Kenya, my brand new No 1 destination not to go to.

WARNING: more ranting about Africa. Clearly my time on the continent last year was much, much better than the last couple of months have been. I like to keep a positive tone in my travel stories, but don’t worry, this is my last African post for a while, and I am writing it from Asia. Kenya is having a hard time these last couple of months, and I had a hard time there too. I am sure my opinion is biased and misinformed but, I don’t care.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but I am currently traveling on a 5 months long, round-the-world ticket. It has only 2 stops, which is as many as I could get, as this is a reward flight I got with frequent flyer points. I had to pick an African and an Asian hub, so I went for Nairobi and Beijing, with the intent to travel around the two regions with flights I would later purchase. Nairobi proved to be a very bad choice. If I had researched it a little, I would have known that it has the following disadvantages:

– No decent means of transit between the airport and downtown. Taxis are not particularly expensive at $20, but close to the lengthy and frequent rush hours, they will take well over an hour to complete the journey. Their driving habits, and those of all locals, are extremely aggressive and completely unsafe. In my top 5 of the worst drivers in the world.

– There are no airport hotels at all. The closest one is halfway to downtown, in the middle of nowhere in a commercial zone, but it costs hundreds of dollars a night. Downtown hotels are also expensive.

– Visas are expensive and you can’t get multiple entry visas at the airport.

– Nairobi is a crime-ridden dump (I sort of knew that).

What I would have failed to discover because it hadn’t happened yet is that:

– My credit card would be cloned in Nairobi, used fraudulently and cancelled by MasterCard.

– The international airport was about to burn down.

– Somali terrorists were about to attack an expat shopping mall and kill dozens of people.


So I went to Kenya, and discovered that even if it is a painted on joke, I really don’t like seeing popped rivets and rust on an aircraft I am about to board. The most annoying thing is that I didn’t even visit the country. Kenya has been an established tourist destination for many decades, and the prices reflect this reality. The average tourist flies in, hides in fear in a Nairobi hotel for one night, and then proceeds on a guided safari tour in luxury lodges around the countryside. While the nature seemed to have lots to offer, in researching the things to do and see, I found nothing that I couldn’t do in the neighbouring countries for a fraction of the cost. A three day camping trip in the Masai-Mara for $650? No thanks, I will go to Uganda’s beautiful and less busy Murchison Falls National Park instead, where the animals seem surprised to see you. Two giraffes even stopped eating to stare at us! So I ended up transiting through Nairobi, 3 times! Continue reading

A week of chilling on the coast in remote Mozambique

First, I apologize for being offline for a couple of weeks, but I had some internet problems. When I arrived in China, I discovered that Facebook is blocked there. It’s relatively easy to go around it, but the setup is easier to do from outside China. Since the vast majority of people who follow my blog do it through Facebook, I chose not to post until I was out of censorship zone. Furthermore, I post my videos on my Youtube channel, and Youtube is also blocked! I’m in South Korea now, and I will be doing a lot of catching up this week.

So, on Sept the 4th, when I marked my one year anniversary of travelling full time, I posted on Facebook a picture of me at the corner of Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung Avenues.


I must say that I did find Mozambique unique. Although there are perfectly understandable historical reasons why all this happened, I was still surprised by Maputo, a Portuguese speaking black African city where most streets are named after communist leaders. I guess the strategic alliance choice was not that obvious in the mid-seventies, when the country broke away from its Portuguese colonial masters.


If they had chosen the west, we would have sent them architects trained in the 60’s and 70’s, and most buildings in Maputo would be ugly. Instead, they got 1970’s Soviet architects, so most buildings are very ugly.


But the past is the past, and we all know who won the Cold War. We won because the Communist Bloc was divided, while the West fought united, under the courageous leadership of Colonel Sanders (strangely known in my home province of Quebec as Col Kentucky, even though that’s where he was from, not his name).  Continue reading

African mishaps and my somewhat random top 10 travel tips.

Full time travel might sound fantastic, but in all honesty, my last few weeks have not been that great. Nothing really bad has happened, but a few mishaps screwed up my plans. After completing a rather boring overland tour that I complained about too much already, I flew from Livingstone, Zambia, to Nelspruit, South Africa, went to the Avis counter to pick-up my rental car, and my credit card was denied. A $20 roaming call later, I learned it had been copied in Nairobi (AKA Nairobbery), and cancelled by MasterCard.

I had easy access to money through bank cards, but without a credit card, I could not rent a car. My plans were to drive to nearby Swaziland at the crack of dawn to witness the famous (and slightly infamous) Umhlanga dance festival. The yearly event is a very unique cultural demonstration in this enigmatic mini-country and I had also missed it last year, for scheduling reasons. The fact that the festival involves tens of thousands of topless women is a little disturbing, but I was confident I could get over it. Unfortunately with no planning done, having landed in South Africa late the day before, travelling by public transportation on a major National Holiday, without a hotel booking, the trip was simply not realistic. Because it is such a tiny country, I was just planning to drive to the festival and if I couldn’t find a room, drive to a different city at the end of the afternoon, or even back to South Africa, but that was obviously impossible without a car.

