Africa Blog and Africa Travel Stories
July 25, 2012
What should I pack for a trip to Africa?
Please be cognizant and respectful of the local culture and dress modestly, especially if visiting an area with a high Muslim population. For your own comfort, take clothes that are easy to launder and dry quickly.
Dress for evening concerts or parties
Hiking boots (if trekking) and socks
Long trousers – light weight zip offs are good
Old paint clothes (if volunteering)
Short/Long sleeved shirts (no tank tops or singlets)
Shorts (women's shorts should be knee length)
Skirts (knee length or longer)
Sweater or shawl for cool evenings
T-Shirts or quick drying tops
Warm clothing for morning game drives and/or Aberdare
Note – for tracking chimps or gorillas, you will likely have to tramp through the bush so best to be covered completely with long sleeved shirt or jacket, long pants, socks and closed-toe shoes.
Adaptor Plug (and converter if required)
Airline ticket/hotel vouchers
Cameras, batteries, etc
Daypack or water bottle carrier (for trek)
First Aid Kit
Flashlight (Head lamps are best)
Health documents including proof of Yellow Fever vaccination (if required)
If camping, a sleeping bag/pillow/air mattress/towel
Laundry detergent and small clothesline
July 19, 2012
When is the best time of year to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro can be climbed during any month of the year, although the rain forest can become unpleasantly muddy during the rainy seasons of late March to May, and November to mid December. The busiest months of the year on Kilimanjaro, when early booking is essential, are July to September, and mid December to late February.
June 7, 2012
Question -If I go on safari does that mean I must stay in a tent?
Answer - No. A safari can be anything from having your own private vehicle and driver guide and staying in 5 star lodges with swimming pools, spas and other amenities to travelling with a group of 20 or more in an overland truck that includes helping with dinner and/or setting up your own small tent. The word safari means travel in Swahili, yet many people refer to game drives as safaris.
March 18, 2012
Gorilla tracking in Uganda
by Pat McGill (client)
It seems impossible to me but after all the build-up in expectations the gorilla experience surpassed everything on the safari by far. I had supposed that although the gorillas would be close to us that they would not be fully visible. The reality was simply amazing. The 18 animals In the family we were tracking we're literally all around us. We kept about a 20 foot distance but at times the gorillas violated the rules. At one point a female came from behind me and passed less than a meter from me. I was so surprised that I have no pictures of her.
The hike to find this family was a cake walk. We walked for 2 hr and gained about 200 m (1500 to 1700 m) . We would have been much quicker if we did not have to wait for a woman in another group who was a smoker (age about 65) and probably had very compromised lungs. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest did not live up to its name and was quite open and easy to walk through even when we left the trail to get to the gorillas. The terrain was not particularly challenging.
The tracking process is painless for the paid guests as there is team in the forest with GPS devices to tell our guides exactly where to go. The scouts are in eye contact with the gorillas before we enter the forest.
When we arrived the gorillas were all in trees (they were eating fruit we were told) and hard to see. No problem says the guide , they will come down shortly. Sure enough in about 5 minutes the Silverback came down from about a 2 ft diameter tree. He looked like King Kong. It was hard to imagine an animal that big (300 kg or so) up in a tree. After the Silverback came down all the rest came down. One little guy rode a sapling down as a kid would (and just like kid he got a nasty surprise when near the ground the sapling broke and he fell the last 8 ft or so - he showed no sign of injury as he got up and scampered off).
As we were standing around watching the gorillas come down the guide had us move a few feet as there was a female gorilla immediately above us and she would have touched me as she came down.
Once the gorillas were down they spread out a bit and the big guy sat on the ground with his back to us for a while. The Silverback began eating in a few minutes but did not really get into it. The females seemed much more intent on interacting with the 2 babies and the two smaller youths (the youths are about 4 years old I think). The youths were into various rough house games that looked like wrestling
The gorillas were all around us and as they moved the guide allowed us to move also to a distance of 7 meters. At the end of the allotted hour the animals seemed to declare that the interaction was over and moved much more purpose disappearing into the undergrowth. They were so close I used my iPhone video to get the ... film. We were told that the gorillas often declare an end to the watching at the one hour mark (the bust is always exactly one hour max an the gorillas a clearly aware of this rule).
This will rate as the high point of my trip and an experience of a lifetime.
Jan 8, 2012
Should I volunteer during my gap year?
