Travel Plans: East Africa 2010

Saturday, December 26, 2009 | Baltimore, MD, USA

Ciné Afrique: a landmark on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar
It all started with the World Cup.

Four years ago, I spent the summer in Tanzania, mostly watching the 2006 "football" World Cup in local bars. While sipping Safari, Kilimanjaro, or other domestic beers, my friend Charlie and I rooted along with the Tanzanians for the African teams. Each night for a month, they whooped and clapped zealously for Ghana, for Ivory Coast, and for Trinidad & Tobago. Amid this fervor, I witnessed what I'd been missing all along by watching the World Cup in America, and vowed to myself that I would be at the next World Cup: South Africa 2010.

Over the last few years, I've met many who shared the same aspirations, but I knew we wouldn't all make the Cup. South Africa is distant, the event is expensive and lasts a whole month. Surely the rigors of jobs, grad school, and other "real life" obligations would keep many at home. But I knew
one other thing: I was different, and I was really going to be there.

To reach the Cup, I had even worked out the perfect plan. After Jacqueline's Fulbright grant in Morocco ends this month—six months from the Cup's start in June 2010—we would ship our belongings home and spend the next six months working our way south toward the Cup. We might go by car, maybe motorcycle, or maybe backpacking and using public transport. The route was also still "to be determined," but in any case, I was sure we were going.

* * *

Now, 2010 is almost upon us. The draw has been made, and the opening kickoff for Africa's first World Cup is only six months away. So where does my plan for a grand African odyssey stand?

Luckily, we arrived at the end of our Morocco experience with enough money for a trip of this scale (thanks to my job) and enough time. (After applying this fall, Jacqueline is waiting to hear back from law schools. Until she does, we can't decide which city in the US we'll want to settle down in. This leaves us with about six months to fill however we wish... before "real life" arrives in a much more permanent way.)

Having determined that we are able to take a trip, and that we want to, Jacqueline and I sat down to decide on the best route to take. I have gradually realized that, although South Africa has always intrigued me, the World Cup is probably not the best time for a first visit. The country is likely to be overrun by soccer hooligans, the parks full of tourists, and the prices for everything much higher than normal.

Yet Africa still beckons. Some of my fondest travel memories come from my trips to East Africa. And while Jacqueline and I spent the last year in Morocco, she has never been south of the Sahara—to the continent's larger, happier, more vibrant side. So as Jacqueline (never a diehard soccer fan) whittled down my resolve to attend the World Cup, I gradually built up her interest in a voyage through Africa.

So we researched, planned, weighed pros and cons, and discussed at length. First we ruled out West Africa, which just had too many obstacles (numerous borders, high costs, several effectively impassable countries) and too few points of interest for our purposes. Next we mapped out spots we might like to hit on the eastern side of the continent, which I know somewhat already but would love to explore further. We included possible starting points, places of interest, friends and acquaintances we might visit, and potential volunteer opportunities:

View Travel Options: East Africa 2010 in a larger map.

This map clearly needed to be pared down. We decided to scrap several options:
  • Egypt: We've heard one too many horror stories from one too many friends who have lived there;
  • Jordan: We've both been already, and exhausted the options there;
  • Sudan: Countries on the brink of civil war are out of the running;
  • Yemen: At this point, we're both a little tired of conservative Muslim countries, plus there's that whole Houthi rebellion issue.
After a little more research, and further reflection about our budget and time constraints, we took the plunge. Shortly before returning from Morocco, Jacqueline and I bought two one-way tickets to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 26—exactly a month from today.

In the three or four months that follow, we'll live out of our backpacks, heading southward via whatever public transport we find. We hope to do a good deal of hiking, to spend time exploring the islands of the Swahili coast, to snorkel and fish along the beaches, and to eat some great food and meet some fun people along the way.

So, the plan may have changed, but my grand African odyssey lives on. Whether our journey ends in South Africa at the World Cup or not, Jacqueline and I are both looking forward to several exciting months on the road.

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