Any trip to Africa involves a leap of faith, not because of the reality on the ground but because the Western world's perception of Africa has always been a bit askew! It is typically portrayed as a dark continent of war, famine, disease and pestilence.Of course, in the same way the USA is a country of Cowboys, Indians and school killing sprees - and England a land of tea, cucumber sandwiches and tennis. We know the stereotype is false, but it is hard to get beyond the media image sometimes!
From Here 2 Timbuktu aims to give you a perspective changing trip, to show you Africa as it really is (rather than the Africa perceived by the west). We encourage you to embrace Africa with us from an African perspective.
Here are some questions you may have:
Frequently Asked Questions - Health and Safety
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Contrary to popular belief, Africa is a very safe place to travel because wherever you go you are in a community who believe very strongly in hospitality to a stranger.
Your safety is my primary concern. I will never take anyone into an area I have concerns about for safety. If the trip is advertised as going ahead then it is safe.
In all my years of travelling in Africa, 25 and counting, I can list the number of incidents I would class as moments of insecurity on one hand. I can do the same for my years in Europe.
In terms of terrorist attack, I hold to my belief that your greatest risk of a terrorist incident will be at the airport from which you leave to come to Africa. London, New York and Sydney are better targets than Bamako, Ouagadougou or Nouakchott.
Security lies on the level of the local, not the international nor the national. Western government travel advice is based on poor intelligence that is highly political, over generalised and infrequently updated. The same can sometimes be said for national government advice. Local knowledge is only concerned with the reality.
Local people and local authorities know their country much better than foreign governments. If an area is unsafe you are unlikely to be allowed to travel there or at the very least you will be warned off a long way before stumbling into the region.
I have very close personal ties and relations in all my destination countries, I know the countries well and keep up to date with their current affairs. I trust all my contacts and friends and employees to advise me honestly. If I or my contacts have any doubts about the security of a trip I will alter the itinerary or, if the whole country is affected, cancel the trip.
In terms of threats to your possessions or your person, you are probably more safe in Africa than in your own country. In most communities there is very little crime. I remember more children who have run up to me with my bag than have run away from me with my bag.
Physical threats are extremely rare and certainly lower than any western city. I have never seen a gun or a knife in the threatening hands of someone who should not have one, in Africa that is.
Is the boy in the streets with a dusty face dirty or just dusty? That depends on the eye of the beholder.
The simple answer is yes, Africa is very clean. But it is also very natural. Africa is always cleaning itself, whether its women washing clothes and pots and pans, brother washing sister or men washing 5 times a day before prayer. But on the other hand the streets are not paved, you may be travelling in the dry season and there may be dust in the air.
Westerners live over-hygienic lives, and our environment is often not natural - we spend all day in air conditioned offices and over spray our houses, hence all our allergies. But just because somewhere is more natural does not make it dirtier. And anyway, dirt is good!
The same can be said for the food and the water. Tap water is safe to drink and better for you than bottled water, and food from the streets is fresher and more verifiable hygienic than food coming from a back room in a restaurant.
Every country, every different environment has different harmless bacteria in the food and the water. When we travel we sometimes get an initial upset stomach because our system is adapting to a different environment. Drinking over purified bottled water that has had all the mineral value taken out is not protecting you from the environment because you’ll be picking up the different bacteria in the food and the environment itself anyway. All it is doing is delaying your adaption process.
Africa has to be very hygiene conscious. If an African gets ill they can die, so from a young age hygiene is bred into them.
Malaria is a problem in the tropics of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is a serious illness, but mainly because of its impact on the poor and vulnerable who cannot seek treatment. For westerners it is on the level of influenza: it is a nasty illness, but it is treatable and you are very unlikely to die.
The disease is passed from one human to another via the mosquito, so you are more at risk in urban areas than in the countryside.
For short trips, whether you are travelling to a low risk or a high risk area, you should follow medical advice and take prophylaxis medicine. However you should never rely on this medicine to prevent you getting malaria as it is not fully protective.
There is a saying about malaria: “if you don’t get bit, you won’t get sick” and by far the most effective way of ensuring that you don’t get malaria is to follow these guidelines:
- Wear trousers and a long sleeve shirt in the early evening.
- Use a 50% deet spray or cream on exposed skin: ankles, feet, forearms and hands.
- Sleep under a mosquito net if there are mosquitoes where you are. Local people will tell you if there are mosquitoes. Make sure it is well tucked in to your mattress and that there are no openings. if you are staying in the same room for more than one night tie up the net in the morning.
Bring your own treated mosquito net as a back up. In hotels in malaria risk areas you will generally be provided with a net but if you want total control you should also carry your own. This way you can sleep anywhere if you have to.
The trick with malaria is early diagnosis and treatment.
I always carry artemisia based drugs which are taken as a cure if someone contracts malaria. As long as you begin a course of this drug within 2-3 days of the symptoms arising you should recover within 2-3 days.
The symptoms of malaria are flu-like feelings of aching, headache, generally feeling run down, lethargy and feeling quickly out of breath. As soon as you feel anything like this you must tell me or your guide and begin taking the treatment. We will then get you to a doctor as quickly as possible for a blood test. Artemisia is not adversely harmful if it turns out that you do not have malaria.