Friday, October 7, 2011

East Africa: What I Wish I'd Known Before I Left the USA for East Africa - Part 1: What To Pack

If you spoke with me before I left the USA for East Africa earlier this year, then you'll likely remember that I had a list of questions regarding what to expect and pack. Please don't remind me of the questions I was asking - so embarrassing! Also, I neglected to ask some questions simply because I didn't know enough to ask them!

This is the first in a series of blog posts that I've been meaning to post for the past month. A summary of what I wish I'd known, before I left. Some people may disagree with me - this is just my two cents, based on my own experience.


1. Luggage -
a.) Travel Pack. I brought a 60 liter pack, though I wonder if I could have gotten away with something smaller/less clothes.

b.) Day Pack. I used this for short overnight trips, and left my travel pack in a secure location at my home base.

c.) Some sort of shoulder bag to carry around with you, during the day. Make sure it's big enough to carry a bottle of water, at least. It should have a flap or a zipper on it, to keep it secure. Tote bags are not good > pickpockets. I brought this one - the Timbuk2 Click in solid black. And Sports Basement had the best price.

d.) Some sort of lightweight, packable second bag that you can use to carry souvenirs , or for times when you just don't feel like trying to jam everything back into your pack. I looked all over for the "right" bag, and decided upon the REI Stuff Travel Duffel.

e.) I brought a few of these space bags for my clothes. Stick them inside the bag, squeeze the air out by hand, close the seal, and you can fit more clothes in your travel pack - the Stoic WPF Compression Sack. They aren't supposed to keep your clothes dry if you drop the bag in a river, but they seem like they'd be water repellent. Luckily I never had cause to find out.

f.) I put my travel pack inside of one large bag, for airport transport. I wound up with the Osprey Airporter LZ Pack Duffel, which I also got at REI. I brought my bag up to the bag check in counter and then zipped it into this big bag, before putting it down to be weighed. Yes, this meant that I had to carry it around in my pack when I wasn't on a flight, but it was worth it to protect my bag - so that the straps and/or belt wouldn't get caught in the airport machinery, and get ripped off. I took a quick look at packs in Nairobi, and they were expensive and there wasn't a big selection. You don't want to have to replace it while traveling.

g.) I brought a TSA-approved luggage lock and security chain. I only used the chain once - to secure wardrobe doors closed in a hotel room while my pack was inside the wardrobe. But I used the lock a lot - at hostels to lock up my valuables in a drawer in the dresser in the dorm rooms, or for a locker that I rented in the hostel lobby. I used it to lock up the Osprey Airporter when I checked it in, at the airport. TSA has the key, so the airport staff won't cut your lock off to look inside of your bag. I brought the Eagle Creek 3-Dial TSA Security Lock & Cable.

h.) One of those travel pouches that you can put your passport and yellow vaccination card inside of. I prefer the one that straps around your hips like a belt, as opposed to the one that goes around your neck, and is worn under your shirt.

i.) I brought a handful of Chico bags. I used them all of the time. For grocery shopping, to keep my dirty clothes separate from my clean ones in my pack, to hold my clothes and bathroom supplies when I went into the bathroom in the hostels to shower, etc. Some of the best things I brought with me.

2. Clothing & Shoes -
a.) One pair of trail runners. They do not need to be waterproof. If you are a runner, you do not need to also bring road runners. Even if you are living in Nairobi where there are a lot of paved roads, you will not want to run on the paved roads near the cars because the exhaust fumes are so bad.

b.) One good pair of flip flops to explore in. I brought the Chaco Flip in solid black.

c.) If you bring flip flops with webbing like my Chacos, then they will get smelly if you wear them in the showers every day. So bring a second pair of cheap flip flops, to wear in the hostel showers that will dry between uses. If you forget them or don't want to pack them initially, then you can easily find them at a market or in a store in East Africa for a reasonable price.

d.) If you think you might spend more than a day or two in one of the slums then bring a pair of rain boots. The kind that everyone wears in the USA is fine - plastic, tall, brightly colored. It's just because when it rains, the dirt roads in the slums can get very muddy.

e.) If you are climbing Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro, then you'll need hiking boots. (Obviously.) If you are not climbing, then you do not need hiking boots. If you are bringing hiking boots, then I think that they should be water proof, because of the altitude and climate - snow at the top - but double check elsewhere.

f.) You do not need an umbrella. You can buy one in East Africa, if you think you need one. But a lightweight, simple, packable rain jacket is sufficient. When it rains, it doesn't fall for very long and it's not that heavy. I brought rain pants, but never wore them.

