Africa · 53 Days · 26 Moments · September 2017

East Africa 2017

24 October 2017

What set off as a journey to the unknown, has now become a gallery of lifetime experiences, fantastic landscapes, intriguing anecdotes and the acknowledgement that depictions in Europe not entirely match the reality in Africa. We also gained an inside-understanding of the political intricacies in East Africa. In our final days on the continent, we met with friends from Maastricht to explore Kampala’s nightlife. Due to our late night flight we spent our last hours at the pool of one of Entebbe’s prime hotels, reminiscing the many enriching moments we shared over the last 7 weeks. As seasoned travel companions, this was already our 2nd big trip together. Although sleep-deprived and lurking health issues, we return in good spirits with a true appreciation for German efficiency. Who knows where our globetrotting restlessness will take us next time...

20 October 2017

We kicked off our days in Kampala with a cheap but all the more worthwhile activity - a match in the Ugandan Premier League. With the well established Express FC, based in the Wankulukuku neighborhood of Kampala, facing the uprising and highly popular provincial team of Onduparaka, we expected an interesting match. The kickoff was delayed by an unusual intruder but attentive stewards had no problem in overwhelming the snake that made its way onto the pitch. While the match itself didn’t offer too many highlights, the joyfully dancing fans on either sides provided some welcome distraction and a typical African atmosphere. Finally, the artistic winning goal of the away team far into the extra time led to an emotional outburst by their supporters and visible anger and frustration by the homeside fans. With some stones flying through the air we quickly decided to take to our heels and made our way through the thick traffic back to our hostel.

19 October 2017

Based on a recommendation by a fellow traveler in Fort Portal, we decided to pay a short visit to the source of the Nile, before finally heading towards the capital. Unfortunately, facing a sharply deteriorated capital stock by now, the main activity this place is famous for - white water rafting - was hardly reconcilable with our financial possibilities. That’s why we used our time to just relax on the banks of the river, enjoying some local beer and the company of other guests in the lodge (+ Vince showing off some surprising parenting skills)..

17 October 2017

After a long and nerve-stretching Matatu ride, crossing the equator back into the northern hemisphere, we reached the provincial capital of Fort Portal. The blasting entertainment system, familiar from all the previous bus rides, was replaced by a constant stream of ruling party propaganda from a fellow passenger. Hard to decide on what’s better! Staying in a small youth hostel outside town, we decided to team up with an Australian backpacker and discover the surrounding crater lakes the next day. While nothing exceptional, the hike offered some stunning vistas of Ugandan countryside and more encounters with the relaxed and friendly population. Interestingly, during a lunch in a local restaurant we were also witness to quite critical political views which offered some relief to the one-sided stories heard the day before. After just two nights in town, we soon left towards central Uganda, slowly facing the end of our trip...

15 October 2017

Arriving late from Kigali (due to an obstructive border crossing process), we took a boat from the shores of Lake Bunyonyi to the remote Bushara Island. We stayed the night in a basic tree house/hut with a teasing morning view on the lake. Given the off-season, we found total idyll with only one other tourist on the island. Restless as we were, we decided to transfer back to the mainland to do some hiking and to spend the night ashore. We combined the boat transfer with a ride around part of the lake. Our guide, Tyson, told us some pretty heartbreaking stories. Being the world’s third deepest lake (900m), the lake claims numerous lethal casualties every year due to the inability of the local population to swim. Tyson, who’s considered the local lifeguard, has already saved multiple lives. Taken by his passion, he is now running his own little swimming school teaching the local kids how to swim. We completed our stay at the lake with a rewarding hike to a well-located lodge.

14 October 2017

Finishing off our visit to the region, we spent one more night just across the border close to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi. Situated on a hill with superb views of Lake Kivu, the lodge offered just the relaxation we needed after the previous day’s hike. For the last two nights in Rwanda, we then headed back to Michael’s place in Kigali where we were witness to the (not so fascinating) nightlife this city has to offer. At the same time, we continue to be impressed by the small details of African everyday life, be it the coffin on a bicycle or the absolute chaos at the Rwandan Customs Agency (where we accompanied Michael’s French roommate who is running a chips factory in Kigali).

