Up Next: A Journey to East Africa

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Simien Mountains under a misty cover, Ethiopia.

Our journey to East Africa, just about underway. What follows includes not only our itinerary and a call for your recommendations, but a personal note and a couple of back-stories including $100 given to us with a purpose on a ship in Antarctica.

As you read this, we’re on our way to Ethiopia to begin a six week journey through Eastern Africa. We expect the journey to take us from Ethiopia to Uganda, Rwanda and finally Tanzania.

We’ll have an opportunity to visit 1000-year old rock-cut churches in Ethiopia (and of course dig deeply into Ethiopian food), seek out mountain gorillas in Uganda, hike the volcanoes of Rwanda and learn more about social entrepreneurship in Tanzania.

Tanzania aside, these countries have known their share of famine, war, and genocide in the last couple of decades. And while we hope to learn more about that history, our ultimate goal is to better understand their people, where they stand now, and get a glimpse into their future through their eyes.

Our East Africa Itinerary

Ethiopia

Lalibela Churches
Ethiopia: Lalibela Churches Cut from Earth and Stone

In the mid-1980s, when I was a little girl, my Aunt Betsy worked as a nurse for a year or two in Ethiopia at a feeding station. For Ethiopia, it was a time of drought and famine. I recall sad images, nothing short of devastating. However, my aunt had a first-hand experience of the famine, and despite the suffering she witnessed day-in and day-out, she also shared stories of the warmth and spirit of the Ethiopian people.

Count this among my first learning of the lesson, “there’s more to a place and its people than what you see on the news.”

We will explore Ethiopia with the G Adventures Highlights of Ethiopia Tour. We chose this tour specifically for its itinerary. Take a look below and you’ll see why.

  • Bahir Dar with a visit to the local market and Blue Nile Falls
  • Gondar with exploration of the castles and Debre Berhan Selassie Church whose interior is covered with angel faces and eyes.
  • Hiking in the Simien Mountains. Take a look at the lead photo of this article. Enough said.
  • Lalibela. This segment of the trip might count as the one we’re most looking forward to. I’d heard about the underground medieval churches carved into the mountains, but this recent article took my curiosity to a new level.
  • A drive through the Sekota and Alamata Mountains with a stop at 3,000-year old Hawzien.
  • Ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia’s oldest city of almost 2,000 years.
  • Although we won’t have much time in Addis Ababa, we do hope we will be able to visit Merkato, the largest open market in Africa.

Ethiopian food, you ask? We’ve had our share in cities around the world, but now it’s time to taste it at the source. To say that we are excited to eat: understatement. We expect to consume plenty of Ethiopian coffee and experience a coffee ceremony or two.

Uganda and Rwanda

Lake Bunyoni, Uganda
Lake Bunyoni, Uganda. We’ll trek here in search of mountain gorillas.

We’ll begin our travels in Uganda with a G Adventures gorillas overland tour. Our trek will take us to the forests near Lake Bunyon to find mountain gorillas. Friends who’ve experienced this have described a feeling unimaginable, if not unmatched. We must manage our expectations, however, as we know there are no guarantees that we’ll actually be able to spot gorillas.

That’s the thing with wild animals. True to their description, they are indeed a wild and unpredictable bunch.

Our trip will also include trekking in search of chimpanzees at Kalinzu Forest Reserve and a rafting experience along the Blue Nile near the town of Jinja, all before returning to Kampala.

After our tour, we’re free for the next two weeks between Uganda and Rwanda and we’ll piece together an itinerary (with the help of your suggestions) as we go. At the moment our Rwanda plans include spending some time in the Parc National des Volcans and Lake Kivu for some volcano trekking and perhaps a visit to Nyungwe Forest National Park before winding up in Kigali.

As the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide has just passed, it strikes us as an appropriate time to visit to reflect on what happened and through the eyes of others, understand how the country copes and looks towards the future as it continues to come to terms with its past.

We could use your help. If you have suggestions of places to visit, what to do, organizations and people to connect with, or anything else that comes to mind regarding Uganda and Rwanda please email us or leave a comment below.

Tanzania

Masai Kids at the Door of Hut - Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Maasai children shyly guarding the door to their hut in a village near Lake Manyara, Tanzania.

Some of you might remember our visit to Tanzania a few years ago when we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, got up close with wild animals on safari and relaxed on the beaches of Zanzibar.

This time, our visit to Tanzania will feature something a bit different. We are working with Planeterra, G Adventures’ foundation, to learn more about two new projects it runs in and around Moshi: a clean cookstoves project in a Maasai village and a women’s cooperative in Moshi that provides business skills and training to local women.

