New Book celebrates 10 years of the Tour d’Afrique

The Tour d'Afrique celebrates ten yearsThe Tour d’Afrique is a legendary cycling event that runs from Cairo to Cape Town on an annual basis. Covering more than 7500 miles, and requiring four months to complete, the Tour is a popular “bucket list” item for adventure travelers and cyclists the world over. This year, the Tour d’Afrique commemorates its tenth anniversary, and to celebrate, the company behind the epic event has released a fantastic coffee table book entitled 10: Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition.

The book begins with a forward written by Tour founder Henry Gold. A decade ago, when he first pitched the idea of a bike ride across Africa, Gold was met with skepticism to say the least. Many thought that it simply wasn’t possible for an event like this one to exist and he was regularly told he was crazy for even considering it. Ten year later, Gold has turned his idea into a yearly event, and his adventure travel company produces similar cycling tours in a host of other locations across the globe.

10 is filled with stories from the road, as riders share tales, quotes, and anecdotes of their own experiences from the Tour. For some, it was a life altering experience for others an adventure of a lifetime, but no one who has taken part in the journey has come away unchanged. Their words are likely to inspire readers to want to join Tour as well, and even if you haven’t been on a bike in years, you may find yourself dreaming of pedaling under African skies. The book doesn’t try to hide the challenges of the ride, which range from oppressive heat to unexpected downpours, not to mention ever changing road conditions, but the amazing beauty of Africa and the camaraderie that is formed amongst the riders, will have a universal appeal all the same.

If the words of the riders don’t inspire you than perhaps the amazing photographs contained in this book will. 10 is a visual love letter to cycling, adventure travel, and most importantly, Africa itself. The 252 page volume is packed with breathtaking images that have been compiled over the past decade and capture the spirit of the Tour very well. Not only do those photos show the day-to-day experiences of the ride, but they also manage to convey a sense of wonder at the countries and environments that the riders pass through, as well as the people that live there.

If you have a cyclist or adventure traveler on your holiday shopping list, than this book is sure to be a hit. Just be warned, after reading it, they may feel compelled to join the ride themselves. Africa is most definitely calling.

3 “glamping” accommodations for the luxury camper

glampingFor those who are unfamiliar with the term, “glamping” is a way for travelers to experience the outdoors, like camping, but with more luxury amenities, like electricity, running water, and sometimes even modern architecture. Check out this list of stylish canvas accommodations from around the world, perfect for those who want to get closer to nature…but not too close.

Wildman Wilderness Lodge

Recently opened in April, 2011, this small, luxurious safari lodge features wildlife tours, hiking, biking, and culture in Australia’s Norther Territory while still providing the comforts of home. Made of recycled building materials, these free-standing cabins are surrounded by trees and grassland yet include air-conditioning, luxury bedding, upscale furnishings, and an en suite bathroom. Prices range from $285-$505 per person, per night.

For those who want to rough-it just a bit more, Wildman Wilderness Lodge also offers safari tents that are spacious and fan-cooled withwood floors, beds, and en suite bathrooms. Prices range from $215-$375 per person, per night.glampingValle de Uco

This new wine-and-golf resort being built in Mendoza is the latest in glamping sophistication. Canopies furnished by 5-star hotel designers include four-poster beds, roll top baths, indoor and outdoor showers, and fire pits. Don’t spend too much time inside, though, because there are many different nature experiences to be had. Because the arid region has its own natural spring, the landscape is a combination of lakes, rivers, forests, and meadows, making it perfect for nature strolls. Horseback riding, hiking, and star-gazing at the observatory deck are also available.

The first phase of the project should be finished by the end of the year, with rates beginning at $300 per night.

glampingRasa Resorts

This 500 square foot tent will have you forgetting that you’re not at an extravagant hotel. Each of the 40 structures include large bay windows, curtains, and a high roof that slopes down to form a canopy over the beds. A contemporary atmosphere is created through color schemes of concrete, wood, and red stone. You’re not too far from nature, however, as private outdoor gardens are right at your backdoor. Moreover, the rocky terrain and nearby sanctuary offer plenty of opportunities for hiking and bird-watching. Prices begin at $148, which includes breakfast.

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.

