The concept of 3starbackpacker is two parts–one part 3 Stars, one part backpacking. Both represent opposite ends of the travel spectrum. One involves fashionable jackets and ties, proper etiquette and decorum, strong knowledge of wines, and decent proficiency in French, Japanese, and cocktail chit-chat. The other requires malaria pills, alcohol wipes, water-absorbent underwear, a pocket knife, medical kits, street smarts, survival skills, and…an open-mind, especially when backpacking Africa.
The cost for a single meal at a Michelin 3 Star could fund a backpacker’s travel budget for a few weeks to a couple months. That same meal could sponsor a child from a developing country anywhere between 6 months to 3 years depending on the 3 Star restaurant. A dinner for 4 at Arpege, Per Se, Sukiyabashi Jiro, or Joel Robuchon costs more than the two months or so it took me to go overland from South Africa to Kenya via Victoria Falls.
Everyone understands the draw of a Michelin 3 Star, but with backpacking, you go for days on end without showers and electricity. You sleep in tents and in crowded hostels, where you get bitten a thousand-times over by insects and sleep by with people who are loud, drunk, snore, and smell. And you travel to some of the most remote, and oftentimes poorest and most dangerous regions of the world, often getting targeted and victimized.
So why do it? Why step outside the gates of one’s comfort zone to experience a world that is largely desolate and comprised of poverty and violence? There is such an extreme wealth discrepancy worldwide, and things that I saw and experienced still leave me unsettled to this day. And part of me actually wishes at times that I could turn back the clock and return to blissful ignorance.
Going overland in Africa meant going days without electricity, showers and toilets. There were days where sunscreen lotion, bug spray and sweaty dirt got into your eyes and aggravated a mind already lost somewhere between heat exhaustion and the side effects of malaria medication.
We traveled portions of the continent with armed guards while simultaneously spending time in Namibia’s shanty towns and dancing with Masai Mara warriors in Tanzania. Armed soldiers in Zimbabwe and black market exchange rates contrasted with the hundreds of miles of uninterrupted wilderness and unpolluted skies. Women and children were exploited and emaciated–victims of poverty, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS–yet they possessed such a joy for the little they had. My studies of Islam, “otherness” and Samuel Huntington flashed momentarily through my mind, before a surge of adrenaline hit infront of an armed angry mob in East Africa, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I’m not sure what I expected out of Africa. It was nothing like what I had expected, but everything I had hoped for. And there were some great moments: wine tasting in South Africa; skydiving and sandboarding the Namibian Desert, seeing a lunar rainbow, bungie jumping and whitewater rafting at Victoria Falls; shipwreck and atoll diving off the coast of Zanzibar; going on safari in the Okavango Delta and the Ngorogoro Crater; camping out in the great African wilderness under a blanket of stars; seeing a thunder storm over Lake Malawi; golfing with armed escorts while wild animals roamed the course; and roasting a live sheep with the Bedouins in the Sahara Desert.
It was a world far beyond the typical Oxbridge and Ivy League circles, but there was so much that was awe inspiring and beautiful, beyond words and even photos. The travels that in part haunt me are the very same travels that inform the very person I am today, and these are the same travels that continue to fuel me to continue exploring what is different, foreign and “other”.
Eitherway, enjoy the photos below. Many more non-Michelin photos and posts to come. As for food in Africa, nothing really worth mentioning. Michelin won’t be hitting the continent any time soon I’m sure. I did, however, get sick off some roasted goat testicles and a few fried bugs. I guess the only semi-memorable food experience was a place called Carnivore in Nairobi, where after you see all the animals on safari, you get to eat them Brazilian churrascaria style (zebras, crocodiles, gazelles, wildebeest, and if I remember correctly, giraffe, which (un)fortunately, I hear they no longer serve).