First Time In Africa?
Is your hunting safari going to be your first time in Africa?
Are you are excited about the prospect of hunting but still have some nagging concerns at the back of your mind about going to Africa - the continent of rampant poverty, corruption, crime, disease, terrorism...?
Not to worry...most hunters who travel to Africa get to see the airport and the country from the air in a charter plane or domestic flight, or from the road if they drive to camp. That is often just how it is when you have so much hunting to cram into a short trip.
Under the care of your PH or outfitter from arrival to departure and residing in your exclusive hunting camp, you are somewhat insulated from the 'real life' of the country you are in.
However, should you get out and about by yourself, even if it's a night or two in a hotel in town, you might find this African travel advice for first-timers useful.
Arrival In Africa
- If it is your first time in Africa, be prepared for a bit of a culture shock. Landing in Dar es Salaam or Kampala at the peak of rush hour is a true baptism of fire for the first-timer in Africa. The East African airports even make O R Tambo Airport, Johannesburg look like a calm haven of sophisticated travel. From the moment you step into the terminal building you will be hit by the heat, the bustle and hundreds of 'porters' wanting to grab your bags, asking where you are going. You may also be accosted by very persistent people trying to sell you anything from soap to bicycle headlamps, offering you 'free' tours and cheap hotel rooms. Unless you are one cool dude traveller, you cannot help being fascinated by all that's going on around you.
- You should be 100% clear about your airport 'meet and greet' arrangements - exactly where and when at the airport you will meet your PH/outfitter or hunting company representative. With your hotel or hunting camp transfers already arranged, once you have cleared the airport formalities, you should be able to jump straight into a waiting air-conditioned vehicle with minimal delay.
- If you have to stay overnight and take a connecting flight the next day, you should have made and confirmed accommodation and transfer reservations prior to arrival.
- If you decided to arrive a few days early before your hunt starts and have no accommodation arranged, you will be well advised not to
go to any cheap hotels offered by street touts. There will be airport accommodation booths or at least airport personnel within the airport concourse who can help. Most African airports have at least a couple of worldwide hotel chains in the vicinity.
- If you need to get a taxi from the airport rank, look for one that is actually looks vaguely like a licensed taxi. Before putting your luggage in or getting in yourself, find out if the driver knows the way to the hotel (or any other destination) you require and how much the exact fare will be. As a newly arrived 'rich foreigner' you may seem like an easy touch for a scam. Do not get in the taxi until you are happy with the fare and do not be persuaded to go to any other hotel by the taxi driver. If you are using an airport porter to push your luggage trolley, watch out that he does not load your luggage into the taxi while you are negotiating with the driver. Tell him to stop and not to touch your luggage until you are ready. There are some scams run between airport taxi drivers and porters which may result in your luggage being driven away, or effectively stolen from under your nose, while you are left standing on the roadside. This situation is a lot worse if it involves your hunting firearm and ammo being stolen.
- Another thing you may want to do while you are still at the airport, is buy a pre-paid local SIM card for calls, texts and data, if you want one. If during your hunt you need to be connected to the outside world, check with your hunt outfitter before you arrive as to what they suggest for communications. Some countries like South Africa have cell phone coverage everywhere, even in the bush. Other countries and hunt locations will have sporadic but unreliable cell phone coverage, for example in some Selous blocks, if you stand in a particular spot, you may get good phone reception. In other countries and very remote hunt areas, satellite phones are the only means of communication.
- While at the airport you may come across people who offer to exchange money for a better rate than a bank or bureau de change. Apart from being illegal, you are putting yourself at risk of being robbed or cheated if you take out your wallet and reveal your cash. Preferably do your foreign exchange at home before you travel or if in Africa, use a bank or reputable bureau de change.
Personal Safety In African Cities & Towns
- If it is your first time in Africa, you may be quite concerned about your personal safety and theft of your possessions. Just apply the same precautions as you would anywhere - Africa is not very different from many other places in the world where seemingly rich tourists brush shoulders with poorer local people.
- Minimise your chances of being a victim of crime by not obviously looking like a tourist. Do not openly carry or wear valuable items like cameras, smart phones, tablets, expensive watches or jewellery in crowded public places. Always be aware of your surroundings and aware of the possessions you have with you, particularly at night and in crowded streets where pickpockets operate.
- When you travel in Africa don't flash the cash! Be discreet and have smaller amounts of money handy in different pockets in your clothing. When purchasing something take out a small amount of money rather than pulling out a large wad of notes from a wallet.
- Keep your money and important items like passports in a concealed travel money belt or pouch when out and about. Be aware that a hotel room safe is really not a safe place to store cash or valuables.
- When it comes to important documents like passport, airline tickets, firearm permit, US Customs Form 4457, credit cards and so on, always make multiple copies of each and store a copy in each piece of luggage. Even leave copies with a trusted person at home so you can always access the information on the document if the original gets lost or stolen while you are away. Always keep a separate list of important phone numbers that you may need in an urgent situation - lost credit cards, your airline, travel agent, etc etc.
- Try not to stray into the seamier side of a town, especially at night. If you do, try not to look lost but walk confidently and purposefully until you find a shop or half decent hotel where you can get directions.
Local African Customs
- If it is your first time in Africa you may inadvertantly offend local people if you are unaware of their culture, such as dressing inappropriately on the street or when sight-seeing. Keep the swimwear or skimpy clothing for the hotel pool or at the beach.
- Ask permission before taking photographs of local people and don't be surprised if they ask you for money for posing. Don't take photographs of any military installations, police stations, airports, border crossings or similar buildings. You could get arrested and your camera confiscated.
- Good places to buy cheap souvenirs are the local markets, which are fun if you can stand the noise and constant hectoring. If you are looking for genuine pieces of Africana rather than tourist tat, it is better to go with someone who knows the traders, as the good pieces are often kept out of sight - ask at your hotel. Feel free to indulge in some friendly bartering in market places. Stay polite and firm and back out graciously rather than rudely, if you consider the price too high.
- Try to appreciate the differences of protocol/manners among local people compared to what you are used to at home. Local people will always try to give an answer to a question rather than admit they don't know. Local estimates of distance or the time it takes to get somewhere are somewhat flexible. You will appreciate this fact more on your hunt when your tracker says it is "not far" to where the eland hang out...just be prepared for either a 30 minute hike or a 6 hour death march!
- Try to your leave your natural inclinations for speed and efficiency at home. Almost every aspect of life in Africa is slower than you are probably used to and it does no good to get stressed out if things don't happen right on schedule. Give yourself time and you'll likely get used to it in a few days.
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