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Your experiences travelling in Africa

rousseau

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I'm not planning on going to Africa any time soon - for the time being I'm stuck in a cube, and soon will be pretty much tied to Southwestern Ontario. But after reading about the continent for a few years I'm now day-dreaming about escaping my cube and spending some time there. And the best I've got is people describing their experiences on the internet, in books, or in imagery.

So the questions are:
- have you been?
- what were your experiences there like?
- recommendations for countries / regions outside of South Africa?
- any pictures to share?

Oddly enough I've been to North Africa before, at nine years old on a cruise that stopped in Casablanca, Morocco. The guy next to me is my grandfather / role model.

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Dancing with a belly-dancer:

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Loren Pechtel

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I've been there a long time ago. Lots of poverty, lots of racism.

Kilimanjaro is well worth a climb attempt if you're in decent shape. Despite being the highest mountain in Africa it's simply a hike, no special skills required. Ngorongoro crater is nearby and is well worth seeing, also. (Wildlife, you're not there to see the crater itself.) Victoria falls is impressive, although I have heard that the season matters a lot these days. At this point I consider most of Africa to basically be a no-go zone due to Islamist terrorism.
 

Politesse

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I've wanted to go and visit Mali for years, but it's not going to happen any time soon owing to current events... I hope no one blows up the Djenne Mosque or the Bandiagara Plateau before I can get there.
 

senor boogie woogie

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I went to Zambia in 2014 with my Chinese wife. Actually she was there first and I followed her that summer after my job was finished for the season. I mostly enjoyed the country, and it was my first time and more than likely my last time to ever be in Africa (I even so far as to stop my feet before I walked the ladder onto the plane to go home to remember my last step there.

Leaving the airport in a taxi, there was a police checkpoint a few miles away which was sort of a hassle, but its their country. One thing that was cool to me, was that I actually crossed the Equator for the first (and probably last) time in my life. It was July in Zambia and although it is subtropical, had fall weather. I did pack some light sweaters and needed them at night. But my hotel had a pool and it was warm enough (and the only one who used it) to go in the afternoon.

My wife is Chinese and I guess she was there to see if she could do some business, or something. Didnt work out. We were in the capitol of Lusaka which was by and large not a bad city. It was safe to me, and no one there seemed impoverished. My wife found the small casino in town and she pissed away everyday in there to my chagrin (she is a gambling addict) with other Chinese people. There are a lot of Chinese people in Lusaka, so many that one could find Chinese characters on walls and whatnot.

The casino was small but I gambled a little bit and one night made friends with some Zambian people and took some pictures of them with me playing this poker like card game. I was drinking whiskey and it was a fun night. Interestingly, the casino closed at night, around midnight. And it did not open up again until early the next afternoon. To my chagrin, one could not buy beer after a certain time at night either. One night I wanted to buy beer to drink in the room and it was locked up.

I was there about three weeks and in a building in the hotel was a church group that met on Sunday mornings. I was woken up to PRAISEJESUS, PRAISE THE LORD and all that. There were lots of advertisements for churches also. Sort of a fundy country in that regard, imagine black pentecostals in America, but in Zambia.

Lusaka actually had some whites who lived there as well as Muslims. What I enjoyed was that I ate steak about everyday and the meat was wonderful. I rode around Lusaka a bit and while it wasnt bad, it was sort of boring too. Sort of dirty around the edges but not what one would call filthy. I could live there if I made an excellent living doing something. The city had at least two nice shopping malls with restaurants and whatever. I did not see McDonalds or any fast food chains outside of Subway.

I did go to Victoria Falls on the border with Zimbabwe. That was an experience to be sure. I spent the night in a town called Livingstone and was shocked on how expensive the hotel rooms were. Like $90 USD a night for a basic room which would cost $20 (if that) in Thailand. A big reason I did not stay in Livingstone that long. If the hotel prices were more reasonable, I might have stayed two or three days (chilled out tourist town with some bars/restaurants and most hotels (but not mine) had a pool.

The Falls were incredible. Just a huge roar to them. There is a local language name for them, like Tunsi, or something similar. I drank Tunsi beer there which was very good. Crossing a bridge, was given a free raincoat because you needed one due to the rush of the water. In the park, there were wild monkeys and was told not to leave food unattended because the monkeys will steal it.