Volunteering in Enchanting East Africa
In everyone’s minds is a perception of Africa that is wild, beautiful, dangerous, primitive, corrupt perhaps. But the reality is that the continent is populated by people; people who are kind, gracious, and so compelling that when you go there, you rediscover a part of your soul.
My volunteer job was at a preschool for orphans. If you ever want to feel needed, go visit a preschool in Uganda. Every day when I arrived at the school, the kids would come running to greet me, grabbing my hands and climbing all over me. I usually had 4 or 5 kids hanging on each arm at a time. Sometimes one or two would fall asleep with their heads in my lap. The headmistress would thank me profusely every day and about once a week would say to me "Thank-you for loving us".
I love that it takes Ugandans 5 minutes to greet people, that you cannot visit someone without being fed, that they are thrilled when you speak a few words of their language, that they grab your hand and shake it if you say something funny, that when you are sick you will have a steady stream of visitors bombarding you, that kids and men always carry your bags for you, that when you return from work each day you are greeted with “welcome back”. I believe Ugandans wrote the book on graciousness.
Volunteering in Africa was a dream fulfilled for me. I felt that I was actually the big recipient after this adventure. I received so much love, appreciation and friendship from the children, teachers, and locals. My experience has shown me that volunteering transforms lives and everyone wins.
Africa has over 13 million orphans. More than a million children have been orphaned due to AIDS or civil war in Uganda alone. Some of the volunteer opportunities in East Africa are building schools, caring for infants, teaching, gardening, nursing, and sharing any skill.
Contact us for more information or refer to volunteer pages.
Nov. 19, 2011
by Vesna Coleman (client)
This past September, I finally managed to knock one item off my "bucket list!" It has always been a dream of mine to do a safari in Africa and now I have officially struck this item off my "to-do in the lifetime" list as I made that dream a reality through the assistance of Benefactours.
Originally, I was a bit hesitant to travel to Africa as a single female on my own. After having spoken to Cynthia Holmes of Benefactours and having reviewed her suggested tour, I felt quite comfortable and booked the 8-day safari in Kenya which included visits to Amboseli and Maasai Mara Game Parks as well as a two day stay in Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha.
All I can say is that the conservation efforts in Kenya must be working as I was stunned at the number of animals we saw. In the first 2 days alone, we saw the Big 5 - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo in very healthy numbers. Not only did we spy these 5, but we also spotted quite regularly topi, cheetahs, gazelles, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, pelicans, hyenas, jackals, warthogs, giraffe, impalas, vultures, waterbucks, baboons, pelicans and even crocodiles. Our guide, Andrew, was adept at placing us in advantageous positions so that the animals we were observing from afar would eventually cross very near our path. We were always respectful of cutting the engine and being incredibly quiet other than the sound of excited camera shutters going off. Also, many times we were the only vehicle around which made the findings and experience even more unique and special.
The itinerary was thoughtfully prepared in my estimation as we experienced both dry and unforgiving terrain as well as lush and abundant green space. The animals all appeared very healthy and fit. I felt bad for the buffalo as most carcasses we came across were of their species so we know who is the easiest prey to kill in this territory.
The birdlife was also amazing. I can't even start to list the tens of different species we saw during this adventure. The trip had exceeded all my expectations by day 3. It was really unexpected, but gratefully surprising. The accommodations were beautiful, clean and well situated.
I would without hesitation recommend Benefactours for their travel expertise and coordination efforts. All questions were answered promptly and their flexibility in offering changes or additions to the original itinerary were explored and acted on swiftly.
I am almost afraid to book another safari for fear that it can't live up to this fantastic trip. In the case that I do decide to proceed, I will be using Benefactours to ensure the best possible outcome.
Sept 19, 2011
Annual Trip to Africa
Jambo! Well, where do I start? It has been a whirlwind trip around beautiful, friendly, spectacular Kenya . My niece and I visited Nyeri first, near Mount Kenya , where we went to the orphanage that BenefacTours sponsors there. We handed out new clothing and soccer balls, which are always a big hit! It was great fun doing an art project as well with the little preschoolers and the bigger kids. I came close to adopting a 13 yr old boy from there, he was so smart and sweet.
We picked up a Benefactours client who was volunteering in Nyeri and the 3 of us moved to Nanyuki, where we visited another orphanage. They have 60 kids at the home, most are orphans and some are street kids. It's a very well organized place and they now have a sponsor from Italy who is helping a lot. Again I fell in love with a 4 yr old deaf boy.
My niece and client have become fierce bargainers and have had a wonderful time shopping. We have all accumulated several items of jewellery. Kenyans are so friendly and polite; it's lovely being here in this country.