12 October 2017

The next day we headed out early for our hike into the Virunga National Park. After a bumpy 2h drive, we were briefed by our ranger on the rules of engagement with the gorillas. We marched 1.5h accompanied by 4 tourists, our ranger, a field guide slashing our way through the knitted jungle and Tresor. After putting on our masks to protect the animals from human bacteria, we approached one of the many gorilla families in the park. This group of 10, comprising members from babies up to full-grown silverbacks, was totally fascinating to watch. Although the bold strength and size was at first intimidating, we quickly figured how sociable and friendly these animals are. This was enabled by our ranger who was responding to the gorillas’ calls to signal our friendly status. One of the young gorillas put on his show trying to tease one of the elders and was quickly put into his place - evidence how close these animals are related to us humans. Again, an eye-opening experience!

10 October 2017

Goma - a city that has been at center stage of political instability and hefty clashes between rebel groups and government forces in the past. Given this harrowing depiction, we were on high alert entering the DRC. However, the next 24h in and around Goma would significantly debunk/relax most of these dramatic narratives fed by international media. What we experienced was a local population that strives to show the world their true Congolese face: a culture full of delight, musicality and approachability. It is unarguable that the city hasn’t fully relinquished its war-torn past, which manifests itself in the ubiquity of UN soldiers and the equally ubiquitous presence of heavy arms. Seeing Europeans (even two women) freely taking their early-morning run served as anecdotal evidence that our former perception didn’t match reality entirely. Our engaging guide Tresor took us on a ride around the city on our first day, showing us sights like the UN base or Mobuto Sese Seko’s old residence

9 October 2017

More often than not, the common perceptions of Africa as a loud, dirty and chaotic continent turn out to be true. Arriving in Rwanda, the so-called Switzerland of Africa, is all the more surprising. Streets as clean as a whistle as well as polite and distanced locals provide a dramatic contrast to the bustling places we‘ve seen so far. However, visiting the excellent but depressing memorial for the Rwandan genocide provided some context for the somehow reserved atmosphere in the city. After spending two nights at Michael’s place (a fellow student from Barcelona), it was soon time to move on towards the famous peaks of the Virunga National Park.

8 October 2017

With our time in Tanzania coming to an end, we decided to indulge in metropolitan life in Dar again. Although it’s one of the biggest ports on the east coast of Africa, the city itself does not come with too many sights to visit. Hence, sightseeing was off the table. Instead, we took a route of least resistance and spent hours reading (Mark certainly more than I did), canvassing the steps ahead or just napping. Our days were all topped off by culinary highlights, be it the much loved Ethiopian cuisine, the curry-heavy Indian diner, or the all-time classic Italian pizza at an expat-hotspot. For our last day, we traversed to the small island of Bongoyo to enjoy the sea one last time. All in all, the days in Dar allowed us to reflect on our journey so far and fueled our excitement for the last leg of our trip.

2 October 2017

After more than a week in the vacation bubble of Zanzibar, it was about time to return to ‚real‘ backpacking. That said, we took the ferry back to Dar Es Salaam and quickly moved south towards the less touristy parts of Tanzania. And less touristy it is, as we found out when checking in to our abandoned lodge in Kilwa Masoko. The whole town was quite deserted which is surprising, given the fact that some of the most important remnants of past East African cultural and political splendor can be found here. Dining in another lodge we got to know two German guys who agreed to join us for a trip to the ruins the next day. Sailing by dhow over the narrow channel to the island of Kilwa Kisimani was already worth the money. However walking around the nearly untouched UNESCO world heritage site with its mosques and forts dating back to as far as 1000AD was something unique. Even though at odds with local aspirations, the full absence of tourists added the little extra to this short trip south.

