A Travellerspoint blog

I’m Taking a Vacation

Starting 2017 with something very travel-related. A vacation.

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Really & Serious

Really & Serious

2017 began with celebrating New Year’s Eve on a Ghanaian beach called Kokrobité. In other words: I soaked in alcohol for three days. Most notable from those three days, a couple of Canadian girls, that I’m simply going to call Really and Serious to hide their real identities, thought me to drink something new. Something called Triple Gin & Lime. And it’s pretty simple. Take three shots of gin and one shot of Rose’s Lime – you know, that yellow sticky stuff that is usually used to give cocktails a lemony taste. Then pretend really, really hard that is a proper drink and not just three shots of gin with yellow poured on top.

It tastes horrible. At first. After two or three of these death traps you begin to think that it’s actually a proper cocktail. This is a warning sign because it only makes you drink it faster. Which will, of course, only result in you getting shitfaced even more quickly. Go ahead. Pretend that three gin shots with some yellow sugar is a drink and see how fast your night is going to end. On the 31st Really, Serious and I started this show pretty early in the morning, and I’m real proud to say that I do remember the midnight fireworks. I don’t remember much after that, though.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

Thus, I think that is it fair to take a short vacation from the hard traveller’s life. So, I left Really and Serious to soak in more Triple Gin & Lime and left for a fancy hotel in Accra. It’s not my first “vacation” on this trip. I spent about two weeks in both Freetown and Bamako lying around, doing nothing as a break from travelling. This time is different, though. In Freetown and Bamako, I was still on my shitty traveller’s budget, still couchsurfing and sleeping in a dorm. It was still budget travelling, just without the moving anywhere.

Fancy Hotel

Fancy Hotel

This time I’m doing it properly. Primarily because I’m getting a visit from my parents and my sister for two weeks. I’ve apparently been away for too long, and when I’m not going home to visit them, they have to come down and visit me. Which is, to be honest, very sweet of them. This means a massive upgrade of my living standards. Which is also why I was heading to “a fancy hotel” in Accra. Fancy hotels instead of dorms and bordellos. Air-conditioned restaurants instead of street food. And a rented car to get around in instead of the overcrowded buses.

Rental

Rental

Instead of taking a break from travelling by not moving while staying on my small budget, this time I would keep moving, but upgrade the travel budget massively thanks to the family visit. Something most people would actually be able to recognise as a vacation. Together we would explore Denmark’s colonial and slave-trading history on the former Gold Coast, cruise on the biggest human-made lake in Africa, visit West Africa’s largest market, see colonial forts and castles and, walk through the tree tops in canopy walkways.

Cruising

Cruising

My family’s visit had been arranged quite some months ago, and Ghana is certainly the ideal location. It’s the most developed country in West Africa, probably has the most prominent tourist attraction, and is Anglophone. Not surprisingly Ghana is often described as “Africa for Beginners”.

It’s also a quite strange feeling. Going from trashy, backpacker type to upper-middle-class vacationer. Though the word “backpacker” doesn’t really work here in West Africa outside Ghana. All that sitting around hostels, drinking with other western backpacker’s, which is, essentially, a huge part of backpacking – whether backpackers want to admit it or not – isn’t available here in West Africa.

Russian Train

Russian Train

I’m not going to lie. Staying at hotels that cost four daily budgets a night feels pretty damn good. But it’s nothing compared to being able to eat proper food! The travelling life had become somewhat routine after ten months, and this luxury break can hopefully do something to reset the excitement of travelling. Because that is essentially where the magic happens. I was rereading one of my first blog entries from my adventures in Central Asia the other day. My first experience on a Russian train. The sheer excitement and curiosity I expressed in that blog, is far from the feelings I have about West Africa after ten months of travelling here. I need to return to that!

West Africa, sigh

West Africa, sigh

But the time for this early and innocent excitement is probably over for me on this trip. Simply because I have learned how most things work here in West Africa. All the wonder and some of the excitement is gone. It’s pretty naturally. Travelling for a year in the same region, where the countries are relatively alike, means a certain getting used to everything. That is not to say that the travelling has gotten boring – not at all – but it isn’t new anymore.

