Hakuna Matata! ✌

img_2442
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze. It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata!

Does this catchy song ring a bell? Reminds you of a lion, a meerkat and a warthog happily singing in the jungle? Hakuna Matata was indeed a very popular song in the Waltz Disney movie of The Lion King. However, this wonderful phrase is actually an expression used across East Africa meaning ‘no worries’ in Swahili, describing the positive and easy-going African lifestyle. Well, this is exactly how I can recap my week on the heavenly island of Zanzibar.

img_9865

Since I’m having such a wonderful experience in SA, I decided to extend my contract at the orphanage for another few weeks. Therefore, in order to renew my South African visa, I had to leave the country for a few days to be eligible for a new stamp on my return (perfect excuse for a little vacation, right?). With South African winter at our doorstep, my holiday criteria were clear: heat and beach! I might be Canadian, but it’s getting freaking cold down here! Thus, I opted for Zanzibar, an exotic place I was dreaming of visiting. ☀️

Zanzibar is an archipelago of 50 islands with a population of a 1.3 million, nestling in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Unguja, the main island, is located 36km off the African East coast and 6 degrees from the Ecuador. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, which means they still have their own President and government, and they deal with their own internal matters. Over the centuries, Zanzibar has been colonized and occupied by explorers, traders and settlers of several nationalities (Swahili, Persians, Arabs, Indians and Europeans) becoming today a small nation rich in history and culture. For decades, Zanzibar was mainly used as a slave-trading port until this practice was abolished in 1890. Today, the economy of Zanzibar relies on tourism and spices exportation (Zanzibar was once the world’s leading clove producer!).

A few highlights of my trip…

-My visit to a spice farm where my senses were highly stimulated. I got the chance to smell, taste and feel dozens of local spices including cinnamon, coffee, nutmeg, ginger and of course cloves.

-I also had the privilege to pet and feed giant tortoises of over 200 years old in a sanctuary in Stone Town (the nation’s capital).

-Finally, yes I did enjoy the pristine beaches on a daily basis, but a visit to Zanzibar would not have been complete without visiting the underwater world. Therefore, I spent my last day scuba diving, exploring the depths of the Indian Ocean where I spotted turtles, starfishes and massive schools of colourful fishes.

It was the perfect Hakuna Matata type of holiday where I fully recharged my batteries before heading back to my ‘mommy’ role at Othandweni. It’s now time to make the most of my last moments with my little ones… 3 weeks before my big departure!

Next stop: South Africa 🇿🇦

img_4210

It’s been 6 months now since I left home and I’m presently visiting my 6th country on my itinerary, South Africa. So far my journey has been way above my expectations. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, the cultures I’ve come across, have all changed my perspective on life. This experience has open my mind and my heart on a whole new level. I’ve learned to fully embrace every day, to appreciate the little things life gives us and to simply be happy! 😊

Ok enough with the cheesiness! 😝

I arrived in South Africa at the end of February to attend the Ultra electronic music festival, which I’ve been impatiently waiting for since last year! After having spent six months in developing countries arriving in Johannesburg (the largest city in the country) was a bit of a reverse culture choc, but at the same time, it felt good to be in a familiar environment. Flashing my Canadian flag throughout the festival was an easy way to make new friends, but also a great way to get the attention from the DJ’s. I must say I was pretty stunned when Skrillex yelled “Canada is in the house!!” during his set!! 🇨🇦

After the festival, it was now time to start my second volunteering project. I am currently based in Soweto for the next few months. Soweto is a large township outside Johannesburg with a population of two million (Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnship). It was originally developed in the early 1900 for the black population who were working in the gold mines. Soweto is also famous for being the hometown of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Despite being strongly affected by the apartheid, Soweto is now a modern and touristy place. I’ve been living here for three weeks now and I’m already feeling at home.

I am presently working at the Othandweni orphanage, which means ‘Place of Love’ in Zulu (one of the eleven South Africa official languages). There are 90 children living in this lovely government-funded children home. I’m mainly in charge of taking care of the babies in the nursery (bathing, feeding, changing, playing) but I also spend time with the older kids helping them with homework, house chores or simply being a shoulder to lean on. My goal for this project is to give as much love, attention and care to those beautiful little souls. These children all have different past and individual stories but they are all looking for the same things: affection, friendship and love.

