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Entries about africa

New Blog: SOUTHERN Africa Road Blog

Driving a glorified moped from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town

Find it here https://.askgudmundsen.travellerspoint.com

Planned Route -ish...

Planned Route -ish...

I’ve got a dumb idea. Fun, exciting, but dumb! Why not drive, the small 110cc motorcycle that I’ve been driving for the last year or so, while working for the European Union in Tanzania, all the way down to Cape Town?

“Motorcycle” is probably the wrong word – glorified scooter will probably be more correct. Setting out for a 12,000 km (that’s 7,500 miles for the Americans) in Southern Africa, on a glorified moped is dumb. Silly at best. Particularly when taking into account the lack of driving skills in Southern Africa, or that a city bike probably shouldn’t be driven up a mountainous gravel road in rural Lesotho, or that the 140 km I can travel on a full tank (on smooth, plain tarmac) often will not be enough to take me to the next gas station… At least the diplomatic plates will spare me some of the bribery attempts and easy the border crossings.

Regardless, I’m sure plenty of people called Amundsen dumb when he decided to go look for the South Pole and Edmund Hillary insane when he decided to climb Everest. Adventure always require some caution thrown to the wind. I did the same in West Africa, and many more people seemed interested in that adventure, so I will once again be doing my fair share of travel blogging here on the site and post a daily photo on Facebook. Consider this the official relaunch of the Road Blog!

The Bike, known as 'the Diplonator' by friends

The Bike, known as 'the Diplonator' by friends

Highlights will include Lake Malawi, Mozambique’s Coast, the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, the highlands of Eswatini and Lesotho and, of course, Cape Town – and many, many hours spent on the road with an increasingly sore bum.

I will set out from Dar on September 24th and expect to be in Cape Town before Christmas.

PS. If anyone is making a poll on when the bike will break down, my guess is on one of the first days in Lesotho. Then again – I know absolutely nothing about bikes.

Posted by askgudmundsen 08:44 Tagged adventure driving africa tanzania zambia malawi zimbabwe motorcycle south_africa lesotho roadtrip southern_africa mozambique swaziland eswatini Comments (0)

Gold Digging in the Wild West

What to do when a country – in this case, Burkina Faso – lacks obvious attractions to visit? Gold mining? Sure!

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Sissoko (middle)

Sissoko (middle)

West Africa could be described as ‘the Wild West’. Mostly known for civil wars, blood diamonds and Ebola; it’s not far from Indian wars, gold rush and dysentery. But I’m old school, so I went hunting for gold rather than diamonds.

Last time I was in Burkina I made some good friends in the north of the country. Not far from the border with Mali. One of those had told me that there are some pretty impressive gold mines a few hours north-west of the capital Ouagadougou. So why not visit a goldmine. I’ve certainly not done that before, and I was pretty sure my travel mate Bo hasn’t done either. My Burkinaian friend, Sissoko, even came down to show us around the mining area.

Legoland

Legoland

To be honest, I didn’t expect much. We knew it was so-called open-earth mining, meaning that the mining was done by hand and straight from the ground. Jokingly, I suggested that it would be a little like visiting Legoland’s western town, where kids can wash fake gold out of mud to get a shiny medallion. At most I expected a few fortune seekers were digging through the dirt. Was I in for a surprise!

Driver and red(?) car

Driver and red(?) car

Having arrived in the rather unimportant truck stop town of Yako, Bo and I met up with Sissoko, who had been hanging out with a friend of his, waiting for us. Once there, Sissoko was a champ and asked us to wait in the shade for a couple of minutes while he would organise a ride out to the mine. It wasn’t more than six or seven kilometres away, but he insisted that jumping on three taxi-motos would be too bumpy and too dirty. A little while later he came back with the only real taxi in town – a former red car, so old that all the paint had peeled off and it was now simply a white/rusty car.

