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Travels in Africa

This article, by Colin Priddle, is perhaps appropriate to follow the notice about trips abroad on the last page.

Africa extends well over 2,000 miles either side of the equator, hence there is a vast area involving a great range of climate and geography that can be travelled. I can only write about the relatively small area in which we travelled and this area is probably the most often visited consisting of the countries of Kenya; Uganda; Tanzania; Malawi; Zambia and Rhodesia.

After enjoying six weeks in Greece, we hoped we would be partially adjusted to the climate we expected to find in Nairobi, less than a hundred miles from the equator.  As the plane was approaching Nairobi, the pilot reported that the temperature there was 13OC.  We immediately thought he had made a language mistake and really meant 30OC, but no! 13OC it was (55OF) and to us it was cold.  After the cold, the second thing to strike us was that everyone was black. After living in a white country all your life, then being suddenly confronted by black customs, medical, immigration and bank officers, it takes one by surprise.  The first thing to do in a strange place is always to find somewhere to sleep.  In Nairobi the large hotels are (as everywhere) too expensive for the average B.E.C. member.  The local hotels are the right price but pretty seedy.  The Youth Hostel, even though it was reputedly in the roughest area of East Africa, was very cheap and pretty clean.  What's more, there is a compound guard day and night and mixed sleeping is allowed.

Nairobi is a town of contrasts.  The centre is modern with tourist shops; banks; airline offices etc.  Life is slow. The layout of roads and signs are very English.  Traffic moves sedately, nobody bothers with car hooters and roads are easy to cross. One side of the town has beautiful parks with exotic flowers and trees.  The other side leads to packed streets with shoeshine boys and maize sellers. Shops are dark, with their wares (from spices to cloth) spreading out into the pavements.  Then comes the shanty town with corrugated iron huts, smoking braziers, roadside markets and roadside hairdressers.  The Youth Hostel was just between this area and the better African suburbs, being prefab type houses packed together.  The Youth Hostel is about twenty minutes walk or a 2p bus ride from the centre - in fact, you could walk anywhere in Nairobi quite easily - well, fairly easily.  The only thing against walking is the vast number of people also walking.

The Youth Hostel appeared to be for Europeans only and we found it a most useful place to pick up tips about travelling in the various countries and to get a good idea about where to stay.  One place not visited seemed to be Uganda, owing to the political and economic situation so, after a few days in Nairobi, we headed for the home of Sybil which happens to be in Uganda and about three hundred miles from Nairobi.

Tourists may only enter Uganda safely via the air port or the main road or rail link from Nairobi. We took the rail link - a twenty four hour trip, to be met at Iganga by Sybil.  We stayed a week, in which time we sampled African fare; visited African villages, visited Kampala, Jinja,  The Owen Falls dam and the source of the Nile, Lake Victoria, a leprosarium, a steelworks, a cotton factory and finally a concert by youngsters from a neighbouring school.  The concert was given especially for us and consisted of local singing, dancing and the playing of musical instruments.  Thanks to Sybil, we had a very memorable stay in Uganda and one of my memories will be of sitting in her garden among tropical plants and flowers watching the many colourful birds and butterflies.  During the time we were there, two monitor lizards three feet long and a troupe of monkeys also visited the garden.

We left the luxuriant beauty and heat of Uganda to head over the equator back to Nairobi and down to the Indian Ocean at Mombassa - a 15th century post. Beaches are super there - white sand, palm fringed with warm water reefs.  There are several cheap (£1.50 a night) hotels in Mombassa, but they are pretty rough.  We hitched to Morogoro in Tanzania - about a hundred miles inland from Dar-es-Salaam, and then we travelled by local bus to Mbeya and crossed the Tanzanian - Zambian border at Tundurna from whence we caught a bus to a village near the Zambian - Malawi border and we then had to walk about three miles through the bush to Chitipa on the Malawi border, and from there, buses took us after four days to Blantyre where we were able to wash; have a decent meal and get a plane to take us over Mozambique to our country of destination, Rhodesia.  It was a relief to be met by scenes of cleanliness, prosperity and white men.

