Tag: travel

Tough sell: Marketing Uganda to gay travellers

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

Uganda is probably the last place a gay holidaymaker would want to visit, but tourism bosses in the east African nation are nevertheless trying to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Earlier this year the country drew international condemnation after passing anti-homosexuality legislation – since struck down – that could have seen gays jailed for life.

Uganda’s tourism representatives and private sector businesses, however, have rallied to assure gay and lesbian travellers that they have nothing to fear.

“No one is actually being killed,” asserted Babra Adoso of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators.

“We are not aware of anybody who has been asked at the airport ‘what is your sexual inclination?’ or been turned away,” she told AFP.

In a move that raised eyebrows, members of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and other industry representatives from Uganda met recently with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a gay-friendly global travel network.

The September 8 meeting, organised by the Africa Travel Association (ATA) and held at their New York headquarters, came a month after Uganda’s constitutional court struck down the anti-gay legislation on a technicality.

Still, under a standing colonial-era Penal Code, anyone in Uganda – including expatriates and visitors – can in theory still be jailed for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Ugandan MPs are also attempting to reintroduce the tougher bill in parliament.

Two Britons living in Uganda have been deported in the past 18 months for homosexuality-related crimes.

Adoso, however, is adamant that Uganda – known as the “Pearl of Africa” and before the outcry over the law designated by Lonely Planet as a top travel destination – is safe for gays and lesbians and that the country had been “misunderstood”.

The legislation, she said, was for the “protection of children” against paedophiles.

“Children have been recruited into acts,” Adoso said. “We’ve had stories of how children were forcefully taken to Kenya and recruited into the act and forced to actually, you know, pose nude and everything else.”

Gay rights groups, she said, were “possibly using exaggerated stories” about their own predicament in order to get funding from overseas.

Serious image problem
The Ugandan Tourism Board admitted the country was now battling a serious image problem.

Sylvia Kalembe, the UTB’s officer in charge of product development, said she and others who attended the meeting in New York were “in shock at how people perceive us”.

“Someone has turned it around and used it against Uganda,” she said of the international condemnation – which included US Secretary of State John Kerry likening the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

John Tanzella, the head of the IGLTA, said the body appreciated being invited to meet with Ugandan authorities, but added that their 90-minute discussion was a “starting point only” – signalling the country still had a way to go if it wanted to attract gay and lesbian tourists.

“As with other destinations that have struggled with issues of homophobia, we advise LGBT travellers to exercise caution if they decide to visit,” he told AFP.

Ugandan gay rights activists are equally sceptical on the initiative, saying the country should first look at how it treats its own citizens who happen to be gay.

“It’s very difficult for us to even move from one town to another,” said activist Pepe Julian Onziema, adding that the pronouncements by Uganda tourism representatives gave the impression there was one law for locals and another for foreigners.

“The freedom has to begin with us,” he said.

Selling Uganda to gays is one of several curious initiatives the Ugandan Tourism Board has come up with this year as it tries to counter a drop in tourism – a key earner for impoverished Uganda that accounts for 8.4 percent of GDP.

In March, Stephen Asiimwe, chief executive of the UTB, announced a plan to create an “Idi Amin Tourism Trail” for those interested in Uganda’s murderous dictator who was ousted in 1979.

“Idi Amin is the most popular Ugandan ever but no one is making use of him. We have to develop this trail,” he was quoted as saying in the New Vision newspaper, saying this could rival other global tragedies-turned-tourist-spots like Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland or the genocide museum in neighbouring Rwanda.

More recently, the UTB has been promoting a Ugandan coming-of-age festival involving the traditional ritual circumcision of boys aged between 13 and 18 years of age.

Amy Fallon for AFP

Walking from Ethiopia to Chile: 1 year down, 6 to go

In Paul Salopek’s first year of his trek across the globe, the reporter walked alongside his camels for days in Ethiopia without seeing glass or bricks or any other signs of modern humanity, ate a hamburger on a US military base and was shadowed by minders in the Saudi desert. He has only 32 000 kilometres to go.

Salopek is walking from Ethiopia to Chile, a seven-year journey that aims to reproduce man’s global migration. Beauty and difficulty filled his first year, which is now nearly complete. In his second he will skirt the violence of Syria but will cross Iraq and Afghanistan.

