Prologue: my first trip to Africa - what on Earth took me so long??

Livingstone Travel Blog

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the undiscovered continent (well, for me at least)
Or: "How Ecuador turned into something completely different - again!"
 
I have often noticed that once people start travelling they always seem drawn back to the first country or region they visited. My first big trip was to South America, and I returned to the region twice more before venturing to other parts of the world (not to mention trips to other Latin American countries which followed as well).
On the other hand, my eldest sister swears by Thailand and South East Asia, and she has returned to the region half a dozen times and doesn't have the slightest interest in Latin America. When I finally travelled to South East Asia it left me somewhat underwhelmed.
Another example: My best mate did an internship in China and has been back to that country a dozen times since.
route we will be travelling
He even married a girl of Chinese descend (though he still maintains the two facts are totally unrelated).
 
So I think it was about 5 years ago that I said "right, my next trip will be back to South America, I haven't seen Ecuador yet, so that will be my next destination". Well, money-wise South East Asia was a better option at the time, so my 2005 trip went to Vietnam and surroundings. So surely my next trip would finally see me going to Ecuador, right? Guess again, for some reason the Middle East seems much more appealing at the time.
Last year's trip to Russia and Mongolia was specifically chosen because my sister wanted to visit a desert. They don't have a whole lot of desert in Ecuador, so that got postponed - again.
 
So when Robbel and I started looking at our next possible journey together, Ecuador was the first destination we could think of. Ecuador and Colombia, to be precise, because in my masochistic perception of fun, travel should involve hour-long border crossings.
So as we started looking into the possibilities of travelling to Ecuador, and looking at itineraries and costs, Robbel said to me out of the blue: "I hear Namibia is also very cool"
Yeah, well, Namibia is not Ecuador, so I tried to ignore it for a while, but before I knew it I started to get drawn to the idea more and more. Up to the point where both Robbel and I didn't know what we wanted any more. One day I'd be like, ok, that's it, we're going to Namibia, while the next day I'd prefer Ecuador.

I started asking friends and colleagues for advice. One colleague asked me to explain to him, why Namibia, or why Ecuador?
So I explained to him: Namibia has desert and game parks, and Ecuador has volcanoes and Galapagos. He said: "the way I hear you speak about Ecuador, I think you have made your mind up already and Ecuador it is". I tried the trick on another friend who said: "it seems to me you prefer Namibia"
Aarrggghh!!!! Indecisions, indecisions, indecisions. It's a luxury problem, I know, but one that can keep you occupied for several weeks.

In the end there were two main reasons that made us decide Namibia was the best option. The first was the time frame. We'd only have three weeks, which would make it very difficult to satisfy my border crossing fetish, as three weeks would not be enough to properly visit Ecuador and Colombia.
The second reason is that after reading about the Namibia and seeing photos I had gotten really curious about the country. I already had an idea what to expect from Ecuador, I expect that to be more in the vein of Bolivia and Peru, but Namibia, I had no idea what to expect. And I knew that if I'd be going to Ecuador this year, I would always have that nagging feeling of not knowing whether or not I'd made the right decision.

And one more thing that really weighed in was the fact that I had never been to Africa before. Yes, I had been to the continent, as Egypt is part of Africa too, but never to Africa-Africa, you know, the part where they have lions and elephants and bushmen. Somehow the continent never really appealed to me, which is weird when you think of it. I love sunsets, and photographing them. They say Africa has a perfect sunset every night. And then I also love animals, and I love vast expanses of nothing. Well, apparently Africa has plenty of those as well. It is probably for the reasons I stated at the beginning of this blog, I kept getting drawn back to South America. And also because I fear(ed) that it would not be possible to travel across Africa the way I am used to travel. Just hopping on buses or trains and head from A to B. Safety is an issue in some regions, and while it is perfectly safe to visit A, and B isn't all that bad either, the it is the path in between that worries me. And I know this is mostly my ignorance and not based on any facts, but it was what deterred me from travelling to the African continent.
Well, not any more, for Africa, here I come!

Preparations

Namibia is regarded one of the safest countries in Africa, and travel is relatively easy. While public transportation is as non-existent as it is everywhere else on the continent, at least the roads are good, and the country is safe and stable, so apparently a rental car is an excellent option. Only... spending three weeks in a rental car with Robbel didn't appeal all that much to me. As much as I love my sister, I do like to meet other people from time to time, and the meeting people part goes a lot easier if you travel by a mode of transport that other people use. So we started looking at possibilities of booking a tour or two in the country.

It didn't take long to notice that most tours around Namibia also incorporate next door Botswana as well as the Victoria Falls which lie on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Excellent! Not only would a tour satisfy my border crossing needs, it would also cause a significant boost to my countries visited statistics.

Many of these tours are so-called overlanding tours, which consist of travelling with a modified truck through several African countries, spending most nights camping. A couple of months ago I came across the mother of all overlanding trips on the Internet: 40 weeks from Gibraltar to Istanbul (via Cape Town). I figured that might be a good option if I'd ever have a year to spare.
So before embarking on such a 40 week adventure, how about a 3-week practice run first?

So Robbel and I started looking at the dozen or so overlanding companies that operate in South Africa, before finally opting for Acacia Africa. While the tour is pretty much the same with all companies, there are many differences in price, transportation, accommodation and, most importantly, departure date!

So we booked the tour, found some fantastically cheap flights and made a reservation for the first two nights in Livingstone. And... that was it... Three and a half months before departure and all preparation was done!
I have never done group travel before. Never really cared much for organised travel - that is a polite way of saying I dread going on a holiday for three weeks with a Dutch tour group (hey, nothing against the Ducth, I mean, some of my best friends and even members of my family are Dutch, but I usually don't go travelling to meet more Dutch. Plenty of those back home, so to say).
But besides the group, I have always liked some spontaneity with my travel, to deviate from the original planned route, to be able to turn left even though the plan was to turn right, to stay somewhere longer because I like it, or leave earlier because I don't. And that is the part I always feared I would miss when travelling with a group. On the other hand... organised travel does offer a more efficient way of travelling. Since there is no time lost arranging transportation or accommodation, you are often able to see more in less time when you are on an organised trip.
And if truth be told, my last trip with the Transsiberian railway followed a set route as well. And even though we had two weeks on our own in Mongolia, we spent those two weeks travelling on week-long excursions. So basically that was organised travel already.

They say there is a first time for anything, so this will be my first organised with a tour group. Though stubborn as I am I did made sure we booked with a South African company so where we'd have an international travel group!
jendara says:
Congratulation on your Featured Blog:)
Well done!!!!!
Posted on: Oct 12, 2009
Lilliana77 says:
Congrats on your featured!! :)
Posted on: Oct 12, 2009
sarahsan says:
Congrats on your featured travel blog! Well done!
Posted on: Oct 12, 2009
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the undiscovered continent (well, …
the undiscovered continent (well,…
route we will be travelling
route we will be travelling
Livingstone
photo by: sarahsan