All posts by Marc Hedrich

Skipping Kenya

Although not something that we widely publicized here, one of our central plans for this African adventure was to travel all the way from Cape Town to Cairo in one uninterrupted overland journey in a sort of reverse Dark Star Safari.1 In pursuit of this goal – and the resulting opportunity to get to see Africa unfold and gradually transition from Southern, to Eastern, to Northern – we have endured some particularly long and/or arduous bus journeys between destinations which reasonable people would have otherwise flown.

Up through Uganda, we had been fairly successful in traveling overland from South Africa, through a circuitous journey over several months, snaking thousands of kilometers along the way through Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, and Rwanda.2 Aided by our American passports, we had been able to easily obtain visas on arrival at the borders of each of the countries we had visited in Southern and Eastern Africa. Unfortunately, this would not be the case for Ethiopia. Although visas are readily issued on arrival at the international airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia strictly refuses to issue any visas at its land borders. Our only recourse, therefore, would have been to apply for a visa at one the Ethiopian embassies we encountered along the way during our travels across Africa.3 Continue reading Skipping Kenya

A visit to Jinga and the Source of the Nile

This is the second in a series of nine posts covering our 13-day tour around Uganda with Mountain Gorilla Coffee Tours (“MGCT”).

After breakfast, we left Sipi Falls and backtracked to Jinga, the second largest city in Uganda, situated along the banks of Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile River.1

Nile River
A view of the Nile.

Our accommodation in Jinga, the Eden Rock Resort, was located near Bujagali Falls, about 10 kilometers from the center of town. Unfortunately, Bujagali Falls – which had been an impressive series of rapids popular for rafting – has been “drowned” by the rising waters from a recently built hydroelectric dam, transforming this stretch of the Nile into a lazy northward flow. Nonetheless, we were pretty excited, after months of traveling across Africa, to finally be staying along the banks of one its most iconic rivers.

Continue reading A visit to Jinga and the Source of the Nile

Hiking around Sipi Falls and the Slopes of Mt. Elgon

This is the first in a series of nine posts covering our 13-day tour around Uganda with Mountain Gorilla Coffee Tours (“MGCT”).1

Although I am a fiercely independent traveler, I am willing to accept group travel (albeit begrudgingly) when the practicalities of a given situation clearly point to its advantages (e.g., places that are so inhospitable that one has no business trying to visit them on their own, or locations that are so remote that it makes sense to share costs with others to reach them). Thus (as you may remember) we found ourselves on a three-week camping tour across Namibia, Botswana, and Victoria Falls.

Our interest in securing last minute permits for mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda during the high season, combined with the long distances and lack of public transportation between the other areas of Uganda that we wanted to visit, steered us again into the group travel fold. Seeking out potential tour options, we contacted a few operators, but the clear winner in terms of offerings/price/flexibility was MGCT – a Ugandan company that friends we had made in Tanzania had recently used for a tour and highly recommended to us.2 After a weeklong series of emails with MGCT discussing possible itineraries, and my mother’s subsequent indefatigable efforts to arrange an international wire transfer, we booked a tour that had us joining with a group of three Italians for a 13-day adventure around Uganda.

The first day of our trip began early, with a 5:00 a.m. pickup from our guesthouse in Kampala. Our driver and guide Robert introduced himself and we met our Italian traveling companions – who had just arrived on an overnight flight and been picked up directly from the airport in Entebbe. After a quick breakfast, we were on our way driving east, trying to beat the infamous traffic that clogs Kampala’s roads for large portions of the day.

Beautiful Ugandan countryside.
Continue reading Hiking around Sipi Falls and the Slopes of Mt. Elgon

Hitting a Wall in Bulawayo

Our train from Victoria Falls arrived in Bulawayo around mid-morning. After quickly locating a taxi to take us Burke’s Paradise, an inexpensive backpacker place on the outskirts of town, we decided to take it easy that morning and rest after our overnight travels.

Unfortunately, we could not lounge around for too long because Burke’s is a self-catering operation. Thanks to an email from the owner, we knew about this prior to arrival, but we had lacked the energy to stop at the Food Lover’s Market (the Southern African answer to Whole Foods) that we had spotted during our morning taxi ride from the train station to Burke’s. So, after a quick nap, we trekked back to town in one of the shared minibus taxis that ply Bulawayo’s main roads. We ate lunch in the Food Lover’s Market’s enclosed cafe and picked up some supplies to make dinner.

We returned to Burke’s to find that the power had gone out. At first, we were not concerned. Rolling blackouts had been a somewhat common occurrence during our travels across Southern Africa. Unlike those previous circumstances, this power outage persisted for several hours. We watched the sun set, and then sat in the dark, wondering how we would cook dinner – candlelight dining is lovely, candlelight cooking is less fun. Thankfully, the power came back just before we wandered into the shared kitchen to begin chopping up our vegetables. Continue reading Hitting a Wall in Bulawayo

Riding the Rhodesian Rails (Or, Taking the Train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo)

One of the nicest parts of our adventure across Africa is that it largely lacks any scheduled itinerary, providing us with the luxury of making many of our travel decisions on a rolling basis. Although our journey is only loosely mapped out, we have generally already determined how, and approximately when, we will leave a given location before we arrive. More than anything else, this is simply an effort to keep from inadvertently marooning ourselves anywhere longer than desired.

Consequently, I had been trying to determine the best method for continuing our travels into Zimbabwe well before we arrived in Victoria Falls. Unless you have your own wheels, overland travel in most parts of Africa generally means long bus rides. Because of this, I was especially intrigued to read in our guidebook that Zimbabwe had a functioning passenger rail system that called upon destinations we wanted to visit. That such large-scale, state infrastructure would still be in operation, however, seemed implausible given the economic collapse that had befallen the country just a few years prior. Nonetheless, a quick check of Seat 611 confirmed that Zimbabwean trains were still running – or, at least they were as of June 2013, the date of the site’s most recently posted travel report. In a manner that would be frustratingly rare for the rest of our travels across Zimbabwe, the information we found on online was accurate, detailed, and current.