After about 2 100km on foot, Salopek has walked through five languages (Afar, Amharic, Arabic, French, Somali), filled 40 notebooks full of words, said goodbye to four camel companions and has logged one 55-kilometre day.

Paul Salopek walks across the Afar desert of Ethiopia on January 28 2013. (Pic: AP / National Geographic Society)
Paul Salopek walks across the Afar desert of Ethiopia on January 28 2013. (Pic: AP / National Geographic Society)

Beginning in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, where early man lived, Salopek walked east into Djibouti, where he ate a hamburger on a US military base, then waited nearly six weeks – because of insurance requirements over piracy attack fears – for a boat to take him over the Red Sea and into Saudi Arabia.

Much of Africa, the 51-year-old noted, is still dominated by humans who travel on foot.

“The Africa segment was remarkable for its kind of historical reverberations, and getting to go through historical pastoral cultures like the Afar, and walking through a landscape still shaped by the human foot,” Salopek said by telephone. “It really has struck me that walking out of Africa, a place that still walks, how fantastically bound to our cars the rest of the world is.”

Salopek’s journey will take him from Africa, through the Middle East, across Asia, over to Alaska, down the western United States, then Central and South America, ending in Chile. That’s about 34 000 kilometres.

This image shows the route of Salopek's planned seven-year global trek from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. (Pic: AP / National Geographic Society)
This image shows the route of Paul Salopek’s planned seven-year global trek from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. (Pic: AP / National Geographic Society)

The walk is called Out of Eden and is sponsored by National Geographic, the Knight Foundation and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. A two-time journalism Pulitzer Prize winner, the American plans to write one major article a year, the first of which appears in December’s National Geographic.

Salopek’s highlight from his first year was his access to Saudi Arabia, a country that maintains tight controls on what outside journalists can see. He noted that the oil-producing nation is 83% urban, a higher percentage than the US.

“I have been moving slowly through Saudi culture, from walking along highways with camels, to the surreal reality of it in some cases is walking with camels by a Pizza Hut with Saudis inside eating pepperoni, who look outside and see a skinny American with camels,” said Salopek, interrupting himself with the observation.

Saudi Arabia made global headlines in October over protests against its effective cultural ban on women drivers. But Salopek encountered many women drivers in the country. “They just happen to be in places where there are no reporters,” he said.

In some places in the country Salopek knew he was being watched by government officials, who explained their presence by saying they were concerned for the American’s safety. But most times he has had unfettered access, he said. He thinks he’s the first outside journalist to walk through Saudi Arabia since 1918.

Salopek doesn’t miss much from the Western world except information because of his limited access to the internet. He also misses his family, but his wife is joining him in Jordan, where he currently is. He says he’s on schedule to complete his seven-year journey, though because of his six-week wait in Djibouti and his boat ride up the Red Sea, he didn’t walk as many steps as he thought he would. He has suffered few physical pains or ailments, save for two blisters.

“This has been very fun and very interesting and I have no indication as I sit that I’m getting bored with it. On the contrary, walking into a new country on foot with your clothes on your back and a shoulder bag stuffed with notebooks was really fascinating.”

Jason Straziuso for Sapa-AP.

Our trans-African honeymoon from Pretoria to the pyramids

The joke in our house goes that my husband drove over 14 500km on a scooter through Africa while I spent that 14 500km telling him how to drive. Not quite true, but not quite false either. There were days when I just sat on the back of our 150cc motorbike, lost somewhere in Zambia or Sudan, without saying a word.

Packing up your life and cutting all the strings that tie you to society is much easier said than done. It is only when you attempt it that you realise just how many things are pinning you down. Banks, cellphones, rent, vehicles, jobs, debit orders, credit cards, medical aid, pensions, doctors and insurance. Everyday things that most of Africa spent their days without. Something we would learn along the way from Pretoria to the pyramids is how little you need to be happy if you just learn to be content. And how, when situations are really bad, the smallest things, can create immense joy. Like an old, dirty bed after sleeping on the floor for weeks on end or a piece of dodgy-looking goat’s meat, served in a dirty plate, after you’ve spent the last 36 hours lost in the desert without food.  But I’m jumping the gun here.