The driver was the father of Sissoko’s friend, and both him and Sissoko insisted that he would drive us for free. That wouldn’t do for us, so we paid the gas for the ride (about 4€’s worth) secretly. Sissoko would later pay our driver another 4€ for the gas, in that way the driver did get a little for his troubles. We also bought both of them lunch at the finest restaurant in town after the visit to the mine, which isn’t saying much. We tried our best, but between the four of us, we still weren't able to eat and drink for more than 15€…

Women tracing ore

Women tracing ore

Driving along the dirt roads, we quickly arrived at the village that’s the centre of operation for the gold mining. As we drove into town, we spotted a few makeshift dredges. We thought we’d arrived and were impatient to get out and chat with the guys showering dirt. But we kept driving. Straight through the village. Only to do a short stop where our driver shouted our arrival to the village chief – and more importantly that our purpose there weren’t to steal people’s gold.

Gold mining

Gold mining

We soon found out why we didn’t stop in town. Just outside it, behind a ridge of red earth, lay the real mining site. And what a shock. It wasn’t just one mine. It was dozens. Hundreds of young men, working in shacks, around handfuls and handfuls of mine shafts, dug straight out of the flat ground. All of it – including the young men – were covered in a fine layer of white sand, which must have been dug up from under the red top soil.

Shaft

Shaft

We all headed for the nearest shaft. The guys working there were openly surprised to see white people, let alone tourists. But they also took pride in the work. In the hardship of it. And in the danger. This particular shaft was 70 metres deep. Less than half the depth of the deepest shaft we came by. They offered us to be lowered down to see it from the inside. But standing on a small plank of wood strapped to a rope, with 70 metres of darkness below, was a little more excitement than both Bo and I was looking for. It goes without saying that we hadn't gotten many kilometres out of town before I regretted not risking my life to get a closer look at those mines!

Teenager pulling up ore

Teenager pulling up ore

The work itself is back breaking. Once a day’s shift has been lowered down, they stay in the mine for 24 hours. Always digging, hacking and washing out the potential ore. Others haul the ore up – 50 kilos at a time. This then gets washed, wild west style. Larger rocks and stones get crushed into powder, which is then also washed. Everything, every gramme of dirt, is carefully examined for specs of gold and gold dust.

Only two steps in the process are electric driven. The machines crushing the rocks, and the pumps pumping water down into the mines for the workers to wash out the ore. It’s all dangerous work, and people die every month here. And it’s not only dangerous due to the risk of the mines collapsing. Shacks must count at last ten strong men; otherwise, they’ll risk getting jumped by other groups of miners, who are after the ore they have dug up.

The open mine

The open mine

It was an unbelievable sight. Like stepping back in time. To the American, rather than the African, west. Having talked with a few of the crews and gotten our photos, we headed back to the car. Away from the burning Sahel sun that made conditions horrific. We wanted to sit down and have a drink, but Sissoko – himself a retired miner – warned us. Every single drink available at the mines are spiked with drugs, natural or chemical, that energises the workers. So better wait until we’re back in Yako.

Kid washing for gold

Kid washing for gold

On the way back to the car we came past a couple of kids – around nine years old, I would think – who were busy washing gold out of the mud. Child labour if I any saw it. But not particularly more horrible than the kids working in the fields, markets or harbours all over the continent. But it still, somehow, struck a nerve.

One thing is certain. What Africa lacks in ordinary tourist sights, it more than makes up for in shocking, fascinating and crazy experiences!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 17:32 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged travel wild africa western sights gold mining mine travelling west_africa burkina child_labour Comments (0)

Africa’s Cheapest Safari

No, I didn’t just see some zebras from the bus window… We did get chased by two elephants and pulled a crocodile by its tail, though.

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Pool-side elephant spotting

Pool-side elephant spotting

Having just barely made it off the Volta Ferry, Bo and I headed for Mole National Park. Its main attraction is its heads of elephants, which congregate at certain drinking holes here in the dry season. Little did we know, as we approached the park, that those same elephants would eventually chase us away from their drinking spots.

Getting from Yeji where the ferry left us, Bo and I used all day getting the 300 km to the park. Starting at 7:30 by crossing a river, onward with first a coach then a minibus, before making the final few kilometres in a taxi. We arrived twelve hours after we had taken off, just as the sun was setting over the bush.