“Give your hands to serve and your heart to love.” -Mother Theresa

Kenya, a country of diversity 

My two months journey in East Africa began and finished in the fascinating country of Kenya. I remember when I first landed in Nairobi; seeing skyscrapers, highways, shopping malls everywhere for the first time in Africa was almost shocking! I felt like I was on another continent! What surprised me the most however was the multiculturalism, especially in metropolis like Nairobi and Mombasa. Through the years, Kenya became a melting pot of traditional tribes, urban families, expats and of course tourists from around the world. I could finally walk in the streets or in the grocery store without being the odd one because of my skin color!


Not only Kenya has a vibrant ethnic culture, but the country also offers a vast palette of landscapes. I started my journey in the mountains by trekking Mount Kenya. Then I experienced my first game drive in the Masai Mara National Park, The Lion King’s inspired savannah. Finally, I wrapped up my Kenyan trip by sunbathing on the sugar-powder beaches of the Swahili Coast. This rich diversity of environments, activities and cultures will please any traveler. It surely worked for me considering I extended my stay for a few weeks! Tanzania, I will have to come back for you another time! Kenya, thanks for all the beautiful memories and friends I have made. You have a dear place in my heart! ❤️


Population: 44 millions

Capital: Nairobi

Languages: Swahili and English

Traditional dish:

-Nyama choma (barbecued meat, often goat)

-Ugali (cornmeal dough)

-Masala chai (very sweet spiced tea)

Visited places during my trip: Nairobi, Mount Kenya, Masai Mara National Park, Eldoret, Mombasa and Diani

Interesting facts:

-The ‘Big fives’ (lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinoceros) are found all around the country. They are considered the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.

-The sceneries of the Waltz Disney movie The Lion King were inspired by the Kenyan national parks.

-The black rhino is the most endangered specie in Kenya. Poachers are hunting them for their horns.

-Coffee is the country’s biggest income generator, followed by tourism. Ironically, most Kenyan don’t consume coffee which is considered an export product. They prefer tea and beer instead.

-The minimum legal wage is 160$/month.

-No matter the religion or gender of a person, polygamy became legal in Kenya last year!

-Kenya is one of the most corrupted country in the world..

My Kenyan highlight moments:

My Mount Kenya trekking is still my highlight of my African trip so far (see Mount Kenya Expedition) but I will also always remember my amazement during my first game drive in the Masai Mara. There is something very unique about seeing elephants, giraffes and buffaloes in the wild for the first time. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see the ‘big five’ (I missed the lions, leopards and rhino) but I’m crossing my fingers to spot them during my travels around South Africa!

 

Rwanda, Pays aux Milles Collines

Everyone remembers the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the dreadful blood bath between the Tutsis and the Hutus. For myself, I was too young to recall the event but I surely do remember watching the movie Hotel Rwanda and being stunned by the story. I was happy that this small intriguing country was on our group tour itinerary. I was very curious to discover what Rwanda is all about today. The minute we crossed the border, I was in love! Volcanos and rainforests as far as our eyes can see, roads in perfect conditions (they even have sidewalks and bike lanes!), absolutely no sign of pollution (finally, an African country that believes in garbage cans!), houses and schools are nicely built and taking care of, AND, most of the Rwandan speak French! Wow! 👍 Despite this, 57% of Rwandan still live below the poverty line. They are simply very hard-working people who are proud of their country, striving to rebuild their economy and reputation.

We only spent 3 days in Rwanda but it was enough to get a glimpse of their beautiful culture and to learn about the history of the country. However, the dark days are finally behind. The Rwandan were able to turn the page and open a new chapter. Rwandan don’t differentiate themselves by tribes anymore, but consider themselves as one nationality. Nowadays, you don’t hear about ‘Tutsis’ or ‘Hutus’, but ‘Rwandans’. Rwanda has now become a very politically stable country, with no corruption. It’s impressive how an awful event had such a positive change for a country. Rwanda is a perfect example of a nation that was able to apologize, put the past behind in order to progress towards a bright future. Respect! 🙌

Population: 12.3 millions

Capital: Kigali

Languages: Kinyarwanda, French and English

Visited places during my trip: Kigali (Genocide Memorial Center), Musanze and the Parc National des Volcans

Famous for:

-The movie Hotel Rwanda

-Dian Fossey, an American zoologist who devoted her life to the study and the protection of mountain gorillas.