Strapped for cash and desperate to explore the rest of our continent, we devised a plan towards the end of 2011. Cash everything in, including our pension funds, savings and most of the money we would have used on our wedding, quit our jobs – I’m a social media manager, Guillaume is an engineer – and travel through Africa. It sounds super romantic, which is probably why we chose to do it for our honeymoon, but let me tell you, there was very little honey during the 153 moons we spent on the road. We could not afford a 4×4 or even just a semi-decent vehicle, which is why we opted for the little motorbike standing in our front yard. It was cheap, it was there and it was absolutely ridiculous – that includes the bright orange coat of paint it was given. But it could average a speed of 75km/h and my husband knew how to drive it so it seemed like a plausible idea. Having finally gotten rid of all those things tying us down, we tied the knot on January 21 2012 during a very small, informal ceremony in the Kruger National Park, packed a single backpack and drove off into the sunset nine days later … aiming “north in general”.

Outriding elephants in Botswana was one of many nerve-wracking experiences.

A trans-African journey can be done in one of two ways: with a lot of planning and preparation, or the way we did it – the “fake it till you make it” way. We suggest you opt for the first. We aren’t total fools though and did do some planning. We read a few travel guides, scanned a map, got the necessary visas and learned how to do first aid but apart from that we had only the bare necessities and decided to just “let the journey guide us” –  from South Africa through Botswana, the Caprivi strip (now called the Zambezi Region) in Namibia, parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and eventually Egypt.

The picturesque, wet and Ethiopian highlands on the way to the city of Bahir Dar.
The picturesque, wet and cold Ethiopian highlands on the way to the city of Bahir Dar.

In the end, it turned out, it was the locals and not so much the journey that guided us. Without a map we got lost often so we’d find our way from place to place and country to country by asking locals for directions. Things get strange when you stand in front of a Masai warrior next to the ‘highway’ in Tanzania, point in a direction and ask, “Kenya?”. Often we would get to the next town after having “turned left at the big tree on the right before following the long, winding road and after spotting the little house, turned right and drove until we saw town” It was fun, at times.

Most days were tedious. We’d be on a bike from early morning to late afternoon. A bike that broke down a lot, sometimes up to four times a day. There were lots of obstacles like potholes, thunderstorms, running out of petrol, and going without food for 10 hours and a mere 200km after our departure point. But it was worth it.

Down and out at the border between Tanzania and Kenya after 10 hours of driving, a crash, three breakdowns and no food.
Down and out at the border between Tanzania and Kenya after 10 hours of driving, a crash, three breakdowns and no food.

We just had look around us to fall in love with Africa all over again. Greeting shepherds walking with their cattle in Ethiopia’s highlands, almost hidden in the thick mist left by the passing rains. Stopping to watch a road race between competing schools on what is considered the main ‘highway’ between Rwanda and Tanzania, cheering with the crowd as the children finish their race, some barefoot, some wearing mismatched shoes, but all smiling the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. Spending an hour with the magnificent mountain gorillas in Uganda. And if you drive for long enough, Africa rewards you with her unimaginable natural beauty too. Like when the clouds open for just long enough to reveal Mount Kilimanjaro watching over the landscape below her, or when the sun sets over the Meroe Pyramids in Sudan and all you hear is the silence of the desert echoing through the dunes.

Camping in the Nubian desert between Khartoum and Atbara in Sudan.
Camping in the Nubian desert between Khartoum and Atbara in Sudan.

We cried at the mass graves in Rwanda, and spent time in villages where the possessions of all the residents put together was worth just a little more than our bike. Yes, we were robbed once, lied to at times and were witnesses to some of the cruel realities of life in much of Africa. But most people we met were much more eager to share their stories of triumph and happiness while boasting about how beautiful their continent is, than focus on their suffering.

A local shows off one of his crafts in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.
A local shows off one of his crafts in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

Cutting those strings and driving from South Africa to Cairo turned out to be so much more than what we bargained for, but the best thing we did was to rely on others to make it there. Every direction given by someone we met, whether right or wrong, was a friend made, a new adventure and a discovery of an African road less travelled. When we returned home in August 2012, we knew we’d had one of the biggest privileges in life – to discover Africa.

