Our Final Summary: Africa Highlights and Insights

December 1, 2008 - Göteborg, Sweden

African Highlights

I originally wanted to list our top 10 highlights from Africa, but soon realised that it would be impossible to narrow it down to a list of 10. So instead, I aimed at 20. This also proved to difficult. So in short, I narrowed it down to the top 25 highlights from our African journey:

  • Getting chased down by an elephant in Kruger National Park, South Africa
  • Diving with whale sharks and manta rays off Tofo, Mozambique
  • Horse riding through the mountain kingdom of Lesotho
  • Cage diving with great white sharks off Hermanus, South Africa
  • Breakfast at the top of Dune 45 in Sossusvlei, Namibia
  • Quad biking the rolling sand dunes of Swakopmund, Namibia
  • Self-drive safari in Etosha National Park, Namibia
  • Our river-side tree house at Ngepi Camp, Namibia
  • Exploring the Okavango Delta by mokoro and by plane, Botswana
  • Sleeping under the stars on Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana
  • Sunset river cruise with elephants and hippos in Chobe National Park, Botswana
  • Gaining a small insight into the political / economic turmoil of ZImbabwe
  • Getting soaked in Victoria Falls, Zambia
  • The gentle and friendly people of Malawi
  • Meeting Patricia and Lidia, our World Vision sponsor kids, in Nyuchi, Malawi
  • The Ilala Ferry and stunning islands of Lake Malawi
  • Chimpanzee spotting at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania
  • Luxury tented safari with Mum and Dad in the Serengeti, Tanzania
  • Getting lost in the narrow alleys of Stone Town, Zanzibar
  • Getting buried in the white sands of Nianembe Island off Zanzibar on my 34th birthday
  • Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and even better, making it back, Tanzania
  • White-water rafting down the White Nile in Uganda
  • Seeing Oliver Mtukudzi perform live at the Kampala Jazz Festival, Uganda
  • Revisiting the Debelak hotspots in Alexandria, Egypt
  • Diving the spectacular reefs of the Red Sea, Egypt


African Insights

A few thoughts from the trip that I'd like to share...

Africa is a land of diversity

Many Westerners, including myself before the trip, tend to see Africa as a single, homogenous continent - "the dark continent". Many have pictures in their head of unending savannah grasslands dotted with ubiquitos villages or wildlife parks full of elephants and lions. Some people, when thinking about Africans, may possibly bring to mind Zulu warriors, Kalahari bushmen or the Masai.

But Africa, in my mind, is even more diverse than Europe, Asia or the Americas. We had only been to 13 of the 54 countries in Africa, but found each one unique in numerous ways. And within, each country has retained much of the diversity created from the traditions and behaviours of the original tribes spread throughout these lands.

You could easily feel the differences in personality between the Zulu and Xhosa people, not to mentioned the Afrikaners and English, of South Africa. The Portuguese colonised Mozambicans behaved quite differently to the German colonised Namibians. In Zambia, they speak between 40-70 languages, which change from town to town. While Tanzania prides itself on its peaceful mix of Christian, Muslim, African and Asia people.

In many ways, the land is as diverse as its people. African has huge cities like Cairo of 20 million people and the smallest remote villages which white people never visit. In our travels, we encountered savannah, dry bush, huge deserts, jungle, farmlands, wetlands, saltpans, huge mountain ranges, low valleys, stunning beaches and coastline, and tropical islands. It has three of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world, the world's longest river, and mountains so tall that they are topped with glaciers, despite being located right next to the equator.

Finally, Africa is a country of diverse experiences. I think many people thought 9 months in Africa meant 9 months on safari. But all in all, we spent less than 3 weeks on safari. There is so much to do there, from simple relaxing on beautiful beaches to adventure activities such as diving, quad-biking and white-water rafting, to spending "quality time" with whalesharks, great whites, horses, camels meerkats and chimpanzees. It never got monotonous.


The best thing to do in Africa is simply be there

The safari, beaches and activities in Africa were all incredible. Some of the best we have experienced around the world. But despite all that excitement, the best thing to do in Africa is simply to be there.

The countless times we would chat with locals on the streets, or have curious children wave to us as we passed by, made the trip really special. Johanna and I could also easily spend a couple of hours at a local restaurant or cafe watching the world go by. Even the countless number of hours spent on crowded, uncomfortable buses were made bearable by the local sights and sounds. But while I hope not to encounter too many more chickens on buses any time soon, it was these small experiences and differences that made the trip so memorable.


Africa's bad reputation is somewhat undeserved

War, famine and disease in Africa are continually being reported in many western newspapers. Movies such as Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda do not paint a nice picture either. And neither do the statistics. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are killed or made homeless every year from war. HIV rates in some countries are as high as 30-40%, while malaria spreads and often remains untreated. So it is no wonder that many Westerners are afraid of Africa.

