Backpacking Through Africa

Person posing in front of a giant sand dune

Three Month Journey Through Eastern and Southern Africa

Sossusvlei - my favorite place.

Even though I've traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and North America prior to this trip, nothing could prepare me for Africa.

Africa is the ultimate adventure travel destination. It's got everything an adventurer could ask for - dilapidated infrastructure, poor transportation, crafty scams and violent crime. Most of the travelers I've met were robbed at some point during their African adventure. Even some locals who were born and raised there had stories to tell. Nairobi being my initial landing point (many call it Nairobery for a reason), I was extra cautious. That initial apprehension remained with me for the duration of the trip. I might have missed on some excitement, but at least I survived Africa without being robbed. If one remains vigilant about his surrounding, Africa can be somewhat safe. A local South African gave me an advice - always be aware of your surrounding and spot potential attackers. Even they prefer easy victims, someone who is oblivious about their surroundings and potential threats.

Backpacking through Africa was rough. Bad roads, dilapidated buses and overcrowded vans will challenge even the most experienced travelers. I swore never to go to backpack through Africa again, but after seeing a group of rider, the seed of motorcycle travel was planted in my mind. However, it took me another 20 years before I returned to Africa, on a motorcycle.

After a few days of dodging trouble in Nairobi, I joined a safari tour of most famous National Parks in Kenya. Seeing the big game up-close and personal was exciting, at first, at least.

a lion surrounded by tourist vans

When in Africa, one has to go on a safari and harass the wildlife.

posing with a Maasai worrior

Maasai people are mostly herders, but posing with tourists generates an extra income.

a group of Maasai locals under a tree

Trying to find some shade while waiting for the next tourist group to arrive.

rainbow over a lone tree in Maasai park

Rainbow in Masai Mara National Park.

Maasai dancer jumping up

Maasai dancers can jump really high.

posing with locals under the equator sign

The first time I stood at the Equator

The real adventure started only after my safari tour was over. I was to find transportation and accommodation on my own. First, I headed to Uganda. To my shock, Uganda, which had emerged from a civil war only a few years earlier, was in even poorer state than Kenya.

There, I visited Murchinson falls on River Nile, and did a rafting trip down Nile.

Thatched roof bungalow in forest

This bungalow was the most memorable place I stayed. It was situated at the edge of a jungle and I could enjoy loud noise throughout the night.

I made my way back to Kenya, visited Mt Kilimanjaro, Mombasa and surrounding beaches and got on a boat to Lamu. This island was highly recommended. It was ok, but hassles with local tours were the most memorable.

old cannon in front of a row of colonial buildings

Colonial buildings on Lamu island. A word of warning: when you get off the boat, aggressive "helpers" will follow you to the hotel of your choice and the owners WILL charge you extra and give money to the unscrupulous helpers. The only other place in the world where I've experience something similar was in Guilin in China.

I returned to Kenyan mainland and headed south towards Tanzanian border. I got onto some cargo shop to Pemba island and after being tossed around in the cargo area for 5-6 hours, I got to the spice island. Strong smell of cloves can be felt all around the island. I rented a scooter and visited several pristine, white sand beaches.

posing with local kids on a dazzling white sand beach

Local kids appeared out of nowhere when I stopped to take a photo on Pemba island.

Zanzibar is the next island south of Pemba. It is a truly a paradise and the first place where I could actually relax and enjoy myself.

Sitting on a scooter in a forest

Scooter is the best way to get around Zanzibar. There aren't many roads, but locals use beaches as roads.

Restaurant with tables over the green-blue ocean

Tranquil restaurant on the west side of Zanzibar.

I rented a scooter for a few days and explored the island. After a week of taking a break from mainland Africa, it was time to head back. I took a passenger boat to Dar es Salam, Tanzania's capital. From there, I rode once-weekly train to Zambia on Chinese-built railroad. That in itself was an experience, pleasant, for a change.

In Zambia, I spent most time in Livingstone, by Victoria falls. It's an adventure central with everything from bungee jumping to helicopter flights to rafting down Zamberi river. I did Gorge swing and rafting.

free-falling while tied by a rope

Gorge swing near Victoria falls. It was fun, buffet-style adventure. Pay once and jump as many times as you want. If you set a new record for the number of jumps, you get a t-shirt. I got one :)

free-falling while tied by a rope

About to be let free fall into the gorge. You can choose different positions - facing forward, backward, be pushed, be let go. The last one was my favorite because I had no control over the moment I would start falling.

standing at the edge of a waterfall

Victoria Falls, in dry season. Even with low flow of water, they are quite impressive. Rafting trip starts just below the falls.

peaking from a raft engulfed by raging waves

Rafting Zambezi and Nile rivers were two must do items on the bucket list.

From Livingstone to Windhoek, Namibia's capital, there is a comfortable bus. For the first time, in almost two months in Africa, I was on an air-conditioned bus with my own seat, nobody squeezing next to me and no chicken or goats onboard. Namibia was also the first place where I got to use credit card in Africa.

I rented a car and drove through Kalahari desert to the scenic sand dunes at Sossusvlei and foggy and cold German enclave - Swakopmund.

red car parked in a tree-less desert

They say in Kalahari desert, it rains once in maybe 10 years. One of the driest places on earth. Nowhere else have I seen such a void. The only vegetation are some living forms between mushrooms and plans (no roots), being blown around by the wind. The only moisture they get is from the air.

sitting on a dry lake bed with sand dunes behind

Cracked bottom of the dry lake surrounded by sand dunes.

giant sand dune illuminated by setting sun, one side being dark

This sand dune may not look so big, until you notice a tiny person climbing it.

sand shaped sand waves on a side of a sand dune

Setting sun casts long shadows down wind-shaped sand dunes.

Another overnight bus trip got me to Cape Town, a jewel of South Africa. I spent a few days in the city and then moved to a coastal neighborhood where I spent more than a month learning paragliding.

standing atop a cliff overlooking Cape Town and ocean beyond

Breathtaking view from atop the Table mountain high above Cape Town.

For the last two weeks of my African journey, I rented a car and drove from Cape Town to Johannesburg, visiting South African highlights - Garden Route, Southernmost point of the continent, Drakensberg and Blyde River Canyon.

standing on the edge of an overhanging rock

Blyde River Canyon, a famous spot in the mountains of S. Africa.

sitting next to a cross

A cross erected by Portuguese explorers.

sitting next to a sign marking border of Indian and Atlantic oceans

Southern-most point of the African continent - where the oceans meet.