Neither of us new what to expect from travelling throughout this east African region, and if word of mouth was anything to go by, then we were in for a difficult few months. And when we landed smack in the heart of Nairobe, these thoughts started to be confirmed.
We decided against taking flights, because for us, half the journey is in fumbling your way through the county side and over the rarely crossed borders (for foreigners anyways). So we did just that. Here’s a quick rundown of life on the road for a few months in east Africa.
Our introduction to independent travel in east Africa commenced with a whopping five days in transit. We flew from New Delhi, India to Nairobe, Kenya for about $320 each. We then took the bus through the Tanzanian border to Arusha, and then through to Dar Es Salaam on the east coast. From here we caught the ferry to Zanzibar and arrived just in time to celebrate Clint’s 30th birthday island style.
Zanzibar has its fair share of attractions. The historic streets of Stone Town ooze character from their colonial influence, the coastlines boast sandy white beaches with turquoise clear water, the food is plentiful and many of the larger resorts host late night shows and parties for tourists. Getting around the island is a crazy and dangerous experience. The hard wood slat seats of the dalla dallas will damage your rear end while you squish into these death mobiles. These dalla dalla’s are renowned for frequently crashing due to irresponsible driving. The taxis are a much safer option, but they are expensive.
By avoiding flights we were able to witness some of East African’s country side which is absolutely breathtaking. From Tanzania’s east coast to the northern inland, the highway is lined with beautiful mountains covered with dense jungle on one side, while the other side is fronted with wide open plains. We actually managed to cover from north east to north west all overland and it was stunning the whole way. We also managed to utilise our Serengeti safari to negotiate a chunk of the tougher terrain.
Our safari splurge was definitely the Tanzania highlight (of course- as I’m sure every traveller says). We camped for 4 nights in the national parks. We started at Ngorongoro crater and wow that blew us away. The craters edge made for a stunning backdrop for our animal pics! We saw all the big stuff too. And would have been more than satisfied with this experience alone. But, when we got further out north west, and actually entered into the Serengeti – we new that’s what we were there for and were all smiles for the entire time. It was so incredible driving through the national park standing up in the back of the truck. The Serengeti was huge and the concentration of animals was INSANE!! Our close up encounters were also very personal, often at arms reach of lions and elephants! Clint did some ‘poopies in his panties’ on more that one occasion me thinks – I just leaned over his shoulder to get my camera in close. What a good hubby he is!…
Camping out in the Serengeti without without a fenced off campsite was also a unique experience in itself! We had all sorts of animals come through the site (elephants, zebras and a bunch of hyenas late one night – freaky!) we also managed to sit out late one night with a few friends, gazing up at the stars, playing music, drinking beers, smoking sandwiches, eating cheese and laughing our assess off. Great times!
We wrapped up our safari on the other side of the Serengeti. We organised to be dropped at the bus stand and headed to Mwanza on the stunning lake Victoria.
From Mwanza we were able to make the day trip (with 2 local buses and a shared taxi) to the border of Rwanda. This trip in itself is why people avoid independent overland travel in Africa. It was about 1pm when we were chucked off the bus. We still have no idea of the vicinity we were in at that moment. This is where prime fumbling came into play. We just walked around saying “Rwanda” to people. We had a few truckies point towards the same direction. So we walked to a road facing that way and sat in the smoking hot sun using our backpacks for a seat. A few cars came by and offered a lift. With broken communication we managed to find out they were all going to Burundi. ‘great’ we thought, at least we are in north west of Tanzania! … After a solid hour or so with no sign of transport to take us to the border – a dalla dalla (public minibus) finally arrived. What a relief, we can actually continue on our way.
But, as usual the Africans saw our juicy Musungu skin and instantly started the rip off games. We are more than inclined to pay our ‘foreigner tax’ when travelling throughout countries, but at 8 months in of this same crap everyday, we will cracked it! After he had the bus full of locals laughing at us while he proceeded to quote over 10x the local price, we gave him a thrashing in our broken Swahili and the English they all understood. Instead of making double off us which we would have easily paid, he got nothing! … But we were back to our dusty little spot on the street for a while longer as we watched him drive away.
We had some issues with entering Rwanda through the border crossing. It was our ignorant fault really. Apparently Aussies cant buy visas on arrival without the appropriate prior approvals from the government. We had also heard they don’t take to well to the ol’ ‘can we pay a “fee” to work this out’ game either. Lucky for us the customs guy was a bit flattered we wanted to visit his country on our honeymoon. He was also very intrigued that we had no jobs ad carried all out belongings in our backpacks. So on a win he let us though without the ‘gov approval letter’ that we were missing. He also gave us pamphlets on ‘visa requirements’ and asked us to tell Australia about it all. What a legend!
We had to laugh cause we would never tell anyone to try crossing the way we did! It was such a joke to even get there in the first place! After our long yet successful crossing, we spent the first night on the border (Rwandan side) with stunning river views.
Next it was on to Kigali. We stayed on extra time than first intended in Kigali, just to enjoy a city that works. The roads were great! There are usual western laws and social norms, SUPERMARKETS, cinemas and awesome cafes. All the memorial centres are also free and we took plenty of time to check them out. They provided a very powerful insight to the very recent and tragic history that took place in the streets we were walking. As the second largest genocide in history (2mil deaths were recorded, and only outnumbered by the 6mil of the holocaust). The centres made for a sobering experience which left us with deep feelings of sadness. It was both a depressing and humbling day.
Prior to arriving we were well aware that 1 million Tutsis were tragically killed in the first 100 days of the genocide. But seeing the memorial footage, photos and reading testimonials was incredibly confronting. And then we were left so confused to how everything appears to have been ‘swept under the rug’. It’s hush hush for good reason, I get that, but Hutus and Tutsis are now living and working side by side. And we too were interacting with Hutus who were involved in the horrendous massacre. To be honest, I’m not pushing any opinions here, I get that the country has more than struggled whilst going through the ongoing massive rebuild. I’m more saying that it’s just a bit of a weird thing to get your head around when actually spending time there.
We did love our time in Rwanda, and the people were great and really helpful. It’s a really unusual country to travel through. And a fun fact: Rwanda has a national ban on plastic bags – awesome huh!
From Rwanda we continued overland into Uganda. This trip through the regional borders proved to test our patients once again. But as usual, the effort was well worth it. As Uganda turned out to be one of our favourite African countries to travel through.
Have you experienced anything like the moments shared in this post? Or a you looking to plan a trip to Africa?