1 October 2017

One of the biggest highlights so far was definitely our boat and snorkeling trip off the shores of southern Zanzibar. The early-morning trip kicked off with a quick stroll on a remote island, spotting some red Colobus monkeys hanging in the lush mangroves. Subsequently, we headed off to a small underwater coral reef to grasp the beauty and variety of Zanzibar’s renown maritime life. The snorkeling gear had already seen better days and had surely been subject to the tinkering of Tanzania’s most skilled and improvising fishermen. As hungry wazungu (white people), we departed towards our final destination: the scenic sandbank where we would be served an opulent seafood BBQ. As the accompanying fishermen started to unload and prepare the myriad of fresh fish, lobsters and squid, we started to realize what culinary climax was awaiting us. The plated seafood meals were an absolute spoiling to all our oral senses. What an impressive day in paradise and another lasting memory!
After the delightful introduction to the Zanzibari lifestyle in Paje, we were recommended another hostel at the southern tip of the island. Hungover and with only a few hours of sleep we boarded the taxi towards the somehow cheesy named Promised Land Lodge. However, the first skepticism quickly turned into pure disbelief once we arrived at the location. Stunning views over the turquoise ocean, a top-notch pool and chill-out area with tons of hammocks and sofas as well as a 3-bedroom house for us 2 exceeded our wildest dreams. Within minutes we prolonged our stay to 5 nights and immediately started our main activity for the upcoming days: doing nothing. Only highlight (except the following boat trip) was a short walk down the beach to an abandoned luxury resort with spectacular views but quite creepy atmosphere..

24 September 2017

When on an island, beach life is always top priority. This is why we relocated to Paje, a small village on the east cost of Zanzibar, with a balanced mix between nocturnal activities, island tranquility and pristine beaches. After a dissatisfying first night due to a lower-end hostel, we quickly left to another one down the beach which turned out to be one of the best so far on our trip. Tucked away just 30sec from the beach, New Teddy’s Hostel has everything to offer for a pleasant and relaxing beach vacation: delicious food, interesting travelers, a full-hearted manager and superb accommodation. Besides soaking up the peaceful island vibe, we joined a bunch of German medical students on a walk to a cave/rock pool. The walk alongside the beach was fabulous, but the rock pool itself was no more than a quick splash. Taken together, Paje was a worthy introduction to the beautiful island (lifestyle) Zanzibar has to offer.

22 September 2017

Stone Town, Zanzibar. The first stop for most travelers to the island - and what a contrast to mainland Tanzania. Having been under Arabic influence for centuries, we immediately felt transported to the Middle East, with the large majority of people dressed in traditional Muslim clothes, the tiny alleyways leading through the old town and the regular calls for prayer from the ubiquitous mosques in the city. We used the first day to explore the town, enjoying lunch right on the seafront and getting a short taste of Zanzibari nightlife, before heading out towards the east the following day.

21 September 2017

Approaching the mid-way point of our trip, the next stop would be Zanzibar. Hopefully ready to see more Muzungus than locals for the next few days, we set out on the express ferry from Dar to Zanzibar. Even though more and more white faces turned up the closer we got to the ferry, the humble request for a sizable tip by the check-in official and the local who was struggling with his newly acquired (🙄) iPhone set in German language reminded us of still being on African ground.

20 September 2017

While it is not the official capital of Tanzania, Dar is in any aspect the most important city of Tanzania. However, as goes for Addis and Nairobi, African cities are not exactly the place to be and one full day was already more than enough. Strolling over the market was an interesting experience, especially observing the T-Shirt choice of some vendor (see the photo). The night we spend in the expat neighborhood of Masaki, quietly crying out when seeing the slight jump in prices compared to all the former stops.

18 September 2017

By recommendation from our hostel in Moshi, we took a more than adventurous bus towards Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains. The so-called Chakito Long Way Bus rather resembled a cattle carrier, pushing more and more passengers into the totally overcrowded bus at any second village. Sitting just above the engine, I could hardly touch the ground for the entire trip of more than 7 hours - but I guess this is Africa.. Nevertheless, the destination more than made up for the journey. We stayed two nights at Irente Farm Lodge, an old German farm dating back to colonial times and still under German management (back then the valley was known as Wilhelmstal). It is situated high above the town and produces all the food right on the spot, including fresh German bread and cheese. On our second day we joined a Mountainbike Tour to some waterfalls, shamefully uncovering our poor level of fitness... but hey, we’re on holiday!

