Last-Minute Tour Prep in Africa
Some people prep for trips for months, even years in advance. I certainly did for this journey – at least for most of it. Until I hit Africa. Africa ushered in a new phase in my traveling: that of not having the appropriate gear and clothing for the region. Aside from the required immunizations and anti-malaria tablets I’d gotten from my doctor prior to departure ‘just in case’ (and at that point, prepping anything for Africa was more a case of over-preparedness than anything else), I had nothing properly ready for the tour I was about to join and was especially not ready for Africa in winter. Yes, Africa has a winter. And it’s cold. Really cold.
Having not really expected to end up in Cape Town, I was a bit baffled as to what my next move should be. Should I leave Africa? Or go to Zimbabwe or the Maldives or Madagascar, maybe? Ultimately I thought it would be a shame to leave Africa entirely without seeing more of it, but it was too big, too foreign, too fantastic to attempt on my own. I couldn’t very well just rent a car and drive myself all over the continent. Or maybe I could have (actually I could have), but I didn’t think it wise, given that Africa is hostile! Lions and Rhinos and Leopards, oh my! Black Mambas and Hyenas and Crocodiles and Hippos, for real! Wander off in the wrong place and you’ll get lost or eaten or worse. I knew enough about the continent to know that I didn’t know nothin’ and began to look into group tours.
Knowing that I had three days remaining to my apartment booking in Cape Town was a great starting point for tour booking. There are a TON of tour companies and a TON of tour options and so, when pressed for time and needing options, having anything to narrow the frame of reference, like a desired starting date, is very helpful! I also had a wild idea to end the tour in Zambia – because I had friends there, living in Lusaka for two years. I thought I might like to do a big grand tour of the continent and even found tours to accommodate that – stretching more than a month in length and covering a multitude of countries. Ultimately those just didn’t “feel right,” and I settled on a quick 10-day tour, was able to book a spot, a flight to Johannesburg and I was off! The final choice was this: 10 days overland camping with G-Adventures, Johannesburg through Botswana, ending at Victoria Falls in Zambia.
The good news was that I had three days to prepare. The bad news was that I had three days to prepare. Three days is not a whole lot, especially when you’re abroad with no car and no clue how or where to get needed supplies. And I needed a few things: sleeping bag, winter clothing, etc. When I was in Bali such things were 99% impossible to find. Camping isn’t a thing in Indonesia. Neither is cold weather gear. You need a tent: What’s that? Sleeping bag: Fuggedaboudit. Luckily I was in Africa, the continent that probably pioneered the need for such things, and Cape Town was a great, civilized place with a fantastic REI-like store called Cape Union Mart. 250,000 Rand later (about $200) and I was set. Sleeping bag. Sweater. Socks. Gloves. All things I had previously all but forgotten existed because I’d been chasing summer and the tropics for nine months. All my purchases, as outlined in my trip notes, were things I would desperately need in the coming ten days. Winter camping in Africa is a dry-cold, dirty, hairy beast. Especially when one’s blood is thinned from said tropic-chasing.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t overtly thrilled at the prospect of camping. To that point I’d slept in enough rough spots, too many places with too many cockroaches and other bugs and I honestly wanted to sleep in comfortable beds each night with warm showers and a nice, secure room. But when push came to shove the camping tour got me where I wanted to go, at the time I wanted to be there and the price was reasonable. So I sucked it up and went. And it was a great decision. Stayed tuned to find out why…
The moral of the story: being prepared is important. But sometimes we have to muddle through and there is usually a way to do it. Ask around. Consult the internet. Be open to what comes your way.