We had an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam and so we decided to check out the city. Since it was an early Sunday morning everything was closed, but it was a great experience just to walk around the city. We didn't bring in our camera as we were just wanting to look around. The architecture there is amazing and we hope to visit again when we can spend some more time there. The city was celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Rembrandt's birth.
Since I had so much time to reflect I made a list of what I wish I had known before our trip to Africa:
1) Exchange dollars for lots of loose change in local currency. A trick that many vendors and restaurants used to take more of our money was to not have change. In fact, in a restaurant I asked for change for a tip. The waiter and the cashier had a brief conversation in Swahili and determined that there was no change despite thhe fact that they don't accept credit cards, which means they only accept cash. All cash transactions, yet no change available. hmmmmm.
2) Spend all your money on souvenirs in Malawi and/or Zambia. The prices in Malawi were the lowest followed by Zambia. In fact, once we reached the heavy tourist parts of Tanzania, the prices of souvenirs had more than doubled and we didn't feel the need to spend our money only to feel short changed.
3) Never pre-pay for a service We asked a painter to paint us a picture. He made up something about needing materials that required us to pre-pay. When we came back to get our picture, he had not even come close to our specifications, but since we had pre-paid our bargaining power was gone and had to accept his painting.
4) Bring kool-aid or gatorade packets. The water we used with the safari was treated. However, the chemicals used gave it a distinct taste. Thus, the best way to tolerate drinking it was to flavor the water with kool-aid or gatorade. We eventually found a kool-aid like product, but it would have been good to have it from the beginning.
5) Stay emotionally strong when negotiating for souvenirs. At the markets, many of the vendors will try and sell their products not always on the virtues of their products, but on how desperate they need money. After spending 15 minutes with 2 vendors not seeing anything in particular I wanted they began to give me their hard luck stories. As a result, I ended up buying a small souvenir from their shop mostly out of charity, even though I wasn't particularly fond of the souvenir.
6) Camping safaris means you won't sleep consistently well. Even if you have a great sleeping bag and camping supplies, some of the campsites created noise levels too high to sleep. A few campsites were geared towards generating business at the campsite bar. Thus, hearing loud music until past midnight was not uncommon.
7) You have to keep your eyes half-closed all the time to enjoy your trip You will not get to shower consistently and when you do the floor, walls, and/or showerhead will be so dirty or full of bugs that you won't dare go barefoot. You will wash your hands in dirty water and will not sit on most toilet seats. You will not have access to electricity on a regular basis. Any internet access you get will be the slowest dialup connection imaginable. These are just some of the inconveniences of being in the rural areas of third world countries. Despite all this, with a good attitude you will still have the time of your life!
Visiting Africa was an incredible experience that I would not trade for anything despite all the challenges associated with traveling there.