And our beloved but temperamental bike? At the end of our journey, we gave it to a friend we made on the border between Sudan and Egypt.

Admiring the Great Sphinx of Giza. Tired, dirty but so happy to be at our final destination!

 Dorette de Swardt lives in Port Elizabeth with her husband Guilllaume in a home that’s a recent upgrade from a two-man tent and self-inflatable mattresses that don’t inflate. 

Briton to walk length of the Nile on 6840km trek from Rwanda to Egypt

Victorian explorers such as Speke, Burton, Livingstone and Stanley famously tramped around central Africa in search of the fabled source of the Nile. But no one has been known to walk the river’s 4 250-mile (6 840km) length, an omission Levison Wood intends to rectify and hopes he can do it in a year.

Setting off from dense forest in the highlands of Rwanda on December 1, Wood (31), a former parachute regiment captain from Putney, south London, will work his way through up to seven countries – depending which side of the river he takes – some of which have been riven by civil unrest and war.

Wood will face natural hazards, from raging torrents to wildlife; he will traverse forests, the vast Sudd swamp, and desert while taking in, possibly, Burundi, but definitely Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

Boats float on the river Nile in Cairo on April 30 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Boats float on the river Nile in Cairo on April 30 2013. (Pic: AFP)

“The old adage is there is nothing more dangerous than between a hippo and the water and that is where I am going to be,” said Wood, admitting it was also as well to ask local people when crocodiles liked to be in the water.”Before you had decent anti-microbials in the 20th century, for most of the Victorian explorers, Speke and Livingstone and all those chaps looking for the source of the Nile, it was much easier coming from the east – [what is now] Tanzania and the coast – than it was to get round the Sudd. Anyone who had ever tried that basically died of malaria,” said Wood.

The Sudanese civil war put much of the Nile off-limits until recently. “For the first time in history, [this journey] is medically, politically and bureacratically possible,” said Wood, who will be seeking to raise money for three charities, TuskSpace for Giants and Ameca.

Unlike Joanna Lumley and the 2005-2006 Ascend the Nile team who employed mechanised transport, Wood will be heading downstream. He will however, have a Channel Four film crew joining him for up to fortnight.

Wood, who served in Afghanistan in 2008 and has more recently escorted film crews into hostile areas, is well aware of other dangers facing 21st-century explorers. The Ascend the Nile team, led by New Zealanders Garth MacIntyre and Cam McLeay and Briton Neil McGrigor, witnessed one member, Briton Steve Willis, killed in an ambush by an armed rebel group in Uganda. McGrigor also broke and burned his leg in an accident that wrecked a motorised raft and a support aircraft.

Wood will not be armed, though will be joined by armed rangers in national parks, not only to protect him from wild animals but from poachers. “Certainly it is not wise to carry arms yourself.”

Wood hopes to complete up to 100 miles a week but said: “No doubt the film crew will slow me down quite considerably and anything can happen. You only need to get a sprained ankle to delay you by a fortnight.”

He insisted that most of the time he would rely on local guides. “In more remote parts of South Sudan, especially swamp areas, and, of course, the desert, it is going to be tough and there are going to be weeks and weeks without a village. The idea is to explore Africa as much as possible. If there are huge stretches where I need to carry my own food, there might be times I need to get a camel or something … I don’t have the budget for a helicopter.”

Wood, who has received words of encouragement from modern-day adventurers including Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Colonel John Blashford-Snell, reckons the trip will cost about £150 000. He is still seeking sponsors and encouraging wellwishers to support his favourite sub-Saharan wildlife and healthcare charities.

“You have to be prepared as much as you can. The key really is having good, trustworthy local guides who have a good understanding of places you are going into. I have done my research as best I can but a lot of it you have to leave to, I won’t say blind faith, but leave to human kindness.”

Home: A place of memory

If I do the maths, I have, over the last five years, split my existence across nine permanent addresses in five countries on three continents, and travelled to several other places in between.