-Coffee and tea plantations

Interesting facts:

-Rwanda has the world’s highest number of women working at the parliament (56%)! Go women power!

-To preserve the natural beauty of the country, the government enforces a strict ban on plastic bags. You can even get fined if the police finds a plastic bag in your luggage at the border!

-Just like The Gambia, the last Saturday of every month is a national community service/cleaning day called the Umuganda. Every Rwandan (including the President) must clean their neighborhood or help building community centers (schools, medical centers, hydroelectric plants). No wonder the country is so clean!

-Rwanda, ‘Le Pays aux Milles Collines’ (the Land of Thousand Hills) got its name because of its endless rolling grassy hills, mountain ranges and volcanoes.

-Rwanda is one of the smallest nation and most densely populated countries in the world…

My highlight moment: My trek in the Parc National des Volcans in search of mountain gorillas! Mountain gorillas can only be seen in the nature in 3 different countries (Rwanda, Uganda and Congo); they can’t survive in captivity. So it is a pretty unique experience to get an encounter with these big intimidating primates! However, contrary to the commercial image of the fierce King Kong, gorillas are actually very nice and tolerant towards humans (let’s not forget they have 98% of our genes!). After one hour of trekking through the dense rainforest we finally arrived to our designed family, the Umubano group. It was pretty amazing to hang out with three silverback, but also with a little 3 months old baby! I must say gorillas are very charismatic creatures! I was impressed on how they didn’t mind us at all, they were just moving around us, like we were part of their family! This is definitely a must for everyone who comes in Eastern Africa! 🙂

Uganda, the Pearl of Africa

The Pearl of Africa, this is how Winston Churchill named Uganda after his visit in 1907. I quickly understood why after spending a few days in this beautiful, stable and welcoming country. First, the landscape is simply stunning: savannahs, rainforests, mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls, rice fields and of course, the endless green fields of tea, coffee, bananas, pineapples and avocados plantations. I was so mesmerized by the scenery, that I couldn’t keep my eyes off the bus windows. For once, those long driving days were kind of enjoyable. Secondly, the country has a very rich wildlife. Almost all your typical African animals are found in Uganda: lions, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus, gorillas, chimpanzee, more than 1000 species of birds and the list goes on. Uganda is also the adrenaline center of East Africa. Rafting, bungee, mountain biking, rock climbing…everything is available to make you sweat or scream a little! And on top of that, Ugandan are very hospitable, smiling and warm people. One thing I won’t forget is the company of young Ugandans during my daily runs. Each time I was out on the road, there was always at least one (or many!) child/teenager joining me for a few meters or kilometers. In Masala, a young soccer player asked me if he could run with me (well that’s what I figured he was asking because he didn’t speak a word English!). We ended up running 8km at a pretty fast pace (he was the one leading!) in the hilly Ugandan country roads! I didn’t enjoy the view much, but at least I got a pretty good workout! I definitely don’t have a teenager’s stamina anymore!

Population: 37 millions

Capital: Kampala

Languages: Lugandan, Swahili and English

Traditional dishes: Matoke (mash banana/plantain), Ngege (tilapia served with peanut sauce) and Mandazi (sweet doughnut)

Found in Uganda:

-Rwenzori, the tallest mountain range in Africa

-Victoria Lake, the continent’s largest lake

-Nil River, the world’s longest river (surges out of Lake Victoria)

-Murchison Falls, world’s most powerful waterfalls

-“Go big or go home” should be the country’s motto!

Fun facts:

-They make about everything with their endless bananas: cake, mash, sauce, beer, even wine!

-Uganda has been ranked as one of the biggest alcohol consuming nation in the world! (I must admit that their beer is pretty good!)

-The country has the fifth highest fertility rate in the world, with an average of 6 children born/woman.

-They have a ‘non official’ tree cutting rule: whenever someone cuts a tree, he/she has to replant another one. Apparently this rule is well followed all around the country.

-The most used mode of transportation are bicycles.