Standing tall on the top of a cliff, Mole Motel have been the primary place of accommodation in the park since the 1960’s. I haven’t had too much luxury during my previous national park visits in West Africa, but lounging by the pool with a view of elephants on the plains below is pretty much a highlight. And the expense? 13 US$ a night for a dorm bed. Before this turns into a commercial for the Motel, I should probably note that it’s pretty rundown in that built-in-the-60’s kind of sense.

Getting close

Getting close

And while sitting by the pool and watching elephants from afar is all well and good, going out searching for the elephants on the plains is a lot more fun – and excitement. So, for 2.5 dollars per hour per person, we headed out on a safari walk to get a closer look at the elephants. The animals have mostly gotten used to visitors, and they are somewhat relaxed about us hanging around. To be honest, the group of elephants we found seem much more concerned about throwing the right amount of dirt on themselves and wash in the big waterhole were the congregate. It was easy getting within 20 meters them. Awesome!

Just before it charged

Just before it charged

Though not every elephant loved our hanging about. At the end of the walk, we came across two young male elephants, who did not like our presence one bit. I’d just managed to get a frontal photo of one of the two elephants when they made a small charge at us. It was more of a threat than a real charge, but it quickly sends us head over heels – running for dear life. The armed ranger who was with us, got so far shouldering his rifle, preparing a warning shot while we retreated before the elephants stood down. Not happy with the speed of our retreat, the did follow us for a while to make sure that we were leaving.

With that level of excitement, we wasted another afternoon at the pool…

Just walking a croc

Just walking a croc

The next day we left Mole, not so much because of the elephant chase, rather because Bo is running out of time before he needs to get back home. But our animals adventures in Ghana wasn’t over just yet. In the far, far north, on the border with Burkina Faso and another day’s journey from Mole is a small border town named Paga. The town is home to a couple of sacred crocodile pools. Somehow, the crocodiles have an unspoken agreement with the ponds’ caretakers that they get a chicken if they don’t eat the dumb tourists who come by, posing for photos with them.

Petting croc

Petting croc

Having paid the entrance fee (not getting eaten isn’t free) the caretaker zipped around the corner to a nearby market to buy the unlucky chicken that had to give up its life because Bo and I wanted some photos with a crocodile. The chicken was then waved in from of the croc, which then crawled onto dry land. Here, Bo and I was instructed in how to pet and hold the tale of the crocodile, while we were both nervous about the animals large teeth and felt pretty horrible because walking around, pulling the tails of poor crocodile falls well into the category of something bad tourists would do. The pictures turned out pretty bad-ass, though.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:58 Archived in Ghana Tagged animals travel elephants adventure africa safari pool crocodile ghana travelling west_africa Comments (1)

My African Christmas

Because corny headlines is my thing now…

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Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

I celebrated Christmas 2016 by sitting eight hours in a bus, before eating a magnificent Christmas dinner of roasted chicken and French fries with ketchup. Honestly, I went to the finest restaurant in town – they even had tablecloth on the tables. I also ordered the most expensive item available from the menu (which was limited to fried chicken or fried fish, with either fries or rice). Why? Because I was stuck in a provincial town in eastern Côte d’Ivoire, waiting for a morning bus leaving early the next day.

None of this

None of this

On the upside, celebrating Christmas alone on the road could quickly become a very lonely affair. Now it felt no less alone than a regular day of travelling. Back home, Christmas stuff begin to appear everywhere at the beginning of November. Constant reminders that this is the season of friends and families (because we apparently need a special season for that) makes December a shitty time to be alone on. Then again, on the road I’ve had none of the usual stress about gifts, family visits, a calendar packed with snaps and Christmas dinners or any of the cold, dark weather. Actually, having had no Christmas season this year have been rather nice.

The Basilica

The Basilica

Especially because there has been none of that commercialised Christmas crap. I’ve been roaming around in provincial Côte d’Ivoire, which has none of that. Throughout all of December, I’ve seen almost no signs of Christmas. My first Christmas spotting was on December 20 when a large metal Christmas tree was standing in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro.