Just as soon as I was getting the hang of the guttural sounds of German and confidently engaging in general pleasantries, I was on my way back to Zimbabwe to reacquaint myself with the hustle of a nation rebuilding after the tempestuous times of 2008.

But barely months into my re-acclimatisation, I had switched borders for South Africa where a world of intricate hand signals for hailing taxis opened up to me. That and the bunny chow special my workmates and I indulged in on far too many of our lunch breaks.

But before getting too much into that comfort zone, I was learning the codes of gauche English etiquette employed aboard the London tube. “No matter what, do NOT make eye contact,” was the instruction that I tried to dutifully abide by.

My most recent expedition was to the US where I was to acquaint myself with yet another new set of rules. It’s a trunk, not a boot, and enunciated ‘t’s – as in asking for a glass of water – almost always lead to a repetition of the request to ensure that it is really English that you have just spoken.

Between all of my trips,  however, I have always touched base with Zimbabwe, living here for a decent number of months at a time.

Thus the question has always been the same upon each return: For how long am I home before I leave again?


I was seven years old the first time I moved house. A traumatising development for my young mind, the news triggered endless episodes of weeping and fruitless dissuading.

And so it was that on a sunny April afternoon, a giant grey removal truck came through our yard to devour the contents of the only home I had ever known. A home which we proceeded to leave bare, our echoes frightening the lazy specks of dust floating on the spears of sunlight piercing the now-empty space.

Home, for me, was now a place of memory.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Vines of granadilla fruit which twisted their way from our neighbours’ side of the durawall to ours, falling traitorously into our backyard, were no longer to be savoured. Anna, my daily companion and mate from across the fenced side of our property was not to be chatted to anymore, though we promised to start writing each other letters when we could read and write well enough. My mother’s Saturday ritual of cultivating her beds of of nasturtiums, marigolds and petunias was to cease for we moved to a first-storey town apartment with no garden, no granadillas, no Anna.

Home had taught my child’s mind a lot of things.

It was along our home’s long gravelly driveway that I first learnt pain when, aged about four, I pedalled my tricycle too fast down an incline, only to veer off course, overturn and fall into a mess of blood and tears.

Courage was learnt one afternoon, playing outside, when I encountered a snake coiled up between the veranda’s edge and the rain gutter. It was the maid who I would run to in a panic. And it was she who would expertly maneouvre herself around the veranda’s edge, finding the right position from which to smite the reptile’s head with a metal rod that she then used to carry its limp body to the compost heap with, fascinated little me in tow.

Home also taught me about life’s inequalities, particularly as I observed the old man from next door who doubled as maid and gardener for our white neighbours. While my family called him ‘Sekuru’, the madam whose voice always sounded shrilly and insistently from some inner room of the house, preferred to call him ‘Zaka’. I would later learn that this was not even his real name, but merely the name of the area from which he hailed.

I remember once watching him, through the lattice fence, as he meticulously clipped his madam’s lacey underwear onto the clothesline. Upon perceiving me, a look of emasculated shame coloured Sekuru’s features, followed by a command to me to go away and play elsewhere.

Home was the initiator of many lessons I continue to imperfectly assimilate into my being and even today, if I close my eyes, I see and feel it vividly.

With more movements and changes of house throughout my adolescence, I acclimatised to the impermanence of place, even once writing a poem that began with the lines:

“If you start bringing in the boxes

And wrapping and packing up the tea-sets and plates

I’ll know it’s true –

That this is no longer home…”

And perhaps, it is this acceptance that explains my fascination with travel and my frustration with people who fail to appreciate that life is never about fully arriving or leaving.

I left the one place I truly considered my home over 20 years ago. But not fully, for it is a place that still lives within, and a place I recreate, albeit imperfectly, with each new undeserved vine of good fortune that twists it way into my yard, each Anna I encounter whose friendship I accept as being potentially fleeting, even if we do exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch across continents and time zones.

I am never fully home, but I furnish a semblance of such a dwelling place in every act of courage, in every wince of pain and shame, in every place that allows me to appropriate another room for the house that is my memory.

And with this realisation, the question that has plagued my conscience for far too long has lost its ability to frustrate me.

“How long are you here for?”

The truth is that I am always here; here in the place of memory.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter