The Perfect Safari Day – our Guest Post on Hopping Feet

Check out our guest post for the very lovely people at Hopping Feet.  They are a travelling couple just like us.  The post is all about our amazing 1 day safari in Kruger National Park.  You don’t want to miss the photos that Steve took on that day. 

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Interested in seeing more photos from Africa?  Happy to oblige!

DON’T BE A DICK: 10 Golden rules for surviving an Overland Tour

 

Overland tours have some seriously huge advantages; Namely, you don’t have to book your accommodation, work out how to get places, and in some cases figure out food etc. It also means you get discounts on activities and get to see some more off the beaten track places. You also get to see a whole lot of one continent for a very reasonable price.

But before you go and book that 25 day Overland Safari, have you read our 10 Golden Rules (with input from people on our tour)

Don’t Be a Dick.

This right here, is the big one. Imagine there are 20 of you on a bus for 3 weeks. There are plenty of ways to be a dick. Taking the water someone took the time to buy in bulk without asking. Unplugging someone’s camera battery to charge your phone 3 hours before you all go on safari. Generally just being mean to someone who you decided you don’t like. Not washing up your peanut butter stuff when there is person with a peanut allergy.  You don’t have to love everyone – in fact its statistically likely that at least one person you meet will annoy you – but just ignore and be better than all that

Everyone is different.

Some want to go to bed at 8pm. Some want to drink every night. Some like to chat to everyone and some don’t. Some hop to a different tent every night. Some want to watch all 3 Lord of the Rings Extended versions on the bus. If your expectation is that everyone you meet will be like you, then prepare to be disappointed.  Embrace difference and you will have an amazing time.

Electronics are your friend

You need to find every portable power pack you have and take them with you.  The trucks have access to power when they on most sites, and there is a power strip you can use – but there is 10 ports at most and there are upwards of 20 people on a truck so you can’t expect to have access all the time. One guy had an awesome solar panel that folded up really small – if you can find one of these, get one. There are many long driving days and entertainment is needed. Download a shit ton of movies and series and books. Conversely, when these electronics go inevitably wrong, have a backup in the form of a) actual books and b) a pack of cards.

It gets cold – even in Africa.

A girl on our tour was carrying on to Lesotho. She posted a picture on social media of SNOW where she was. SNOW! Even the bits that don’t get snow require warm clothes in the Southern hemisphere winter (the Summer for us from the Northern Hemisphere). Even some places that are warm by day get cold at night. Remember your warm clothing. Pack a decent sleeping bag (not just a sleeping bag liner!) and when your tour guide tells you the upgrade to a room is $8 a night bite his arm off for it!

Your Tour guide knows best.

Try and remember they are there to keep you safe. So if they tell you not to take photos at a border point, or of policeman, or not to walk on the grass, they are really trying to keep you out of trouble. Keep in mind that they will probably end up paying a fine as well as you if you break the rules.  Also, try and remember they are away from their families for months at a time. Try not to treat them like a tour guide all the time. In our case we spent 5 weeks with one tour guide and driver, which is more time than we’ve spent with anyone this year except each other, and 2 of the tour group!  If you’re spending that amount of time with someone, you should be treating them as a friend.

Be on time

A 10 minute delay at the beginning of the day can have a big impact on a long drive day – and there are plenty of them. There is very little that is more frustrating than everyone being ready on time except that one person who didn’t get up in time, and starts putting their tent down 5 minutes before you are due to leave.  Also ,try to factor in that everyone else needs to get into the lockers etc in the morning.  So even if you only need 10 minutes to get your stuff sorted, if 20 people think the same thing that’s a big queue at 10 minutes to breakfast.  If you don’t mind getting up a little early do it and save yourself the headache.

Do your research

Do you know what you booked or where you’re going? If you booked a camping overland trip don’t be surprised when you get given a tent, and have to sit in a bus all day at least a few times. Be honest about how much you are willing to chip in.  I hate washing up for example, and one guy didn’t like to cook.  So we took each other’s washing and cooking shifts – both of us were happier as result. Remember that you don’t have to rough it if you don’t want to – there are often options to pay extra and sleep in an actual bed if you are tired of camping.  There are also accommodated versions of many of the tours – though I think upgrading on a Ad hoc basis worked better for us.