Changing everything up, with two weeks of luxury, is new. And with a little luck, going back to the shoestring travel will afterwards hopefully be like coming home to an old friend once again.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:47 Archived in Ghana Tagged travel vacation sights ghana travelling west_africa Comments (0)

Send More Money, Please

On how I've made it through €12,000 in 12 months

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Liberty Dollars

Liberty Dollars

Roaming around West Africa for a year isn’t cheap. It’s not particularly expensive either. Once my twelve months here are over, I’ll have burned just about €12.000. Sure that’s a lot of travelling, but those twelve grand are the only money I’ve spent in a whole year. And since they have started to run short, I figured I might as well write a little about how I saved them and what I’ve burned them on.

Getting your hands on travel money isn’t too difficult. Most of my stash was built by saving money through smaller jobs I had on the side of my studying and volunteering back home. Granted, with free education and a monthly scholarship from the government (it’s good to be Danish) it’s been easier for me than for most. But mind you, I manage to do this without anything near a full-time job salary.

Guinean Street Food

Guinean Street Food

I eat cheap; I try to cut down on transportation cost. I never shop stuff I don’t need – I can’t remember when I last bought new clothes that weren’t second hand. But most importantly, I haven’t made any big investments like the purchase of a house or a car that I’m struggling to pay off.

The last bit of money comes from writing for GlobeSpots.com and selling some of my best travel photos online.

Testicles for dinner

Testicles for dinner

Both of these added incomes are simply a matter of me travelling a lot. I got the GS gig by meeting the editor on a hostel in Uzbekistan, where we shared some shish kebabed goat’s testicles with another traveller (no joke). Haven taken thousands (if not tens of thousands) of travel photos during my last decade of travelling, I’ve used an endless number of hours taking editing photos. Followed a somewhat evolutionary path, I’ve gradually used more and more time getting into taking good shots. Eventually, I’ve gotten good enough to sell the very best ones.

Spending millions

Spending millions

Having thus secured this massive amount of wealth, how have I managed to blow it all?

€12.000 in 12 months neatly equals €1.000 per month – or 33€ per day, which is a pretty decent backpacker’s budget in most of the non-Western world. In places like Southeast Asia and India, it’s an absolute fortune. I won’t break it down in details, but about ten percent have been wasted on visas. Maybe even more. Sure, Senegal and Gambia was free, but Mauritania was a 120€, Liberia 150$, the two visas for Guinea were 45€ and 120€ respectively (don’t buy your Guinea visa in Liberia).

Slow going

Slow going

Other than that, there’s ‘the rule of thirds’: a third of my money goes on accommodation, a third on food and the last third is split between transportation and during fun stuff. The last third is divided because days that are heavy on transportation is usually less heavy on museums, national parks, party nights and so on. Travelling with public transportation in most of the world, getting a few hundred kilometres easily takes a whole day. Then you’re there for a few days before spending another full day going somewhere new.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

As for accommodation, cheap's hard to come by in West Africa. Europe and Asia have cheap dorm beds everywhere. I’ve slept in less than ten dorms after I left Morocco – they are not here. When there are no budget travellers, there are no dorms. And there are very few travellers of any kind here in West Africa. Instead, it’s single rooms, and the cheapest are rented by the hour for stuff other than sleeping. That makes accommodation expensive. Couchsurfing in large cities helps, but that will be evened out by 15€ rooms in the major provincial towns.

But isn’t food really, really cheap in Africa? Yes. It is. And to be honest food might not be a full third of my budget, but it’s not a fantastic as you might think. Cheap food has almost no variation. Anywhere. In all of West Africa. It’s usually limited to omelettes, rice with sauce spicy enough to melt concrete or fried fish. Sure, in few places it’s possible to get regional alternatives, but the dirt cheap, street food options are very much limited to this – and then to women selling fruits and vegetables.

Needed variation

Needed variation

And I’m simply not build to eat the same thing day in and day out. I need variation. At least, get me some fried chicken, some spaghetti, or some grilled fish. The problem is that to get these simple variations into my food plan, I often have to splurge on a 3-5€ meal… Sure I could probably nitpick my eating priorities. Or spend more time searching out better food places. But travelling should be fun too, so I really can’t be bothered. It’s hard enough to travel through Africa alone, and eating something other than street food once in a while have become my most cheeriest luxury.

