My African themed blog retrospective continues...
"Don't drink the water" is one of the most common recommendations for anyone traveling the under-developed parts of the world. The African continent has more than 50 countries where water quality is an issue. We often take it for granted that whatever we drink is safe, but it takes considerable effort to assure yourself of the same when you travel in Africa. On various trips I have boiled, strained by high tech water pump, iodined and chlorine treated the water I drank. Not only is fresh water to be avoided but so are ice cubes or any fruit or vegetables washed in fresh water. This can have very limiting affects on the ability to eat healthy food on your travels. It is also highly recommended not to swim in any fresh water bodies that aren't fast flowing. That can be a real downer when traveling on a hot dry continent.
On one particular trip this became a significant health issue. My traveling companion and I had been traveling only a few short weeks from Kenya westward through Uganda, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and Rwanda when we arrived in Bujumbura, Burundi with extreme stomach discomfort. Fortunately, the missionary hosts of the boarding house we found, recognized our distress as stomach amoebas. The treatment was this powerful drug called Flagyl. We were told it had considerable side affects and could be quite injurious to our bodies, taking years off our life. But, what was our choice? Thankfully, they told us we had caught it before it developed into amoebic dysentery. We took the Flagyl and recovered in time to continue our long range travel plans. We boarded this WWII era ship to travel down Africa's longest lake - Tanganyika - to go to Zambia and then on to Zimbabwe.
During the several day boat ride, we passed by and visited the location of where Stanley met Livingstone and the Gombe Stream chimpanzee preserve created by the efforts of Jane Goodall. Even when we were off the ship it was recommended we not enter the lake for fear of contracting Bilharzia or other water borne parasites that would bore up through our feet. The ship only made three or 4 official stops along the lake, but every day people in smaller wooden boats would swarm the moving vessel to sell goods or board/de-board the moving ship. That was always an extremely chaotic event in the sometimes choppy waters.
When the ship finally docked in Zambia, the port town we arrived in had a raging cholera epidemic. No public water could be consumed. Only bottled soda was recommended. We decided to expedite our travel across Zambia on a long two day train journey to escape to the relative luxury of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Finally we could drink their well treated public water and marvel at the world famous majestic Victoria Falls. The waterfalls are spread over a couple kilometers and are viewable from so many great vantage points that back then didn't even have fences to protect you from the edge of the tall cliffs. This portion of our much longer trip certainly caused us to appreciate how precious and important clean healthy water is to the foundation of any society.