I was then planning to either go to Kruger National Park for yet another game drive, or more likely do something completely different and drive to Sun City (described as South Africa’s Las Vegas). But every time I have been in South Africa I have had a car. Truly, it’s a car place (although you can easily get by in Cape Town without one).

I cancelled everything and, with the help of the extremely helpful owner of Casa Marcello, who drove me into town and back twice, I got a Mozambique visa from the consulate in Nelspruit and took a bus to Maputo after relaxing at the guesthouse for a few days.

The bus was such a pleasure, and a shock. I remembered how corrupt South Africa could be, but I had forgotten how efficient, good valued, and overall not like the rest of Africa it was.


Although they do have strange advertisements. Dr. Kevin anyone?


The bus was a double decker with air con, a toilet, a super helpful attendant and it wasn’t full to 150% of capacity. I don’t know if it was because I was in a bus, but the South African Police did not ask me for bribe money to get out of the country, which they had previously done to me at land borders one time out of two. And then I was in Mozambique, but that’s another story.

So, for the travel tips, I figure that after a year on the road I might have a few pointers, although I suppose most are self-evident and some are subjective. A lot is also irrelevant if you are travelling to Liechtenstein or staying in a fenced-off resort in Jamaica. The only advice I had given so far was on Facebook:


“If you are going to get drunk on a $1.50 bottle of Myanmar rum, make sure your tubes of toothpaste and insect repellent don’t look too much alike.” It was a bit of a joke, I never rubbed toothpaste on my neck, but I did pick up and uncapped the repellent before realizing it was not the toothpaste!

So, top 10, starting with three I learned the hard way: Continue reading

Revisiting Zambia and the end of my organized road trip.

As I left Malawi, I began to see the end of my horrid G Adventure overland tour and my moral started to lift. We still had a long way to go to get to Livingstone, including a stop in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Of course, true to the tour agency’s prime principle of protecting us from exposure to locals, we avoided the city altogether and went on a little campground in the middle of nowhere. I was less annoyed than I had been in Malawi, probably because this was not my first trip to Zambia.


On the way to Livingstone, we spent two days doing this between breakfast and dinner.


The highlight of the day was eating this strange, cold hotdog containing a sausage of a tone of pink the picture can’t do justice to. Someone told me this kind of meat die was banned in the West a number of years ago. I’ll try and stay positive; it was the best lunch I had that day. In all fairness, travel times are such lies in G Adventures’ travel itineraries that if one was to stop for a proper lunch along the way, said lunch would be the only time one would be outside the truck during day time. So zero blame to our excellent guide for making the sandwich call.

Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) are touristic towns (especially Vic Falls, which was purpose built as a tourist town), and the offer of activities is very wide ranging. Unfortunately, we got there late and were really left with only one day to do anything. For me, rafting the Zambezi was the number one priority, even thought I had done it the year before. In fact, my less than 48 hours stay there was very much a repeat of my stay there last year. I should rather say that everything I did this time, I did last year, because my previous stay was much longer, and much more adventurous, including retrieving a lost Land Rover in the middle of a bush village, and possibly my best wildlife adventure ever, a canoe trip in the Lower Zambezi National Park, thanks to the idea of my friend Pierce, whom I had met a few months earlier in Namibia.


Photo: Safari Par Excellence

I expected that in the dry season, rafting the river would be a little wilder, or so I had been told. Perhaps I misunderstood, but it was actually a little tamer. In the boat, fellow G Adventure detainees Chris from Austria (front left) and Australian couple Jonathan and Sarah (rear), along with two Ozzie medical students working in Zambia who got paired with us, and me with the helmet cam. Better lower expectations right now, my GoPro camera had a major malfunction, and I got virtually no video of the rafting. I don’t know what went wrong. The icon that appeared was not in the user manual, and I have since gone diving twice with it, and it works just fine.


Photo: Safari Par Excellence

Of course, I say the river was tamer, but it’s still the Zambezi, one of the prime rafting spots in the world. We certainly ran into whitewater, although in this picture, it seems Sarah is trying to run away from it. Continue reading

My so-called trip to Malawi, and why I will never do a G Adventure overland trip again.

Malawi was the 71st country I visited but, despite spending 4 days there, I would be a little embarrassed to say I went, as the horrible tour I was on did not allow me to see any of it. More on that later, but first, my favourite topic in Africa: religion.


OK, why not?


And since we are on the topic of phallic associations to deities, read the second sentence of this poster and find out if confusing lord and hard changes the meaning of it. Precious!

[Start of long rant about overland trips in general and G Adventure in particular – skip 8 paragraphs if you’re not in the mood to read my complaining]

Last year I rented a car in Cape Town and drove it 6,000 km through Namibia and Botswana, returning it in Johannesburg 6 weeks later. It was great and I would have been happy to do the same in East Africa, but this is nearly impossible. You could do it with your own car, but rental companies will not let you cross most of these borders, and a one-way rental is out of the question. Furthermore, Kampala, Nairobi and Dar Es Salam are some of the worst cities to drive around – or to drive through – in the world. So, I chose to do something I have never done before and book an organized overland group tour, going from Nairobi, Kenya to Livingstone, Zambia.

