Lake Kivu in East Africa is a killer. It is also THE beach resort in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The shores of Lake Kivu are beautiful with white sand beaches in Gisenyi (Rwanda), rolling green hills nearby and even dramatic mountains overlooking it from the DRC side. On a clear day or hour it’s beautiful. Don’t let that beautiful view fool you. Kivu is one of only 3 EXPLODING LAKES in the world. The other 2 have cause carnage in Cameroon (Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun) by exploding and gassing hundreds of people. The overall death toll on Lake Kivu is a lot less, but just make sure it’s not you. Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes and the only one of the 3 you are likely to have a beach holiday on. So just remember that before you decide to go off and swim or boat in some secluded place while visiting the Lake Kivu area.
The problem is that Kivu sits on top of huge pockets of Methane gas and Carbon Dioxide. Both are lethal. The geological term for this is ‘Mazuku’ meaning ‘Evil Wind’ in Swahili. Invisible Carbon Dioxide released in large amounts stays near the ground and kills every living thing there. Tie that in with the visible volcanic activity of Mt. Nyiragongo and lava pouring into the lake (in 2002) and you can understand why the lake has killed everything that lives in it. Twice. This was thousands of years ago, but larger pockets of escaping gas in some parts of the lake can suffocate an unsuspecting swimmer or boater. Stay in clearly marked areas or only swim where locals do.
It’s not all bad. The visible structure in the lake (pictured) collects the Methane which is used in the production of electricity supplying Rwanda. Its currently being expanded to provide export revenue by supplying electricity to neighbouring countries. The Primus Brewery right on the lake has used the Methane for years to supply turbines used in making their fabulous beer!
If you are a fisherman, forget Lake Kivu though. The high gas content in the water keeps the fish very small. All the ones I saw in the fish market were either small or absolutely tiny.
Some countries in Africa are in the Malarial Zone. If you visit such an area - PLEASE PREPARE! Malaria can sometimes be fatal and at best may make you regret that you survived. Medicines must be taken weeks BEFORE you come here. There are 4 different species of Malaria and humans can get them all from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Illness and death from malaria are largely preventable - if you plan ahead.
While you are here you need to use a repellent spray early in the morning and any periods of darkness, especially at night. The Bartender at my beach hotel had Malaria 3 times before he was 25. Do not take chances!
I would suggest you buy repellent with 100% DEET.
Doesn’t sound like a nice way to die does it? Please note that Diseases is plural. Very plural. If you want to get to know a local African VERY well – make sure you use a condom. There are plenty of signs. I do mean by the road side, in hotels and in many graveyards.
You can get condoms for free in many places and countries. Just ask at many Tourist Information Offices or even at a pharmacy. Still, a few dollars of prevention is better than Herpes for free. For life.
Across Francophone (French speaking) Africa you will see signs warning of the dangers of ‘SIDA’. SIDA stands for Le syndrome de l'immunodéficience acquise. French for AIDS.
Unfortunately so many developing countries have a high infection rate. Being reckless can kill you. Worse – you could get something really nasty that will make you regret living.
Just in case you don’t believe it, I have listed some of the diseases and infections you can contract after getting AIDS/SIDA.
Bacterial Pneumonia, Septicaemia (blood poisoning), Tuberculosis, Cryptococcosis, Penicilliosis, Herpes Simplex, Herpes Zoster Virus, Isopsoriasis, Leishmaniasis, Candidiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Microsporidiosis, Toxoplasmosis, Kaposi's Sarcoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Lymphoma. This list drives my Spellchecker crazy and they all sound horrible. With good reason.
All these diseases, viruses, infections and growths are available FREE when you save time and money not using a condom.
Please be careful.
tip in progress more soon
How would you like to spoil your travel of a lifetime by the sudden death of one of your party? Doesn’t sound good does it? Throughout Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia’s name for its side of the falls) there is a noticeable absence of gates, fences and barriers to prevent you and gravity creating a fatality. Please make no mistake. A fall in or near the river in this park will be 100% fatal. You can, and I did, go walking out onto the falls themselves during the dry season. The edges are even more slippery do to moisture and the erosion on the stones caused by the river. There is a small iron bridge that does have high barriers, but that’s about it. If broken bones are what you are after, just leave the good quality trails and scramble in amongst the tree roots and baboons. This is less certain to happen.
