My 56 day tour ended and have to say I feel both sad and lost. I was very apprehensive about booking this 56 day tour primarily because I don’t really do tours and because this one was so long. I mean it could all go horribly wrong. But you would be stuck on a bus and perhaps you don’t make friends or the friends you make get off sooner. I had many reservations about the tour but thankfully Candi, Amy and Tomika were able to convince me to book the tour and reassured me that I would in fact enjoy it and if nothing more, I would get a flavour of Africa.
Now I booked this tour pretty late, pretty last minute and so I didn’t receive the paperwork until the tour started. I hadn’t thus realized that not everyone had booked a 56 day tour. In fact the tour was broken down into three parts, the first part was 21 days and it finished at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The second part was 21 days again and finished in Nairobi, Kenya. The final part was 14 days and involved the gorilla trekking. So essentially I would be meeting three bus loads of people over the next 56 days. Moreover, people can join or leave the tour at different points, again I had no idea. Also, I had no idea those camping and those accommodated would be travelling in separate buses.
So the first day was interesting to say the least. I managed to get my head wrapped around how this tour was working as it continued. Living on a bus certainly has benefits. I learnt not to remove my massive backpacker every time, instead, I shifted items I used on a daily basis to my day pack. Now, given the first bus I booked had only seven of us, the bus had many empty seats so we could leave boots and books on board, no problem. It was also good to shift seats for photography purposes. My first group was great, I met a Australian couple, American lady and then another Australian guy, a German couple and a Portuguese lady. These travellers combined with our driver and the tour guide, we were a family. It was good fun listening to all the different stories about tribes within Zimbabwe.
The second group, well there was more of us, perhaps twenty or so, so the seat hopping stopped. I met some of the campers from the other bus and others that had travelled up from Johannesburg. I became very good friends with a Dutch lady, Angela, an American, Mary and another American guy, Rady. It took some time of course for us to gel as a group but in time we got there. I laughed until I cried in some of the situations. For the average person, perhaps it isn’t so funny but for me, it was hilarious. It was during these 21 days that of course the inevitable happened, we didn’t all get along hence we weren’t one big happy family. Instead, we broke away into smaller groups, a little like high school.
The last group was also different but good fun. I met two crazy Australian women and a young Australian couple whom I connected with. There was also a young German couple that made me laugh and then three Canadians. It was interesting group and again we shared many laughs. There was no major falling out although, again, not everyone was able to get along in harmony. It was interesting to travel with them nonetheless. As they say you learn a lot about someone when you live with them or travel together.
I managed to explore 10 countries in 5 months. It was certainly not how I planned it. I spent 3 months in South Africa both exploring the cities but also volunteering. I could have easily spent longer in certain cities during the tour but of course when travelling as part of a tour, this is not possible. I was aware of this when I booked it and again this was why I was in two minds. I feel that we spent enough time in Namibia – just under two weeks but we saw all the main highlights; Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Swakopmunde, Etosha National Park and Windhoek. Arguably, you can spend more time but I feel on this tour we were able to enjoy all these highlights. Namibia is a vast country, many sand dunes and the air is dry. Something very different to South Africa and consequently, the population is much lower and you can’t see the big five at Etosha as it is too dry for water buffalos.
The main highlight of Botswana was the Okavango Delta. This was by far quite an experience as we flew there. Of course, had I read the itinerary I would have known that we would be taking scenic flights to the Delta. So, a nice surprise for me. Having never been in a scenic airplane, it was quite the experience. They are extremely small and luggage thus has to be kept to a minimum. We all had window seats thankfully and I had no intention of sitting next to the pilot. It is really rather beautiful flying over the national park and watching giraffes and elephants from such a height. It was nothing I had seen before. For some reason, I thought I was going to be sick but thankfully wasn’t. We slept in permanent tents here and it something else to hear and be amongst the wildlife. We had a hippo walk by during dinner and many had elephants walk by their tent during lunch.
From Botswana, we headed to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, our final stop. I was not aware that Zimbabwe has no currency and so consequently, accept all major currencies such as the dollar, pound, euro and rand. There is much poverty and deprivation but as part of the tour, you don’t explore any other city. Three days are designated to the falls and arguably three days are not needed. Having been to Iguazu Falls from both the Argentina side and Brazil side, I feel that this took my breath away more so than the Victoria falls. I would have loved to explore more of Zimbabwe but no opportunity this time.
