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10 Downsides To African Travel

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Africa is a continent bathed in historical significance, ancient ruins, tribal culture and raw nature. It exudes the type of pure excitement that most travellers can only dream of. It has something new to offer at every turn and is always a feast for the senses.

But Africa isn’t all safaris, sun swept beaches and Swahili cuisine. There are a few things that will get under your skin while you’re there. Here a few things that aggravated us while we were in Africa. Keep in mind that this blog is aimed solely at Southern and Eastern Africa and does not necessarily pertain to the Northern Islamic regions.

1. The transport. Buses, chapas, matalas, matolas and the back of pickups. Sure these cool modes of transport are awesome at first. A way to get to know the people, see the countryside and travel like the locals do. But after 5 months in Africa they lose their appeal.

Getting up at 3:00 am for the ridiculous departure times, squeezing your way in to sit on a metal bar and then being cramped up with 25 adults, 2 goats, 5 chickens and 8 vomiting children for 15 hours a day, is extremely trying and suddenly these once interesting rides become a hot, sweaty, sweltering hell.

Jam packed in the back of a pick-up truck from Cape Maclear to Monkey Bay

2. The food. Aside from some great cuisine in South Africa and a couple of good Portuguese and Swahili dishes, this southern part of the continent really lacks the spice, flavor, imagination and food supply to really put inspiring dishes on your plate. Sure they have chicken, but even after nearly 3 years on the road, we still don’t enjoy chicken that has been sitting out so long that its skin has turned white and cracked. We had to resort to some pretty gnarly street-side food during our travels in Africa, and spent days at a time living off of peanut butter sandwiches and twice fried french fries.

These are deep fried goat innards. Sure not all the food in Africa consists of animal entrails, but this isn’t the worst food we saw either!

3. The People. I know it’s so unfortunate to say this, especially for such a huge region with so many countries (including many we haven’t seen yet). But during our time visiting Southern Africa, we found that the people were abrasive at times, aggressive, and just not as friendly as other parts of the world.

Surely it didn’t help that we flew here straight from Turkey, a place where the people welcome you everywhere with chai and a free lunch. In Africa we were lucky to get a smile, and God forbid we asked to take a photo. (We never take photos without asking) The locals always declined and their refusal was often followed by a quick derogatory spat in the local language. Even Malawi “the heart of Africa” did not have the friendly people we were expecting.

One of the many people who didn’t want their picture taken. This photo was meant to be taken of the alley. The unwilling character to the left of the frame was noticed later

4. Crime. This is a major concern for anyone travelling in this region. Some people might say that it never affected them, but rest assured, crime affects anyone travelling in Africa. We never really had anything stolen so theft didn’t affect us directly but we were held at knife point in Kenya.

Aside from that, it was the fact that everywhere we went the locals warned us not to go out at night, not to enter certain areas, lock the doors and windows at all times, lock the car door while driving, don’t drive at night and basically just be careful all the time. Sure many of these rules apply in any place on the planet, but it is magnified in Africa and definitely stays on a traveller’s mind while backpacking there.

Padlock, an essential safety device while travelling in Africa

5. Malaria. This one is really impossible to avoid completely. We got lucky and never contracted malaria during our 5 months in Africa, but if you stay, live there or travel there for months on end, it’s only a matter of time. Malaria tablets are annoying and they all have adverse side effects.

We took Malarone, top of the line $5/pill, but couldn’t avoid the side effects, which luckily, with this expensive pill is only sun sensitivity. But who wants to be sensitive to the sun while travelling the hottest continent in the world?

6. Cost. You would think that while backpacking around the poorest region on earth, prices would be at a minimal, but this just isn’t true in Africa. It may be partially because the locals charge 10 times the real price, and also that rooms and transportation are a rip off, but Africa is no cheap place to visit. No cheap internal flights, expensive entrance tickets, food is usually costly and you better prepare your wallet if you plan to do a safari. Africa is simply just not a budget destination.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Africa is easy on the wallet

7. Sickness and Disease. Have you ever met a traveller who spent months on end in Africa and didn’t contract some kind of illness? Bilharzia, malaria, stomach flu, food poisoning, schistosomiasis, dengue fever, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, aids, rabies and the hepatitis alphabet to name a few. Don’t let this scare you, but don’t arrive unprepared.

A first aid kit like this is essential for travelling around Africa

8. Poverty. I know it’s selfish to say that poverty is something we hate to endure while travelling. The truth is, it’s extremely difficult to witness starving, malnourished children who probably won’t live to see their teens. A lot of images that stay in our heads from Africa remind us of those heart-wrenching charity commercials that come on tv around Christmas time to the tune “so this is Christmas…. and look what you’ve done.”

