Tips from the road: Africa
Sometimes is the anguish after several years living a routine that does not get you anywhere, or the crisis that follows the end of a long relationship or a catastrophic event so personal that pushes you to rethink your priorities in life.
There are many different reasons that can lead us to start a “no return ticket” and “no planning” around the World trip, but everyone who decided to follow that explorer draw towards the unknown has a common motivating element: we want to know the World in which we live and want to know more about the human kind. Ask any traveler and they will respond that people are one of the main attractions and interests that leave the best memories among all the experiences accumulated in the different Countries they visited.
Although we could do not know it when we started, our subconscious is drawn by the diversity of human beings, and the more cultures, races, tribes or religions we meet the more we happen to discover, that is what unites us. Our peculiarities and differences fade and blur to the point where, as human beings, we are all part of the same species and share the same destiny.
But before we begin to theorize where we should go as a specie we must know where we come from, and the answer to this question will be found in East Africa, the cradle of humanity.
Our project Around Gaia, that took us around the world, has already accumulated 54 countries during the last 4 years we have been on the road, and just in its final stage, before returning to Europe, we have approached to this corner of the planet where everything started and where everything we have seen so far on this trip seems to make sense.
In the coming weeks we will guide you through 8 destinations in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia that we recommend not to miss on your next trip if, beside riding on some of the most amazing motorcycling routes, you also want to discover more about yourself. This week we start with Tanzania and Rwanda.
Lake Natron (Tanzania)
National parks like Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro or Masai Mara may present some inconveniences if you are travelling by motorcycle. Their high cost access may exceed the limits of your budget, while the ban on motorcycles will force you to use an off-road vehicle through some sort of organized tour, with a massive influx of tourists that will take away much of the magic of the African savannah. Luckily Lake Natron is there for us. You can reach its acidic waters riding your own motorcycle through a gravel and petrified lava route. The only traffic you will encounter will be the Masai warriors with their sharp spears herding their cattle for water and grass. The trip can be done on an intense day from Arusha, but we recommend you do one or two stops to camp in some of the Masai villages along the way, always asking permission to their chief. Plenty of wildlife to be seen: although there is a slim chance of meeting lions along the route (they usually avoid any contact with the warriors), zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, flamingoes and even camels will keep you company at any moment. Eventually you will reach the edge of the volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai, and ride around it to get to the lake.
The Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe (Rwanda)
Rwanda is a small Country that is not only perfect to cross on a motorcycle with a mountainous geography and perfect climate, but also offers easy access to two of our very close relatives, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. The first ones live in the treetops of Nyungwe forests, but it will certainly be the mountain gorillas the wild animal who will make you to see clearly that their feelings are not so different from yours.
The last individuals of this species live scattered among the mountains that sit among Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, but in the latter Country it will be easier to access their encounter. After a walk of 1 or 2 hours through leafy forests, the trackers will take you within a couple of meters from some of the gorilla families that live here.
First the guide will approach the leader (with his silver back) and using sounds from the language of this incredible animal will let him know that we come just to visit them without being a threat. As soon as the silver back understands that his family is not in danger everybody will return to their activities like eating, allow females to clean their coat from lice, take a nap on the ground, play with baby gorillas or even having some sex.
Ivana and Manu of Around Gaia guide us through some more exciting destinations in Africa, the Continent they just finished exploring during their RTW journey that took them to 54 Countries in 4 years.
After the first introduction to Tanzania and Rwanda, this week they take us to three more hidden gems, like Zanzibar, Rift Valley and Omo Valley.
At some point your trip through East Africa needs a break. The intensity of exploring this Continent by motorcycle can leave you exhausted, and the solution is in Zánzibar. This coral island full of history hides some of the most beautiful beaches on Earth. There are two very different faces: the quiet west side to relax and eat some good fish, and the windy east side for the lovers of kite surfing.
