Tam Warner Minton is a peripatetic traveler who brings back wonderful stories from wherever she goes. Enjoying midlife and the freedom to do as she pleases, Tam joyously shares her experience traveling in Africa on Midlife Boulevard. You can find her travels and life journeys at Travels with Tam.
I went traveling to Africa solo for many reasons the summer of 2012, to challenge myself, to experience another culture, for safari, to volunteer ….and I have some thoughts to share regarding traveling in Africa, or any developing nation, for that matter. The developing countries are truly a different world for the western traveler. Know what to expect when you go.
1. Expect all services to be S L O W. Customer service has never been considered or taught in these countries. You will feel as though you are inconveniencing them at times just to ask a question or ordera drink!
2. Plumbing, buildings, streets, etc will not be similar to conditions in the west. Be prepared. I still haven’t figured out the women’s bathrooms where one stall has a seat in the ground…I mean, what am I supposed to do? Not sure I even want an answer.
3. They have no social “space”, they will be right in your bubble. It can be disconcerting having someone so close to you, but they will stuff 30 people in one van (chappa or taxi) so standing 2 inches from you is not unusual.
4. Be prepared when you go to shop: they do not wait for you to look or browse, they start in “selling” you the moment you are within 10 feet. I have been told that unless I buy something their mother, family, child or infant will starve. This can be very upsetting. They will follow you to make the sale. I had two guys follow me from the market in Tofo to Fatima’s, a restaurant way down the beach. They are persistent. Keep walking and don’t answer questions. The minute you start talking, you are in trouble.
ALL WESTERNERS ARE RICH IN COMPARISON to them, and are considered “fair game”.
5. Don’t expect the same cleanliness standards. Many people in developing nations have no access to drinking water let alone water to shower in or to wash clothing in. Tiny villages have no water, often the women have to walk for miles to get it.
6. Social customs and mores are very different. I’ve had people bump into me or accidently hit me with something but they do not usually acknowledge it in any way. Also, many tribes and villages in developing Africa consist of one man and his wives. Each wife has her purpose: fetching water, firewood, gardening, cooking, watching the children. I had real difficulty with this one….A Maasai Warrior told me that in his village’s tradition it costs ten cows for a wife. Also, the higher one can jump, the more desirable they are. Yes, the higher you can jump, straight up, the more desirable you are. Shake your head on that one! What you think is a small village may be one family for each wife has her own “boma” (hut). Often, children all live in the same boma.
7. You will see things that anger you, sadden you, horrify you, impress you and make you happy. You will see cruelty and despair here. There are many lovely aspects of traveling in the developing world. You just have to accept that you will not be getting Western style living, eating, hygiene, or social graces. These are the bewares. I happen to love Africa, and have now traveled in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya (Nairobi), and Tanzania. They are all different while having similarity as well….the poverty exists everywhere, some places are worse than others, but poverty is a constant stateof being in these countries.
Here are some of my favorite things about Africa:
1. The animals! Under the sea and on land, Africa’s animal diversity is exceptional. The Serengeti! Lake Manyara! The Ngorogoro Crater! Wondrous. I have safaried in many countries, but Tanzania is the very best. The crater and the Serengeti are unmatched in my opinion. (I have not done a safari in Kenya, so I can’t judge that, and my Nairobi fiasco was not a good introduction to the country.) The Savannah is vast, it goes on forever, there are herds of thousands of animals: instead of seeing 6 or 7 zebras together, you see a thousand or more together during the migration. Truly spectacular.
2. The terrain and natural beauty. Africa is stunningly beautiful, with mountains and lush gardens, oceans and forests of palms. There is so much to see and do, you cannot do it in a short period of time.
3. The guides and many of the English speaking staff are informative and friendly. Our guide, Samson, taught us much about Tanzania, its poverty, the government corruption, the poverty, the beauty, the wildlife, its history and its people. It is all fascinating.
4. Service in the game lodges is excellent. Once you are in a lodge or camp you are treated very well. They make you feel very welcome, and have been trained as excellent staff and ambassadors. If you are staying in a good lodge or better, you’ll be well taken care of as far as service goes. Again, the physical environment (baths, showers, restrooms) take some getting used to.
5. One walks almost everywhere. The vast majority of people do not own cars, so they walk. The walking did me a world of good….I felt better physically than I had in many years.
6. The fresh fruits and vegetables! If you can find places not dependent on canned vegetables you are in for a treat, the produce is excellent. The pineapples are the best I’ve ever had, and the watermelon just melts on your tongue. I have eaten more fruit and veggies than I ever have (and I am a vegetarian!).
Africa is worth the trip. It is easiest to go to South Africa, of course. For safari, the private reserves at Kruger are excellent, you will almost certainly see the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, elephant). Travel is much easier in South Africa, and I certainly recommend a nice long visit there. To get off the beaten path, it becomes more difficult, but I think the rewards are worth it. Kruger and Serengeti are the two best safari parks in Africa, and here is a major difference: Kruger gets over a million visitors a year, the Serengeti gets 60,000. Why? Convenience. From my perspective, the Serengeti and Ngorogoro are worth the extra effort and expense.
The majesty of the Savannah is breathtaking, and can be very exciting! I have experienced many wonderful events, and as many saddening or horrifying events. My trip to Africa did not unfold as expected, but the journey was well worth it. I am a richer and better person for having experienced it, and a more confident woman than I was before.
I love midlife!