We returned to Nairobi where we visited another one of the volunteers sites, only to find that they are so desperate, the matron was thrown in jail for 3 weeks for not paying a food bill. Well, I'm sure it is difficult to pay bills when you have 46 kids to look after. It was an emotional visit and we hope to help that children's home even more in the future.
On to our safari. I can only say it was spectacular! The lodges, the food, the guide, the camaraderie with our group of 6, and of course the wildlife.
Amboseli has 1250 elephants and they move around in great herds. It is just awesome and somehow peaceful to watch. The rooms at our lodge looked straight out at the animals, only a few meters away. We could lay in bed and watch elephants, zebras, buffalo, and several other species walk by. Just stunning.
Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha were lush and green and we had a lot of fun on a boat ride spotting hippos and getting very close to many large birds. The pelicans are hilarious to watch; it's like they are swimming in sync.
Then on to the marvellous Maasai Mara, the site of the Great Migration. All I can say is Oh My God!!! Our first 2 hour game drive had us watching cheetahs, a leopard and lions 3 times. The next 2 days we did all day game drives and watched wildebeests and zebras crossing, saw another leopard, a black rhino (very rare), more cheetahs, tons of lions, including a few who were hunting. It was emotional at times for many of us; as for most people it is a dream come true to come to Africa. To be there and witness something so spectacular as the 2 million animal migration, is something none of us will forget.
Annual Trip to Africa
Kenya and Uganda
I have just returned from a wonderful trip to beautiful Kenya and Uganda. I cannot get enough of these countries. I traveled alone, staying in a variety of accommodations, including safari lodges, a homestay, a banda in a village, and even in a first aid room at a home for girls. I am often asked "Is it safe for women to travel alone in Africa?". As a solo traveller, and a woman, I am aware that many people have fears of venturing on their own to Africa and I have to say that I did not once feel the slightest bit of fear while there. The East African people are welcoming and gracious, and there is just so much to experience, that I cannot imagine my life without Africa.
Kenya was recovering from a drought with a lot of rain, and up high in Aberdare National Park, it was cool. The day I arrived, I jumped on a jeep for a game drive in Solio Reserve. I was thrilled to see both white and black rhinos in this sanctuary, along with numerous bird species, antelope, giraffe, zebras, lions, jackal and to top it off, a leopard just standing on the road waiting to pose for us.
The next day, I was up at around 9000 ft altitude in Aberdare National Park marveling at the views and the variety of terrain. We were so lucky to see a leopard almost first thing in the morning, as usual, just hanging out in a tree. Many species of antelope, including waterbuck, bushbuck, the rare mountain reedbuck greeted us; numerous buffalo, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, absolutely huge elephants and even the very shy giant forest hog were all there parading for us. A trail to a beautiful waterfall allowed a bit of a stretch when we stopped for lunch. This park has stunning mountain scenery and is very different from many of the other savannah game parks I am used to.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a park just outside of Nanyuki, right at the foot of Mount Kenya. Again, I was not disappointed with the proliferation of animals in this park, as well as a chimpanzee sanctuary in the middle of the park. What a delight to watch the young ones doing somersaults or grooming each other.
While I was in the Mount Kenya area, I visited several orphanages and other needy sites in both Nyeri and Nanyuki towns. I am always amazed at the dedication of the local people who take in children and strive to educate them while providing for their basic needs. We are adding some of the orphanages and a school to our volunteer options. The nice thing about this area is that there is so much to see and do, including climbing Mount Kenya, while being outside of the big city.
I felt like I was arriving home when my plane landed at Entebbe, Uganda. The tea and sugar plantations line the highway on route to Jinja, and remind me how pretty my favourite country is. The village of Bujagali, near Jinja, has changed a lot, and is a very busy haven of tiny local businesses all catering to the kayakers and volunteers who flock there. Its location right on The Nile doesn’t hurt as the river offers level 5 rapids and is always lovely to look at.
A safari to Murchison Falls National Park included a stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where we were able to walk up close to resident rhinos, as well as a chimp trek in Budongo Forest. The chimps kept evading us as they moved so quickly through the forest, but our rangers did manage to get us close for some short glimpses.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest protected area, hosts vast numbers of hippos, as well as crocodiles, buffalo, elephant, numerous antelope, lion, giraffe and birds. We saw virtually everything, including an eclipse of the sun!
A launch trip travels upriver to a viewpoint below the falls, where you can see the awesome site of the whole river getting compressed through a 6 meter gap in the rocks before dropping 44mtrs with a thunderous roar. We hiked to the top of the falls, allowing many opportunities for photos of the powerful Nile.
