Travelling in Africa | An Introduction

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"People often come to Africa very goal-oriented," says Gavin Bate, director of Adventure Alternative, who leads small groups up Kilimanjaro. "They arrive wanting only to make the summit, but when they leave, the strongest impression they take with them is invariably of Africa's people." One client wrote to Gavin saying "The memories the group will take away from our trip are not the challenge of Kilimanjaro, nor the excitement of safari, but meeting the people and culture of Africa, which has been one of the most moving and profound experiences of my life."

Adrere Amellal Desert Eco-lodge, Egypt

Located in Siwa Oasis, Adrere Amellal offers insight into desert geology, ecology, history and culture. The lodge has 27 rooms, a dining area, a large stone pool (a restored Roman well), a herbarium and a library.

Plans for Adrere Amellal (meaning "White Mountains") were approved by sheikhs and community elders. Four target areas for eco-tourism were identified: natural resource management, infra-structure upgrading, socio-economic development and cultural heritage preservation.

The lodge employs local workers and uses local products. Ancient building skills were revived in the restoration of Siwan houses for guest accommodation. Energy consumption and waste disposal are optimised through the use of natural ventilation, oil lamps and candles, heating braziers, waste recycling and a compost pit. Wastewater is treated aerobically using a traditional pond method in which bamboo and papyrus assist the oxidation process. Run-off is used to irrigate an organic produce garden.

The grounds are being developed into a desert park to protect endangered flora and fauna, while providing research and education opportunities. Excursions to historical sites, the local market and into the desert are organised through local tour operators, boosting the traditional handicrafts industry and the local economy. Adrere Amellal was highly commended in the 1999 British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

The Chyulu Hills, Kenya

Among the green hills of Africa eulogised by Hemingway lies Campi ya Kanzi, a joint venture between Luca and Antonella Belpietro and local Maasai on a tribal Group Ranch. The game-rich Chyulu Hills, in south-east Kenya, border Tsavo West and Amboseli NPs.

The camp is centred around Tembo House, overlooking Kilimanjaro and constructed (without clearing trees) from local lava rock and thatch. Italian and Maasai themes are expressed in the decor and cuisine (prepared on a special eco-charcoal burner). Kitchen waste provides the compost for an organic vegetable garden. Guests luxuriate on Italian linen in six tented cottages or a suite, set on wooden platforms under thatch. The en suite bathrooms have eco-friendly flush toilets. Electricity and hot water are solar-generated. Guests enjoy game drives, walks and village visits. Nearby, another Group Ranch project has received international acclaim. Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge, operated by Richard Bonham Safaris, was highly commended in the 2001 British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. Money raised through wildlife-based tourism funds projects that create employment and raise living standards. Tourists can choose how their donation is spent; over US$81,000 has been generated for the community.

The 18-bed lodge was constructed from local materials and has solar-powered electricity and hot water. Shower water is re-circulated to flush toilets, and supplies are sourced locally. Both the Camp and the Lodge have established trusts to preserve local cultural and natural heritage. Projects include improving education and healthcare, reimbursing Maasai who have lost cattle to wildlife, funding women's craft groups, reforestation and anti-poaching measures.

Tumani Tenda, Ghana

Visitors to gambia are finally heading inland beyond beaches lined with foreign-owned all-inclusive hotels. At the forefront of this shift are the 300 villagers of Tumani Tenda who have built guesthouses for up to 30 visitors, with help from Gambia Tourism Concern.

The simple huts are clean and comfortable, with grass mattresses. Guests pay for well-water (a valuable resource) according to the amount consumed. Activities include fishing trips, tending the village's tree plantation, oyster picking, herb gathering in the forest or helping cultivate peppers and papayas in the communal garden. Guests can try anything, from grinding palm kernels or batik-making, to energetic tribal dancing. Meals such as domoda (rice and fish in peanut sauce) are served on large communal plates.

Under the scheme 15 villagers work full-time, without personal payment, hosting visitors and translating. Revenue accrues in a development fund and buys school equipment; future goals include a clinic and a generator. Given the Jola people's powerful sense of community, there is every reason for optimism.

Loliondo, Tanzania

Loliondo community conservation Area is a partnership between Hoopoe Adventure Tours and the Maasai village of Oloipiri in the Ngorongoro District. Bordering the Serengeti, this is one of Tanzania's most scenically beautiful game areas. Hoopoe has exclusive rights to a 200km2 area, with sections designated for walking or donkey-supported treks led by Maasai guides. Conventional game drives take place away from trekking routes. The agreement forbids tribal tree cutting, charcoal manufacture, poaching, agriculture or permanent settlement in the concession area, although seasonal livestock grazing occurs.

A significant proportion of tourism revenue goes into a village development fund for projects including education and clean water. Hoopoe also pays concession fees and makes contributions to the village council for development needs identified by the community.

Guests stay beside a remote granite monolith in five large, walk-in tents with simple bathrooms. Candles and oil lanterns provide light, and meals are eaten in a special tent. Loliondo is family friendly, enabling kids and teens to interact with their Maasai counterparts and experience young life in Africa.

Njobvu Camp, Malawi

The recently opened Njobvu Camp, on the western boundary of Liwonde NP, offers guests a real taste of rural village life and is already generating valuable funds for the communities that run it, reports Hobbs Gama. Visitors can take guided tours by foot or bicycle, enjoy catchy traditional dances, eat the staple msima (hard maize porridge) with a spinach relish and sample locally brewed beer. Day tours are offered or guests can spend a night in a traditional hut.

The camp is the brainchild of African Wilderness Safaris and Mvuu Camp, in collaboration with Malawi's Department of Tourism, and is the first of a series planned to open throughout the country. Managed by communities from nine villages surrounding the park, the project provides employment and conservation education. Among other things, money raised is used for the maintenance of schools and clinics. African Wilderness Safaris director Chris Badger believes the project can go a long way to help the poor, as villagers identify intimate problems and administer the funds themselves.

Abel Maluwaya, a villager at Liwonde, said people were initially unsure of Njobvu's potential, as they were learning the value of their own traditions for the first time: "Many wondered if our way of life was interesting enough to attract any visitors, but the situation is different now."

Contributors: Stephanie Debere