Enter the Put Foot Rally for an African road trip adventure

The Put Foot Rally promises to be quite an African adventureAdventurous travelers looking for a unique road trip this summer may want to checkout the Put Foot Rally, which is scheduled to get underway in June. The event begins in South Africa and promises to send teams on a 7000km (4350 mile) long odyssey through the wilds of Africa.

The 17-day rally will kick off at two separate starting lines, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg. Once underway, competitors will navigate on their own, and are free to take any path they like, but are required to reach certain checkpoints along the way by certain times. For instance, the first checkpoint is located at the Andersson Gate, just outside Etosha Park in Namibia. How you manage to find your way to that destination is entirely up to you, but you’ll certainly want to get there on time, as each of the checkpoints will play host to a party as well.

Subsequent CP’s will be located on the Okavango Delta in Botwsana, in Livingstone, Zambia, and on the edge of Lake Malawi in Malawi. From there it is on to Inhambane in Mozambique before proceeding on to the finish line in Swaziland. All told, counting the starting and finish line, there are seven checkpoints, and seven parties, in all.

The Put Foot is accepting just 50 crews for the inaugural 2011 rally, and as of this writing they are about halfway to filling that quota. A crew can consist of as many people as you want, but they all have to fit inside one vehicle. Speaking of which, you can also drive any type of car, truck, or SUV you want, as long as it gets you to the checkpoints on time. You can even elect to ride on a motorcycle if you prefer. Organizers of the rally estimate that about 95% of the route can be done on paved roads, which means a 4×4 isn’t necessary to compete. But part of the fun will no doubt be getting off the beaten path and finding interesting ways to reach the checkpoints. Just don’t take a wrong turn and end up in a country you weren’t expecting!
While the rally is going to be great fun, and will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for amazing travel experiences, it isn’t being run just for the adventure. The Put Foot Rally organizers have joined forces with the Bobs For Good Foundation to raise funds and awareness of that charity, which focuses on providing shoes for underprivileged African children. Many of those children might not ever own any kind of footwear under normal circumstances.

If you’d like to put your own crew together and enter the Put Foot Rally, you can register for the event, which gets underway on June 22nd, by clicking here. Be warned though, this is no organized jaunt down the well marked highway. It is instead a self guided safari through some of the wildest places in Africa, and if you’re not prepared for the challenges you could find yourself in real trouble. That said however, if this sounds like your kind of adventure, the rewards could be amazing as well.

Personally, I think Team Gadling would rock this rally!

So You Want To Be A Safari Guide?

Ecotraining prepares students to become safari guides across AfricaWanted: Able bodied men and women who have a passion for the outdoors and a thirst for adventure. Must be well organized, have an attention for detail, and enjoy working with animals. Positive attitude, a flair for the dramatic, and good people skills a big plus. Plenty of positions available, no experience necessary. Will train for the job.

If the above job description sounds like something you’d be interested in, than perhaps you’re a candidate to become a safari guide in Africa. But be warned, it is a job with long hours, little pay, and plenty of demands. It is also an occupation that offers a fantastic job site, daily surprises, and plenty of adventure.

The demand for experienced and well trained safari guides continues to grow as more and more African nations build an infrastructure to support tourism. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa are well known, and popular, safari destinations. But other nations, such as Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are quickly becoming popular alternatives to those classic places.

Of course, not just anyone can be a safari guide. It requires a unique set of skills that is not always obvious to the outside observer. Building those skills is no easy task either, and it can take years in the field to develop them fully. But, for those hoping to join the ranks of the African bush guides, there is an option for job training that is as unique and adventurous as the work itself.
A South African company by the name of EcoTraining has established itself as the top provider of quality safari guides on the entire African continent. EcoTraining offers a number of training course that are designed to give potential guides the skills they need to lead their guests into the field in search of Africa’s amazing wild game.

Ecotrain has camps like this one where potential safari guides are trainedI recently had the opportunity to visit EcoTraining’s Makuleke Camp, located inside the Makuleke Concession of Kruger National Park in South Africa. There I had the unique opportunity to witness first hand the training process and watch as students worked hard on a daily basis to hone the skills necessary in the profession they all hoped to enter. Those students came from all over Africa, Europe, and even the United States, and ranged in age from 19 to late-50’s.

In the week that I was in the camp, I watched the prospective guides practice some of the more obvious skills that they would need on the job. For instance, there were daily game drives, both on foot and in vehicles, with students taking turns playing the role of the lead guide, while another served as the all-important back-up. Their remaining classmates played the part of the clients, eagerly asking questions and putting the guides to the test.

