Thoughts on leaving Africa 17.02.2013

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.

indian ocean pirogueA pirogue on the Indian Ocean

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.

maasai1Fake Maasai women trying to sell trinkets to unsuspecting tourists somewhere in the Rift Valley

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

usambara children2Children in the Usambara Mountains

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.

bagamoyo customs houseBagamoyo Customs House

bagamoyo street Typical street in Bagamoyo

bagamoyo road The road between Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo

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!


The road from Lushoto to Mtae, October 2012

We decided to go to Mtae which is basically the most northern village in the Western Usambaras. Amani met us in the morning to guide us up there as nothing is signposted. The drive was amazing but at times terrifying. In sections the road had turned to mud and sometimes it was a sheer drop on one side. The villages and scenery are breath taking and the people amazingly friendly, not as reserved as the people in Dar or Arusha. Somewhere north of Lukozi we got stuck in the mud, luckily some villagers actually dug out a new section of road for us and it only took about 20 minutes. In Africa everyone seems to help each other. I was almost killed at one point when the hand brake gave way and our jeep rolled backwards down the road towards a cliff, luckily a broken down truck stopped the car. In the developing world there are alot of hidden dangers that you might not realise as we take everything for granted in the west.

Village in the UsambarasGorgeous little village somewhere on the road up to Mtae

I lost count of the times my jaw dropped to the ground because of the views, it seemed to go from alpine forest to rainforest and then hillsides covered in plantations and then waterfalls and cliffs. Before I went to Africa I done some research on the Usambara Mountains and realised from other peoples blogs that EVERYONE who had ever travelled there had loved it so in a way I wasn’t surprised either that this area turned out to be the Africa that I had been searching for. Okay, the savannah in southern Kenya was beautiful too but this place up in the mountains was stunning and exciting plus the climate was bearable.

chameleon in the usambara mountainsAn artist with his baby pet chameleon

Something I noticed about Africa is that you find yourself in disturbing situations and wonder how the hell you are going to get out of it. I experienced this on the Fasaha bus when I almost flipped out when I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was the same in Mtae. By the time we got there the rain was torrential, the road had turned to mud and were shocked when a car breaked in the village but just slid in the mud hitting another car. We were worried about the conditions of the road and if we would survive the journey back down to Lushoto. What made matters worse was that the road leading into Mtae goes across a narrow ridge with sheer drops on both sides. It was scary.

Usambara Amazing views from the road up to Mtae

baboon Baboon at the side of the road

House in Lukozi

Mtae and Masai Steppe Mtae is surrounded on three sides by cliffs

Masai Steppe This point is about 3km high looking down towards the Masai Steppe



Into Africa 16.09.2012

So, summer 2012 and things have been really hectic with my work and living in such a crazy city as Amsterdam. I’ve been having alot of fun going to art exhibitions and discovering new places to eat although it kinda sucks that I haven’t been able to travel as much as i’d like to. Reality bites I guess. The good news is i’m in the minority who can say that they love their job and sometimes working is more amazing than what the rest of reality has on offer. Find something you love doing and then find a way to get paid doing it!

Africa Africa. I can’t go through life without ever visiting. I had planned to go back to India but my boyfriend put a stop to that saying we should go visit other regions and not go back to Asia for a while. Uhmmmm, ok. Perception is a funny thing – throw two people into the same situation and they’ll both have completely different experiences. My boyfriend chose Africa.

I’ve always wanted to go there myself so it worked out for both of us. We were naturally drawn to Mali and Burkina Faso. We both agreed that for us those countries seemed to fulfill our ideas of Africa….sandy towns, mosques made of mud, the Dogon and Bozo tribes, vibrant markets, canoes on the Niger River. It just seemed right. I watched a (sometimes boring) film called “The Sheltering Sky” where some of it was filmed on location in the Sahel. Wow!…. then everything came crashing down as people fled Timbuktu and fighting broke out on the streets of Bamako. We scanned the rest of the continent. Senegal seemed like a dream…but only if you were fluent in French and was way over priced. Guinea Bissau had a coup. Amazing stories about the landscapes of Guinea but a nightmare logistically – add to that Liberia and Sierra Leone. One of my ancestors is buried in Sierra Leone, he died of Malaria in the 19th Century so that was somewhere with an emotional connection. The reviews about Ghana were equally as enticing until you read the requirements to get a travel visa – that killed it instantly for us. Nigeria seemed unstable. Cameroon again paradise on Earth but far too expensive for an extended trip. Ethiopia…how could you ever not want to go experience the Lower Omo Valley with it´s Mursi and Hamer tribes? Until you realise to get there involves renting a jeep and a ranger with a rifle from a number of companies who have a monopoly. $2200 per person per week? I think not.

Then came the southern African countries. South Africa, we had to decide long about this country. I’m not attracted to it at all as it seems far too western but it does have stunning landscapes and tribal villages and there are the nearby mysterious countries of Swaziland and Lesotho. Some of the photos of Johannesburg  just looked like London on a rainy day. Mozambique again fascinating with it´s Portugese looking towns but difficult logistically.

In the end we chose Malawi and East Africa. The attraction being the Rift Valley, the biodiversity, the transport infrastructure and the wildlife. The major cities don’t seem visually appealing but the people definetly are. Travel visas were easy to get and it’s possible to re-enter Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya on a single entry visa – that is if you are coming from one of those three countries mentioned. Another attraction will be the contrast between the fusion of the African-Arab Swahili coast and the journey towards the more Central African Christian regions. I will add videos and photos when I get back. I might update this blog from an internet cafe along the route, you never know. Until then…upendo maisha!