Rift Valley (Ethiopia)
The Rift Valley is one of the biggest faults of the planet and, although you may not have known it until now, it´s the reason why you can read these lines today. When it rose it divided this region of the African continent into two very different areas, giving the East a drier climate that forced the local apes to leave the trees in search of more food. These then began to walk on two legs, leaving their hands free to create utensils and tools, eventually evolving into humans as we are today. The fault is enormous and it crosses several Countries, but we recommend visiting in a specific and easy to access place. A little more than 200 km North of Addis Ababa, on the route to Bahir Dar, the high plateau is suddenly cut by the huge crack. From that cliff, you can enjoy one of the best views this Continent can offer, with a glimpse of the Blue Nile at the bottom.
Omo valley (Ethiopia)
This is one of the places where some of the oldest hominid fossils were found.
Here they are trying to preserve human life in its most original form, even in the 21st century. Still isolated from the impact of globalization, this valley is home to many tribes that continue to live the same way after hundreds if not thousands of years.
The best way to visit it by motorcycle is to follow a loop that starts and ends in Konso. The road is paved Woito, where to to stop and eat the typical Enjira and drink one of the best coffees in the World. After that it’s all dirt road to Arbore and then Turmi. This place may be considered the heart of the Omo Valley.
It´s a crossroad from where you can go visit Omorate along the river that gives its name to the valley, or return to Turmi and try to reach Dimeka on Thursday or Saturday. Those are the market days and people from different tribes (especially Hamer) walk many miles to get here to trade and socialize.
Starting from Jinka there is a trail that will take you to the mountains and meet maybe one of the most unique tribes, the famous Mursi.
This week Manu and Ivana of Around Gaia take us to the last three destinations of their personal list of favorite places in Africa, a Continent that they reached after spending 4 years on the road and visiting 54 Countries on their Round the World journey.
For the last installation of their three-chapter story, we travel to Kenya, once more to Rwanda and finally to Uganda.
Merille market (Kenya)
This is a small village on the main road from Nairobi to the border of Ethiopia, that can easily go unnoticed but it gets very interesting on Tuesdays when they have the market. Without electricity or running water, the life of the Samburus is already predisposed to be quite special and a good example of survival in the middle of this desert.
For these people life passes slowly every day, chewing miraa leaves – a stimulating plant similar to coffee but that can be very addictive and with potent effects if it is consumed in excess. But on Tuesday everything changes. People come here from up to 100 kilometers away to sell their camels, goats and cows and bring back other goods such as spices, rice or sugar.
The early hours of the market, bathed in the sunrise light, can lead to some incredible images. And do not forget that from Merille begins the detour towards Lake Turkana, one of the best kept secrets of Kenya.
Gikongoro memorial (Rwanda)
Unfortunately, we think of Rwanda as a synonym of terror because of the bloody genocide that took place here just 20 years ago. In about 3 months almost one million people were killed. Still, we encourage you to visit and be amazed by the resilience and the ability to recover of the human being. Although anyone over the age of 20 has a survival story tied to his life, Rwanda today is a peaceful and hate-free country, with a united population committed to move forward together. Not only that, Rwanda wants to be an example in many other aspects. It is a country where hospitable people will receive you in the best possible way, trying to make every visitor leave with a great impression. It is also the cleanest and best organized Country in Africa, to the point of earning the nickname of “African Switzerland”. But after the tragedy suffered by its people, there is now a very important rule: it is forbidden to forget. From the capital to the smallest village and in between there are several memorials of the holocaust. The most touching is in Gikongoro where, on the top of one hill where there used to be a University now sits the resting place for thousands of bodies preserved in limestone powder: children, women and men who will mark you with the image of one of the greatest horrors of our history.
Source of the Nile (Uganda)
There are many rivers in the World, but none must endure what the Nile has. This river is born with a huge challenge ahead, crossing the largest desert in the World while spreading life on both sides of its banks. Although the Sahara sits in front of them as the driest area of the planet, the waters of the Nile are born in Lake Victoria by the city of Jinja. From here they start a 3 month journey all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, making the Nile the longest river on Earth. A true traveler, brave and maybe a little arrogant, certainly impossible not to be attracted to it.