my first hours in Africa, how paranoid I was. I guess I had read too many reports about tourists being robbed on the airport to hotel transfer that it distorted my perception. Wandering around Kisutu late at night in the most oppressive heat I had ever experienced I was sure that the taxi driver was going to rob us when all he wanted to do was help us find a room. Being able to surf the web and find everything is fantastic but in between all that travel advice are the alarming horror stories from unlucky travellers which add alot of unnecessary `What if……´
It didn’t help that in hotel rooms were posters warning women to be careful when walking due to drive by bag snatching. Shopkeepers kept waving there hands in the air trying to warn me too. This again distorted my perception of Africa as a dangerous place when it fact it isn’t more dangerous that anywhere else. The reason shop keepers and hotel staff were so padantic in their warnings was because a Greek woman had been dragged to her death a few days before I arrived – her handbag was snatched from a moving car and somehow she ended up under the wheels – it was the week´s headline. Walking in Dar es Salaam I was hyper paranoid about traffic but after a while I figured it out. Always stick to the sidewalk and always walk towards the direction of the traffic. Never walk on the side of the street with your back towards the flow of traffic. Be aware of people on motorbikes especially if they are driving on to the sidewalk and stay alert when crossing roads. Once I figured this out I wasn’t worried anymore and could start to enjoy myself.
Africa was interesting, often jaw dropping and always hard work. I never did get that wow factor that I experienced daily while travelling in India. I think it might be because I love ancient architecture and temples which Africa lacks. Africa is more about experiencing daily life, walking through markets, looking at animals and landscapes which for me got repetitive after a while. I noticed that most of the tourists in Africa are over 60’s which was quite surprising considering how uncomfortable travelling around the region is.
The people of Tanzania and Kenya. The most polite people I have ever met in my life. I always imagine myself well mannered but believe me compared to the inhabitants of East Africa i’m a savage. I, ofcourse, met a number of individuals who were rude to the extreme like a customs officer at Namanga who singled us out and made us lug our backpacks into an office to be checked – this man oozed racist out of every pore of his being. His colleagues did apologize though and so did the other people on the bus. On the way back to Tanzania when we passed through Namanga again we never even bothered to declare the things we had and no one came on the bus to check the luggage anyway. Oh, and how could I forget the street hawker who spat through the window at me in Korogwe. He was just a nutter I guess. I never did figure out why East Africans don’t like being filmed. Regarding photography sometimes I felt like a walking ATM machine when people wanted cash on return for their photo being taken – but hey I was in the developing world so I didn’t mind.
Another thing about Africa is that everything is possible. Why bother trying to find a safari on the internet when a guy who worked in our hotel arranged a tailor-made safari for us at a fraction of the price as what they ask online. Just tell people what you want and they will make it possible. It was the same with car hire which we arranged through the Tayodea Organization in Lushoto – with no restriction or limits which you might otherwise find with global companies. People are honest and want to show their nations in their best light and try to make your stay there as comfortable as possible. When you book into a hotel tell them you want their best room and they will honestly give you the best one they have.
If you find yourself in a scary or dangerous situation as I experienced don´t freak out but ask people for help. They will help and everything will probably be okay. Don´t worry about Police Checkpoints either as we passed many and never once did an officer board the bus. When travelling overland if the company tell you it will take 6 hours to the destination then just double it and you´ll never be disappointed. Take food on journeys as drivers hardly make reststops. There is no point worrying about reputations of bus companies, they all looked the same and travelling with a reputable name still won´t guarantee you that there won´t be an accident, as I always say ´If something is going to happen then it will happen, there is no point worrying.´
Another thing I want to mention is the reputation of Nairobi. It is a fantastic city and I felt far safer there than in Dar es Salaam or Arusha. My advice is not to just transit through Nairobi but to stick around for a few days, it’s really cosmopolitan with excellent places to eat. On the other hand it was impossible to enjoy Dar es Salaam due to the heat – someone mentioned that even for Africans Dar is just too darn hot. There wasn’t that much to see in Dar es Salaam either i.e. I was bored! Most days were spent there chartering an air conditioned taxi to drive us around or staying in our airco hotel room. If you want to taste the most amazing veggie burgers go to Al Basha on Bridge Street, another good place to eat was Chef’s Place on Chagga Street but apart from those two places eating out was a let down.
Will I return to East Africa? I don’t think so. It was beautiful to see and i´m grateful I experienced it but I didn’t have the fun factor that I had in India. It might also have had something to do with taking the anti-malarial tablets Malarone which made me feel down all the time plus the equatorial sun just evaporated any life I had in me. In India I just needed 1 shot of Electrolite to rehydrate me while on this trip I was having to drink ORS everyday.
Why am I writing this? Probably to let people know that Africa is not scary or dangerous but is something that everyone should try to experience at least once in their lives. I do want to go back to Africa – but to West Africa where street life seems far more vibrant. They say ´Go to East Africa for the animals and to West Africa for the people´- I hope they are right!