A grand tour of Africa? Yes

With a huge impetus from the African Union, an epic journey covering the length of the Mother Continent is going to become a practical reality in 2018.

Back in the 1600s, when Europeans were busily “discovering” lands already populated by peoples of color, well-to-do families would send their kids on on a journey through Europe lasting several months.

These weren’t extended vacations, but extensions of their formal education. The kids were expected to absorb local cultures, art, history and languages along the way — even if it meant stopping in one city or country long enough to — gasp! — take a class or two.

Now, the African Union isa putting its own spin on this practice with the official debut of the Grand Africa Tour, announced last month at the Africa Travel Association’s annual World Tourism Conference, held in Kigali, Rwanda.

In distances alone, the GAT leaves the original European version in the dust. It covers the length of the African continent, seven destinations from Cape Town to Cairo — more than 8,200 miles.

And with a total of 55 sovereign nations in Africa, there’s also an awful lot more to learn — especially for those of us on the western side of the Atlantic who have been kept in the dark — either through oversight or malicious intent —  about the reality of Africa, its natural beauty, its history and its many cultures.

The first of these tours is set to launch in October 2018.

What might you see on such a grand tour of the Mother Continent? Here are some of the possibilities listed by the African Union:

  • South Africa’s world-famous Blue Train, from which you might catch a glimpse of Table Mountain.
  •  Robben Island, where Nelson MAndela was imprisoned in isolation for 18 of hiis 27 years of incarceration, only to get the last laugh as the first president of an apartheid-free South Africa.
  • Botswana, where a safari will give you an up-close look at wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.
  • The ruggedly beautiful deserts of Nambia.
  • Zimbabwe, home to the Zambezi River and to Great Zimbabwe, the largest ancient ruins south of the Sahara, second only to the Egyptian pyramids in size and grandeur.
  • Victoria Falls, “the smoke that thunders, so immense that it straddles two countries, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
  • The Serengeti plain, extending from Tanzania to Kenya, scene of the never-ending Great Migration.
  • Mount Kilimanjaro, “the roof of Africa,” the tallest mountain on the continent — all 19,341 feet of it.
  • Rwanda and Uganda, where you can come face-to-face with Africa’s fascinating and endangered mountain gorillas.
  • Ethiopia, home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other African country, including .
  • Spectacular religious sites, from the incredible rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia and the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Cote ‘dIvoire to the Grand Mosque of Hassan II in Morocco and the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

For those with the time, stamina and adventurous spirit, there’s already an 8,200-mile highway running the length of the Mother Continent, from Cairo on the Mediterranean Sea to Cape Town on the farthest reaches of the South Atlantic.  So theoretically, you could make this epic journey on your own, right now.

But what will make GAT unique is the direct involvement of the African Union, which mans that you won’t be on your own.

Your epic African tour will actually start in Washington DC, where you welcomed and personally briefed by H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao, the African Union Ambassador to the United States. 

When you set out on your epic African journey, the AU will assign a continental guide who be with you for the entire tour as you roam from one country to another. In each of those countries, you will be met by a country guide giving you their personal introduction to their country and its cultures.

What makes the AU’s involvement so critical is that they will be arranging all your needed visas for you before you leave, taking an immense amount of hassle out of your trip before it even begins.

The Grand Africa Tour is meant to be but one of the steps toward that goal. Follow IBIT for more Tour details and pricing information as it becomes available. Use the form below to send in your questions about what is about to become the world’s greatest odyssey.

The driving — and I do mean driving — force behind The Grand Africa Tour is Amb. Arikana Chihombori Quao, a no-nonsense physician with ambitious goals for Africans, whether you were born on the continent or not.

One of those goals is a passport.

Dr. Arikana Chihomburi Quao, African Union ambassador to the United States
Dr. Arikana Chihomburi Quao, African Union ambassador to the United States

“I’m going to demand African passports for my Diaspora. Because we can’t be running around all over Africa looking for visas. We need an African passport.”

She also wants to create a Professional Diaspora Registry, to enable Black-owned businesses on both sides of the Atlantic to connect and cooperate on joint ventures.

“We want companies to come and talk about what they do on a platform that we have created, so we’re creating ways that Diaspora can begin to dialogue, so we can bring about these obvious marriages that need to take place that are not happening because we are so disjointed.”

The key to making these and other great things happen, she says, getting together and getting organized, because “as long as we’re talking as individuals, we’re going nowhere.

“When you’re organized, I can represent you. When you’re organized, I can speak for you. But until we start doing that, and think like that, like the rest of the ethnic groups…we’ll forever complain. We’ll come here next year and talk about the same issues. I don’t have time for that.

