It’s funny how we think we know what to expect when we visit a country for the first time. We research online, talk to tour companies and other travellers – but there are always surprise revelations once we’re actually there. I’m talking about good surprises: those little moments that inspire awe or wonder, or turn long standing beliefs upside down.
I was fortunate to spend a month in Uganda and Kenya, going on safaris and travelling the countryside. It was my first trip to the “dark continent.” I had a pretty good idea of what I would encounter, based on years of watching nature documentaries and news reports from the area. And yet every day I experienced those little surprises, which for many of us is the reason we travel in the first place.
Here are three surprises from my trip to Africa:
- People walk everywhere. The roads are crowded with pedestrians. Many are barefoot or carrying heavy loads on their heads or children on their backs. And I’m not talking about a short jaunt to the corner store, either – these people are walking for miles to get to the market or to work.
We’re so accustomed in North America to driving everywhere that it’s actually strange to see so many people crowding the road. Highways, city streets, dusty rural trails – everywhere there are people walking.
- Animals mix together. Call me stupid, but for some reason I expected the animals I saw on safari would stay in separate groups spaced widely apart.
In some cases they were, but there were also many occasions where zebras were mixed right in with warthogs and impalas, while a group of lions lazed around in the grass just a few hundred feet away. It felt like someone had left all the cages open at the zoo!
- Tea, not coffee. When it comes to hot drinks, I always associated Africa with coffee. And the continent does grow a lot, don’t get me wrong. But I was surprised to see so many tea plantations as I drove through the rolling green hills of southwestern Uganda.
Locals here prefer to drink tea, usually mixed with warm milk. In fact, Kenya was the third largest producer of tea in the world in 2018.
Have you travelled to Africa? What little moments or details took you by surprise?