There was a bridge I crossed, which was the international border with Zimbabwe. I walked across with the driver to the other side. There wasnt a checkpoint, or border police there, the checkpoint must have been a bit further in. So, I can say that I have been to Zimbabwe, but only for about 10 minutes.

Going back across the bridge, there was bungee jumping, lines of white tourists (which I blame for the high cost of the rooms from rich tourists) waiting to jump. The cost was like $100 USD. Zimbabwe because their own money was absolutely worthless, used USD as official currency (as well as Cambodia in Asia). For myself, you couldnt pay me a $100 to do that. I talked with my father about my trip and how much money they would have to pay me to jump off a high bridge with my ankle ties to a rubber band. I came up with $10,000 dollars, but ony if I am very very drunk or on heroin.

One thing I thought was interesting at night was how dark the neighborhoods were, there were no street lights so there was this inky, absolute darkness in the evenings. It also had a smell, not an unpleasant smell, it smelled like a smoldering campfire. I dont know why or how but I talked to a taxi driver who told me that Africa is very rich but we dont know what to do with it, and so the Chinese are there.

That was my experience in Africa. If you have the money and want to go to a country in Black Africa, come to Zambia. But be rich where money doesnt matter because besides the falls, it is a bit boring there.
 

Loren Pechtel

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I'm sure it's very different now. We (I was with my parents) hit Zimbabwe in 1982, then did most of the Johannesburg to London overland route as part of an organized group. (Note: This no longer exists, there is no safe path across the continent anymore.)

We visited the falls from the Zambia side, didn't cross over. Very impressive, we were at the right time for a bridge to have about a 330 degree rainbow--normally much of the rainbow would be underground but this one was wrapped around the bridge, the only part you couldn't see was where the bridge blocked your view. (Sorry, no pictures. All film from past Johannesburg was damaged to uselessness.) I think it was Lusaka that my parents spent a few hours in police custody as spies due to some idiot policeman who decided that two white people in a dense crowd must be trying to pass something secretly. (Hey, crowds exist for a reason--in this case, a snake charmer was performing.) His supervisor was sane, though.

As we went up along the east side of the continent we also hit Kilimanjaro. Back then it only cost about $100 to climb but the only route in use was what's now known as the Marangu route--5 days which is too aggressive for most people. We left base with 15, 1 turned back very quickly because she realized she was in way over her head (what were you thinking? You're on the chubby side and a heavy smoker!), her boyfriend turned back with her, one guy turned back at the 3rd hut because he realized his boots weren't adequate for the last leg (we were told -30F, but either that was wrong or climate change has really hit the summit), of the 12 left 10 were puking their guts out at the third hut (altitude, not a GI bug) and had to turn back (this is why a 5-day route isn't good, you're ascending something like twice the proper rate.) Two of us attempted the summit but ran out of time--back then most of that last night's climb was done on ice and without traction gear. At night it worked, once the sun hit the ice it turned way too slick--thus you had to turn back at sunrise whether you made it or not. Climate change has really changed the mountain, most of the ice is now gone, traction gear is usually not needed even by day. One of these days I want a rematch but I doubt I will be able to.

Sunrise from 18,000' was impressive. When the sun was just a line of fire on the horizon the line appeared curved to me, although I have been told that the curvature should not be perceptible from that altitude. (Note that it was only while it was a line of fire that it looked curved to me, once even a hint of terrain became visible I no longer could see a curve.) This is the only place in the world where you can see sunrise with the terrain more than 3 miles below you, it is stunning.

We also hit Ngorongoro crater. It's a really impressive wildlife park inside the caldera of an extinct volcano that must have been one hell of a boom when it happened.

Nothing else we encountered came close to those three. Delays piled on delays (we were unfortunately with pretty much the bottom of the bucket company--the typical rules were 18-45, we were all outside that and thus went with the only company that would take us), we ended up having to fly out from Nigeria rather than continuing on to London and thus we didn't get to cross the Sahara.

These days this trip would pass through multiple wildly unsafe places and one that is completely forbidden.
 
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