Visited places during my trip: Kampala, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Bunyonyi, Masaka and Jinja

My highlight moment: Definitely my rafting trip on the Nil!! Not only did I have the chance to run the world’s longest river in an inflatable boat, but I went through (and survived!) a dozen level 4 and 5 rapids! Yes, we tipped over a few times and yes, even if I’m a good swimmer, I must admit I got a little petrified! Swimming in rapids of this scale was a first for me! But we all made it safe and sound and we can definitely say it was a pretty good bang for your buck! 🙂

My Intrepid holidays

Going on a safari tour was on my bucket list. I mean, I couldn’t come to Africa and not see an elephant or a giraffe in the wild right? Since I am traveling solo and there’s so much to see and do in East Africa I thought it could be fun to try the group tour thing. While I was in The Gambia, I spent numbers of hours researching on the different companies, the different routes, the different activities offered. I knew I wanted an adventurous kind of trip where we would camp, see all kinds of animals, experience the culture and that would suit my budget. So I finally booked a 16 days trip (20% off because of low season! Bonus!) with the company Intrepid and opted for the Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda route.

My next blog entries will be about the three visited country on my trip, but for now, here are my pros and cons of my first group tour.

The Good Sides:

-No planning to do. Everything is perfectly organized, from the route to the activities to the meals. It’s considerably less time consuming (and stressful) than traveling solo so more time to relax and enjoy the holidays!

-I did 2 weeks of camping (for me that is a big plus!). Intrepid provides the tents and mats so you only have to bring your sleeping bag. I must say that sleeping beside elephants and hippos is a pretty unique experience! Although you don’t feel like going peeing in the middle of the night!

-Comfy ride. I got to travel in a comfortable truck (no chicken or goat running around like the public transport in Senegal!), and because we were only 13, we even had our own double seat! No one had to fight for a window seat during game drives!

-Having a local guide 24/7. Forget the Lonely Planet, we had our own live encyclopedia to teach us about the country and the culture, tell us stories and answer any of our questions!

-Finally, I think the best aspect of a group tour is the chance to meet and socialize with a very nice group of travelers. Although the age on my tour was ranging from 21 to 83 (!!), we all got along pretty well! I met very interesting people from different generations, from all around the globe. In two weeks time, we shared some pretty good memories and lots of laughs! 🙂

img_3114
Gorilla tracking in Rwanda

The Not-So-Good-Sides:

-Don’t have much liberty. When you book a tour you’re kinda ‘stuck’ with the itinerary. So even if you fall in love with a place, you still have to pack up the next day and follow the rest of the crew. I would probably still be in Lake Bunyonyi if not…

-A lot of time on the road! We did a few (too many!) 8+ hours driving days. I should have known that covering three countries in two weeks would mean a lot of bussing… At least the scenery was pretty impressive!! And thank god for podcasts and my entertaining fellow travelers!

-You don’t get to interact as much with the locals. Since you’re traveling with a group and stay in the touristic areas, you don’t have many opportunities to meet locals. Especially after living 3 months on the west coast and traveling by myself for a few weeks, I was kinda enjoying hanging out with Africans all the time!

-You eat whatever’s on the daily menu. Don’t get me wrong, our tour chef was great but I didn’t get to taste the local flavor as much as I wanted to! Yes for cheap street food!!

-It’s more expensive than traveling solo, but you get to do and see more in less time. So at the end of the day, you get your bang for your buck!

-And finally, as much as I’m a social person, I also like my ‘me time’. When you are traveling with a group it is often difficult to spend time by yourself. My solution: Everyday when we were arriving at our destination, I was putting on my running shoes and see ya later alligators! For me it was the best way of exploring a new place but also of escaping the group for a little while.

Running in Lake Bunyonyi

This trip did fulfill (almost) all of my expectations. Each country was unique in all its aspects (sceneries, wildlife, culture, language, people)! Two weeks was also a good length for a group tour (for me) but it is also VERY short to make it worth the visit of three countries. I did enjoy every minute of my trip but feel like these countries have so much more to offer. It’s like eating just the ‘M&M’ in the trail mix. Yes, they are most people’s favorites, but almonds, peanuts, cashews, raisins are also really good to eat and part of the mix!!