Ten months into this, I would go insane if I had to eat more rice than I already do. I haven’t studied it carefully, but my estimate is that more than half of my lunches and dinners include rice in some form or another. A few countries have even had rice soup as the typical breakfast at the bus station before those early morning buses too. I’ve had plenty of days where rice was the main part of all my three daily meals. Sigh.

The “fun” part of the budget is somewhat limited. It’s mostly blown on expensive visits to national parks where there is little to see, but monkeys. Or for guides to climb mountains. And transportation is a rather necessary part of travelling, so I won’t bother getting into that category.

Fun Budget

Fun Budget

The last big expense is alcohol. I could probably make a separate budget post on that, but usually, I divide it between the food and the fun posts. As a rule of thumb, anything more than three beers goes on the fun part of the budget – three beers or less goes on the food part. Isn’t budgeting fun?

This is, of course, a matter of rough estimates. The point is that it’s relatively easy to blow through €12,000 in a year’s travel. Interestingly, as I’m getting closer to the end of my adventure I have less money to spend (funny how that works – spending money without making money means that I gradually have less money). But staying longer and longer on the road means that I have to use more luxury money on nice stuff like good food or alcohol as a coping mechanism in a desperate attempt to avoid going crazy.

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On that rather sad conclusion, as a small end note to this post, I can announce that I’ve finally booked a flight home to Denmark. But don’t worry, I won’t stop writing right away. I won’t be flying until I’ve made it to Niger. More precisely, I’ll leave West Africa on March 11, landing in Copenhagen the following day.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:58 Archived in Ghana Tagged travel budget travelling money cost west_africa wealth saving costs spending Comments (0)

My African Christmas

Because corny headlines is my thing now…

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Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

I celebrated Christmas 2016 by sitting eight hours in a bus, before eating a magnificent Christmas dinner of roasted chicken and French fries with ketchup. Honestly, I went to the finest restaurant in town – they even had tablecloth on the tables. I also ordered the most expensive item available from the menu (which was limited to fried chicken or fried fish, with either fries or rice). Why? Because I was stuck in a provincial town in eastern Côte d’Ivoire, waiting for a morning bus leaving early the next day.

None of this

None of this

On the upside, celebrating Christmas alone on the road could quickly become a very lonely affair. Now it felt no less alone than a regular day of travelling. Back home, Christmas stuff begin to appear everywhere at the beginning of November. Constant reminders that this is the season of friends and families (because we apparently need a special season for that) makes December a shitty time to be alone on. Then again, on the road I’ve had none of the usual stress about gifts, family visits, a calendar packed with snaps and Christmas dinners or any of the cold, dark weather. Actually, having had no Christmas season this year have been rather nice.

The Basilica

The Basilica

Especially because there has been none of that commercialised Christmas crap. I’ve been roaming around in provincial Côte d’Ivoire, which has none of that. Throughout all of December, I’ve seen almost no signs of Christmas. My first Christmas spotting was on December 20 when a large metal Christmas tree was standing in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro.

Since then I’ve seen all of two plastic Christmas trees, three shops that had some Christmas decorations and two (two!) people were wearing Christmas hats. Though one bank employee wore a Santa tie. But that was it. That was all. No reminders that we were hitting the holiday season. No cold weather – the temperature only drops under 25 degrees centigrade if I walk into a room with air condition. Christmas isn’t around – despite having spent much of December in the prominently Christian regions.

Abidjan

Abidjan

This changed a bit when I arrived in Abidjan, the largest city in the country, on December 25. Abidjan is the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire, so – no surprise – things are a bit more commercialised here. Plenty of Western-orientated or -inspired places looked more “ready” for the holidays, and more people were running around in Christmas hats. But it wasn’t before sitting in the lobby of a big hotel in Accra, Ghana, that I heard the first Christmas music. On January 2nd! I have even made it through the holidays without being Wham’ed!