Ignore Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

One of our nicest, most chilled days was when everyone else went snorkelling and we didn’t. I dyed my hair (long overdue). Used a hairdryer for the 1st time in 6 months. Put make up on. Steve even put his one and only shirt on. We met everyone in the evening for drinks and had a great night. In Livingstone, everyone else was Bungee Jumping. I almost did it – until Steve reminded me that I cry on rollercoasters, so jumping off a bridge was probably going to give me a heart attack. FOMO nearly drove me to jumping off a bridge. IGNORE FOMO

However many drugs you think you will need – take twice as many

Remember those long driving days? They can play havoc on your body. Not least because the roads aren’t great and you sat down for 12 hours at a time. At least three of us were surviving on painkillers alone by the end of the trip. However, you can buy most prescription drugs over the counter so its not all bad news!

Get involved!!!!

You don’t have to be the last one in the bar every night. You don’t even need to drink, or play drinking games, or go out to dinner with everyone, but really, what’s the point of going on a group trip if you aren’t going to meet new people? We were fortunate enough to meet some really cool people on our tour that we will definitely be seeing again. If you stay permanently glued to your Smartphone you can easily miss out on making some amazing new friends.

One final thing  – a lot of the travel agencies sell the tours without telling you a lot about them until a few days before, including the stuff you will need, and that you will be camping.  If you book through an agency ask them to give you details of the company actually providing the tour.  In the case of Acacia we got so much info from them beforehand and they were really helpful.You can book an Acacia tour direct at https://acacia-africa.com. 

Gorillas in the mist – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Gorillas in the mist – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

For one day in July, Steve & I got to complete a joint bucket list entry – seeing Mountain Gorillas in the wild. It was an awesome experience, so we thought we’d tell you a bit about it, and share some of the amazing photos that Steve was able to take.

First things first

The first thing that happened, was my back gave out on me. This shouldn’t really have been a surprise considering the sleeping in tent, driving on terrible roads, and being cramped in the back of a Jeep for 90 minutes to get there. But it did kind of work in our favour!

There are 11 Gorilla families in Bwindi that you can spend time with. Some of them are pretty far away. But some are not so far, so if you do happen to injure yourself on the way or just aren’t physically up to trekking for 4 hours, you can ask to be put with a group that is trekking to the easiest or nearest group.  Note they are not necessarily the same thing!

 

Limited Time Offer

You get to spend an hour with the Gorillas and no more. They are really strict on how many groups go out, how many can be in a group and how long you stay with the Gorillas. There are rules about how you should engage. Specifically, don’t look big male Gorillas in the eye, and don’t touch the Gorillas at all.

Don’t punch the babies

They do however point out that baby gorillas are really quite inquisitive creatures. In fact, they tend to seek out the women in groups that visit for cuddles. I cannot tell you how excited I was at this point. Then they reminded us that if this happens, you should not punch the baby Gorilla. It was quite shocking that they felt that needed saying. Then I realised they probably said that because at some point a person PUNCHED A BABBY GORILLA THAT CAME FOR CUDDLES. There is a special place in hell for this person.

With the advice firmly in our minds, off we set on our ‘easy’ trek. Complete with 2 guys with guns – apparently there to discourage wild elephants from trampling us all. Personally, I think the Elephants would still have won.

Our trek took us about 2 hours in total. This included an hour of walking through beautiful trails in the forest, and then another hour of the guides cutting a path to the Gorillas for us. You can hire porters who will carry your bag and help you up and down the steep bits. A few of us did this, and it wasn’t expensive. It also means the local tribe get some of your tourist dollars, instead of just the Government getting your Trekking Permit fee. In a country like Uganda, where the government seem to be in it to line their own pockets and nothing else, this can only be a good thing.

Worth every step

Just when I was wondering if it was going to be worth it, It TOTALLY was. We came across the Gorilla family. A mother, 2 babies, some adolescents, and a Silverback. I sat a watched the 2 babies play on a tree for most of the hour we were there. There was a brief flurry of excitement when one of the babies made a beeline for a girl in our group, but the tree branch it was on broke and it landed in a heap so close to me I could have touched it if I was allowed, before running back to mum. So no Baby Gorilla cuddles for us.

Steve spent much of the hour photographing the big Silverback and got some amazing shots.

Not easy, BUT not too hard

I’m not going to pretend that the trekking was easy, but without the back pain I would have found it totally doable without the porters help. Though on balance I’d still have got one to give someone some work for the day. The permit is expensive at nearly $700. This is not, nor should it be, a mass tourism destination so they were always going to charge a premium for it. Crazily, its half the price of the same permit in Rwanda. At these prices it is definitely a Once in a Lifetime Experience. Totally worth every single minute, but not something I’d be willing to shell out for again anytime soon.

Its Camping Jim, but not as we know it…..6 weeks on an Overland Camping trip in Africa.

