Posts tagged 'Africa'
As we approached Rwanda, the terrain started getting a lot more hilly than that of Uganda. We got to the border and queued up to hand in our passports and get our visa, all the while with locals trying to cut in line. I got given some minor grief over not having printed out the acceptance letter for my visa. I did have it in digital form and the letter has a giant bar code that one would assume they'd scan, but apparently it's easier to put bar codes on letters than it is to put bar code scanners at the border.
This was our single slowest border crossing, taking over 90 minutes to get some simple ink stamp "visas" put in our passports. Most of the truck was starving by the time we finally got our passports back, but there was still more driving to do before we arrived in Ruhengeri and stopped to make lunch. We were staying in dorm rooms so nobody had to put up tents for a change!
It's impossible to put into words what it's like out on the streets of Africa. They're like no other place I've been. Towards the end of the trip I started taking a LOT of photos out the window in the hope it might capture even just a small fraction of the weird and wonderful things you see out the truck window. Click the photo to go to the full flickr set. Feel free to be distracted, and not notice that I haven't posted about gorillas yet too :P
After crossing into Uganda our first stop was Jinja, the second largest city in Uganda and its unofficial extreme sports capital. We had a free day here to do whatever activities took our fancy; some people went and played mini-golf, some went and played regular golf, but I opted for white water rafting down the White Nile.
All up there was seven people from our Dragoman group who went along, who with our American guide Tyler made up a full raft of people. We got taken to the "put in" point where we were given some breakfast, sorted out with high-flotation life vests and paddles and then were led down to our raft for some basic training, which involved things like paddling in time, turning, getting down low in the raft, flipping the raft and climbing back in. It was all pretty straightforward stuff and the water was a lovely refreshing temperature. A lot of people struggled to get back into the raft unassisted, but I surprised myself by being one of the ones who could! I can't even do a single chin up, but I guess climbing back into a raft probably uses a lot of the same muscles that I built up last year being stuck on crutches for nearly 6 months.
The first rapid of the day was one of the most fun and memorable ones, it was basically a three metre waterfall drop off, followed closely by two more pools of rapids. We went down the waterfall, which felt like a theme park flume log ride on steroids, then paddled as hard as we could for the bigger pool of rapids but the current was too strong and we ended up going down the less turbulent path.
So after leaving Tanzania we were destined for Kenya to visit the Masai Mara, however we ran into a bit of trouble actually getting into Kenya. Everyone's visa got sorted out nice and quickly, but there was some sort of hold up involving the truck. Something to do with the truck's registration being changed over from English to Namibian and us not having the right Carnet de Passage to go with it.
To make better use of the time we set up the kitchen to make lunch there at the border, then after eating some of the group started having a game of cricket! The spectacle drew a small crowd of truck drivers watching, and trying to catch the long shots that went their way.
After a while Steve filled us in on things, apparently the registration was changed over a long time ago and the truck had been in and out of Kenya a bunch of times since then, but in the book they had always written down the old registration details, but because the border officials are so damn ethical they couldn't do that again for us this time.
So the main draw card for visiting Tanzania was in fact not to go and laze about Zanzibar, rather it was to go and visit the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, some of Africa's best known big game parks.
My arrival in Dar Es Salaam was pretty smooth and trouble free. I applied for my visa on arrival, along with probably 60% of the people on the flight. I was a bit slow filling out the forms and was probably one of the last people to hand in the paperwork, but it seemed like they used a LIFO queue (last in, first out) to process things so my name was soon called and I had to squeeze my way through the crowd of people waiting and get my passport.
I went to queue up in the immigration line, proud to show off my fancy new visa sticker, but a guy came up and told me to just walk on through. So I walked straight past the desk where they check your passport without showing them anything, and nobody batted an eyelid. It really feels like you could get into the country without a visa very easily if you just walked on through with a bit of confidence, although I'm sure you'd have trouble leaving.
So while in South Africa I managed to see the two main places people go, Johannesburg and Cape Town, which are pretty much at opposite ends of any spectrum you can imagine. Safety, things to do, how pretty the city is... Johannesburg ranks very low and Cape Town generally ranks pretty well.
My time in Johannesburg was pretty whirlwind-ish. I'd already decided that I didn't really want to spend much time there and would rather get to Cape Town, but I wanted to see the Apartheid Museum and I needed to reconfirm that I was actually eligible for my Tanzanian Visa on arrival, otherwise I'd need to make the 100KM trip to Pretoria to visit their consulate.
The visa thing ended up being a pretty simple phone call. They urged me to apply before hand, I explained that I wasn't in Pretoria, they confirmed that I could get it on arrival. Booyah!
I asked quite a few locals about safety in Johannesburg and if the whole danger thing was as big of an issue as people make out and was told I'd be fine as long as I stuck to safe areas. So none of the aimless exploring that makes travelling fun; just stick to the touristy spots and you'll be fine... and feel like a tourist.
I changed my flight to South Africa to be a day sooner in order to get to Johannesburg in time on Monday morning to go on a week long tour up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and back. Booking in on this tour was a bit of a spur of the moment thing, I'd only found out about it's existence the Wednesday beforehand; I checked if I could change my flights and if there was room on the bus, then got flights moved and got myself booked in.
I was picked up from the "hostel" I was staying in (It was really just a guys house that he let people stay in... you cant call it a hostel and only have one bathroom & toilet) at 5am. I had been told the day before where the keys were to open the front door, the front verandah cage and the massive padlock on the front gate, topped with an electric fence, and had been told to go out and unlock all the locks, then come inside and wait looking out the window for the bus to show up. At the time I'd though it must have been a terrible neighbourhood to merit all that security, but having spent more time in South Africa I've found that pretty much everywhere has crazy levels of security like that so I'm not so sure anymore.
The bus arrived on time and I was the first person to be picked up. Our guide David, an friendly guy with a goofy laugh and a missing front tooth, introduced himself and we headed off to pick up more people, two Australian sisters from Sydney, then two English guys, then two Swiss sisters and two American cousins. Quite a few pairs of relatives!