What makes these projects unique to traditional NGO projects is that G Adventures’ passenger traffic — and the market access that provides — are tied in to help make these projects financially sustainable. For example, G Adventures tours to the Serengeti use a portion of tour fees to serve as contribution to the purchase of a clean cookstove. Additionally, travelers have the opportunity to visit the village to learn more about how the stoves work and what it means for quality of life. Those G Adventures passengers in Moshi will be able to stop by the women’s cooperative center to engage with the women involved and to purchase their goods.

Our goal: to understand the local organizations and people involved. And to see firsthand how this sort of partnership model actually works on the ground.

$100 in East Africa: A Backstory

A little more than four years ago, aboard our ship to Antarctica, we were asked to give a talk about our around-the-world travels. As we shared stories from Central Asia to Central America, we shared all sorts of travel stories, including some of what we had seen in the way of micro-finance projects along the way. We mentioned to the audience that we hoped to travel in Africa next. After the presentation, a well-traveled British woman came up to us and placed $100 in my hand in twenty dollar bills.

When you get to East Africa, give this money to five good organizations you find, to people who are really making a difference in their communities. I spent many years working with projects in this region, and specifically Uganda and Rwanda. But now I’m too old to travel there. I want you to bring part of me with you when you go.

I asked for her name and email address so that I could follow up with her and inform her as to where and to whom we gave her money, but she didn’t want any of that. She told us that trusted us; she believed we would do the right thing.

Although it has taken longer to getting around to make it to the full of East Africa in order to fulfill her wish, we are now on our way.

One Final Personal Note on this Trip

A week ago I received news that my stepfather, Larry, passed away. Amidst the sadness we felt, we also found ourselves deciding whether to cancel the trip and when to return to the U.S. to honor him.

As I spoke to both family and friends that knew Larry, it became clear — with an imagined motion of his hand — that he would have wanted us to go. Everyone agreed he would have said something like this:

“Go. Explore. Meet people. Tell good stories. And be sure to share stories from people and places that don’t usually have a voice. And have lots of fun, too.

Good advice for us. Good advice in general, I’d like to think.

You see, East Africa was one of Larry’s favorite regions in the whole world. He spent years living, working and traveling in Tanzania and Kenya as U.S. diplomat. And although he also served in other parts of Africa — including an ambassadorship to Gabon and a nice, posh placement in London along the way, East Africa was and always would be the place that stole his heart.

Stepping back, spiritual or otherwise, one might find the coming together of this trip — to be able to spend the next six weeks in an area Larry loved and knew well — as beyond mere coincidence.

Follow Along with Us in East Africa

We hope you’ll join us on this journey! As much as is possible, we will post photos and real-time updates to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’ll use the hashtag #dna2EAfrica to digitally gather the content from this trip. A search for #dna2EAfrica on each platform should return all available related photos and updates from our trip.

And please don’t forget to share your advice for Uganda and Rwanda by email or in a comment below.

Photo credits: Rod_Waddington, Henrik Berger Jørgensen, amateur_photo_bore.

Disclosure: Our tours in Ethiopia and Uganda are provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Comments

    • says

      Small world! We met Kirsty in Nicaragua several years ago and when we first found out that our trip was actually happening I got in touch with her. We hope to see her towards the middle of May in Kigali.

      Thanks for the recommendations for the genocide memorials.

        • says

          Kirsty, so glad that we were able to meet up during our brief Kigali visit. Do let us know if you hop over to Berlin during your European adventures this summer!

    • says

      Meghan, we’re also curious as to where the money will go in the end. We’ve gotten some recommendations for organizations, but we always like to see the work firsthand before donating. Let’s see…

  1. Katrin says

    What a fabulous trip! I’m going to Kenya and Tanzania with G Adventures in early July myself, can’t wait! The trip to Ethiopia is also high on my list, the itinerary sounds great. I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences, I’m sure you’ll have many stories to tell. Safe travels!

    • says

      Katrin, sounds like you’ve got a great adventure lined up for this summer! We took the G Adventures Tanzania Encompassed tour a couple of years ago and really loved it. Every part of it was great (Kilimanjaro, safari, Zanzibar) and the people we traveled with were a lot of fun. Enjoy!!

  2. jack says

    our son is in Uganda since June and we went to visit him – you must go to Murchison Falls – triple and quadruple rainbows – if you are looking to local organizations he started a NGO in a small village north of Lira – not far from Jinja (perhaps a 6 hr drive)- working with over 100 farmers – if you are really interested I can give you contact info -

    • says

      Jack, thanks for the recommendation on Murchison Falls. Would love to hear more about the organization your son started north of Lira. Not sure that we will be going through there, but one never knows. Will contact you via your email address left on the comment. Thanks!