Africa was not originally on the agenda. One day in mid April Steve showed me some photos taken on Botswana. They were properly stunning. We had been on a safari in Kenya 15 years ago and had always wanted to go back. But all the early mornings and long driving days had put us off using our annual holiday for it.

At about this time I realised that all my careful planning to avoid rainy season everywhere meant that we were in really hot dry season everywhere. We had, and would continue to miss, lots of waterfalls etc due to them having no water, until we hit the Philippines…..in August…right in the middle of Typhoon season.

We had seen Overland trips to South America but not African Safaris before. We stumbled across Acacias website and having done a bit of research we settled on a 46 day trip from Nairobi to Johannesburg. This option ticked off many bucket list entries, though ironically it didn’t actually go to Botswana.

Bucket List

Our trip took us to Uganda where we trekked for Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees & kayaked to the source of the Nile. Through, the Maasi Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mikumi, and Kruger. We’ve swum in the Indian ocean off Zanzibar. We saw the Big 5 within our first 3 weeks, and all of the Big 5 in one single morning in Kruger. We’ve taken a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls. Steve jumped off the bridge across the same falls (twice) and then zip lined across for good measure. We walked with wild Rhino. Watched hippos play in the water from the deck of a sunset cruise boat on the Zambezi. We even managed a day trip to Rwanda, which was harrowing and to Botswana, where we saw a 40 strong herd of elephants crossing the river in Chobe. Basically, we need a new bucket list.

People make Places

But without the people we met along the way this trip would have been significantly less amazing. We found our guide and driver to be the nicest people, continually focused on us enjoying ourselves.  Both were away from their families for months at a time. They never complained and seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs. They fed us extremely well, got us safely everywhere, and above all, were great people to be around.

We met other Overland trucks from different tour companies, and our Tour Leader, Crispy and Driver, Harmony were what really set Acacia apart from the rest. They were also keen to ensure that they helped the local communities wherever we went. Whether that was giving leftovers to local people (with our permission of course) or enlisting the help of locals to help with camp chores.

The people on our tour were some of the coolest people we’ve met on our trip so far, from all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. It didn’t matter that some of them were young enough to be our children, or that one was a policeman (the most unlikely friend two non conformists will EVER make) – everyone was there to enjoy themselves, even if at time we disagreed on how to do that!

Glamping..sort of

Camping in Africa is significantly different to our weekends away in the New Forest. For one thing, the 17.5 ton truck we travelled in held quite alot more stuff than my Qashqui. The distances covered are vast (nearly 10,000km in our case), on roads which particularly in East Africa are pretty terrible. You get to experience ‘bushy bush’ toilets (otherwise known as pull over near a bunch of bushes) and there are some really long driving days, but you get to see so much more as result of them.

The tents are more basic but conversely even the basic campsites put the UK ones to shame in terms of facilities. The food was definitely a cut above the fare we have when camping at home. T-Bones steaks and Roast potatoes was a semi regular meal.

We even stayed at a campsite in South Africa which had hot spring fed therapeutic pools. Though it also seemed to be inhabited with people who hadn’t quite got the memo about Apartheid being over. Also, they really REALLY loved their trees. This is a bit of a problem when the tracks are small and the truck is big (NOTE – if you want to annoy the South African version of the Klan, brush past a tree on their campsite – works every time).

Bring your thermals

One thing was consistent with our at home camping experiences though – the cold. Winter in Southern Africa gets cold, and June is winter. It snows in Julyapparently, so when I say cold, I mean thermals and woolly hats cold. At least once a day we wished we hadn’t bought our camping gear in the Philippines. But there was always a fire if needed, and in most places an upgrade to a room with a bed was available at a fairly reasonable cost. Full disclosure – we did take advantage of this a lot of the time after the first 3 ½ weeks.

 

Should everyone do it?

Is an Overland tour right for everyone? Absolutely not. You are living in close proximity which people you barely know for an extended period of time, and it’s unlikely you will love everyone. Even when you upgrade from a tent you can’t expect a 3 star hotel. So if you can’t get on board with roughing it a little bit, rubbing along with people and accepting differences, then there are plenty of other ways to see the Big 5.

BUT, if you are up for meeting new people, interested in learning about the people and continent of Africa. Open minded about different lifestyles and cultures then this is totally for you. Overland tours are a very cost effective way to see large parts of a continent. Independent travel can be a challenge at times, and there are about 30 different languages to learn. After 46 days we were definitely ready to travel independently again. But we came away from our trip with some cool new friends, some amazing memories and a new appreciation for the people of this amazing continent.

Interested in going?:  check out Acacia Africa for more info.

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