African Journal

During August, September, and October of 1997 I backpacked around Africa. During the trip I took 2700 35mm pictures (but have no fear, I've culled the lot down to 102 slides).

Before the trip I got vaccinated for every disease known to man (at least those that I might be able to get in Africa and could actually get vaccinated against): Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Rabies, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Yellow Fever, and Typhoid. I also took along pills for Malaria and a few antibiotics. As far as I can tell I came through the trip without incident - however, it's getting about the right time for the parasites to hatch!

International Certificate of Vaccination

During the 3 months I visited Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, and Mozambique. As a result, my brand new passport is full.   To plan for the trip I read and took along a number of Lonely Planet Guides, in particular Egypt, Africa, and Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.  I also used the Rough Guide to Zimbabwe and Botswana. For Mozambique I used the Guide to Mozambique.

Mozambique Visa
Egyptian Visa Stamps Botswana Entry Stamp

It all started with a flight from San Francisco to Cairo. During the first 3 weeks of the trip I (my 'bearded' period) traveled with my friend Jenny. We spent 10 days in Egypt visiting all of the normal tourist sites (including two that have been in the news recently for terrorist acts - the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Temple of Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Queens near Luxor).

I took two safaris while on the trip. I saw all of the major (and many of the minor) predators: lion, wild dog, leopard, cheetah, hyena, and jackal. I also saw elephant, rhino, hippo, giraffe, impala, baboon, zebra, cape buffalo, warthog, flamingoes, well, you get the idea. The two safaris were very different, the first was a budget safari with Jenny in Kenya and the other one was a luxury safari in Botswana. In Kenya we traveled by mini-van, stayed in fixed tents with cots or 2 person tents sleeping on the ground. We ate a lot of cabbage and hard boiled eggs. On the Botswana trip I traveled by charter plane and land rover, stayed in fixed tents that in some cases were bigger than my bedroom at home and ate Beef Wellington with red wine (sadly we only had Champagne for one meal). I also took a single day trip into a game park in Zimbabwe to see rhinos.

I also did a bit of snorkeling. Jenny and I snorkeled in the Indian Ocean off of the Kenyan Coast and then in Malawi I snorkeled in Lake Malawi. I saw lots of Cichlids while snorkeling in Lake Malawi.

On the trip I utilized numerous modes of transportation: foot, plane (jet and propeller), train (in Kenya, South Africa, and Mozambique), bus (including a few 10 to 20 hour rides from Hell), felucca (on the Nile River in Egypt), bicycle (in Kenya), makoro (a type of canoe used in the Okavango Delta of Botswana), dugout canoe (on Lake Malawi), kayak (on Lake Malawi), white water raft (on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe), boat (on the Nile River, on the Zambezi, and off the Kenyan Coast), taxi, light rail (South Africa), pickup truck (getting to/from Lake Malawi, across the Tete Corridor in Mozambique), mini-van, and land rover.

Malawi Entry Stamp
Zimbabwe Entry Stamp Egypt Entry and Exit Stamps

My accommodations ranged from sleeping on the ground in the 2 person tent and sleeping in a shack without electricity (a bargain at $4/night) to the Hotel Polana in Maputo, Mozambique (the best hotel in the country), the New Africa Hotel in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (possibly the best Hotel in Tanzania), and Sun City in South Africa. In Maputo I also stayed in a room over a bar near the train station. My luggage for the entire 3 months consisted of one convertible suitcase/backpack that qualified as carry on luggage and a day pack (most people take more luggage for a weekend trip). Sometimes I had a bathroom, sometimes I didn't, sometimes I had one that I wished I didn't!

And while I did not knowingly eat any bugs, I did eat Zebra, Impala, Warthog, Cape Buffalo, Kudu, Ostrich, and a few other mystery meats. My recommendations: try the Impala, stay away from the Warthog.

My two least pleasant experiences on the trip: (1) getting back to my hotel in a seedy part of Maputo Mozambique around midnight and finding it locked up tight (loads of fun trying to find somebody at midnight who speaks English so they can try to wake somebody up who might be able to unlock the place), and (2) taking the train from Mozambique to South Africa; at the South African border, guards (all with nice machine guns) dumped my bags on the dirt (in the very hot sun) and proceeded to open up every compartment and every little gadget bag I had. There were 4 or 5 guards looking through all of my stuff. The only thing that stopped me from getting angry (other than the machine guns) were all of the disposed latex gloves strewn all over the concertina wire at the border (can you say body cavity search). I decided that a stern letter to the embassy back in the United States might be a better alternative.

I even managed to play stupid American tourist. While in Maputo Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony so they do not speak much English) I needed to get to the bus station. I found a taxi driver and told him I needed to get to the bus station. He did not understand me, so I said it again. Still no help, two other taxi drivers came over to help so I said it slower and louder. Still no help, clearly they must be idiots. I finally drew a picture of a bus on a napkin. Still no help (and I am sure that my bus drawing would have won awards at numerous exhibitions). I am not sure how, but eventually they figured out where I wanted to go.

And, I gained some new friends (Jenny, Jay and Kara).


Copyright 1995-2008, Rick L. Spickelmier
All Rights Reserved.

Last Updated: 08 October 2008.