For some people, a trip to Africa is high on the agenda. For others its a place to explore later- once they’ve seen everything else. I’ve met both types of people. In recent years I’ve done my fair share of African travel and I know, to a certain extent, what can be expected of it. There’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Bear in mind that these are my opinions, everyone has their own.
Do you want the good or the bad first? This is a tough one, I’ll mix it up.
There’s no public transport. Correction. There is public transport but you probably don’t want to take it or can’t be bothered to rely on it because it’s, well, unreliable. South Africa’s major cities Johannesburg and Cape Town are getting there in terms of an inner-city bus system which is quite exciting. But forget a subway or tram service. Inter-city travel is also difficult with the national trains in a sad state and long haul bus rides are not too comfy- or safe- with countless buses being involved in fatal road accidents.
Then there’s the most used mode of transport amongst the majority– the taxi. This word has become somewhat of a swear word for South Africans what with taxis’ need to disobey any and every rule of the road, drive terribly, cause accidents and just generally piss everyone off. Unless you’re in Cape Town where using taxis seems to be an acceptable thing to do- don’t take a taxi. (and I’m talking about the combi/van/fit 20 instead of 10 people taxis here not the call-a-cab ones) I’ve visited Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia and would be in no hurry to make use of what public transport they have to offer either. the good news is you can explore these areas by car! Its the best way to see everything anyway.
You will never in your life come across bigger smiles or friendlier people. Africa, despite the troubles people face on a day to day basis, is filled to the brim with people who are genuinely happy to see you and are ectstatic about the fact that you are visiting their country. Only in Africa can someone have a beautiful toothless grin! There are many of these around and could make for a fantastic photo essay (*note to self). The majority of people are not there to take advantage of you, but its not the worst idea to always keep an eye out for that guy who offers to help you unpack your groceries into you car and nicks your camera in the process. True story, happened to me in Mozambique.
For most people who travel internationally, a trip to Africa can be super cheap. Having said that, most people who visit will go on expensive safari getaways, stay at fancy lodges and hotels and eat at great restaurants. This would not be a cheap holiday, but it still wouldn’t be as expensive as a trip to parts of Europe, North America or Australia. Plus you get to see lions and shit. If you’re a backpacker and can’t afford the above mentioned way of seeing Africa, there are some really great hostels and things to do that would still be cheap for you- like shark cage diving, doing the World’s highest bridge bungee jump, doing some epic hikes and interacting with fascinating people.
Crime is a reality in Africa. Some people allow this sad fact to deter them from visiting it, because who wants to deal with the threat of theft, murder, rape and hijackings while on holiday? I won’t sugar coat the issue here because it is a huge concern in my life and something I struggle to see past. For this reason I don’t judge people who are too scared to visit the beautiful motherland- they have every right to be. However, if you are brave enough and clever enough to know that visiting doesn’t necessarily put you in harms way, then the rewards are worth it. Use what brain cells you have and keep your wits about you.
Risk it and you will be rewarded with the World’s best sunsets. We can’t explain it but us Africans are very proud of our sunsets. I don’t know exactly what ingredients make the-going-down-of-the-sun so special in Africa. Perhaps its the welcome relief of its disappearance and subsequent drop in temperature, maybe its the eeriness of knowing that the bush comes alive at night, it might be the complete change in colour from sky blue to 50 shades of red. Either way, the postcard image of a full sun meeting the horizon on its way down is also a fantastic reality in Africa.
As a South African I am often haunted by the not-so-good stuff about my country. Its all over the news, it forms part of daily conversations and is, whether you like it or not, part of everyday life. Its difficult to escape, impossible really. But its up to you how you want to deal with it. The good news is that almost 100% of people I’ve met who have visited South Africa agree that there is no place like it. A place they find interesting, beautiful and culturally rich. As a visitor to Africa you don’t have to be plagued by the same issues that concern its residents, but should bask in all the wonderful things that part of the World offers. Prospective African travelers should accept all the facts about the place and go with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.