Africa: Go with an open mind, heart & soul; return a changed person

by Monday, March 12, 2018

Guest Traveller Liz Christie describes herself as “Wife, mother, comedian, gym junkie, school committee member” and, in her spare time a “design consultant who works in our family business and who also consults to my own clients”. She’s also very well travelled, having lived in London and Africa, and very good at feeding her travel bug every couple of years. On this once-in-a-lifetime journey marking a milestone birthday, Liz spent a month on the African continent. Her trip was divided into three main parts: Gorillas in Rwanda, safari in Tanzania, and The River Club in Zambia. Let’s join Liz as she guides us around, sharing the extraordinary wildlife, welcoming locals, and awe-inspiring natural wonders…  

Liz Christie.

Travel, especially to third-world destinations, brings everything into perspective and reminds us of what is really important in life. It is the best medicine for the soul. Go with an open mind, heart and soul, and you will come back a changed person!
The vast continent of Africa is so rich and diverse in its culture, art, music – not to mention the animals. It has been inspiring me since I took my first trip there, 17 years ago. After my last trip, I vowed to return with my family and friends for my 50th birthday and that’s just what I did. And what a trip of a lifetime it was.

Liz and the gorilla trackers, one of whom (second from left) had worked with Dian Fossey. the American primatologist and conservationist who undertook an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups in Africa for almost 20 years.

We started our journey in Rwanda. The country has come a long way since its hideous past (the genocide in 1994). The capital, Kigali, is one of the cleanest African capitals I have visited. The drive up to Volcanoes National Park was breathtaking. This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We trekked through dense forest with our guide Francesca in search of these grandiose animals. And after about one and a half hours of walking, we found them: A family of 14. I sat and marvelled at these beautiful animals which are so human-like. That memory will live with me forever.  Our daughter was too young to trek to see the gorillas because the minimum age is 16 but she had an amazing time on the Safari in Tanzania.

After walking about one and a half hours, we found them: A family of 14. You can see the silverback male second from the left watching us, ready to defend his family group.

We then visited Tanzania for a 12-day safari. What a spectacular country it is, with so many different and diverse National Parks: Arusha, Serengeti, and Mount Kilimanjaro. We stayed a night in a Maasai lodge overlooking Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Maasai people have distinctive customs and dress.

Staying in a Maasai lodge was an incredible experience. The Maasai people are proud and noble. While we were staying at the lodge, we didn’t for one minute feel like they the local people were ‘putting it on’ for us tourists. They seemed to genuinely love dancing and showing us their culture and way of life. Speaking of way of life, specifically food, most of the lodges cater for the Western palette, but they usually have a small offering of local cuisine on offer. In Zambia, this was based on a stiff porridge made from ground maize.

A Maasai woman.

On Safari, we saw an abundance of game. I have never seen so much concentration of game in one area. One of our highlights was when we came across a magnificent lion and two lionesses sitting on a rock. They were performing like something out of “The Lion King”. We were the only safari vehicles there, which made it even more special.

A lion and lioness.

After our Safari, we headed for The River Club in Zambia, on the Zambezi River, about 50 kilometres out of Livingstone, on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls.

The River Club wowed us with its unexpected and unpretentious luxury. Our chalet was amazing and the staff anticipated our every wish. We were treated to having our beds turned down each afternoon (with mosquito nets), daily laundry service, a claw-foot bath with a view of the sun setting over the Zambezi, gourmet food, and much more.

The River Club Luxury Family River Suite.

The charming owner Peter Jones was frequently on hand to regale us with tales of the Zambezi and African History. There are lots of day trips from the River Club, if you so desire or, you can just enjoy the view from The River Club from your chalet.
Liz’s Top Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Trip to Africa: 
1. Preparations: 
  • Timing your trip: Try to avoid peak times in Africa such as June – July Europe and US school holidays. What’s the point going to Africa and having 100 tourists at a lion sighting? We travelled mid-end of November and had most of the lodges to ourselves.
  • Check all visa requirements (if you have a good travel agent they should do this for you). Our travel agent (Impact Travel in Mulgrave, Victoria) was amazing. Yvonne Lazarow, the director, is formerly from South Africa and had visited and stayed at all the lodges, down all the tours, etc.. I would strongly recommend using a travel agent who has done the trip and tours that she is selling to you.
  • Africa is a trip you need to prepare for from about three months out. You certainly need vaccinations, such as Hepatitis B and A, and Yellow Fever, just to name a few. Some vaccinations you will require a second or third booster shot before leaving. Malaria tablets in Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia are a must but they are not necessary for most parts of South Africa. Our daughter hated having to take Malaria tablets each morning on the trip. In the end, we crushed the tablets and put them into orange juice for her to drink.
  • Travel with some small dominations of $US for tips and then get a travel debit card in $US so you can withdraw at ATMs and not receive the local currency which will be worth nothing once you have departed the country.
  • About 6 weeks prior to travelling, get stuck into a pro-biotic daily (the ones you keep in the fridge), available from any good pharmacy. Then take a dried, tablet form (which doesn’t need refrigerating) away with you whilst in Africa.
  • Drink only bottled water throughout the whole trip and also use it when cleaning your teeth.

2. Getting there:

We flew Qatar Airways, direct from Australia. It is an awesome airline. On our return journey, we had a night in Doha to break the journey which is especially good if you’re travelling with children.

3. What to pack to wear to trek to the gorillas: 

  • Wear waterproof hiking boots (wear them in before you get to Africa to avoid blisters).
  • Long, trekking-style trousers.
  • To avoid red-ant bites: Long socks to tuck your trousers into; or hiking gators, if you wish to purchase them.
  • Some light, gardening-type gloves from a Two Dollar shop to protect against nettles.
  • A Mac/waterproof jacket, in case of rain.
  • It can be quite cool so a long-sleeved shirt and jacket.
  • Backpack for your camera, water, etc.. FYI. There are porters that will carry your back pack for a small fee (US$20-$US30).

4. Activities in Zambia (Victoria Falls):

  • Bungee Jumping
  • Helicopter or microlight flight over the Falls
  • White-Water Rafting
  • Canoeing Safari
  • Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi River
  • Trip to Devil’s Pool (on top of the Falls) – dry season only
  • Breakfast/Lunch on Livingstone Island
  • Livingstone Museum
  • Trip to the Elephant Café – for lunch and to interact with the orphaned elephants
  • Dinner on the restored, Livingstone Express Train – which stops on the Victoria Falls bridge
  • Day trip into Botswana (Chobe Park) – my sisters and their families did this and saw all the ‘big five’ plus a lion killing game – AMAZING!
  • Trip to the local village

5. Souvenirs: There are loads of souvenir shops and markets. Make sure you barter at the markets – they expect it, within reason. Keep in mind that they also need to feed their families!! You can buy loads of wooden curios but be warned: You need to declare them when coming back into Australia. As long as the wood has been treated, you should be fine. I have never had a problem.