At that moment I decided all this roughing it through 19 days of Kenya and Uganda was going to be worth it — and how right I turned out to be.
Suck it up
One of the first things you need to do when overlanding in Africa is forget about home comforts. What’s the point of travelling if it’s just like home when you get there anyway?
These comforts include going to the loo when you need to and assuming that when you do go, it won’t be on the side of the road in front of a small crowd.
I’m not talking about squatting in front of your tour mates. On a trip across Africa you might just find yourself doing your business in front of complete strangers.
Nestled in some bushes during a pee stop one day in the middle of the Kenyan countryside, I’m mid-flow when a little boy walks up and stands about 2m away, watching me.
“How are you?” I say, thinking some conversation would make the situation less weird.
“I’m fine, thank you, how are you?” he replies.
Lucky I’m not shy. “Fine thank you,” I say as I finish up and see he’s still watching. I say goodbye and hope he has sisters.
Attracting an audience while peeing may be taking it a little too far, but one of the best things about driving through East Africa is the interaction with the locals.
At the end of each day I had a sore arm from constantly waving at children who literally drop what they’re doing — chasing an old bicycle tyre down the street, playing with their brothers and sisters, hanging off their mother’s skirt — to run towards the road and wave energetically at our truck with big smiles as if you’ve made their day just by driving past.
You’d think they hadn’t seen tourists come through for a while, but the reality is our truck would have been one of several passing each day.
“Did the tourist board plant all these happy kids along the road to wave at us?” asks one of our group. It’s that kind of welcome.
When we stop in a tiny village near our camp at Lake Naivasha, a few hours north-west of Nairobi, this youthful enthusiasm doesn’t dwindle. Word must have spread that there were visitors around as dozens of village kids ran out of their homes to ask repeatedly: “How are you, how are you?” and reply “fine thank you” when we return the question.
Great news for us — these kids love getting their photo taken. Whipping a camera out results in getting mobbed by five-year-olds pushing each other out of the way to get in front of the lens, pulling faces, making hand gestures and collapsing in fits of giggles when showed their image.
This happens again and again and we wonder when they will tire of the game. They don’t. Even their mums get involved, one running down a hill to say “please don’t forget me” then howling with laughter when she sees her photo.
They never ask us for money and the kids follow us to the local ‘pub’ — a few wooden seats under a tree, looking sad when we leave.
Teach a class
Near the town of Jinja we stay at a campsite at the source of the river Nile, where you can take on the rapids with white-water rafting or kayaking, but there’s also a chance for more altruistic pursuits by volunteering at local schools. At one school we watch young children perform old favourites such as Incy Wincy Spider and Heads, Shoulders, Knees And Toes before a teacher in our group gets stuck into a lesson and the rest of us help out with painting a nearby classroom.
Visit an orphanage
At Lake Bunyoni in Uganda when there is an option to visit an orphanage just a short walk away from our campsite, most of our group take up the offer.
The children, many of them Aids orphans, welcome us with traditional songs, throwing in some groovy dance moves that made us wonder if they’d been watching MTV in the African wilderness. From the time we arrive until the time we leave we’re surrounded by happy, camera-friendly kids.
After such a warm welcome — here and everywhere we’ve been, when we get the opportunity to make a donation it doesn’t take long to reach for our wallets.
» Amelia Bentley travelled through Kenya and Uganda with Oasis Overland (01963-363 400; www.oasisoverland.co.uk). A 19-day Gorillas and Gameparks trip (ex Nairobi) costs £360, plus a local payment of £170.
Read more at Africa Overland: What To Expect