Learning to lead a game drive was just the beginning however, as the students also practiced operating a 4×4 safari vehicle, while spotting wild animals on the move, and entertaining their clients with all sorts of fun facts, at the same time. They also learned how to identify, and track, the wide variety of creatures that inhabit Kruger National Park, while polishing their first aid skills, and learning to handle a rifle as well. The students are taught basic bush survival techniques, how to handle encounters with dangerous game while on foot, and how to navigate in the bush too. Nightly post-dinner briefings give them the opportunity to hone their public speaking abilities as they outlined the itinerary for the following morning’s game drive much same way as they will when they go to work as a guide.

The standard Eco-Training course is 28 days in length at the end of which, students who pass their evaluations will be given a rank of a level 1 Field Guide. That will mean that they have demonstrated the basic skills necessary to serve as a safari guide, although they will still lack experience that only comes from working in the field. From there, they’ll receive placements in a variety of lodges and camps throughout Africa, where they can begin to acquire that necessary experience. A few of the more promising students will even be allowed to stay on in the Eco-Training camps to help instruct the next crop of recruits.

The training doesn’t end after the 28-day course comes to an end however, as there are a number of short courses that the Field Guides can take to boost their skills. For instance, there is a weeklong birding course that helps identify the hundreds of avian species in Kruger. Similarly, there is a four-day course on identifying trees and other plant life and another that focuses on spider and scorpions, both of which are common throughout Africa.

The most comprehensive course however is Eco-Training’s yearlong program that not only prepares students for all of their official Field Guide accreditation tests, but also offers advanced bushcraft skills, while also training them in wilderness medicine, and high level tracking . They’ll also receive further instruction on navigation and orientation, handling of firearms, and much more. The yearlong course is designed to turn out the very best guides possible, who can immediately go to work in the field.

Ecotraining prepares future safari guides for work in the fieldTrue to their name, Eco-Training also instills a healthy respect for the environment in their students as well. They are taught to protect the wilderness that they will be working in and to understand how each of the creatures, from the smallest insects to the largest herbivores, plays a vital role in keeping it healthy. In fact, that respect runs so deep, that on one walk into the bush we were advised to not step in the elephant dung that was common throughout the Makuleke Concession. Normally, this would seem like good common sense, as none of us likes to carry that scent around on our boots all day. But in this case, we were told to avoid the smelly landmines because each of them is a self-contained ecosystem, with all manner of insects taking up residence. By walking around them, those ecosystems were allowed to flourish and continue playing their role in the much larger environment of the bush.

This eco-conscious approach extends to the Makuleke Camp, where the students, guides, and visitors, such as myself, stay as well. Occupants of the camp sleep in large, comfortable tents that are elevated above the ground to allow for the passing of animals through the area, something that is not at all uncommon. One evening I was awoken from sleep by the distinctive sounds of a warthog passing beneath me, and on several occasions the sunrise was greeted by the not-so-distant roar of a lion.

Our tents had running water, but no electricity, and in the evening the paths, as well as the common dining area, were lit with lanterns. There were no fans, no air conditioning, and certainly no televisions. It is a five-mile drive just to get cell service. The evening ends early, with occupants of the camp crawling into their cots not long after nightfall. The morning is announced with the beating of a drum, which signals the start of a new day and calls students to their daily meals.

For adventurous travelers, the camp no doubt sounds like a fantastic escape, and a wonderful place to experience Africa’s bush in all of its glory. But it is also a classroom without equal for the potential safari guides, who need only walk a dozen yards in any direction to enhance their instruction. EcoTraining operates two other training camps, one in South Africa’s Selati Game Reserve, not far from Kruger, and another at the Karongwe Reserve in Botswana. Both of those camps offer similar training to those that I observed on my visit to the Makuleke Concession.

The company has gotten so good at training field guides that their students are now in demand across all of Africa. Eco-Training students serve in a variety of capacities in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and of course South Africa. Tour operators know that when they hire a graduate of the EcoTraining courses, they get someone who is well trained, highly knowledgeable, and prepared to inform and entertain their guests.

For us, as travelers, that means that we are able to visit the wondrous landscapes of Africa in a manner that is both more rewarding and safe. Something that makes an already great travel experience even more satisfying.