Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Geoff's views on travelling Africa

Africa cannot be concisely defined; it must be experienced.  I fled
Africa.  I held high hopes for the promise of a better life in Europe.
My dilemma?  My mind and body have been working hard at building a
‘better’ life in the developed world, but I forgot my heart and soul
at Harare International Airport.  I’ve decided to return to Africa,
for better or worse, to become a whole person again.  I pray this time
it is forever.

Make no mistake, Africa is a dangerous place; approach your adventure
with respect and maturity.  The cradle of mankind, she is our oldest
home.  Ironically, western society would view this continent as
backward, behind, young with still so much to learn.  I am grateful
for that; perhaps Africa will learn from the mistakes of
‘over-developed’ nations.  Yet frustratingly, Africa, so rich in
resources, remains unable to harness and process these for her own
prosperity due to a seemingly constant, and what some may view as a
convenient, instability.  In its wake, an obstacle course, a
playground.

Travel in Africa is very different to that in most countries in the
Northern Hemisphere.  We do not yet have the sophisticated
infrastructures available to the first world.  Popular tourist
destinations, such as Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, and important business/
finance capitals, such as Johannesburg, South Africa, may impress you
with their busy airport hubs and Gauteng train developments.
Conversely, you may have a giggle at the shack and shanty airports
elsewhere.  A lot of travel will have to be by road; many large
African countries are found in the region’s interior and are
land-locked; there is no Mediterranean Sea or English Channel to
‘spread the load’.  You may need to investigate booking with a
reputable coach company, or if you really want to get out into the
sticks, renting your own vehicle.  Safaris are always better with a
knowledgeable guide (someone who can ‘speak’ to the savannah and hear
her answer), but if you are going to rent your own vehicle I would
recommend a 4x4, even for town driving!  Nothing too flashy as it’s
best not to attract too much attention.

Tipping at bars, restaurants, and hotels is expected and appreciated.
As a general rule, I tend to tip either 10% of the value of the
service provided, or at least the value of a local beer.  A lot of
Westerners may tip low values and justify this by saying “it’s a lot
for them” but please remember that resort staff normally live on site,
away from their families, in areas made popular, and expensive as a
result of being tourism-focussed.  Once you convert your tips/
gratuities back into your own ‘real’ currency, you may feel less
inclined to hard-bargain the price of a trinket, just for the sake of
it.

I plan to travel many more glorious parts of my homeland.  Africa is a
big place.  To date I have only travelled Zimbabwe, parts of South
Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Egypt.  Indeed, I am not well
travelled; perhaps I have never felt I needed more than was already
available to me within my immediate surrounds; my small space of
Africa satisfied me.  Zimbabwe, more recently associated with
violence, will recover.  When it does, why not bungee jump 110 metres
into the Zambezi river, helicopter over the famous Victoria Falls,
catch trout and drink straight from the rivers in Nyanga, absorb the
raw beauty of the wildlife at Mana Pools, or watch the sunset from a
speed boat on Kariba Dam.  If you’re into diving or snorkelling along
a diamond-white beach, visit Vilanculos in Mozambique.  Kite surf the
Red Sea or buggy the dunes in Egypt.  Kiss a crisp, lemon-necked cider
and listed to live music while enjoying Johannesburg’s bustling
cosmopolitan night life.

Remember your standard tool kit: mosquito repellent, sun screen,
currency in smaller notes and a little local lingo.  Depending on
where your exploration will take place, consider network coverage
(your home network may not have a reciprocal agreement in place).
Leave your addiction to technology on the sofa at home; reconnect to
yourself.  Quiet your mind.

Whichever country you do decide to enjoy, please tread gently.  Treat
our people as you would wish to be treated.  Be patient, open-hearted,
and flexible.  I trust you will be planning your next visit before
you’ve even secured your rucksack in the overhead locker.
Author Geoff Martin

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