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4 facts about travelling in Africa (that aren’t true)

February 6, 2011

[I suppose I should disclaim at the beginning that what I’m saying may not be representative of all African trips. My point is that not all African trips conform to the stereotypes. We weren’t adventurers, we were plain and simple independent tourists]

We sat on the banks of the Zambezi river. There were cucumber sandwiches and Pimms. The hotel is an old colonial farm where the farmer murdered his wife in the dining room because he thought she was having an affair with the local priest.
They sound an ‘all clear’ in the morning when the hippos have left the grounds, and we’re warned to stay away from the river’s edge because of the crocodiles.

It was lovely to stay at, but quite the throwback.

We drove 2550km to get here across 4 countries. We camped wild in Botswana, and stayed at various campsites along the way.

Some fun facts that aren’t true about travelling in Africa:

  1. The roads are full of potholes. Nonsense: you can drive from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, 2918km, :

    without hitting a single pothole. (We did the Cape Town to Windhoek leg last year – this year we did Windhoek to Victoria Falls)

    The roads look like this…

    and this:


    and this:

    and this:

    our first elephant

    (there’s an elephant in that last pic!)

  2. The other drivers are dangerous. No, not really. Mostly the roads were totally empty (see above), but we found the drivers in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia to be fine. (the same is NOT true in Cape Town, Nairobi, or Lagos)
  3. The police are corrupt and will ask you for bribes. There are police roadblocks outside most major towns, but they efficiently checked our driving licences and destination, and were, without fail, courteous and friendly. No-one asked us for a bribe, intimidated or otherwise acted strangely with us. One policeman in Kasane went well out of his way to help us and make sure we were ok, and I wish I could remember his name and thank him here.
  4. Border crossings take forever and are corrupt. Not our experience. There’s certainly a tendency for bureacracy that is unusual for a European (or at least one from a Schengen country), but if your papers are in order and you have the right fees for importing the vehicle, you’re fine. The border officials we met (at big crossings and obscure ones), were, like the police, courteous, friendly and honest. Here’s the paperwork generated by the 3 border crossings:
    Paperwork for 3 border crossings

    I wish that I was treated as well by the hostile, rude, officious bastards at Heathrow as I was by their equivalents at Kasanguna or Victoria Falls.

Over the years, Kay and I have driven the length and breadth of Europe, across Patagonia in Argentina/Chile, and also big chunks of the western US. I can’t say that I found driving across 5 African countries any more difficult than any of those. The biggest shock for me was how few other tourists there were on the roads, and how empty the amazing campsites and lodges we stayed at were.

I think other people try and play up the african adventurer side of it. Let’s be honest, we’re not. We’re just tourists, but that’s fine.

And the the things we did and saw along the way were pretty amazing:





You can't see it, but it was raining.

It was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had, and I recommend you come on down and try it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 9:08 am

    How cool!

  2. February 8, 2011 11:47 am

    i have to pretty much agree with everything you have written above. except that i have been on the potholed bumpy roads! however, this was only in uber-rural northern namibia – but even there, and as a group of women, we never felt under any threat at all and camped lost and rough with the himba for a few nights – an experience that is beyond memorable.

    there are only two times that i’ve felt any stress of being a woman traveller in africa:
    after dark in the center of capetown.
    and in namibia right after the president announced that all lesbians should be imprisoned we were asked ‘where are your men’ a few times…

    otherwise i love africa and am jealous of you daily for living and working there!!

  3. U.Erik Nwagwu permalink
    March 31, 2011 7:13 pm

    Well stated Stephan !

    Africa must generate the greatest number of misconceptions…..its good that there are good people straightening up the record !

  4. May 14, 2012 10:05 pm

    Thanks for promoting the image of Africa. A person needs a visit to understand the greatness in Africa

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