Anushka and Eric got married in May 2010. Their honeymoon? A one year trip around the world with eight of these 12 months spent traveling 23 countries in Africa. In eight months they would travel through the majority of the West, East and Southern African countries. Their favorite places may surprise you. Here is a bit of their story.
What did you think traveling in Africa would be like?
Eric: All the books you read, even the fictional books, portray Africa as this crazy, crime ridden place. We wanted to find out for ourselves.
How was it really?
Eric: What we found is it is nothing like what you see in Hollywood. Of course, with movies like Hotel Rwanda that did happen, but that was one period of time and but that is now the perception of Rwanda.
Anushka: I felt safer traveling in Africa than I did traveling in South America especially in the more remote places. You have people watching your back [in Africa]. They want you to love their country.
Western Africa: Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and other countries you visited are not the typical place for travel. How was traveling there?
Eric: It is very off the beaten path.
Anushka: We loved it. The people are lovely and welcoming. What we found is it is part of the Muslim religion to welcome travelers and we really, really felt this. They are really warm people and the communities are less “damaged” by tourism [than Eastern Africa]. It is a bit of shock going to Eastern Africa after you have been to Western Africa.
How is Eastern Africa different from Western Africa?
Eric: The best way to explain it is probably through our photos. In West Africa most of our photos are from people and kids coming up to us and wanting their photo taken so they can see themselves. When one kid would come up to us the next thing we would know we were surrounded by kids who wanted to have their photo taken. People are not asking you for money in West Africa. In Eastern Africa we do not have pictures of people.
Anushka: We got a bit jaded in East Africa. We felt in East Africa if someone approached you it is because they wanted something out of you.
How would you describe the Southern African countries?
Anushka: Southern African countries are generally very well developed with good infrastructure and a lifestyle that resembles ours. South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are particularly wealthy. It is also a lot less populated than Eastern or Western Africa which changes your experience completely… a lot less chaotic but less interactive as well. I’d say Southern Africa is Africa for beginners. We should have probably started there rather than Central Africa. Overall, Southern Africa offered a good snapshot of Africa, with great animal viewing, stunning scenery and interesting local cultures and traditions. I would HIGHLY recommend it to people who had 4 or 5 weeks to travel Africa.
It seems a lot of the erosion of culture is the influx of other cultures and ideas. How do we minimize the bastardization of culture you saw in Eastern Africa?
Eric: Giving something without reason does not help. Maybe in the short term but in the long term it is just enslaving the countries. If you are making them reliant on you, you are taking them back many years where they think they cannot do anything without the west and you are effectively controlling them and their country.
How was transportation?
Anushka: We did everything by bus. We really felt left out when we had our own transportation in Southern Africa. The conversations we had, the sharing with other people. Everything in Africa is so communal. When they are having lunch on the bus they share their lunch with you. People who have nothing share with you. The people that travel the continent on big overland trucks are missing out on these experiences.
Tell me what you saw going on in Sudan.
Anushka: Sudan is in a turbulent time. We ended up couch surfing with a French guy. It was a fantastic experience. We got to tap into his network. But we ended up getting quite jaded by the UN presence there.
Eric: We were there two months before the independence of the north and the south. We went and saw the pyramids in the north that pre-date the pyramids in Egypt. We saw wrestling there which was very cool. One thing that upset us in Sudan was the UN presence in Khartoum. There are 10,000 UN workers in Khartoum even though the actual problems are in the Darfur region which is approximately 1,000km west of the capital and in Juba which is also approximately 1,000kms from Khartoum. UN workers cruise around town in brand new 4x4s, earn an absolute fortune, don’t pay taxes and get all types of benefits. They can send their kids to whatever schools they want in the world — all expenses paid. Among the expat community it is very well known that when you go out with a UN worker, he ought to take the check because he is making two to three times as much as anyone around the table.
What about Ethiopia? I think, at least in the US, the stereotype is starving children. What is the reality?
Eric: In going from Sudan to Ethiopia you go from dry to lush, but even though Ethiopia is lush more people seem to be starving in Ethiopia [more than in Sudan]. What we took away from it and I don’t know if it is actually true, but it seems aid has really damaged the country. People are waiting for the west to help instead of forcing the government to deal with the situation. Ethiopia has a fantastic reputation in the travel world, but we struggled with it to be honest. Here we saw the most poverty and hungry people [in all our travels] even though India felt poorer.
Anushka: Ethiopia is a beautiful country. They have beautiful rock churches, amazing culture and history. Unfortunately, many of the people that we came across were very aggressive and they don’t necessarily want tourists or the west there.
So they are waiting for the west to save them, but they do not want the west there?
Eric: Ethiopia is very proud of being the only country that was not colonized, with the exception of Italy for about five years during World War II. We were talking to an expat there that said when she walks down the street she often has stones thrown at her or has men yell at her that she is a whore and she needs to go back to her own country. Ethiopia is the only place where we heard anything like this.
Anushka, Ethiopia is where you had a rock thrown at you?
Anushka: Yes. To be fair she was a crazy person and she was not from Ethiopia. She thought I was Ethiopian and she saw me with Eric, a white guy, and she did not appreciate that. She came running after me with her baby tied to her back and threw a fist-sized rock at my head. Initially not realizing what had happened, I ran after her and soon realized that I was bleeding all over myself and my backpack. Eric quickly went to the police station to get someone to come down and sort out the situation. All the local people were very lovely and concerned as they really don’t want that type of thing happening to tourists. The rest of the time I was traveling [in Ethiopia] I had a bandage on my head and people would ask me, “Did someone throw a rock at your head?” They knew.
