About our two year travel across naked Africa ...
We hitchhiked around the black continent, but many times out of keeping with our original plan we went on foot, when there was nothing to thumb. This kind of traveling is neither comfortable nor safe, and it is not sure either. It brings with itself a lot of unpredictable situations, which make a certain direction to the whole journey. But the last kilometers on foot to the out-of-the-way native villages are the most beautiful ...
Traveling around Africa is full of contradictions, which sometimes get up to extremes. If you are going to travel around Africa independently, you will love and next time hate this specific traveling, which is just different from traveling whenever in the world. The independent traveling around Africa saturates the pilgrim with deep experience of contradictions, which do not leave him cool and disinterested. It is a wide range of experiences, most of which are very extreme. And that is what makes traveling around Africa to be a deep traveler’s experience, which is time to time paid with strong feelings of powerlessness or even hate, when you find yourself in hands of obsessed bureaucratic clerks, jagged soldiers aiming at your face with tommy guns, or fortune, when you have been thumbing a lift on an empty road for two days, where there have not been any cars going by ...
On New Year’s Day 2004 we set off on our travel across Africa hitchhiking from Jablonec nad Nisou. The pluck was given to us by our age of 23 and desire for meeting native ethnic groups, their world, culture, and religion. We had the previous experience from our expeditions around the world, especially hitchhiking to Asia. We started our travel across Africa in Marocco, and then we went on through West Africa to the south. The most expressive country, which raises above all the others in this part of Africa, is Mali. It impressed us with its culture, people and countryside. If we speak about contradictions, Mali is the right example in all directions. The north of the country is covered with sand of the Sahara, where the Tuaregs and the Arabs struggle with drought to save their life. In the central part of the country there is a typical Sahel environment inhabited by interesting and beautiful ethnic groups and there are unique clay townlets with old mosques built in the charming Sudan architecture. The southern part of Mali is a home of fascinating tribes, for example the Dogons, who live near the huge cliff of Bandiagara. In this country you can feel a strong spiritual anticipation. There is a sensible contradiction between Islam, Christianity and the original African religious system – voodoo. Considering the contradictions in each of these religions, the final mixture of spiritual reality, which is evident in this country, is fascinating.
The next expressive country we visited on our way was Benin. The official religion in this country is voodoo mentioned above. And just there we felt this in the most inward way. After several months of traveling around Africa we fully realized that there was a certain spiritual cult pervading the whole native community and shamans are the main representatives of the cult. We set off on our travel looking for some spirituality with certain goodwill towards likable eastern philosophies, and so we were also open towards this African phenomenon. We arrived there with a fallacious perception that shamans are good people who mainly cure and protect people. The confrontation with the African reality set us right very quickly. Voodoo is genuinely real and acting reality, which people primarily use to harm to the others, very often even to kill the others. A villager just comes to a shaman, pays him and orders
evil or, if he wants,
execration for his enemy or the whole village. Shamans take their spiritual power, which is really enormous, from
evil. They can use this power to restore to health as well, but the price is high. All participants open their spirits to something that swallows them up later. Just in Benin we realized the power of voodoo and necessity to guard ourselves against it, to shut ourselves off it, to have some spiritual shield best.
Our travel went on to the south of the continent. It was surprisingly very easy to hitchhike in South Africa, but the fact that only the white people gave us a lift had a simple reason. If a traveler in Africa feels racism against the white, so his feeling is right. But in South Africa there is evident hate. This reality dates from history and it is quite easy to understand that. But on the other hand the present fashion of African women is interesting because they try to make their skin lighter using special creams.
The next expressive area on our travel in southern parts of Africa was the territory of a beautiful tribe of the Himbas, where we spent unforgettable weeks in native villages. There, at the tribes’ in Namibia intact by civilization, we learnt a lot of basic knowledge about voodoo and how to defend against it. Our long spiritual pilgrimage to Christianization was paradoxically formed just at the Himbas’. We consulted voodoo with European doctors working in Africa, but they do not have any weapons against it in contradistinction to missionaries. Then, when we effectively tried out our Christian spiritual shields, our spiritual way went on to baptism and then to study of theology after our arrival home.
Then via the Victoria Falls and beautiful Malawi Lake we went on to the east coast of Africa and along it steadily to the north. Before our travel we were informed that the east coast was an undersea paradise for divers. But only at the moment of our first dive at the southeast coast we made sure that the statement was right. After diving in the world of coral fantasy in South Africa we dived everywhere on our travel along the east coast of Africa where it was possible and we realized that we would like to go in for diving more and more often. Especially when staying in Zanzibar we were thinking about the idea to stay there longer and make money for living with diving, but that was to come later .... On the island of spice we had to change our original idea to sail to Comoros and then on to Madagascar. The ship from Comoros did not arrive and finally we had to cancel our intention to sail to Madagascar, not only because I had been there but I had also fallen sick. Drinking badly cleaned water took toll. But there were other interesting countries on the continent we had not visited yet, so we decided to go on by land.
We started the second year of our pilgrimage across Africa. We visited beautiful Nile-Saharan ethnic groups, which got from the north up to the Equator, and besides an undersea world we also looked into the world of wild African fauna. Our very pleasant feelings in native villages, sometimes amplified with very strong local tobacco, were regularly alternated with disgusts of big cities, where there is a lot of criminality and the misery and gutter of streets gird at human dignity. We were robbed three times altogether, several times I had to use our electrical paralyser. It also belongs to traveling around Africa.
From the tribe of Samburu in the north of Kenya we headed for Ethiopia and it was undoubtedly the other expressive country in this part of Africa. The unique tribes in the Valley of Omo enabled us to travel in time. Traveling in time was not just virtual, because Ethiopia uses other calendar, other year, other time .... The higher locations of the mountainous country are settled by Christians, while the desert lowlands are inhabited by Muslims. In the rain forests in the southeast of the country you can taste African animism surviving among original tribes. The spiritual variances coexist there in a certain special symbiosis. In the north of the country we got in to the stone churches in Lalibele, hollowed into rocks under the ground, and we became absorbed in the secret of Christian spirituality. It is said that not very far from that place there is the Tabernacle hidden, which is said to have been brought there by a son of the Queen of Saba and the Jewish king Solomon from a temple in Jerusalem.
Originally we intended to go on from Ethiopia across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and then on to hitchhike to Asia, but Sudan attracted us as well and so a thought of long-term diving in Egypt. We chose the other possibility and as proved later it was a good choice. Sudan impressed us very much and the spectrum of our traveler’s experiences became wider because of some stronger events. When we at last got in to Egypt, we felt like being in Europe – cleanness, safety, a lot of food and no treacherous diseases. It is true that we were very tired after the travel across the whole Africa and our backpacks were heavier and heavier, but we did not want to go home yet. That is why we settled on the coast and started diving very intensively. We took some training to be divemasters, we learnt Arabic and we worked as divers for several months. At the end of our travel we had a possibility to invest our diving experience into an archeological expedition, which was mapping the exodus – the departure of the Hebrew from Egypt, for us it meant the crossing of the Hebrew across the Red Sea.
Two years on our way passed and we started longing for snow and winter and so at Christmas 2005 got in home hitchhiking across Middle East and the Balkan.Ondřej Havelka and Michaela Lorencová
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya , Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Reunion, Madagascar.
You can have a look at the pictures from the travel in our Window to Africa.