Since then I’ve seen all of two plastic Christmas trees, three shops that had some Christmas decorations and two (two!) people were wearing Christmas hats. Though one bank employee wore a Santa tie. But that was it. That was all. No reminders that we were hitting the holiday season. No cold weather – the temperature only drops under 25 degrees centigrade if I walk into a room with air condition. Christmas isn’t around – despite having spent much of December in the prominently Christian regions.

Abidjan

Abidjan

This changed a bit when I arrived in Abidjan, the largest city in the country, on December 25. Abidjan is the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire, so – no surprise – things are a bit more commercialised here. Plenty of Western-orientated or -inspired places looked more “ready” for the holidays, and more people were running around in Christmas hats. But it wasn’t before sitting in the lobby of a big hotel in Accra, Ghana, that I heard the first Christmas music. On January 2nd! I have even made it through the holidays without being Wham’ed!

African Christmas

African Christmas

So no, in case any of you wondered, travelling in Africa during the Christmas season has not been more lonely, unbearable or sad, that travelling alone through Africa at any other time. Not at all, actually. Down here, friends and family are attended to constantly. They don’t need a particular month for that. Though people I met had taken a walk around with their friends to visit each others’ families – a pretty common Christmas tradition. Other than that, people here are pretty like at home. They spend most of their holiday with friends and do a lot of drinking.

To be honest, the lack of Christmas actually surprised me (once I finally figured out it was mid-December), because so many people are so massively religious. Most of the first few drafts of this blog post were mainly centred around religion, but as I have only negative things to say about the subject it quickly turned into a rather bitter read. So I scrapped it and started over.

Church on Dec 21st

Church on Dec 21st

Sure they do special services on Christmas, but the churches are often full no matter what. And many places have services not every week, but every day. In some cities, it seems like every second building is a church, and every second billboard is certainly branding one kind of congregation or another. People here should be thrilled that Christianity has stolen a number of pagan rituals and turned them into the make-believe birthday of their bronze age, born-of-a-virgin, zombie god.

But as mentioned that’s not the case at all. Despite being such a religious part of the world, Christmas doesn’t really seem to be celebrated much here in West Africa. At least not in a way that’s recognisable to my eye. My common sense reasoning has three solutions for this:

  • The Pagan traditions were stolen to form Christmas celebrations come from Europe, not West Africa.
  • “African Christmas” is not commercialised the way "Western Christmas" is back home.
  • Christmas is expensive, and large scale celebrations are out of reach for many families.

Commercialised!

Commercialised!

As for the last reason, Christmas in we West is so much about the money. That might very well be why I don’t usually enjoy it. As a student and/or someone trying to save his money to go travel, I don’t appreciate how expensive December has become. In conclusion: Everyone who’s tired of the over-commercialised December holiday were an invisible sky man's son, which is actually himself, is celebrated should spend their December budget on going to West Africa and rid themselves of all that silly and expensive nonsense.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:33 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged churches religion travel christmas africa santa holidays travelling season celebration west_africa ivory_coast côte_d'ivoire Comments (0)

Malaria!

Because what would Africa travel be without a case of malaria... sigh.

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Malaria World

Malaria World

Travelling through West Africa, I’ve come across a few people severely affected by malaria. Common for them has been continuously vomiting, violent shaking and profuse sweating. In other words, they’ve looked really, really sick. Every time, I’ve really, really hoped that I would be spared the experience of getting malaria… As it turns out, I should have no such luck.

Avoid getting bitten

Avoid getting bitten

From the beginning of my travels, I’ve decided to skip the anti-malaria drugs. I’ve done so for a number of reasons. Most malaria medicine is expensive, and more so if it’s one pill per day for 365 days. Good malaria medicine would literally cost me almost two months worth of travelling. Add to that that many cheaper anti-malarias have some heavy side-effects and it’s no fun travelling around with depression or a heavy anti-malaria induced fever. Lastly, I’m simply not consistent enough to take the pills on a regular basis. I’ll forget it, skip it, take them at the wrong times, etc. All in all, it’s cheaper, easier and more pleasant to opt-out and then just try my best at avoiding getting bitten too much.

