Thoughts by a wannabe local tourist about how and where to travel

By Lillian Gaitho, Head of PR,

Re-broadcast on 01st October 2014

How to Tour East Africa, and maximize on the adventure!

The flip side of having half the world thinking Africa is a country, is that they all want to come and experience this legendary Cradle of Mankind; from the man’s origin in Sibiloi National Park, to the devil’s bedroom in Olnjorowa Gorge, the vast Mara Triangle stretching between Kenya and Tanzania as well as myriad of rituals and culture defining the Acholi of Uganda; the world wants to go-see-Africa!

Along the riverine banks of Rusizi Park in Burundi rules Gustave-the Lead Role of the film capturing of the Killer Croc. The monster is rumored to have devoured about 300 humans and is still hunting the mortal!

The Eastern part of Africa is an adventure on its own; snowcapped mountains, pristine beaches, gorilla tours, vast savanna lands, wonders of migratory birds and the epic wildebeest migration. With two of her countries (Kenya and Uganda) voted in the recent UNWTO top ten most visited countries in Africa, 2014- JOVAGO has some good pointers to guide you through your adventure.

1. Bike up, Board a Boda, Raft Sideways There’s no fun in flying away!

The best part of your African tour is not the destination, but the experience there in! Estelle Verdier of tells a fairytale of her road trip to the Cape of Good Hope from Nairobi in awe! “We hiked rides from riders in the desert, and jumped on bakkies along deserted country roads; that was the fun of the trip-unpredictability. We camped where the sun’s rays seemed to walk out on us” Of course it’s easier when you are in the main land, you may not be in the right direction, but at least you can try to outrun any looming danger. Estelle’s biggest terror called in while trying to cross over Ruvuma River from Tanzania to Mozambique “the small boat was overloaded and swaying precariously, and as if the murderous waves were not a scare enough, an albatross of crocodiles waited in anticipation for their God-sent meal!” They made it alright, and the croc-adventure made for a starred entry in her travel diary. So, where is the fun in flying over scenic topography you can’t view, or beautiful horizons you can’t make for postcards? For the first timers “Boda bodas” are East Africa’s great good competition for Honda’s CRF450R. I am kidding. Simply hop onto The Bike, pull on your helmet, state your destination and anchor yourself around the waistline of the knowledgeable captain. On top of getting there, you will have had your first language class in the local dialect!

2. Learn the Language-at least say “Hakuna Matata” and tip your porter

However much the moral fabric of your hometown may be torn; I can almost testify on your mom teaching you the golden words; say please, say thank you, say excuse me, say hakuna matata when you go to East Africa and then ask the rider to teach you the translation. Knowing your mom, she must have gone on to teach you the importance in appreciating good deeds; tip the good guy, or like the good tourist you are, carry a few gift items from your land. The guy may not have a very friendly face, but it’s only because of the dusty path others like you have made him cycle on-do not be shaken. If you happen to come for a second trip, teasingly ask him to show you his teen photos, you will be amazed! People like East Africans like people who exhibit basic manners, wow the folks by doing it in their tongue! It also helps for integration purposes.

3. Defy Logic, Follow a Stranger

Mom warned you against this, so did granny. But they also taught you about “gut-feeling or the sixth sense”. If your guide invites you to his Boma (homestead) and the small hairs on the back of your neck do not rise in caution, follow the guy. In his Boma may lie treasures that you may never have discovered on your beaten path. Interacting with the natives in their ‘normal’ environment will also open your eyes to understanding their culture, origin and what makes them who they are. Hotels such as Cottar’s 1920 Safari Camp in Maasai Mara-Kenya have community-tourist integration activities such as Maasai Warrior Camp and Kenyan themed BBQ nights which bring guests and community together.

4. Embrace Culture, Even When You’d Rather Die.

The Maasais of Kenya and Tanzania are globally renowned for both their beautiful shukas/kikoys and fantastic beaded accoutrements. But that’s not all, deep in their idyllic settings is their culture that has not been eroded by either technology or man’s civilization. Do not wilt in shock if the Ilamerak (elders) invite you to partake in their cherished blood and milk gourd serving. Across the border, Tanzanians enjoy a good joke and have a small ritual to accompany it; always remember to stretch and offer your hand for the owner of the joke to tap/clap as a sign that you salute their humor streak!

If you fortunately or unfortunately find yourself surrounded by this “unnatural occurrences” do as the Romans and grab a horn or stretch a hand! Look away anytime you feel like frowning and suck in your stomach without giving in to any display of emotion! Participating in the culture is a great way of appreciating your host community, and also makes for beautiful stories in the future. I keep wishing I would just have grabbed the bowl of “Umqombothi” making rounds in a house party on my last trip to Pretoria. It is a great way to connect with people, a show of interest and respect for their culture.

5. Trust Your Tongue, It’s the Best Unrated Guide to Delightful Culinary

Tell you what, the worst injustice you can do to the adventurous being in you is feeding them canned beans on nature trail; unless of course you are a scout learning survival in the jungle. Unlike what they say in chemistry labs, take it upon yourself and test by tasting. Drink mnazi along with the young men of Giriama of the Kenyan Coast, grab a straw and indulge your three minutes in ajono – a traditional Ugandan brew and try samaki wa kupaka in the spice island of Zanzibar. Once here, rest your fork, spoon and chop stick and eat like a local royal. Hygiene is a global subject, unless you have suspicions of the Tilapia not being fresh from the lake as the agile fishermen of Rusinga island of Lake Victoria claim.

6. You are no Cat, Guard Your One Life Fiercely

Even when the fine hairs on the back of your neck seem relaxed, keep alert-maybe it’s just our glorious weather soothing you! Always keep your senses vigilant for any suspicious characters; whether in a local Mnazi banda or in the upper class member clubs of Nairobi. Tourists are known to be easy targets for all kinds of petty crime from con games to pick pocketing. Beat the conman’s plot by keeping calm; leave the back pack in your hotel, shed the sandals when going out and trade the cargo pants for something less of a giveaway. Refer back to number II and say Jambo to the poker-faced guy with popping veins. He might be impressed enough to consider taking up your security detail!

7. Pack Your Needs

This ought to have come right on the first para, but well….I don’t know much about packing for travel! All you need have is what you need, then twice a supply of what you may need more and then throw it all into a comfortable bag that’s not half the weight of its contents when empty! Avoid having to try new painkillers every time you cross border-pack your homeopathic remedies and emergency kit. Do not wait to buy a water bottle on your way, pack two; one to give the boda boda guy and the other for your thirst. Similarly, unless you have planned to shop at the airport-pack enough clothes to last until you can get a trustworthy guide or are familiar enough with the outlets.

For more information on Season Offers and great discounts go to

Lillian Gaitho

PR Manager, JOVAGO- EA.

%d bloggers like this: