Journey Across Africa

Below you'll find stories of my two year experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the small West African country of The Gambia. After my service I traveled solo, with only a small backpack, across West Africa; reaching N'Djamena, Chad after two months. Visa problems for Libya and Civil unrest in the Darfur region of Western Sudan made Chad my last stop.

Peace Corps Service: Aug. 2003 - July 2005

Journey Across Africa: July 2005 - Sept. 2005

Location: Boston, MA, United States

Monday, September 19, 2005

Guide books can be wrong

It seems amazing that anyone comes to Africa if one reads what guide books have to say about it. Take for instance one of the most popular for independent travelers: Lonely Planet.

These are the countries where the staff writers were unable to visit to update the current chapters on that country.

Algeria: Unable to visit
Angola: Government around the world have discouraged tourism to Angola
Burundi: Unable to visit outside capital
Central African Republic: Unable to visit
Congo: Unable to visit
Congo (Zaire): Unable to visit
Guinea-Bissau: Unable to visit
Sierra Leone: Unable to visit
Somalia: Unable to visit

However, even those countries the staff members were able to visit have gloomy appeal:

But with peace seemingly now restored, Chad amply rewards the small number of travelers who make the effort with its many attractions.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the outside world knew Ethiopia as THE [emphasis original] most persistently famine-prone country. But since the changes of government in 1991, agricultural production is increasing, and tourism-from a near zero base – is set to become a big foreign-exchange earner.

However, many areas remain factionalised and remote, and the country is not yet a place for independent travelers.

Libya must surely suffer from some of the worse excesses of Western paranoia and media spin-doctoring.
[Actually, that sounds like a positive critic]

There’s a very real danger that the nation will burst into widespread chaos and violence at any time.

Large areas of the country are currently off limits to travelers because of its debilitating civil war. But wherever you manage to go, you’ll be struck by the natural charm, dignity and hospitality of the Sudanese, at variance with the fundamentalist excesses of the present government.

And the two that mad me laugh personally:

The Gambia:
Africa for beginners.

If it wasn’t for the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin, one of the world’s great bird-watching areas, we would just about suggest that Mauritania was THE [emphasis original] place to avoid.

So, let me get this straight… there’s a war in Sudan, Liberia “is not yet a place for independent travelers”, Nigeria will “burst into widespread chaos and violence at any time.” and a half-dozen countries you were unable to visit – but the one country they specifically tell you to avoid: Mauritania!

I visited Mauritania for two weeks – without going to that one park! The people who live there, especially the Americans and other expats who Mauritania is their home, can’t fathom why they would write “THE place to avoid.” If you love to experience deserts, Muslim culture, camel rides, and riding on top of iron ore trains – GO to Mauritania! Forget what the guide book says!

Also, The Gambia as “Africa for Beginners”. That is true, for an extent. The country is very small, so you can get around and explore the country in a few days stay. However, most tourist don’t attempt explore the country. For example, we sometimes laugh at the European tourists who visit The Gambia and stay at the tourist resorts for their whole two weeks thinking they're getting the African experience. Yes, they visited Africa; but they stayed in two-mile radius of the comforts of electricity and water. Go five miles out of the tourist area and there's no power, and you have to pump your own water from a well. Go ten miles out and you're living in mud huts. To us, since we live here, THAT's the real Africa. Not the beaches, the tourist shops; but eating at the street shops, taking public transportation, drinking non-bottled water, visiting a mosque and NOT taking pictures, learning a few local language words and trying out the greetings, living without air-conditioned rooms with only a candle and a bucket of water and eating rice for every meal.

Guidebooks can give a lot of helpful advice. I carried around a torn-up copy of The Lonely Planet (only the chapters of the countries I was going to visit) along with my trip. But it’s like reading about the murder rates of New York City and deciding not to visit. It’s a great city, you’re just taking out of perspective: and not everyone is out to kill you! [For that example alone, my friends and I were walking around NYC from 3am-6am once a few years ago and being a ‘tourist’ for those middle-of-the-night three hours. We all made it out alive, limbs intact]


Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Wow, maybe next time you can tell us if the photos in the guide books is for real or not? :) Keep up the good works man, happy travelling!

9/20/2005 02:54:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home