16 September 2017

Even though climbing the Kili was off the table right from the beginning (time & money..), the trip to Moshi was well worth it. We signed up for an excursion to the Materuni waterfalls which are in the mountains just outside of town. However, due to the completely different vegetation and rural atmosphere it feels much farther away. Our local guide Alan was a cool guy and explained a lot about the culture and the crops of the Chagga people that are living in the area. After a local lunch we were also shown the whole process of coffee production, with virtually all the kids of the village at center stage... The day was rounded up by a short visit to the old German railway station and a rooftop sundowner with a (nearly) perfect view of good old Kilimanjaro.

14 September 2017

Without any plans in mind we took the shuttle from Nairobi to Arusha early on Thursday morning. As we were invited to stay at Tito’s aunt’s place, we hoped for some personal insights on what to do in the area. Unfortunately, she could also only refer to the safaris of the Northern Circuit that were just no option budget wise. Therefore, and after touring the city and its markets for one day, we decided to continue to Moshi the day after..

13 September 2017

We had one day left to discover Nairobi. While clearly nicer than Addis, it still resembles a typical African city without much to do. In the morning we visited the elephant orphanage and the giraffe center which were said to be some of the most visited places in the city - they are indeed. Later, we drove up to the helipad of the Kenyatta Int. Conference Center (KICC), enjoying a 360 degree view over the city. We finished our stay in Kenya with a nice dinner at Tito’s before heading down to Tanzania the next day..

12 September 2017

Visiting the Masai Mara NR were clearly some of the best dollars ever spent. We did a three day camping safari, joining a group made up of one German, two Danish and one guy from the States. Accommodation was really basic but fulfilled its purpose and the safaris were an amazing experience. We were lucky to have a knowledgeable guide who managed to show us all the animals you could wish to see. My apologies for the amateurish iPhone pictures, Vince is the professional here!

9 September 2017

We were invited to stay at Tito’s place in Nairobi, a friend I met at the GSE in Barcelona. On Saturday we decided to go out of town to visit Mount Longonot NP, an old volcano with views over the Rift Valley and a decent climb of 1.5h to the crater rim. After this we had lunch at a very traditional barbecue restaurant, serving the famous Nyama Choma grilled meat. On the way back we stopped at Lake Naivasha, spotting some hippos in the distance..

8 September 2017

The remaining days we spent in the capital, unable to travel far from town as we were invited for lunch at the German embassy right in the middle of our stay (unfortunately, security didn’t allow for more photos from that one). Other highlights included an afternoon in the completely misplaced Kempinski hotel and a night out with our local friends Merih and Desta.

3 September 2017

On Sunday we met up with two friends of an old colleague of mine from Maastricht. They rented a car and showed us around the surroundings of Addis, first heading to some hot springs (where we were turned away at the entrance for lack of water) and then getting lunch at a restaurant popular with locals - actually known for their speciality: raw meat. Even though we sticked to the cooked one it was another affirmation of the quality of Ethiopian food. On the way back we stopped at two resorts that were packed with locals escaping the busy capital on this Sunday.

2 September 2017

Touchdown in Africa. After a short stopover in Istanbul - where we (not quite intentionally) left Vince‘s iPad for the duration of the trip - we arrived late at night in Addis. The next morning we had a first look at the hostel and were about to explore the city. Having met two nice Germans the night of our arrival, they joined us and soon we had our first Ethiopian lunch. The venue couldn’t be more local (surely too local for one of our stomachs) and was shown to us by an Ethiopian guy who we met on our way to the Merkato area. The rest of the day we spent exploring the city and talking to many friendly people we met on the way..