Overall, I’m happy I did this trip. I did a LOT and seen a LOT in a short period of time; I could never have done the same thing by myself in the same length of time. But on the other hand, this trip also made me realize how I like my liberty of traveling on my own. Yes it’s more time consuming and it takes more energy but hey, I’m still young and I do have that thirst for adventure! So, personally, would I do it again? Yes, but not now. Maybe in a few years…or when I’ll be retired! 😉

img_3440
My Intrepid Family

Mount Kenya Expedition

I got the idea from my parents. They started trekking a few years ago and since then, they’ve been hiking on almost every continent. Looking at their pictures each time was leaving me speechless. So I picked Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak after Kilimanjaro (and half the price)! January and February, being the beginning of the dry season, are supposedly the best months to climb the mountain. Perfect timing I thought! ….well Mother Nature decided differently this year. After quite some research, I booked a 5 days trek with Equatorial Star. I picked the Chogoria route to go up and down the Simiron route. It was my first multi-day trek, so I was very excited! Two days before my adventure, it started pouring (and I mean, pouring!) in Nairobi. Everyone was confused about this weather. The raining season in Kenya is usually from April to June (long rains) and July to November (short rains) then it’s hot and dry for the rest of the year. Oh well, there’s nothing I could do. I packed my bag with as much warm clothes as I could and hope for the best!

Day 1: 10km (950m ascent)

When the company came to pick me up, they told me I would be the only trekker this week, which means I would have my own personal guide, cook and porter! Wow! I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but hey, three men for myself for 5 days, I’m not complaining! 😝 We drove to Chogoria, a little village on the east side of the mountain, our starting point. The first day of our trek was a 10km gradual hill on a dirt road. We walked through a beautiful dense bamboo forest all the way to the camp…in the fog. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the scenery that day.

Day 2: 13km (700m ascent)

I had my first sight of the mountains that morning, but it didn’t last long before the rain and the fog showed up again! Grrrr. But it didn’t stop me from doing the longer walk via Lake Ellis (where we supposedly have a scenic view of the mountains). Patrick, my guide, and I arrived to our campsite drench and freezing. I spent the rest of the day in my little tent, all wrapped up, drinking tea, trying my best to warm up… How fun!


Day 3: 14km (600m ascent)

The rained stopped just as we woke up… For the moment anyway! Patrick and I made our way up the mountain beside the breathtaking Gorges Valley. The clouds, fog and rain, came and went all day… So I was making sure to take pictures whenever I could see something! It’s crazy how the weather forecasts of a mountain are totally unpredictable! We finished our hike looking like wet dogs… Thanks a million to my cook, Eldady, who always had hot coffee or chocolate ready for me in my tent! 😊It was early dinner and bedtime (7pm!) for me that night, getting ready for tomorrow’s big day! Praying we would finally have a nice day…

Day 4: 24km (785m ascent)

The alarm rang at 1:30am…. Ouff! I chugged a coffee, dressed up like an Eskimo and off we went. Patrick and I hiked for about 4 hours, in pitch black darkness with only our headlight on! The last part of the ascent was pretty steep and technical (we were almost doing rock climbing!). It was a bit scary but exciting at the same time! We finally reached the summit, just in time for the sunrise. As the sun was slowly rising, the scenery appearing in front of me was spectacular. For the first time in 4 days, we had a (semi) clear sky and I could finally see Mount Kenya! The view was simply beautiful! I couldn’t stop smiling. I thanked God for this beautiful moment. After enjoying a nice cup of tea, Patrick and I slowly made our (steep!) descent to the bottom of the mountain where I devoured my breakfast! We then hiked the long 14km to Old Moses Camp. Unfortunately but not surprising, the fog and rain showed up again, erasing the beautiful scenery… When we got to the camp, I ate and went straight to bed. I consider myself a fit person, but my god this day was one hell of a workout!!

Day 5: 9km (descent)

I woke up with sore quads and guess what, a perfect clear blue sky! Urg. Now that I’m leaving the mountain, the sun finally decides to show up! 😐 After breakfast we slowly trekked down to the entrance of the park, in Nyangan, where I could have a perfect view of Mount Kenya. After saying goodbye and thanking my wonderful support crew, I made my way back to Nairobi, reflecting on my beautiful journey in the Kenyan mountains.
Despite the unusual and not so favorable conditions, I still had an amazing time trekking Mount Kenya. The efforts, the rain and the cold were definitely worth the view at the top! I would do it all over again anytime (if my budget would allow me!). I will definitely try to do some shorter treks during my travels on the continent, maybe in South Africa? I really think I caught the trek bug like my parents! 🙂

img_2379-2