Victoria Falls railway station by Andrew Ashton, on Flickr
Victoria Falls railway station. | image credit: Andrew Ashton

Continue reading Riding the Rhodesian Rails (Or, Taking the Train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo)

Poling Across the Okavango Delta

After our morning walk with the San people, we got an early start on both the day and our drive across Western Botswana, from the Kalahari Desert up to the Okavango Delta. Along the way, we passed a number of tiny villages and countless heads of cattle roaming across the road. Eventually we reached the town of Etsha 13,1 where we would be leaving behind our bus and transferring into a giant 4WD vehicle with massive tires for the remainder of the journey into the delta.

After unpacking nearly everything from the bus – including everyone’s packs, the tents, and multiple coolers full of food and drinks – and loading it onto the 4WD vehicle, we were on our way. Our destination was Guma Lagoon Camp, a lodge along the banks of Guma Lagoon in the panhandle of the Okavango Delta, where we would be camping for the next two nights. Within minutes, it became readily apparent as to why we needed the 4WD vehicle to complete this last portion of the journey: the route quickly changed from driving along a sandy track to sloshing through water that was several feet deep.2 Along the way, we saw a number of birds, including the instantly recognizable hammerkop and several African fish eagles.3

Unfortunately, our cameras were not readily accessible during the ride, but here is a shot of a hammerkop: the hammerhead of birds. | image credit: Anders Lanzen
Continue reading Poling Across the Okavango Delta

Traveling from Namibia to Botswana (Or, Walking with the San People)

From the early days of our planning for this adventure across Southern Africa, we had intended to first travel through Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, and South Africa, before going north to explore Namibia, and then heading east, through Botswana, on our way to Victoria Falls. One of the hurdles in this aspirational routing, however, was the lack of public transportation between Windhoek (where we would be wrapping up our two weeks of travels through Namibia) and Maun (the principal jumping-off point for travels in the Okavango Delta, and one of the only towns of any size in Northern Botswana). After considering a couple of expensive/unappealing options for independent overland travel – renting a car to make the one-way journey or hitchhiking through a sparsely populated stretch of the Kalahari Desert – we decided to go all in with Wild Dog Safaris and tack a nine-day, one way trip from Windhoek, through Botswana and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, to Victoria Falls onto the end of our Namibian travels.1 Continue reading Traveling from Namibia to Botswana (Or, Walking with the San People)

10 Things We Will Never Again Take for Granted

As we complete our travels in Southern Africa and cross the border into Tanzania today, here, in no particular order, are 10 things that we have resolved to never again take for granted:

1. Indoor heating in wintertime.

2. Feeling under the weather without a fear of having contracted malaria.1

An ominous warning in our lodge’s “important information” book: Presume you have malaria until proven otherwise.

3. A constant supply of electricity and running water.

4. Reliable high-speed internet access.2

5. Having more than five clothing options in your wardrobe backpack.

6. En suite bathrooms in hotel rooms. See also hot showers.

7. ATMs that unquestionably accept your debit card and are stocked with cash.

Another day, another ATM fail.

8. The assurance of livestock-free public transportation.3

9. Used bookstores that are not dominated by Danielle Steele novels or books in Afrikaans.

10. The ready availability of things like Thai food and non-instant coffee.

1 Spoiler alert: the malaria test I had done on Monday came back negative.
2 No, really. Even this simple, two-picture post took forever to upload.
3 Remind us never to complain about the MTA ever again.

Hanging out with the AfriCats

As with the first day of our weeklong tour through Southern Namibia, our seven-day circuit through Northern Namibia began with an early start from the Wild Dog Safaris office in Windhoek. While our Southern Namibian travel group had been fairly small, with just five other people, the group for our northern trek included eleven additional travelers.1 After meeting up with our new guides, we were quickly on our way out of town, heading north from Windhoek on the B1 – Namibia’s main highway linking its southern border with South Africa to its northern border to Angola. Continue reading Hanging out with the AfriCats

Nelspruit and Hanging Out at the Mall

After two amazing – but also tiring – days of animal-spotting in Kruger National Park, we were ready for a rest back in civilization and headed for Nelspruit, the nearby provincial capital of Mpumalanga.1  With a population of around a quarter of a million residents, Nelspruit has some of the amenities of the larger South African cities, without as much of the traffic and general congestion.

Exiting Kruger at the Crocodile Bridge gate – which lies less than 10 kilometers from Mozambican border2 – we began driving towards Nelspruit just as the sun was setting.  We drove past seas of massive, green sugar cane plantations as we made our way back to the N4 toll road, the main route between Johannesburg and Maputo, and along which Nelspruit lies.  The drive, which should have only taken about an hour and a half, unfortunately ballooned into a nearly three hour affair, due to slower night driving conditions and an elongated stretch of road work.

About 30 kilometers east of Nelspruit, in an otherwise nondescript part of the route, we found ourselves pulling up to an endless line of stopped cars.  Unbeknownst to us at this point, construction had reduced a six kilometer section of the highway ahead to one-way, alternating traffic.  After five minutes we turned off the engine.  After another five minutes we turned off the headlights.3 After nearly an hour  – which felt more like two – of watching traffic in the eastbound direction fly past us, and trying to surmise what was occurring ahead and when, or if, we would be moving forward again, there was a break in the action and our endless line of cars started plodding west towards Nelspruit. Continue reading Nelspruit and Hanging Out at the Mall