African Christmas

African Christmas

So no, in case any of you wondered, travelling in Africa during the Christmas season has not been more lonely, unbearable or sad, that travelling alone through Africa at any other time. Not at all, actually. Down here, friends and family are attended to constantly. They don’t need a particular month for that. Though people I met had taken a walk around with their friends to visit each others’ families – a pretty common Christmas tradition. Other than that, people here are pretty like at home. They spend most of their holiday with friends and do a lot of drinking.

To be honest, the lack of Christmas actually surprised me (once I finally figured out it was mid-December), because so many people are so massively religious. Most of the first few drafts of this blog post were mainly centred around religion, but as I have only negative things to say about the subject it quickly turned into a rather bitter read. So I scrapped it and started over.

Church on Dec 21st

Church on Dec 21st

Sure they do special services on Christmas, but the churches are often full no matter what. And many places have services not every week, but every day. In some cities, it seems like every second building is a church, and every second billboard is certainly branding one kind of congregation or another. People here should be thrilled that Christianity has stolen a number of pagan rituals and turned them into the make-believe birthday of their bronze age, born-of-a-virgin, zombie god.

But as mentioned that’s not the case at all. Despite being such a religious part of the world, Christmas doesn’t really seem to be celebrated much here in West Africa. At least not in a way that’s recognisable to my eye. My common sense reasoning has three solutions for this:

  • The Pagan traditions were stolen to form Christmas celebrations come from Europe, not West Africa.
  • “African Christmas” is not commercialised the way "Western Christmas" is back home.
  • Christmas is expensive, and large scale celebrations are out of reach for many families.

Commercialised!

Commercialised!

As for the last reason, Christmas in we West is so much about the money. That might very well be why I don’t usually enjoy it. As a student and/or someone trying to save his money to go travel, I don’t appreciate how expensive December has become. In conclusion: Everyone who’s tired of the over-commercialised December holiday were an invisible sky man's son, which is actually himself, is celebrated should spend their December budget on going to West Africa and rid themselves of all that silly and expensive nonsense.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:33 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged churches religion travel christmas africa santa holidays travelling season celebration west_africa ivory_coast côte_d'ivoire Comments (0)

Real Life SimCity

If you could build your own city, what would you build? How about a peace foundation, a five star hotel and the biggest church in the world...

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If you could build your own city, what would you build? How about a peace foundation, a five-star hotel and the biggest church in the world...

Yamoussoukro Street

Yamoussoukro Street

What would you do if you could build your own city? Not too many of us get a chance to act on such a question. This being Africa, however, a few authoritarian presidents have had enough control over their state’s coffins to give this a go. (To be fair, this happens outside Africa too, Astana in Kazakhstan being a case in point.) Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, followed up his engineering dreams with a serious effort when building the country’s new capital. Before this, Yamoussoukro was just in a small village in the central region of the country. Houphouët-Boigny just happened to grow up there. The construction began back in the 1960’s, shortly after independence, and didn’t finish until the big man’s death in 1993. To cut him some slag, did he name it in honour of his aunt, Yamoussou, and not himself.

Abandoned Boulevard

Abandoned Boulevard

Yamoussoukro is a city build for the future. With broad boulevards to accommodate Africa's growing traffic, light poles line these streets, ready for a bright future. Instead, Houphouët-Boigny ended up building a city too expensive for contemporary Côte d’Ivoire to run. The boulevards lie empty, with grass growing through the concrete, while the light poles stand abandoned, unlit and left behind. The president’s legacy has somewhat died with him. Then again, here are some distinct touches, prestige projects if you will, found nowhere else in the world – let alone elsewhere in West Africa.

H-B Peace Foundation

H-B Peace Foundation

First stop on this tour of legacy is the Foundation Houphouët-Boigny de la Paix (Houphouët-Boigny Peace Foundation. Because what’s more natural than naming a foundation of peace after yourself when your authoritarian rule lasts for 33 years and “your” country decent into more than a decade of civil wars less than five years after your death. Build primarily in Italian marble this monster of a building was completed in 1987. More conference centre than foundation, it has hosted an impressive array of peace talks, peace conferences and the like during Houphouët-Boigny’s lifetime. Since then it’s mostly been used to host performance art, classical concerts and exhibitions. And it does, of course, include a small museum of Houphouët-Boigny’s political achievements – which mostly seems to have been photo opportunities with people like JFK and Nelson Mandela.