There are several tips that we learned from our month or so of travelling in Africa, so I will pass them on under the following headings:-

Food: In Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam it's plentiful.  Meat is cheap.  Six course meals in hotels cost under £1.  All other places cater only for the African and bread is not readily available. Peanuts, bananas, tomatoes, coco-nuts and ground maize is available (and cheap).  Ground maize is prepared by adding it to boiling water until a very thick paste is obtained.  It fills you up.

Water: In the above mentioned places, it is supposed to be O.K., but as a lot of the water is not too good, we used water purifying tablets all the time.

Health: Smallpox jabs are compulsory.  Typhoid and Cholera jabs are advised, as outbreaks are common. Anti-malarial pills are definitely required - only the higher areas being free.  Chloraquin or Deltaprin are the tablets - not Paludrine which our doctor in England prescribed.  (A senior Rhodesian malaria researcher told us this).  Although we did not need them, Lomitol ant-diarrhoea tablets, obtainable in England, were described to us by several people as 'wonderful'.  One tablet is sufficient to keep you out of African toilets which are usually foul.

Money: This can be quite difficult, as banks and exchange offices are not on borders and in large towns are only open in the mornings.  A supply of U.S. dollars or pound notes can then be useful.  In Nairobi, the black market is worth while, the safest bet being Asian shopkeepers, not Africans.  The African is also an expert on hard luck stories.

Travel: Trains are very slow (15 m.p.h. average) but a lot can be seen of the country.  A trip will generally mean an overnight ride, so go second class when you will get a bunk.  Men and women sleep in separate compartments (multiracial) although several times we were lucky as the conductor emptied a compartment for us saying "but this am Mister an' Missus."  One can travel third or fourth class.  It's cheaper by half, but things are squalid with hard seats and no bunks and packed with Africans.

You may think that I'm a bit snobbish by now, but the fact is that Africans are primitive by our standards.  They live in mud huts and their habits are far removed from those of Europeans. Seeing is believing.

Buses, are not plentiful or regular, but are cheap.  (6p for 10 miles); slow (20 m.p.h.) unreliable; packed; uncomfortable, dirty and dusty.  Sit as near the front as you can on dirt roads.  Getting tickets is a problem as they are limited due to demand.  Start queuing first or single out an official and the chances are that you will get preferential treatment.  One evening, we were told by the conductor to get on the bus when it was in the garage behind us.   A few more refined travellers, including a policeman had also done this, the reason being that there were about three hundred people waiting for this one bus outside.  They were six high trying to get through the door and fighting like animals.  I asked the policeman if he could do something but he replied "You can't do anything with these people." Hitching is easy on main roads (e. g. Nairobi to Mombassa) but there is not much traffic and none on the more minor roads. Lorry drivers want money and in any case are terrible drivers.  The number of wrecks and crashes we saw was unbelievable for the volume of traffic.

Accommodation, African hotels exist in most towns on main reads and have no merits except for cheapness.  Malawi and Zambia have rest houses which are good.  Communal sleeping costs 2½p and clean rooms 50p each.  Tanzania police stations are willing to put you up free and so are Seiki temples (not the one in Mombassa, which was too popular). Camping is generally O. K., but there are very few official sites. There are problems in going from country to country. Borders sometimes close for no apparent reason.

In black countries, never say you are going to South Africa or Rhodesia.  Don't point your camera at strategic objects such as railway bridges.  One chap we met had eight rolls of film poorly developed to prove that he wasn't a spy.

Editor's Note.     Colin includes some brief notes on the various countries he visited, but unfortunately space does not permit them to be included with the main article this month.  They will appear in the next B.B. for the benefit of future B.E.C. travellers to Africa.