“So for me, it starts with unity. It starts with us coming together. It starts with us decolonizing ourselves. Us getting rid of the legacy of slavery. It’s us realizing that our sheer survival depends on us working together and looking from inside. Because we’re on our own as Black people.”

National Parks Senior Pass: Get it while it’s cheap


The National Park Service’s Senior Pass is good for admission to all of America’s incredible national parks — for life — and it’s only $10. But only until Aug. 27. 

Remember how it felt to be a high school senior, a college senior?  It was an exalted status in large ways and small (at least until you had to start repaying your college loans).

You almost felt, dare I say it, privileged.

Well, if you’re a US citizen age 62 or older, you’re privileged again. For the cost of a Senior Pass, you get admission to more than 2,000 recreational sites run by:

  • The National Park Service
  • The US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • The Bureau of Land Management
  • The Bureau of Reclamation
  • The US Forest Service
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers

That includes all 59 national parks and 24 national recreationa areas across the United States.

For life.

The one-time cost to you: $10. That’s it, that’s all. No renewal fees.  Nothing. Ten George Washingtons. Done.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  Well, it is. Because after Aug. 27, that $10 fee jumps to $80.

As you might expect, there currently is a run on Senior Passes across the country, but the National Park Service has plenty — and Americans are snapping them up as fast as park rangers can collect their Alexander Hamiltons.

To get one of these magically cheap lifetime tickets to America’s natural wonders, you have two options. The cheapest is to go to the nearest of those 2,000-plus national recreation properties and buy one in person.

The other option is to order your pass online. The feds will tack on an extra $10 for processing, raising the total cost to $20. Not as good as $10, but still a lot better than $80.

If neither of those options work for you, there’s one left, an annual Senior Pass for $20 a year. Still not a bad deal.

There’s one other benefit to this Senior Pass that I neglected to mention: Anybody entering the park with you gets in free. 

So not only do you get the mother of all bargains while taking in some of the world’s most spectacular sights, but you also get to be really popular with family and friends.

You can find more details on all this at the US National Park Service.

Meanwhile, as you rummage through your excuses not to check out a network of national parks that is the envy of the rest of the world, take a look at the video below of Yosemite National Park and remind yourself of something:

As an American citizen, you own this.  It belongs to you.  And your family. And your friends. Come up some time and check it out.

And bring Grandma and Grandpa with you.

Africa: The Brazilian Connection

The flow of culture between The Mother Continent and South America’s largest country runs both ways.

Wherever you set foot there and for as long as you live, Africa will always find ways to amaze and surprise you.

The latest surprise to me came as I was preparing information on a nine-day tour next year to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Adventure? The country boasts pristine forests, wild rivers, unspoiled beaches, the world’s largest continuous line of mangrove forest.

Culture? Try the Bijagos Islands, an archipelago of 88 islands, of which only  20 are inhabited. Because of their isolation, the tribal culture there has survived into the 21st century intact.

But this was what stopped me in my proverbial tracks: “Carnival is the main festivity in Guinea Bissau.”

We’re actually talking here about Carnaval. As in the Carnaval of Brazil.

Say what?

The African roots of Brazil’s biggest cultural festival are a well-established fact. But those roots have reached back across the Atlantic all the way rto Africa — some by choice, some not.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade took more captive Africans  to Brazil than anywhere else, upwards of 4 million over three centuries, many of whom were Muslims of the Yoruba and Hausa peoples.

It must have a been a bizarre relationship — West Africans, often Muslims literate in Arabic, being worked and brutalized by slaveholders who often couldn’t read or write in their native Portuguese.

Some fled into the jungles to form Maroon communities called quilombos. Others rebelled, most notably the Malê Revolt of 1835.

The revolt was crushed, and the open practice of Islam eradicated. Many of the surviving rebels were deported to West Africa.

Over time,  many Brazilian slaveowners — for commercial more than moral reasons — opted to free their slaves. Slavery in Brazil ended altogether in 1888 — partly in fear of another Malê Revolt.

Many of the newly freed remained in Brazil and develop today’s rich heritage of Afro-Brazilian culture. Others returned to their ancestral homelands.

Some returned to Nigeria, where they remain as both Africans and Brazilians to this day.  Others went to countries like Guinea-Bissau.

(At the same time, there are significant numbers of native-born Angolans, whose ancestors were a major source of enslaved Africans from Brazil to Louisiana, who today are opting to migrate to Brazil.  )

So around the time that Carnaval is being celebrated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, Bahia, you’ll find similar celebrations going on in Afro-Brazilian communities up and down the coast of West Africa…including in Guinea-Bissau.

For more information on that, and other cultural tours in Africa, visit  Trips by Greg.