Clearly, Africa has been amazing. Prior to coming on the trip I picked up a copy of, "it happened on the way to war." This book was, so I thought, helping me prepare to visually experience Africa. The Author Rye Barcott was a US Marine from North Carolina who started his own NGO after visiting Kibera, Kenya. It all started with a $26 dollar donation he made to a woman named, Tabitha. She used that initial funding to sell vegetables for a year until she had built her savings to open a public health clinic. We're not talking a fancy clinic but a working clinic in the heart of the worlds largest and most dangerously poor slum. This guy, Rye, has some massive courage. He moves himself into the slum multiple times to start CFK, Carolina for Kibera, which aims to combat ethnic violence through youth leadership empowerment. And when I say massive courage he does three tours of duty in the marines through Bosnia, Eastern Africa and Iraq while running this NGO with practically nothing. What an amazing story! The imagery he describes was what I thought I would be getting a glimpse of here on my trip. Boy was I wrong, I landed right in the heart of some of the more developed and tourist safe nations on the continent.
My images of Africa before I got here seemed to be based around national geographic magazines. Boy was I surprised when I landed in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls and saw all of the satellite dishes on the little mud huts. Seriously people? You want TV over food?
Over the course of the trip I've learned that Zimbabwe is rather poor but Namibia and Botswana (where we've spent most of our time) are pretty wealthy nations by African standards. They have huge amounts of natural resources and the tourist route I've been traveling along is exactly that - a tourist route. Thus the cities and camp sites we've stayed at are pretty well developed with electricity, running water / toilets and even solar hot water showers. The early bird gets the worm with the showers so I've been getting up earlier than everyone else to get mine!
Anyway, I didn't find the Africa I was looking for. I found something completely different that reminds me more of remote parts of Colorado or Idaho than Africa. It is full of south african tourists (whites) who come up to see the wild life and camp / RV. Its not crowded at all in the sense of Yellowstone in the summer. It does also have many glimmers of the economic conditions removed from the tourists areas. The super markets tend to be in very small poor towns and it seems like people don't have a lot of options. As an interesting find education is free and everyone is required to finish high school. Who would have thought?!
I'm interested in coming back and spending time in central africa. It seems Kenya is more known as an up and coming destination with more tribal life. It also seems like Kenya is more what I came looking for. Its funny that I was looking for anything at all? I had no idea what I was getting into. When I think back on speaking with people prior to my departure everyone seemed amazed I was going to Africa. Do we have this stigma surrounding this country that immediately makes us conjure up images of extreme poverty, disease and danger? If I try to think about any relevant recent information about Africa in the US or western news all that comes to mind are stories on AIDS, World Cup Soccer, Northern African Governmental Protest Revolutions and of course the ever famous somali pirates!
There is practically nothing about Namibia or Botswana. If it bleeds it leads and as it seems here there isn't much bleeding going on. Is it worse to be in the middle economically than at the bottom? Kenya seems to get most of the attention and a lot of NGOs and aid programs are focused outside of the two countries I've been traveling in. I'm not sure. There does seem to be some running water and infrastructure development so maybe they're doing okay without much help.
The thoughts rolling around in my head are why don't more people holiday here? This is an amazing destination with incredible wildlife and scenery! I'd assume it has to do with the transportation and time requirements of getting here. I did take a six hour flight from San Francisco to JFK followed by a sixteen hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg. This still wasn't the end of my journey to get into the heart of southern Africa! I had to take another three hour flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe! How many people are able to spend FOUR of their precious vacation days on just travel! I really do hope more people will think about visiting Africa. I haven't felt unsafe since I've been here. The type of travel I've been experiencing, overlanding, is relatively cheap and gives you access to so many different parts of the southern part of the continent. One of my favorite parts of this type of travel is the people you meet along the way. I've met so many travelers from so many countries. These are amazing people who some of them will become life long friends.
And now my laptop battery is going to die so I'll leave my thoughts until my next blog post.