I come from a family of travelers. Dad and Mom traveled far and wide and, most importantly, frequently. My dad’s brothers, my uncles Allan and Walter, were often “away,” as there were always places to go and people to see. This was in my blood and I happily passed it onto my children who have been to many exotic places that I still hope to get to.
I am from Bermuda, a very small island. We have an expression that basically says “He got rock fever,” which means the person in question simply had to get off the island. So, as a people, we are well traveled. I can remember being home for the summer and running into one of my school friends who had gone to work after high school. He was 20 at the time. I asked how he was doing and what he was up to. He replied, “Not much. Working and a little bit of travel.” I asked about his most recent trip and he said Hong Kong - a place I still have not been to!
When I was in primary school, we had a geography reader that was intended to expose us to the different parts of the world. Two characters from the book have stayed with me all my life. One was a little girl from South America with her llama and the other was Bombo, a little boy from Africa. Bombo has stayed in my subconscious, inspiring me to go see and learn for myself. As an eight-year-old, I was fascinated by the thought that I had descended from Africa, a place that I knew very little about.
I was a boy who loved sports and being outdoors but I was equally comfortable curled up with a book. Let me read about some foreign land and just imagine what that place was like. Oh, I wanted to go there! I remember being in the Galapagos Islands in 2016 and almost pinching myself. I read a lot about this place from boyhood but I never thought I would be there but there I was. I have had this travel bug all my life!
In my last year of high school, one of our school subjects was Geography. Although I was good with the subject, it was a bit ironic, as I live in a tiny island that limited my exposure to the world beyond its confines. That summer following graduation, I went overseas to study. Whilst flying over the Eastern Seaboard on my way to Toronto, I looked through the window of the airplane and saw lakes and winding rivers. I was excited because I had studied this and wrote about it but had never seen it in person. So the fire was stoked even more.
After my career and upon my retirement, I decided to go into a new direction. But first, to ensure that I would truly be retired, I surrendered both my licence to practice as an accountant and as a realtor. No longer can I act professionally in these areas. With that behind me, I set out to do what I had been planning for years. I took on a new vocation: that of a traveler.
To get the feel of it, to see if I would really like it or if I would find I had a silly dream which when put to the test fell apart, I started my journey in Central America. Close by, with its civil wars now history, I found beautiful people living in peace.
I had to decide what would be the right length of my trips to ensure I would get maximum enjoyment and experience. I tried six weeks, eight weeks and then twelve weeks during my time in Central America and then South America. By trial and error, I found six weeks were too short, twelve weeks were too long, but eight weeks were just right.
Having found that I really enjoyed doing this vocation and having settled on the time spans, it was time to move on. After almost three years spent between my home, Bermuda, and Central and South America, I decided my next continent would be Africa. I had so many good reasons to choose Africa but the most important for me was to feel and experience the culture and history of the different countries.
Next I had to decide where to start. Would I follow the normal tourist routes or would I strike out on my own? If I wanted to follow the normal routes I could go to Mediterranean Africa and spend my time in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Or I could go to Southern Africa and enjoy Bots, South Africa and Namibia. Safaris and culture to enjoy here. Or I could go to East Africa and allow the adventures available in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to fill my soul. But after thinking about this I decided to go off trail and head for West Africa. Of course, Senegal and Ghana present wonderful tourism opportunities but the bulk of the other countries remain undiscovered.
So West Africa. But where in West Africa? I decided that I would experience the history and culture of Senegal first and then work my way through Mauritania, The Gambia and the two Guineas. I wanted to see how these people, largely untouched by tourism, lived their lives and celebrated both their triumphs and their failures. Today, after two years of continual travel in Africa, I know I started in the right area.
Travel is such an eye-opener. It is almost impossible to visit some other place and return without having learned something. When we do not travel we remain set in our ways believing that the way we do it is the only way to do it. Over the years, just by traveling and observing, I have seen so many things that I knew would be of benefit to my own country.
The world we live in is so interconnected that individuals should take the opportunity to see the place from which the interconnections that matter in their lives are coming from. This will lead to greater understanding. This certainly applies to the people side. As we sit in our homes watching television, we form opinions that are directed by someone else. But when we get on the plane and go, we can form opinions based on criteria that matter to us.
Many people, through sheer national pride, think they live in the most beautiful place in the world. If put to the test, they can talk about all the wonderful things to see and do in their country. While this is all good, I would like to see people traveling so they can see the many beautiful sights that exist overseas. Some people need to see Niagara Falls, the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower. But there are many other wonders that we could not see by sitting at home. I remember some years ago going to Jordan and, as much of a traveler as I am, prior to deciding to go I had never heard of Petra. Wow! What a place! And I had never heard of it. There are so many places that travel can expose us to and make us better people as a result.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, experiencing black countries meant going to the Caribbean. By 1992, I realised that the Caribbean was changing and evolving into one that, in many ways, was like the USA mainland. With this in mind, that summer my children spent two weeks with their parents going to five islands to see the West Indies that had existed for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. I have carried this same concern regarding the African continent. I wanted to see and experience it before it changed into something else.
Africa has been called the Dark Continent since the 17th century or possibly before. The phrase has conjured up different images, depending on who said it and in what context. Many of the early European explorers used the term with a sense of wonder and mystery as they ventured out daily and saw new and marvelous things. Later, the exploiters had to paint a picture of the dark and heathen-infested place crawling with cannibals and spirit worshipers to justify the need to christen the native people. And justify they did.
These reasons, and more, have compelled me to go visit the continent.
I do not think anyone would disagree with the perception that Africa is a dangerous place. It has wars, health issues, and other dangers real or perceived. I believed the time to go was before I got too old to handle the challenge that Africa presents. In October 2017,I set out for West Africa to touch, taste, and smell for myself.
In writing this book, I want to expose my readers to what I found at the ground level. During this trip, I traveled as the locals travel, from riding in minivans that could comfortably take seven passengers, but instead were crammed with as many as fourteen people, to riding on the back of a moto with other passengers. By traveling as a solo or independent traveler, I have found it easy to become immersed in the local culture. This experience has been an eye-opener like no other. Among the benefits is gaining an insight into the daily challenges facing the average African.
My hope is that you will see, as I have seen, that while there are parts of Africa that continue to be dangerous, there are many that simply are not. Furthermore, you will see the beauty of these places and you will get a taste of their history and culture.