Local kids enjoying sugarcane on the train journey from Nampula to Cuemba

9. Racism. Although it’s much more prevalent in and around South Africa, racism is a palpable tension that you can sense throughout Africa. With such a gruesome history, it’s hard for the average visitor to understand it, but this animosity still exists on the continent, from the poorest villages, right up into the highest levels of government.

A sign from the not so distant past

10. Dust. It sounds petty, but after entering many small dusty towns in Africa, you’ll know what we mean! What’s worse though is at the end of a 14 hour bus ride, your skin can be literally caked in dirt and dust to the point that you look like you’ve joined a tribe. People may not think of dust as a real nuisance, but when you begin to chew it, it’s a problem.

Goats On The Road on the bumpy, dusty bus ride back to Pemba

Okay so this may not make you want to jump on a plane and fly to Africa, but before you make up your mind, check out 10 Reasons To Travel To Africa and our Africa blogs!

There are so many amazing things about Africa that it should offset the balance and get your travel juices flowing again. And remember, all of the above stated points are completely subject to our own experiences so don’t read this and cancel your trip. Also, a lot of these trying, stressful, tiring and annoying times make up a part of the entire travel experience. They are not only moments for growth and learning, but they will probably end up being among your favorite stories upon your return home.

7 thoughts on “10 Downsides To African Travel

  1. Matt Hogg

    Hey guys, just catching up with your travels. Great work on the site. Just read this post and felt a compelling need to second everything you said here. We did 5-months in a similar region and agree with all your comments. Particularly the transport and cost.

    I can recommend Namibia (for Safari) and Uganda (People) for those not wanting to spend a months budget on a safari in the likes of Tanzania and Kenya and all the hassle that goes with organising it. If you want to tick the Masai Mara and Ngorongoro box there’s only two places to do it and you’ll pay for it but if you want to see great animals in a beautiful environment without all the other tourists head to Namib! Uganda is great too, friendly people, Rwenzori mountains, gorillas, lake bunyonyi and loads more.
    Take care!

    Matt

    Reply
    1. GoatsOnTheRoad

      Thanks a lot for the comment Matt and for adding some recommendations to the post. Even though there were these “downsides” we also wrote a post about the reasons why you should travel to this region. For every downside, there was definitely an upside.

      Appreciate the feedback. Cheers!

      Reply
  2. Joshua @ Engineer on the Road

    I’m not sure I agree with all of your points, although with my dad working in Cameroon from time to time and usually knowing people on my visits I think I’ve got a slightly different worldview. I think you’re still generalising a little too much – that’s a huge swathe of the contiment you’re talking about, but I understand how things can really grind your gears after 5 months.

    Regarding malaria medication, there’s no difference in the effectiveness of doxycycline and malorone, malorone has fewer side effects but doxy is way cheaper and has antibiotic properties which can be a positive side effect especially if you are prone to a dodgy stomach etc. Most people who have bad side effects with one are usually fine with the other. I personally took malarone in Mozambique purely because someone I new had bought some and didn’t need it for where they were going, but I’d be with doxy in any other circumstance since I’ve never had problems with it.

    Still I’m glad you did have a good time regardless of the downers which I can totally relate to!

    Reply
  3. Jeanie

    You really are typical White folks . 5 months are enough to describe a continent? Oh and those kids make it to their teenage years, we do. And people are not animals, if they don’t want to be photographed for your entertainment, they don’t. Respect that and don’t use that as a reason to label folk unfriendly. They just don’t know you.

    Anyway….

    Reply
    1. Goats On The Road Post author

      Hi Jeanie,

      In the article, we specifically stated that we were only talking about parts of Southern/Eastern Africa – not the whole continent. Statistics show that more Africans will die before their teen years than any other continent. We’re sorry if that offended you, but we were talking about how hard it was for us to see children in poverty. And as for taking pictures of people, we always asked the locals and were almost always turned down, and that’s fine. Not being able to take photos of people was a very small part of why we feel that people in Africa weren’t as friendly as other places we’ve been in the world.

      As this is a personal blog, everything written here is our own thoughts and opinions and we don’t expect people to agree with us, it’s just how we felt when we were travelling in Africa.

      I hope you read our article 10 Reasons To Travel to Africa http://www.goatsontheroad.com/10-reasons-to-travel-to-africa/
      Goats On The Road recently posted…GoatLife TV Episode #6 – Crab Racing!My Profile

      Reply

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