Archive of ‘Africa’ category

The Most Unusual Foods I’ve Eaten Abroad

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For me, one of the most exciting things about traveling is trying the local cuisine of different cultures. To quote travel writer Deborah Cater, “You have to taste a culture to understand it.” Most of the unusual foods on this list are considered novelties in their respective countries as opposed to traditional fare. Still, I had such a fun time trying them and don’t regret any of them!

Thailand: Scorpion

scorpions unusual food thailand abroad

Foul. It honestly just tasted burnt and I couldn’t finish it. I wouldn’t recommend falling for this tourist trap. But if you insist, you can find it on all the most popular streets in both Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Vietnam: Rat

This was an interesting experience. With a local guide we ended up in a family home of a local tribe community in Da Lat. They were so eager to have us try everything they had, further supporting my theory that the poor are much more generous than the rich. They gave us a vase filled with what they eat for dinner every night. We asked our guide to translate and tell us what was inside. He refused to tell us until after we tasted it. Well it was chunky and I think I tasted some hair. It wasn’t awful, but I definitely wouldn’t ever eat it again. When the guide confirmed that it was rat, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Still, I was grateful that this family allowed us to try their food.

Vietnam: Crickets

crickets unusual foods vietnam

I also tried crickets in Da Lat. They were deliciously seasoned and came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. They reminded me a bit of potato chips. I would love to try them again. Luckily, I may have the chance within the U.S. since insect protein is predicted to be the next big thing in sustainable cuisine.

South Africa: Warthog

My friend ordered this dish in a restaurant called Mama Africa in Capetown. Honestly, it just tasted like steak. I was a little thrown off as I expected it to be more similar to pork. Regardless, I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Cape Town. Delicious, traditional food along with music and dancing every night.

Namibia: Zebra

zebra game meat african food namibia

Out of all the strange things I’ve tried, I have to say this was my favorite. It tastes like meat…but better somehow. However, my dining companions were torn and there were some who really hated it. Head to Joe’s Beer House in Windhoek to sample this along with a host of other local game meats.

Namibia: Crocodile

This was also at Joe’s Beer House. I have to say I liked this as well. Probably because I’m not the hugest fan of meat and this had more of a fishy texture. I believe that most people at my table enjoyed the crocodile as well.

Malaysia: Cendol

cendol strange food malaysia dessert

The only non-meat dish on this list, Cendol is a common dessert in the hawker centers of Georgetown in Penang. While I generally loved the food in Penang, this was a little too much for my taste. It’s basically shaved ice cream with “jelly noodles” on top and red beans throughout. It’s an odd combination of sweet and bitter, but my friend loved it.

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First African Safari

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This year, I (quite spontaneously) embarked on the journey of a lifetime when I booked an African safari tour. I took part in several game drives throughout the trip and the experience was unforgettable. But there are a few things I wish I knew beforehand.

1. You May Not See the Big Five

lion african safari

In fact, it’s very likely that you won’t. I only saw a few, but I was lucky and grateful to see the animals I did see. It’s very much a luck of the draw whether you will see very many animals at all. This is difficult to accept after spending a fortune on the trip and it’s important to stay positive and focus on what you do see and learn. Personally, I was glad to see the beautiful African landscapes, even if the wildlife was a bit sparser than I had hoped. Moreover, I think it’s important to relax and stay in the moment. It’s easy to become caught up in desperately searching for the Big Five and miss out on what’s currently going on around you.

2. Not All Safaris Are Created Equal

sunset african safari botswana

There’s a reason why some national parks, like Masai Mara and the Serengeti, are more popular (and expensive). They simply have the best landscapes and selection of wildlife. I chose to skip on these due to the cost. Instead, I went to Etosha and Chobe National Parks. I still had an unbelievable time and got to see many animals, but I regret not doing a safari in the former locations. The photos that my travelmates had from the Serengeti were National Geographic-worthy. They saw so much wildlife, and their view was unobstructed due to fewer trees and flat land.

3. Get a Seat in Front and Wear Layers

storm african safari botswana landscapeI really wish I had made a point of this. While some jeeps are better than others, for the most part it’s difficult to see everything over the people next to and in front of you. When you sit in front, you can get a better view of the animals from multiple angles. I also found it difficult to hear the guide and ask questions from the back.

I was also surprised to find that it can get really cold when you head out for a morning safari. In my case, we started at our campsite and drove over the main roads to the national park so it was also very windy. Wear layers so you can keep warm until the sun comes up.

4. Rent a Good Camera or Lens

hippos hippopotamus chobe safari AfricaI actually don’t own a good camera. When I travel, I just rely on my phone. In most destinations it’s much more convenient than carrying around a camera and I don’t have to worry as much about damaging it. Although the Google Pixel does take better photos than most, it still didn’t have many features that are practically necessary for an African safari. Most importantly, it doesn’t have a good zoom function. Luckily, I was able to rely on others on my trip for good photos, but I really wish I could have taken some of my own.

Whether you don’t own a camera or just don’t have good lenses, you can rent them without making a commitment and shelling out a fortune. BorrowLenses lets you rent equipment for very reasonable prices.

5. You May Get Emotional
elephant african safari big five

Okay, this one may be just me. But seeing wildlife up close is amazing and inspiring. We saw lions mating right next to our vehicle, baboons protecting their young, and elephants just being their majestic selves. I did tear up a few times. It often felt like a spiritual experience.

