The 8 month window between when my diploma finished and when I intend to be back in New Zealand gave me the opportunity to tack on a bit of travel. St Francis hospital requires you to be there for 6 months, in order to justify the arduous paperwork and logistical challenges of organising foreign doctors. I was keen to spend my time travelling at the end of the 8 months, rather than the start, as recent experiences of friends who went there last year – Amy, Dylan and Farky – had indicated that the work will be intense and a break before returning to western medicine was important to prevent animosity and remember the time for all the good times rather than just the busy ones. However, existing staffing at the hospital was ample in April and May, but sparse at the end of the year so in the end it was agreed that I would start at the start of June. That left me a two month window of opportunity to travel.
Since I had been to Africa in 2009, I had always wanted to do an overland trip like ‘Cape-to-Cairo’. But with only 2 months, no travelling companions, no mechanic experience and a limited budget, backpacking part of the trip would have to suffice. The eternal question I have found when travelling in how much do you try and see and take in. Travelling slowly, spending a week in each place and soaking up towns and local experiences, whilst seeking out cheaper transport and accommodation is often a good option for many with an open ended timeline but tighter budget. The other option is the more fast paced rock into town, find somewhere to stay, see the sights over the next day or two then back on the road. This does run the risk of falling into ‘box-ticking’ mode, allowing less exploring of back street eateries and getting to meet the locals other than the touts trying to entice you into their nominated hotel or travel agency. Planned tours are on one extreme of this and whilst I didn’t have the flexibility to allow a leisurely wander across Africa, I did prefer to retrain some flexibility and only have set waypoints to make.
Where to go.
The natural ‘tourist trail’ through Africa has a relatively set path, generally following a component of the classical Cape-to-Cairo path. Lack of infrastructure in places like northern Mozambique and political instability and war in the DRC, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia mean that most people get channeled into a route forming part or all of South Africa to Namibia or Botswana, on through Zambia, Malawi and into Tanzania then north into Kenya and Ethiopia with alternative detours through Rwanda and Uganda. North from Ethiopia generally involves going through Sudan into Egypt. It allows the major attractions of Africa such as safaris, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Gorillas, Victoria Falls and Zanzibar to be seen without having to stray into war zones.
Given my destination was Zambia and with only a limited time to get home at the end, I decided to try and see as much of East Africa component as possible with hopefully a trip home at the end out through Botswana to South Africa. With that, first stop was Ethiopia.