Eric: Alcohol is also very cheap in Ethiopia which is not helping. This also may be why in Muslim countries we were much more at ease. In the Muslim religion there is no drinking.
That is just not the message that is being shared in the world — that Muslim countries are the friendly, easy places to travel.
Anushka: Here is a story I always tell people – when we were in Sudan we were on the bus. When we went to pay for our tickets the man said someone already bought our tickets for us. When we asked who he said, ‘It does not matter, someone did it for you.’ This type of thing is really common in Muslim countries. They like to welcome travelers. Even though we have a lot more money than them, it is not the issue — they wanted to welcome us. In a million years that would not happen in the US or Australia.
What was the easiest country to travel in?
Eric: Probably South Africa.
What was the hardest country to travel in?
Eric: Gabon –there is no public transport. It is a very strange country because it is absolutely not interested in tourists. The only thing they care about is oil and wood and that is how they sustain their country. There are hippos in the ocean. We wanted to see them and we were told there was no way to see them except for taking a private plane. Eight days touring Gabon would have been a month of our budget, so we just spent a few days there.
What was the most expensive country in Africa?
Eric: Gabon and Congo are expensive. The Congo is very difficult to travel. Central Africa in general is very difficult to travel in.
Is there any place you went that you would not recommend?
Eric: Gabon. All the little pockets of tourism are inaccessible. Congo is probably the same. We are talking about the Congo not the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What was your favorite country?
Eric: Mali. It was absolutely phenomenal.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Africa?
Eric: Danger. Nothing happened to us except for the troubled woman in Ethiopia. We felt safe most of the time. We were traveling with our camera, a laptop and a lot of cash. We were easy targets and nothing happened to us.
What about the poverty in Africa?
Eric: There is poverty in Africa. Poverty means something else in different cultures. In our culture if you live on less than a dollar a day that is extreme poverty. In other cultures that does not mean what it does in ours. They have a community for support and are working together as a community towards a common goal. If you give the Masai $20 to repair a roof that is leaking, they will spend this money on goats. That is what is more important to them, so our description of poverty does not always fit with a country or cultures priorities.
What do you think different countries or cultures could learn from Africa?
Eric: The sense of community is what we got out of it. You probably get this when you go in the country side of the US or the outback of Australia.
Anushka: Even when you are in the big cities over there people still do have a tendency to look out for each other.
What was the biggest disappointment?
Anushka: We started in West Africa and by the time we got to East Africa, particularly Tanzania, the experience wasn’t fantastic in terms of our interactions with the local people. I say this generally, obviously we met really wonderful people, but we just had a few more disappointments in some of the people we met in Tanzania.
Do you think it is because you were a tourist?
Anushka: I am sure.
What about accommodations while traveling?
Anushka: They do not really have hostels in much of Africa. We stayed in cheaper hotels. Before we left I was imagining staying in places without electricity, but on the whole the accommodation was fantastic and aside from Congo, the accommodations were good value. We typically paid $20 for a room.
What was the biggest surprise?
Eric: The whole thing.
Anushka: How easy it was. We felt like we were doing this big discovery adventure, but these countries are very well traveled countries. We were not doing anything that has not been done before.
How much did you budget and how much did you spend?
Eric: $25,000 each for 8 months. $50,000 total.
Was that what you budgeted?
Eric: It was cheaper than what we expected. We were told there would be no way to do it for less than $100 USD per day.
Anushka: If you eat like local people you can spend $2 – $3 a day on food. We did everything we wanted to do. Some things are super expensive though — like seeing the gorillas.
What about racism?
Eric: The only problem we had was with the woman throwing the rock at Anushka in Ethiopia.
Anushka: The only place I could feel it a little was in South Africa – that’s to say, South Africa was a fabulous country, we really enjoyed our time there, but I could definitely feel the remnants of apartheid and speaking to locals, it’ll take another generation at least, to fully recover from such an awful period of their history. Having said that, you can feel the hope and genuine desire for a united future.
Do you have any tips to people who might want to do what you have done?
Eric: The biggest tip is to not be worried that you won’t be able to work it out — just book your plane ticket. Don’t book your whole trip with an organized tour. Don’t get on one of those big trucks and be with the same people the whole time. There is an African saying, “He who can speak is never lost.”
Is it possible to pick favorite memory?
Anushka: It must have to be in Mali on the boat in the Niger River coming back from Timbuktu. It was just so relaxing, beautiful and natural. It was heavenly.
Did your plans to have a family change at all after traveling?
Anushka: Not at all.
What were people’s reactions when you told them you were going to Africa?
Eric: It was mostly on the job front. No one could believe we were leaving our jobs. It was not perceived as the mature thing to do.
Anushka: I think our Australian friends and family understood completely and were very supportive. Our French family on the other hand, did not think it was the best thing to leave our stable careers to go gallivanting across the world. We posted a blog while we traveled, and so in the end everyone could see what we were doing, and were really excited about all the great experiences we were living.
Learn more about Anushka & Eric’s adventures, see some stunning photography and read more about their travels to the other non-African countries they visited on their trip at: http://we-are-just-saying.