  3. Hanif Chatur says

    I’m armchair travelling with you both….I think I know where I’ll be going very soon. Safe travels. Cheers :)

  4. says

    “Go. Explore. Meet people. Tell good stories. And be sure to share stories from people and places that don’t usually have a voice. And have lots of fun, too.” -is truly a good quote! You can see how genuine the kids smile.

  5. says

    great post about east africa audrey, i’m very happy to see this kind of blogs that shows the beauty of world famous tour places. very pleasure to being reader in this blog.

  6. says

    I’m going to be completely honest. I have spent too much time being told by the press and media that these countries are scary places. I know the media is normally wrong, but I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it on this one. I am however really looking forward to hearing about your adventures in East Africa in the hope that they will finally convince me it is a place that I too could one day travel too! Thanks for sharing your story, fingers crossed it is going to give me a new perspective, cause I do genuinely want to shake these assumptions I’ve got!

    • says

      Catherine, keeping in the spirit of honesty I’ll admit that I’ve also had my apprehensions about traveling through some parts of Africa. Even though I know that there is often a different story than what you see in the news it’s still hard to get around those images and stereotypes. We’ve just finished up our Ethiopia and Uganda tour and they were both great. Now we’re starting our portion of independent travel, and having a couple of weeks of the “safety” of a tour kind of helps to ease us into this part of our trip as we’ve gotten our feet wet. Will let you know how it goes!

  7. says

    Sounds like a fantastic trip! Check out my Ethiopia post for some advice (or at least my experience) there, and let me know if I can help in any way with Kenya, where I have lots of contacts. If you have time to make it up to Lamu it’s WELL worth it (think Zanzibar but less crowded and more remote).

    Safe travels and I look forward to following your adventure!

    • says

      Thanks for the Ethiopia advice. Unfortunately, we won’t make it to Kenya at all during this trip but we’ve heard great things about Lamu. Will let you know when we head to Kenya – would love it if you could share contacts.

  8. says

    Phenomenal post with amazing natural pictures.We are planning a visit Uganda and Rwanda very soon. This post has turned out to be a lot of help.Thanks for sharing.

  9. says

    To me, Ethiopia is a highly compelling destination. I’d be so interested to explore its ancient sites, churches especially. There is a lot of mystery around these, they’re so intriguing. Many explorers have been saying how this country seems to be a keeper of secrets. Fuel to the imagination!

    • says

      Susan, couldn’t agree more with the description of Ethiopia as a compelling destination. It’s one of the most interesting places we have visited – and it’s not just the history and the old churches, but that the current traditions and customs are a direct link to the past. Just fascinating. Stay tuned for more on this fascinating place!

  10. says

    Having Ethiopia on my doorstep I’m a bit ashamed to say I haven’t been, but it is now on my list of places to get to ASAP! Wish you guys had come to Kenya too, but there’s always a next time!

  11. says

    Sounds exciting guys! Let us know what the costs on the ground are like, as I have been weighing the possibility of putting boots down on Africa soon!

    • says

      Elaine, we just returned from East Africa so can provide some perspective on costs. Traveling through East Africa is more expensive than most of Central/South America (with the exception of perhaps Chile/Argentina) and Asia, but there are ways to do it on a budget. If you’re interested in going on safari then that will increase your budget, of course.

      Uganda: We were on an overland truck tour for most of the time there, so our costs were skewed a bit by that. When we were traveling on our own in Kampala double rooms at a hostel were about $25-$30/night + $4-7/meal. Street food in Kampala was more like $2-3. White water rafting at Jinja was $125/day.

      Rwanda: Kigali is expensive with a double room at a hostel costing around $40+ and a dorm bed costing around $17. However, we found a great place at Lake Kivu called Home Saint Jean that was $12/double room (shared bath). Meals were around $4-7. At Masunze the guesthouse (Amahoro) was $30/double room. Public buses/boats are pretty cheap at just a few dollars for the transfers we did between Kigali – Kibuye – Gisenyi – Musanze. Activities in Rwanda are quite expensive though as National Park fees are $75/person for the Volcanoes National Park and private boat trips around Lake Kivu were pricy (e.g., $15-$20/hour).

      Ethiopia: We were on a tour that took care of our accommodation and transport, so I can’t speak firsthand to the price of those. Food was often $3-5 for a huge meal in a nice restaurant. And the food was SO good.

  12. says

    “Go. Explore. Meet people. Tell good stories. And be sure to share stories from people and places that don’t usually have a voice. And have lots of fun, too.” I really like this quote… Great stories are worth sharing to others, and when you see their reaction appreciating your story, that is priceless…

    • says

      Tina, couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of sharing good stories and the great feeling one has when others react and respond to them. Have many more stories from Africa to share now :)

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