The odds should also be on my side. There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, but fewer than forty of those transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. And during the first eight months, I spent in the ‘malaria zone’ – travelling from Mauritania to Côte d’Ivoire – I’ve had no problems whatsoever. But with 214 million cases of malaria worldwide every year (2015 numbers) causing 438.000 deaths (90 % of which is in Africa), I was clearly pushing my luck.

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Having arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, I didn’t feel all that well. But I mostly contributed it to the usual travel aches of foreign bacteria and poor hygiene. Especially, because I usually have an iron stomach and care little about the street food that I shove inside of me. That gotta have some backlashes once in a while. And really, it wasn’t something unusual. I just felt a little under the weather. That all changed when I arrived in Kong, a smallish town in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Because getting a serious disease like malaria somewhere, where there’s proper medical facilities would be no fun at all…

The general feeling of misery had developed into diarrhoea, headache and symptoms associated with the common cold, like a blocked nose. Sure, this could just be from eating shitty food staying a few nights in a place with air condition. But given that I’m not on the pill, I promised myself to visit the sole clinic in town the following morning. When I, later that evening, developed a fever and neck pains (joint pain being a distinct symptom of malaria), I began to feel pretty comfortable that something wasn’t quite right.

Facebook quiz

Facebook quiz

That evening was pretty miserable. Alternating between massive sweats and severe chills that night and night was probably the worst I’ve had on the road. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the local cases I’ve experienced, and I did have enough mental surplus to make a quick quiz on my Facebook page where people could bet on malaria, typhoid fever or simple man flu. I few of my friends even guessed Guinea Worm, and once you’ve googled that, you’ll know why I didn’t particularly appreciate their theories… But honestly, if I have to go, I’d rather do it with a grin on my face and a bow before the curtain closes. So no, I don’t feel bad about making a bit of fun out of (possibly) getting malaria.

Malaria Positive

Malaria Positive

Next morning at the clinic, the doctor who saw me was quick to send me to the lab for a couple of blood tests, and – surprise, surprise – they came back about 30 minutes later with a positive result for malaria (which all of six people had guessed correctly on the night before). The cure was surprisingly simple. Two injections followed by three days of taking malaria medicine. Plus an additional two days (five total) of taking medication that would deal with side-effects to the malaria medicine. Three days of taking five pills in the morning and five pills in the evening, followed by two days of taking four pills twice a day. Pretty simple. Everything (tests and drugs) ended up costing me about €18.

The fact that almost half a million people die every year from something that costs less than €20 to cure says a lot about poverty and how easy it really would – and ought to – be to save millions of lives in the developing world.

Malaria Medicin

Malaria Medicin

Myself? I had to go through another feverish night and being pretty drained for both energy and appetite during the three days of treatment. Other than that, I’ve escaped unharmed. Most devastating is that I’m now barred from donating blood for the rest of my life. It’s a hugely important thing to do, and probably the easiest way to save lives. So I hope at least one of my readers, who have not done so earlier, will sign up as a blood donor in my place. Simply because the world doesn’t deserve fewer blood donors, just because I’m stupid enough not to take anti-malaria medicine while travelling through Africa.

Malaria injections

Malaria injections

Now, since we’re ending on a serious note. My malaria experience was a relative light on. I know of travellers who have been evacuated due to severe cases of malaria and others who have suffered through it badly. Even though they have taken their anti-malarias (even the best drugs only catch 80-95 % of the cases). Common for those travellers is that they have ignored the first symptoms. Malaria tends to get you sick, then you get better for a few days, and then you get really, really sick. If you are ever going to travel in a malaria area, please know the symptoms and as soon as you feel any kind of sick – even if you’re taking anti-malaria drugs – get tested. It’s cheap and surprisingly accessible. There’s no excuse not to!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:32 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged travel africa travelling cote medicine health malaria west_africa drugs treatment burkina sickness risk d'ivoire ivory_coast anti-malaria Comments (2)

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