Our new group joined us at Victoria Falls and we all headed to Zambia. I love crossing borders and it never falls to amaze me how different neighbouring countries are. Upon crossing over into Zambia, there wasn’t a great deal of change initially but then sure enough the vegetation is different and the houses. The highlight of Zambia was South Luangwa National Park – beautiful park where we saw a pack of lions and cubs. Beautiful park and again we were in permanent tents which adds to the experience. Despite being in such a beautiful park, we had some people on the tour that were in desperate need of wifi. I don’t understand it, I mean you are amongst such a beautiful reserve and yet the only thing that is on your mind is wifi. I think it is a pity, how often will you have the chance to enjoy something truly amazing? No wifi connection is sometimes the best connection you can have.
Malawi was next on the list. Here we stayed beside Lake Malwai and it was beautiful. We were able to visit the local village, the health centre and school. There were times on the tour that I became conscious of our huge, flash bus and this was certainly one of them. We stayed within a village where of course, they didn’t have much, no electricity or shower yet here we were, in our lodge, using wifi and ordering drinks at the bar. It always strikes me as a little strange and makes me uncomfortable. I know that we have paid for the tour and these lodges or resorts are made to accommodate us but knowing how much we receive consequently compared to the locals makes me feel guilty. I would much rather have less and the locals have more as I’m sure many of the others on the tour did.
From Malawi, we headed to Tanzania, the much anticipated part of the tour for me. I was itching to go to Tanzania as my dad was born and raised here but we have never visited. I had wanted to explore the country with my sister and brother in law but instead did so with ten other travellers. I saw the crazy streets and traffic of Dar Es Salamm, we took the ferry to Zanzibar and explored the island for three days and we then ended our trip in Serengeti. I had heard so much about Serengeti that again I couldn’t wait to go. It was here that I had camped for the first time, not in permanent tents but in an actual tent. I had never slept with so much wildlife around me, it was beautiful and scary all at the same time. I actual became a camper in a national park – quite extraordinary. I could have easily explored more of Tanzania and will certainly return.
We then met our new group and headed to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. We met one community of Masais and it was very interesting to learn about their way of life. We saw plenty of big cats at Masai along with lions, elephants and giraffes. There was no shortage and most of us were left wanting to see a kill – sure that would have been amazing. I did something that was on my bucket list for a long time, I went on a hot air balloon with six others from our group and it was amazing. I love heights and I love the feeling of floating so for me it was perfect, expensive but something I would definitely do again.
We then headed to Uganda where most of us were down to go gorilla trekking. It is the main highlight of this trip and many travellers come to Uganda, Rwanda or Congo to trek with the gorillas. Yes it is an extortionate amount of money to pay but it is something perhaps you would do once in a lifetime so for me it was totally worth it. Uganda, similar to Tanzania is very lush and leafy with beautiful green fields and highlands. It was also here that we went chimpanzee trekking which again was quite the experience. I finally saw chimpanzee’s in real life, out in the open and it took me back to the PG tips advertisement- as they had chimpanzee’s drinking their tea!
Given that we were so close to Rwanda, some of us opted to do a day trip over the border into Kigali. It is here that they have the Genocide Museum which is both informative but disturbing. The horrific scale of incidents that took place in the early 1990s is very graphic and depressing. How two tribes turned on each other with millions of Tutsi and moderate Hutu people slaughtered as the world watched on by. Like any genocide, you leave feeling depressed and questioning when the world will change and when people were stop killing one another on the name of race, religion, gender, sexuality and money. Whilst at college we had briefly studied this but not in any great detail. I left feeling morbid and empty.
The tour then ended in Nairobi Kenya and it was sad. I was sad to see all the amazing people I had met leave but also sad that I would no longer be exploring Africa. Whilst, I am still by no means a fan of tours, this tour, for the most part had been good fun. I would much rather return and backpack or travel with my sister so we can spend as much as we would like to. Africa is by no means a backpacker continent yet here I am, having travelled through it and come out the other side. Yes it is dear and Africa is a huge continent but beautiful to explore, offering a wealth of cultures and languages. I love Africa and will certainly return one day.