Hôtel Président

Hôtel Président

Next up is the five-star Hôtel Président (note how Houphouët-Boigny was humble enough to only used his title for this one). This tower should be pure extravaganza. It even has what I suspect to be West Africa's only handball court, as well as a panorama restaurant where I chose not to spent half of my daily budget on a brunch. The hotel is such an attraction that it’s possible to book tours of the place. Though, I decided that getting a tour of a hotel was a bit weird and simply chose to stroll past it.

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix

Last, but certainly not least, Houphouët-Boigny decided to build the World’s largest church (according to the Guinness World of Records) here in the middle of nowhere. The Basilique de Notre-Dame de la Paix (Basilica of our Lady of Peace). At 158 m it’s 22 metres higher than the Pope’s favourite church, that of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. This monster of a monument was completed just a few years before Houphouët-Boigny’s death, but he did manage to greet celebrates like the Pope, Nelson Mandel (again) and Michael Jackson here. The basilica was built during an economic crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in the late 1980’s, and that might explain why the final cost was never revealed. Guesses range from US$200 mil to US$600 mil with most suggestions being around US$300 mil. One thing is sure, though: The construction doubled the country’s foreign debt.

Inside

Inside

Eventually, Houphouët-Boigny gave the church to the Vatican as a gift. Reasons differ. Some say it was to apologise for out-doing the Basilica of Saint Peter, other because the annual upkeep of 1,500,000 US$ was too much for the government to fund. But no matter, today it’s the Vatican’s flag, not Côte d’Ivoire’s, that is blowing in the wind in front of the church. And the costs? Those millions of dollars are being paid by a kind Portuguese “charity”.

Despite the fact that people are living in poverty right next to this colossal waste of money, it is, hand’s down, both the most impressive and exciting sight in all of West Africa! Also, note how the first letters of the Foundation, the Hotel and the Basilica nice line up with FHB. Felix Houphouët-Boigny's own initials. Coincidence? I think not!

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

As if all this wasn’t enough, Houphouët-Boigny also hand-picked a dozen crocodile based on their vicious temper and aggressiveness, for the lake in front of the Presidential Palace. To take photos, I had to buy a chicken, which the guards would then feed to a lucky crocodile (or rather, the most vicious on the day). These beasts have coursed at least three human deaths since they were introduced to the lake. First, a successful suicide attempt by a dedicated follower of the president upon his death in 1993. Secondly, a veteran-feeder was eaten during a photo-op for UN troops. And lastly, a tourist who climbed the fence to take a selfie got what his intellect demanded. No deaths (but the chicken’s) occurred during my visit.

Inside the Basilica's Dome

Inside the Basilica's Dome

Yamoussoukro is a weird and fascinating place. Probably unique. Though I do prefer strange places that have come at a lesser cost (as you might have been able to figure out by my rather sarcastic tone in this blog post…).

PS. Happy holidays – it not really something celebrated down here.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:05 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged travel church basilica travelling crocodiles ivory west_africa ivory_coast côte_d'ivoire yamoussoukro world's_biggest houphouët-boigny Comments (0)

Malaria!

Because what would Africa travel be without a case of malaria... sigh.

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Malaria World

Malaria World

Travelling through West Africa, I’ve come across a few people severely affected by malaria. Common for them has been continuously vomiting, violent shaking and profuse sweating. In other words, they’ve looked really, really sick. Every time, I’ve really, really hoped that I would be spared the experience of getting malaria… As it turns out, I should have no such luck.

Avoid getting bitten

Avoid getting bitten

From the beginning of my travels, I’ve decided to skip the anti-malaria drugs. I’ve done so for a number of reasons. Most malaria medicine is expensive, and more so if it’s one pill per day for 365 days. Good malaria medicine would literally cost me almost two months worth of travelling. Add to that that many cheaper anti-malarias have some heavy side-effects and it’s no fun travelling around with depression or a heavy anti-malaria induced fever. Lastly, I’m simply not consistent enough to take the pills on a regular basis. I’ll forget it, skip it, take them at the wrong times, etc. All in all, it’s cheaper, easier and more pleasant to opt-out and then just try my best at avoiding getting bitten too much.