Please take it easy and if you see someone doing something dangerous – get you camera a ready from a safe distance.
I originally wrote this after one of my Police incidents, this time in Algeria. The rest of the story is good advice just about anywhere in Africa.
You are looking at illegal pictures for which I was detained for 30 minutes and almost jailed. It was stupid and my own fault. In fact I normally feel the right to take pictures, but this was wrong. Please don’t do what I did.
The Police in Algeria are very protective and supportive of Tourists. Several times they stopped me to make sure I was ok, was watching my valuables and they told me to ring the Police phone number should I have any issues. In fact I have never been so well treated by the Police in any country I have ever visited.
I was half-awake one morning and decided I would take a picture of a (ubiquitous) Police road block, some Police signs and a Police car. Little did I realise the signs were on the side of a Police station and jail. A small guy with an AK-47 brought me to me senses and I was escorted into questioning rooms. Multiple rooms. I was questioned over the next 30 minutes by multiple detectives. Plain clothes detectives. I had to surrender my camera and all my photos were examined – twice.
Yes I got out of it and I can tell you how by email – but that’s a different story.
So these images were NEVER seen by the Police or I would have been on the wrong side of at least a fine and possible seizure of my memory card and/or camera.
After I satisfied the Police enquiries, several stood and spoke to me about my travels, some of the other nice photos I had and then – as they always did – told me to be careful with my valuables and ring them if anyone caused me any problems!!!
Nice Policemen! Always!
So be careful and when in doubt, just do as I did afterwards (mostly).
If you see a Policeman, point at what you want questionable photos of. They will either say yes, no or tell you where to stand so you don’t get a sensitive building in your shot.
It pays to have long lens cameras in Algeria if you do want shots of some ornate government buildings from a distance they can’t see you from.
Leopards are the top predators in the African rainforest and mostly the feed on deer, monkeys and bush pigs. But when you’re camping in the jungle and sleeping in tents they’re sometimes attracted by the smell of your provisions. It certainly won’t happen each night, but one stalked us and came very close at night. Other animals could also be attracted.
TIP: Empty sardine cans, foodpackings and all other kind of material should be burned(out) in your campfire or buried deep under the ground.
Here you can see a leopard paw print.
During election days you’d better avoid crowded places or manifestations. Sometimes these happenings can escalate to a whirlwind of violence and aggression. You won’t be save because(sometimes) the security forces don’t use dummy bullets and they shoot to kill. The Ivory Coast, Guinea or Cameroon are good examples.
You better watch out before using water from the tap.
When you can’t use the water to wash yourself you’ll be sure of it you can’t drink it!
Water isn’t always that clean, sometimes pumped out of a river our stored on the rooftop and refilled by water suppliers and they aren’t always that honest.
Travelling to Africa? Hope you are not afraid of needles! You need some immunizations before you go. At the least I would recommend these for any travel other than on a cruise ship:
Hepatitis B – for longer journeys
The full list is here of every possibility worldwide, but includes some immunizations you should have had as a child:
European tick borne Encephalitis
Yellow Fever - You only need this if you are going into affected areas and staying for a while.
BE SAFE: See your doctor before you go! I’m no medical expert, just a safe traveller.
I haven't been to the south, but I was in Khartoum and Nubia last year. It is difficult for people from most countries, especially the U.S., to get a visa, and you will need a fixer who is experienced with your embassy and people of your nationality.
Reliable people who've to the south and to the Nuba Mountains tell me much of it is still mined, so you will need to stay on the road and under no circumstances go off into the bush without an experienced guide.
Once you are in Sudan, however, the people are very friendly, and you will be safe as long as you stay away from political events, demostrations, and similar situations where tensions might be high. Many people will be eager to discuss politics with you, but it is tactful not to initiate such a discussion yourself, and especially never do so in public.