After the safari, I went back to Bujagali where I spent a lot of time looking at land. I hope to be able to buy a piece of land where I can build a part-time home for myself as well as guests. Down the road, I am envisioning taking in some orphans or needy kids.
I was able to fit in a number of music and dance experiences while in Uganda, in between souvenir shopping and visiting many friends. Jinja is near the equator and enjoys 2 growing seasons each year so many amazing fruits and vegetables grow in this very lush area. The locals insist that I am not eating enough, and I have to admit that it is hard not to overeat their yummy dishes.
It was a very successful trip and I am already planning the next one.
These are excerpts from travel stories written in 2004 on a 15 month adventure. Read about travel experiences from Africa and other destinations around the globe.
1. Volunteering at a Preschool
2. Bwindi or Bust – Tracking Gorillas
Volunteering at a Preschool
The second day I was there, I was wandering down the village road, when about 12 kids adopted me. They took me into their mud house and showed me all of their possessions, consisting of a water barrel, 3 filthy beds for 7 children and a chair. They all sang songs for me, even the toddlers, taking turns and singing together. They were so sweet. One song was called "We are happy to see you today" and I really had to blink back the tears. It was just what I needed at that moment.
My volunteer job was at a preschool for orphans. If you ever want to feel needed, go visit a preschool in Uganda. Every day when I arrived at the school, the kids would all come running to greet me, grabbing my hands and climbing all over me. I usually had 4 or 5 kids hanging on each arm at a time. Sometimes they would fall asleep with their heads in my lap. I taught them nursery rhymes and songs and helped the teachers with correcting letters and numbers etc. I quickly found out that teaching kids is much different from teaching adults; you must repeat yourself dozens of times. The kids were taught in their local language, Lusoga, and English. They called me Madam "Sinseeah" or "Finfiya".
I normally walked to work, 35 minutes along the main road that passed many villages. The people were very friendly, especially the kids. The adults would often ask me who I was and what was I doing there. They were very appreciative when I told them that I was helping out at a school. I have never shaken hands so much in my life.
Our school had one classroom outside; the other two rooms had a dividing wall them that was open at the top so you could always hear the other classes. It got very noisy, especially when it rained on the tin roof. The teachers are ecstatic when a visitor brings books, pens or just anything. Only 2 or 3 of the kids had shoes, a few wore flipflops and the rest were barefoot. It was so muddy when I first arrived, as it was the rainy season, so red mud got tracked everywhere, including my clothes.
There was no running water at the school, so the kids drank from a jerry can and shared 2 cups. Occasionally, they were given toys to play with for an hour or so. The toys consisted of a few balls, grass dolls, broken plastic trucks, some bits of playdough, and some stuffed animals, all covered in dirt. The kids are so thrilled to have something other than the usual empty water bottles that they normally play with.
One little girl that I noticed, an AIDS orphan, was very bright and it broke my heart that her grandmother would likely not be able to afford to even send her on to primary school. Her eyes would follow me all day long, as she smiled shyly. Everyday she wore the same ragged blue t-shirt.
Education is basically free for primary grades 1 through 7; however, the kids must buy a uniform and their own exercise books and pencils. For some families, those expenses are prohibitive. A typical primary school has over 1500 children, and many classes are jammed packed with 100 - 150 kids. Some kids board at the schools, and their rooms are often just a bare cement floor with a thatch mat on the floor to sleep on.
Every morning, when I arrived at school, I made a point of shaking hands and greeting the teachers. We would ask each other how was the night, how’s the family, how is “there” and how are the crops, chickens, or goats. We would also shake hands again when I left for the day, wishing each other a good day. The headmistress would thank me profusely every day and about once a week would say to me "Cynseeah, thank-you for loving us".
Bwindi or Bust – Tracking Gorillas
5 women in a rented car, no collision insurance, driving across Uganda – what could possibly go wrong with that? 4 of us were in search of gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda; 1 of the gals had been before so she just came along for the ride. Our trip started with madly shopping in Kampala for a few necessities. Since it was on the way, and they sold so many things that we could not get in Jinja, what do you expect 5 women to do? After stocking up, the next few hours were spent driving around in extreme heat, with mega traffic, and Sheila yelling out the window, with her Irish accent “Which way to Kabale?”. So we were off to a bit of a slow start.