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Why Malawi Should Be on Your Bucket List

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malawi village africa chitimba

When I embarked on a 34 day tour of Africa, I’ll admit that I didn’t know all that much about some of the countries I would be visiting. I certainly didn’t know anything about Malawi. But after spending five days there it quickly became my favorite country that I’ve ever visited.

Upon entering Malawi, I was immediately struck by the beauty of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake. The lake runs nearly the full length of the east side of the country. To the west, a green landscape emerges full of mountain ranges.

This incredibly diverse landscape provides for plenty of local activities, including snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking. The hike to Livingstonia, a town that lies on top of the mountains, is particularly impressive. Many locals make this 4-hour hike everyday to trade goods. In addition to offering amazing views of Lake Malawi, the hike also takes you past impressive waterfalls, caves, and swimmable natural springs.

Malawi Livingstonia hike waterfalls

However, the hike certainly isn’t easy. Midway through I suffered a sprained ankle and had to hang back. This seeming misfortune ended up being a great opportunity for immersing myself into the local culture. While waiting for the rest of the group to finish the hike, I spent two hours talking to the local people and sharing stories.

I realized that Malawians were some of the friendliest people I had ever met. Malawi does not have nearly as many tourists as many other African countries, so the locals were so excited to see me and invite me into their world. Despite being one of the poorest countries I’ve ever been to, I found the people so positive and welcoming.

We ultimately ended up staying in Malawi longer than planned since the only bridge allowing us to travel onwards had collapsed from the rain. The locals worked together to rebuild it within two days without any help from the government.

malawi africa children livingstonia school orphanageWhile we waited for the bridge to be rebuilt, our tour group had the opportunity to visit the local school and orphanage. Upon entering the village, we were immediately ambushed by children wanting to hold our hands. When we got to the school, we were taken aback by the lack of resources and poor conditions. We ere able to sit in on a lesson and were stunned to hear that they were learning about HIV prevention and medication side effects at such a young age! It was a truly eye-opening experience.

lake malawi africa livingstonia hike

Seeing the orphanage was equally intense. We walked into a nearly empty room where children were sitting on the floor sharing a single toy. Most of them had lost their parents to HIV. Unlike the children at the school, these children were not excited to see us. Instead they seemed shy and nervous, traumatized from all they had been through.

The bridge collapsing was definitely a blessing in disguise. I’ll never forget the stunning landscapes and friendly faces that are Malawi. Moreover, I gained a new appreciation for the simple things in life. I will certainly be back and I hope to help in any ethical way I can.

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Voluntourism: Why I Didn’t Volunteer in Africa

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voluntourism volunteering africa school childrenI recently went on a tour of Africa. 40 days, 6 countries, and a whole lot of unforgettable experiences. However, I’d wanted to visit Africa for years and I had always planned on going as a volunteer. I wanted to make a difference. But as I started to read more about the concept of “voluntourism,” I learned that my good intentions could actually leave damaging marks on the communities I visited.

For one, I don’t have the skills to make a genuinely positive impact. This is true of most who go on voluntourism trips. Instead, local communities often use more resources for training volunteers than they would if they just hired local workers. In addition, even with training, volunteers are usually still not equipped with the skills necessary to do a good job. I’ve heard countless stories of missionaries going to build schools or hospitals only for the locals to have to rebuild.
It would have been much more cost-efficient for the locals to take the volunteer’s money and put it towards the project directly rather than towards their training.

I also do not think that 40 days is enough time to dedicate to volunteering. In addition to the time and resources that the communities need to dedicate to each new volunteer, it can also be damaging to continuously have new volunteers come and go. This is especially true in orphanages, schools, and hospitals. Many of the children may already be traumatized. Becoming attached to new people that will leave a few weeks later is not helping the cause.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of the “white savior” complex. Constantly having volunteers coming in from Western society perpetuates the view that impoverished communities are helpless and can only be “saved” by outsiders. This is especially true with children. In schools and orphanages, children may come to view their white visitors as their heroes. These visitors who are having the ultimate “volunteer experience” for just a few weeks are revered, as opposed to the local teachers, administrators, and even parents who work full-time to improve their situation. Moreover, this complex leads communities to depend on the short-term help that voluntourism provides rather than developing long-term solutions to create a self-sustainable foundation.

Finally, after reading about the detriments of voluntourism, I had to reevaluate my true intentions behind wanting to volunteer. Many volunteers just want something to put on their resumes or new Instagram photos. I thought my motivation was better, but was it really? Did I really want to help people, or did I want to feel like I was helping people? If I’m being completely honest, my inspiration was at least a little bit selfish. I think that most volunteering is a bit selfish, and that’s fine if it ultimately brings good. But it can also be misleading. It can lead us to believe that we are doing good simply because a little child comes up to hug us. We want to believe we are doing good so we look for any immediate signs to support this hypothesis. We don’t realize how much effort and time it would really take to make a difference. More importantly, we ignore the harm we are doing in the process.

I’m not saying that all volunteering is bad. In fact, I met many volunteers while I was traveling who seemed to be making a difference. These volunteers were skilled doctors, nurses, and teachers who were able to commit several months to the cause. I think this is one of the few exceptions to the voluntourism problem. However, I think there are other ways to make a positive impact for those of us who do not have these skills. We can help by donating and increasing awareness. And as Charlotte Robertson suggests we can help behind the scenes of organizations where locals are the ones working in the field. This eliminates the problem of the white savior complex while also ensuring that the people who know what’s best for their community are the ones doing the work.

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