The odds should also be on my side. There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, but fewer than forty of those transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. And during the first eight months, I spent in the ‘malaria zone’ – travelling from Mauritania to Côte d’Ivoire – I’ve had no problems whatsoever. But with 214 million cases of malaria worldwide every year (2015 numbers) causing 438.000 deaths (90 % of which is in Africa), I was clearly pushing my luck.

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Having arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, I didn’t feel all that well. But I mostly contributed it to the usual travel aches of foreign bacteria and poor hygiene. Especially, because I usually have an iron stomach and care little about the street food that I shove inside of me. That gotta have some backlashes once in a while. And really, it wasn’t something unusual. I just felt a little under the weather. That all changed when I arrived in Kong, a smallish town in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Because getting a serious disease like malaria somewhere, where there’s proper medical facilities would be no fun at all…

The general feeling of misery had developed into diarrhoea, headache and symptoms associated with the common cold, like a blocked nose. Sure, this could just be from eating shitty food staying a few nights in a place with air condition. But given that I’m not on the pill, I promised myself to visit the sole clinic in town the following morning. When I, later that evening, developed a fever and neck pains (joint pain being a distinct symptom of malaria), I began to feel pretty comfortable that something wasn’t quite right.

Facebook quiz

Facebook quiz

That evening was pretty miserable. Alternating between massive sweats and severe chills that night and night was probably the worst I’ve had on the road. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the local cases I’ve experienced, and I did have enough mental surplus to make a quick quiz on my Facebook page where people could bet on malaria, typhoid fever or simple man flu. I few of my friends even guessed Guinea Worm, and once you’ve googled that, you’ll know why I didn’t particularly appreciate their theories… But honestly, if I have to go, I’d rather do it with a grin on my face and a bow before the curtain closes. So no, I don’t feel bad about making a bit of fun out of (possibly) getting malaria.

Malaria Positive

Malaria Positive

Next morning at the clinic, the doctor who saw me was quick to send me to the lab for a couple of blood tests, and – surprise, surprise – they came back about 30 minutes later with a positive result for malaria (which all of six people had guessed correctly on the night before). The cure was surprisingly simple. Two injections followed by three days of taking malaria medicine. Plus an additional two days (five total) of taking medication that would deal with side-effects to the malaria medicine. Three days of taking five pills in the morning and five pills in the evening, followed by two days of taking four pills twice a day. Pretty simple. Everything (tests and drugs) ended up costing me about €18.

The fact that almost half a million people die every year from something that costs less than €20 to cure says a lot about poverty and how easy it really would – and ought to – be to save millions of lives in the developing world.

Malaria Medicin

Malaria Medicin

Myself? I had to go through another feverish night and being pretty drained for both energy and appetite during the three days of treatment. Other than that, I’ve escaped unharmed. Most devastating is that I’m now barred from donating blood for the rest of my life. It’s a hugely important thing to do, and probably the easiest way to save lives. So I hope at least one of my readers, who have not done so earlier, will sign up as a blood donor in my place. Simply because the world doesn’t deserve fewer blood donors, just because I’m stupid enough not to take anti-malaria medicine while travelling through Africa.

Malaria injections

Malaria injections

Now, since we’re ending on a serious note. My malaria experience was a relative light on. I know of travellers who have been evacuated due to severe cases of malaria and others who have suffered through it badly. Even though they have taken their anti-malarias (even the best drugs only catch 80-95 % of the cases). Common for those travellers is that they have ignored the first symptoms. Malaria tends to get you sick, then you get better for a few days, and then you get really, really sick. If you are ever going to travel in a malaria area, please know the symptoms and as soon as you feel any kind of sick – even if you’re taking anti-malaria drugs – get tested. It’s cheap and surprisingly accessible. There’s no excuse not to!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:32 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged travel africa travelling cote medicine health malaria west_africa drugs treatment burkina sickness risk d'ivoire ivory_coast anti-malaria Comments (2)

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