The main roads there were busy with people walking or cycling, matatus (mini-buses) and large trucks. There were villages and towns every few miles, it seemed, and they all had huge speed bumps. Every time we drove over one of those speed bumps, our car would bottom out, and we wondered why. We noticed some other drivers taking the speed bumps crosswise so thought we should try it. It became a series of zig, zag, hold your breath, scrape and thump. After 12 hours of this, it was getting dark and we still had to drive 8 km up a steep mountain road to reach Lake Bunyoni, our destination for the first night. The road was so full of ruts and holes that 3 of us had to get out and walk, as Emily attempted to navigate around or through them. We kept questioning why the guy would rent us a car like that knowing what the road was like. The car kept scraping and finally Emily just stopped the car, and said “No more.” By then, it was pitch dark and none of us was feeling overly optimistic. Thank God for cell phones. We called the camp and they sent someone to come help us. I couldn’t believe when he arrived in a car just like ours; we had expected something bigger and tougher. Then we realized why we kept bottoming-out, we had overloaded the car with our luggage, food, and about 40 liters of water.
We finally got settled in a nice cabin and arranged for a 4-wheel drive vehicle and driver to take us the next day the last 4 hours to Bwindi. We were quite thrilled to have someone else do the driving, and in a car that we were not responsible for. Our driver, Moses, was lovely, but the truck was not. There were no shocks and the rear windows could not be rolled down. Of course there was no air conditioning and it was brutally hot. We dubbed the ride “heaven and hell” - heaven because of the scenery and hell because of the ride. After 4 hours of getting our spines and other body parts smashed around, we finally arrived at Bwindi. Phew, I’d been waiting 12 years for this!
The next morning, we checked in with the rangers and met our guide, another Moses. We were driven the first few miles with our guide, armed guards, trackers, and a few porters, so that we could begin tracking the Mubwere group of gorillas.
The first part of the trail was on a wide path and passed a few tiny villages, on the edge of the forest. The views were absolutely stunning, green terraced fields on the mountain sides and mist hovering over the valleys. It soon began to rain heavily, and within minutes we were all soaked. I think I was right at home in the rain forest, and really only felt more exhilaration. The floor of the forest was slippery and spongy
soft from leaves and vines. It was very dense, although we were able to easily bushwack our way through. The guide had been in radio contact off and on with the trackers and they soon reported that they had found Mubwere, the group we were pursuing. Since there were no actual paths in the forest, the guide and trackers then had to call back and forth to each other with a sort of hooting sound, as a way to locate each other. Our group got very excited then as we realized that we would, in fact, be seeing the gorillas. I got goosebumps as we left our porters, bags, water and hiking sticks behind, and followed our guide. We met the trackers then, and they spent a few minutes cutting at the tall foliage with machetes so that we could realize what we had been waiting for. It had taken us just 2 ½ hours, although it felt like only 5 minutes to me.
Then we saw him, Ruhundeza, the silverback. He was sitting with a baby and they were doing what they do best, eating. Cameras were snapping away when a female came running out of the bush past us. She then stopped, turned around, growled, and then charged us. 2 of our group tried to run away, but I stopped them. We stood our ground and the female soon backed away. There were a total of 9 gorillas in the Mubwere group – the silverback, 3 adult females, and the rest were babies. The foliage was thick, and our view was obstructed at times. We were not allowed within 7 meters of the hairy guys; they kept moving, so we had to too. Next thing you knew, there was the silverback mating with one of his “wives”. This was an extremely rare sight to see; one ranger told us he had only witnessed mating once in 3 years. Ruhundeza soon resumed munching leaves, while the females tended and fed their babies. One female sat scratching at a log, I believe looking for insects to eat.
We noticed the silverback looking up at the trees, turning his head back and forth, when all of a sudden he stood up, beat his chest (just like in the cartoons), and came running towards us. We all stood frozen to the ground in fear, but thankfully, he kept going, within about 4 feet of the whole group of us. He rushed up a tree, another rare sight, and began to eat up there. For the remainder of our allotted hour, we watched most of the group join him moving around in the trees. The whole time with the gorillas was not at all what I had expected; National Geographic always shows them sitting together in a clearing just eating. So, I know my experience was special and I am so fortunate.
On our way out of the forest, we made a stop to eat our lunch at a grassy bluff with the most spectacular view. By then it had stopped raining and we were able to dry out nicely for our hike out. Moses was waiting for us, for another heaven and hell ride back to Lake Bunyonyi.
After being jostled around again, we decided that we deserved another day off to relax, play scrabble and just relax with our memories before our long ride back to Jinja.
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