The very concept of how these tours are run, in East Africa anyway, is totally incomprehensible to me. The segments in the Serengeti, Zanzibar, Livingstone, and the stop at Lake Malawi, which I am about to talk about, were fine. The stops are rather short, but you do get a certain freedom to do as you please (not in the Serengeti, where you go on a game drive, but that’s fine, because it’s the only possible reason to go there). For the rest of the tours, you get up at dawn, spend the whole day driving on bad roads, occasionally stopping to eat a sandwich and piss against a tree, get to a little white-owned fenced-off campsite outside a city you don’t visit, eat in the dark, sleep in your tent and repeat the next day. The program lists the towns you drive through and sleep in the periphery of. Any reasonable person reading a list of towns with a bit of description of each one in an itinerary would assume these towns are visited, but that is not the case. The time available and the location of the campsites makes it unrealistic to grab local transportation to make your way in town. Continue reading

Zanzibar pizza, scuba diving, killer ants, booze cruises and other bits of Tanzania

After spending the night on a campground in the middle of nowhere outside Dar Es Salam, we departed early to catch a ferry to Zanzibar. There was no chance to visit the city, apart from a brief stop in a shopping centre.


Dar Es Salam, like the other regional capitals of Kampala and Nairobi, is an abomination created by the God of Traffic. Traffic isn’t just slow; it will completely stop for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, about every 20 minutes. It is much easier to kill a charging rhinoceros with a spoon than to drive 2 km downtown in under an hour.


While the exhaust fumes of catalytic converter free trucks will likely kill 1% of your brain cells every day, the positive thing is that cigarettes in Tanzania are perfectly safe, as you can tell by the complete lack of warning label. I was very tempted to start smoking, but soon realized I would run out of safe Tanzanian cigarettes and be forced to smoke the dangerous ones produced in the developed world. I erred on the side of prudence.


A very comfortable ferry took us from the traffic jam to the Island of Zanzibar, about 2 hours away. It has significant regional autonomy from the rest of Tanzania, as one has to go through immigration to get there. Apparently some locals would like the island to gain independence, but the idea is not very popular. The possible impact of instability on tourism and the fact that all the army and police on the island come from the mainland make the prospect of a rebellion pretty gloom. Please take this with a grain of salt, as the depth of my research on Zanzibar politics is briefly talking about it over a beer with a single local.

As you can tell from the mosque, Zanzibar is predominantly muslim. It made the news the week before we arrived when two young female British volunteers had acid thrown on them. I was expecting to land in Afghanistan and dress code guidelines were provided for women by our guide. This was a bit of an exaggeration, as downtown Stonetown has enough Italian tourists with 6 inch long skirts to allow any normal casually dressed western woman with bare knees and shoulders to go completely unnoticed. I know nothing of the acid incident, but obviously it was not some random affair. In all likelihood, one of the girls either had sex with, or refused to have sex with, some local guy. After all, the main focus of most religions is on which women can have sex, or not, with whom and when.


Internet after days without internet = this scene. I took only one picture because I needed my iPhone to go online.


We had very little time in Stonetown and having been quite sick the day before, I used my one afternoon there for a shopping spree at the pharmacy and a nap, so not much Zanzibar culture for me. However, I did snap this incredibly memorable moment: Chris, myself, Katja and Melanie riding in Zanzibar’s only elevator. A truly memorable event! It took us to a nice roof top bar from which I snapped the minaret picture. The bar was a nice place to watch the sunset and featured a live band, which sounded a lot like elevator music, just less exciting. Continue reading

Visiting a Masai village and a game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater

Of all the tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the Masai are probably the best known for their efforts at preserving their culture and traditional way of life. A semi-nomadic group of tribes numbering close to one million, their villages are fairly isolated and quite spartan.


Cattle herders, they tend to their animals, but also tend to tourists quite a bit.


Several villages put on cultural “performances” for the tourists in exchange for a fee (we paid US$10 each). We debated the authenticity of the whole thing, but in the end, you have two options: you can make your way to a Masai village in the middle of nowhere and watch them look at cows, or you can give these Masai $10 and watch them sing and dance. And they speak English. It can get a lot faker than this. Several of the resorts in the region employ security guards dressed as Masai warriors who are not Masai at all, just regular unskilled labourers who dress in traditional accoutrements so that on top of manning the gate, they can be used as living props for tourist photography. Our Serengeti driver, who was himself an urbanized Masai, referred to them as “plastic Masai”. We saw quite a few.


Anyway, we paid the money, they hid all their cellphones and the ceremony began. I didn’t quite get the explanation, but it had to do with welcoming something and possibly circumcision, although thankfully no demonstration of that was performed.


Once the welcoming dance was complete, they invited us to follow them into the village, where the men performed the Masai’s famous jumping competition. Not quite sure what the exact rules are, but I think I understood that the best jumper gets the prom queen. Continue reading