Africa is one of only 2 continents still plagued by this deadly disease (South America is the other). To get into some countries you need a Certificate of Yellow Fever Immunization to show at the border. If you are coming from a non-affected area (like Europe, N. America or Asia) this requirement is usually ignored and you will never be asked to produce it. If you want to move across land borders in the massive affected zone, you will probably need to produce it. That means that you must actually get the shot.
It’s not cheap, it hurts like hell and leaves permanent small red dots on you. Well it did me anyway. Before you think this is just some hassle from the authorities in poor countries – please remember this. It could save your life. You may or may not be able to pay a bribe to get around this, but it would be very unsound travel planning. I have only had to produce it once when I was walking across the land border of 2 countries affected by Yellow Fever.
So what is Yellow Fever? It is a deadly virus spread via the bite of an infected (female) Aedes Aegypti mosquito. It does occur both in CITIES and rural areas. It damages the Liver leading to jaundice – making the victim turn Yellow. It has NO TREATMENT if you get it. Only about 5% of victims living in affected areas die an agonising death over days. VISITORS HAVE A FATALITY RATE OF 50%! That’s Tourists. It is, however, 100% PREVENTABLE by being immunised. Also the VACCINE LASTS 10 YEARS. It not only protects you – it protects locals from the spread of the disease by YOU.
So it’s worth ever penny and make sure you know where your Certificate is !
Please follow the link below for maps of endemic zones and more information on this terrible disease.
I am not accusing anyone, but I have no doubt more than one VT Member has stolen hotel towels at some time in their travels. Well, don’t do it here! I first noticed this in the capital Gaborone. Hotels in Botswana embroider their towels with the name of the accommodation and the telephone number. You really don’t want to get involved with the police here and you certainly don’t want something on you that says “I HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM THE ......... HOTEL”. I was threatened with jail and a fine when I drove to the police Station to report I hit a fence with my car. What do you think they would do with a real crime and criminal?
Don’t do it here. I suggest you try another country if you really need some free towels.
Do you have a large plastic container like the one pictured in your room? There is a very reason that it is there. You better make sure it’s full of water!
Most of Africa does get a lot of rainfall. Having said that, Africa is definitely ‘developing’ and many countries’ infrastructure is growing by leaps and bounds. That means that often water supplies are cut off for a while to help construction, water is diverted or some major water pipe bursts. One way or the other you get stuck in the bat or shore with soap in your eyes.
So if you have a container like this – FILL IT! The hotel has given you fair warning. And if there is a lid, put it on so the water doe not evaporate.
Large luxury hotels probably have large storage tanks, so no issue. If you are staying in budget accommodation I would suggest you take some bottled water in with you just in case the water goes off.
Landmines are the all too real legacy of the many civil wars that have taken place across Africa in the last 40 years. In many countries you will see children and young people with missing limbs decades after a war. That’s because in most conflicts the different sides NEVER marked their minefields. Farmers and children still come across these with devastating consequences. Chances are you will never travel in an area where there are still mines, but stay on roads in heavily mined countries like Mozambique. If local guides say not to hike somewhere – don’t hike there.
If you would like to help, there are several charities that perform demining across Africa. The most famous is the HALO TRUST
Africa operates on 220 volts of electricity (alternating at 50 cycles per second) as opposed to North America which uses 110 volts. What does this mean? For a start an electrical shock here can kill you where 110 volts won’t. Have a think about that before you plug something in. The electrical plugs are either a standard round 2 pin European plug or a large round 3 pin (old British style). If you bring over a $1000-3000 laptop, read carefully.
You really need a TRANSFORMER not a CONVERTER.
Converters are light weight and support high-wattage electrical appliances like hair dryers and are rated at between 50-1600 Watts. They are designed to be used for short periods of time (iron a shirt or dry your hair), not left on for hours. That’s why they are lightweight – low usage times.
Transformers have a lower Watt rating of 50 to 100. They are physically heavier. This is because they contain iron rods and a large amount of copper wiring. Heavy duty for longer jobs. These are best suited for the expensive and sensitive things like laptops, battery chargers, and other things more expensive than a cheap hair dryer.
Combination converters with both ‘modes’ are ideal for lots of business travel between Voltages. Expensive, but worth it. Besides. If you fry the company’s laptop who will be in trouble?
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