But in our 9 months of travel, we had few hassles, and experienced practically no intimidation, aggression or crime. Despite drinking tap water in many places and eating the local food, we had no major health problems either. The people (as I have mentioned too many times before) are some of the most gentle, friendly and generous people you will ever meet. In some cases, they may even be too gentle and generous, which allows them to be taken advantage of by a greedy and corrupt few.

Of course, staying safe and healthy in Africa over 9 months did require a fair bit of common sense (for example we stayed away from dangerous countries and situations). But in doing so, we soon discovered that Africa does not really deserve the dangerous reputation it has somehow managed to earn.


"Development" in Africa will not be simple

A couple of centuries ago, Europeans drew lines across Africa, separating it into dozens of colonies, with little to no consideration for the pre-existing tribes that habitated those lands. Whether they had good intentions or bad, this left a scar across Africa that has never fully healed.

Today, there is much talk about "development" across Africa. While I am a big supporter of the ideals of development and accept it now needs to occur, you start to run into problems when you consider the word itself. "Development", as defined by the west, does not always fit in line with local values and behaviours. For example, we might simple measure levels of development using GDP per capita, or potentially some other financial measure, but this may not be at the top of the priority list for many Africans.

A friction also remains between traditional values and modern demands. One example of this I recall relates to the Masai people of Tanzania. A discussion was continuing on whether it should be compulsory for young Masai to attend school. By western standards, education is imperative. But it is important enough to put them through education if it poses a serious risk to their unique and proud nomadic culture? And is it all worthwhile if they have little need for a western education in their traditional cattle-based communities?

The other big problem is that much aid and development work tends to build up a reliance on the west, and becomes counter-productive. We encountered this many times, with locals asking us to become their "sponsor" or expecting hand-outs or support from some aid agency.

And amidst all of these issues, corruption and poor education, health and infrastructure all remain significant hurdles. It remains and uphill battle, and there are no easy answers.


A balance between poverty and positivity

Poverty remains rampant through most of Africa, but in many places we went, it is not as in your face as one might expect. Yes, people were poor, but with the help of their family and community, seemed to get by, and in some cases, even prosper. We surprisingly did not see that many people begging on the streets, but instead saw the majority of the population involved in one trade or another. True, many people were simply engaged in selling fruit or goods on the street, but seemed happy enough doing it.

Of course, most of the people would have been living pretty basic lifestyles - possibly in a small hut with only one or two meals a day. I don't want to diminish the serious issue of poverty in any way, but most locals we met seemed to have such a positive outlook on life. In fact, in many cases, the poorer the countries were, the wider the smiles.

Maybe the people were unaware what they were missing, or maybe they remained happy with the simple things in life. Whatever the case, the people in Africa seemed to be happier than many people in the western world. Proof that money and material goods do not lead to happiness. It definitely puts things in perspective.



A few thanks to the people that made the trip really special...

  • Conrad and Trish for putting us up in Joberg and taking us to Kruger
  • Sven and Janet for putting us up and showing us around Cape Town
  • Abner, Emma and the World Vision Malawi crew for organising a great sponsor child visit
  • Dan, Alice, Steve, Craig, Stu and Didge - our great travelling buddies
  • Alison from coming out from Oz to travel with us
  • Emmilian, Musaddiq and the Easy Travel crew for organising a great safari
  • Farid and the Zanzibar Cultural Arts Centre crew
  • Eric for putting us up in Dar
  • Ahmed, Sabri and family for showing us around and dinner in Alexandria
  • Inara - our special travel buddy, for travelling with us for months and being a good mate
  • Mum and Dad for coming out from Australia to travel through Tanzania with us
  • Gerd (Johanna's mum) for coming out to Egypt to travel with us


Settling in Sweden

We arrived to a warm welcome in Goteborg Sweden on the 8th November! And, after catching up with family and friends, we are now settling down to start our new life in Sweden. In the process of looking for work and somewhere to live (neither of which will be easy), starting a Swedish course, and getting all the bits and pieces in order to start a new life here. Yes it is cold... but it a great to be here amongst family and friends. Also great not to be living out of a backpack anymore! The new adventure begins...


Well... that was the last entry for Johanna and Mike's African Adventure. Hope you enjoyed it!

No pictures to go along with this one, but have finally updated the map if you want to have a look at our route!

Signing out...


Our Travel Route


rouky debelak:
December 2, 2008
will read with a bit of sadness as we always looked out for the next one.wonderful material for a good book. glad we were able to participate. love
December 3, 2008
Very proud of both of you. Thanks for sharing it with us and we hope the next chapter in Sweden won't go totally unreported.

Miss you both.


Milan and the girls
reegs & pla:
December 8, 2008
Hey Guys,

Glad to hear that you both made it to Sweden safe and sound - I too will miss the regular updates!

Also, many thanks for the pressie that you guys sent through - it's very pretty - great colours and beautifully made.

We have already booked our trip to Europe for next year as well and hope to be around your neck of the woods mid Sept which should be fun - provided you guys are around of course:)

Also, can you please send through your email addys - for some reason I only have both of your Aussie work ones which ar eno good at all!

Best of luck with the new adventure!

Laods of love,
reegs & pla
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