g.) I brought Patagonia underwear and running socks made out of a blended fabric that didn't take forever to dry. I would bring more pairs next time, because I rarely stayed anywhere long enough to leave my stuff out to dry. In Uganda, there are mango flies that lay eggs in the seams of your clothes when the clothes are laid out wet, to dry. When the eggs hatch, the flies burrow under your skin. So you need to iron all of your seams (at the very least) after washing your clothes, before you put them back on your body. Clearly this is a hassle. The more underwear and socks you have, the less often you have to deal with this. You can pay the hostel staff to wash your clothes. I assume they iron them, too but I don't know - I was lucky enough to have friends I could stay with, who let me wash my clothes in their sinks and use their irons.

h.) The back of the knee is supposedly the sexist part of the woman's body. You cannot wear shorts that expose the backs of your knees. Not even in Nairobi, though of course you'll see tourists doing this. It is difficult to find shorts that don't expose the backs of your knees, but if you can find them then bring them for Uganda. It's hot! If you're staying in Kenya and aren't going to the coast, then I don't think you need shorts. Capri pants would be fine. I wore these shorts - Lole Pursuit 2 Bermuda Shorts. Whether they're long enough or not probably depends on the length of your thighs. Try em on before packing them. They just covered the backs of my knees.

i.) Same rule goes for skirts - you cannot show the backs of your knees. I had trouble finding skirts that were "short" but not "too short." I wound up with this one - Carve Designs High Point Skirt. If you go to Uganda, then you will be traveling around on the back of motorcycles. It is improper for a woman to ride straddled, so you will need to sit sidesaddle. Personally, I felt safer straddling the motorcycle, so I never wore my skirt on days when I knew I'd need to get on a motorcycle (which was most days). So perhaps skip the skirt entirely. A downside to my skirt, too was that it did not have any pockets, though it did dry quickly. I didn't wear it that much. I don't see any reason why you'd need/want a dress.

j.) You cannot show your shoulders or your chest (no deep scoop neck or deep v-neck shirts) in Kenya. This isn't the case in Uganda. If you are going to Uganda then bring at least one tank top. It's hot - you'll want it. Otherwise, for Kenya just bring short-sleeve shirts. You can wear tank tops on the beach in Kenya, which you'd probably want to do because it is hot. Though when at the beach I just walked around in my bikini top and my skirt, which you can also do - but only on the beach - not in town at the beach. Most of my wardrobe was black, so that it would not show dirt. I don't recommend white. The dirt is a red-brown, and if you are in a dusty environment ... well, your shirt won't be white any longer. Black is boring, at least it looks clean even when it's not:)

k.) Ugandan and Kenyan men wear button down shirts a lot. If you're a man then you might want to bring one. Women do not need button down shirts when "dressing up" is called for.

l.) I brought one pair of jeans, even though they take a long time to dry. I was happy that I brought them - I wore them often. Other than that, I wore a pair of black cotton yoga pants a lot, and a pair of very lightweight cotton cargo-style pants with straps and buttons that could be rolled up into capris, and a pair of generic every-day, cotton cargo-style pants with a decent number of pockets which came in handy. I also brought a pair of light brown khaki (dress) pants, and a pair of black cotton dress pants for business meetings. If you don't really need "dress" pants, then obviously don't bother bringing them. I didn't wear them very much. But if you think that you might need a dressy outfit, then bring it with you. You can find dresses and such in Nairobi in the western malls but the selection isn't going to be what you're accustomed to, and prices are high/geared towards westerners. However if you need dress shoes, then those are easy to find. In Nairobi you'll want to visit Bata, which is pretty much the equivalent of Payless for the best selection.

m.) It gets colder at night. Bring a wool sweater.

n.) I brought a black polyester zip up jacket intended for yoga or cycling, without a hood. I wore it a lot, with a t-shirt underneath. Was a must-have.

o.) I had a lightweight jacket that was water resistant. I wore it often enough. Perhaps you can leave the sweater home, if you bring a jacket like this.

p.) I did bring a beanie, because I'd been told that it could get cold at night in the highlands, but I never wore it. No need for a scarf or gloves, either:) But bring a few cotton handkerchiefs - you'll use them. I also brought a baseball hat, which I wore occasionally. And of course sunglasses.

q.) I brought one pair of short running shorts, but never felt comfortable wearing them in public. It's really hot to be running in long pants (which is what I think you are supposed to wear if running where other people can see you). As a result I didn't run that often. You might be able to find a modern gym that you can join, or at least pay by the visit. I assume you can wear short shorts in there ... ? Maybe stick with longer lacrosse style shorts?

r.) I brought a few long-sleeve cotton t-shirts, and one poly long-sleeve shirt that I wore rafting on the Nile. It was good for sun protection while rafting, but I otherwise didn't wear it. I mostly wore the long-sleeve cotton shirts at night - during the day a t-shirt and the zip up poly jacket were sufficient. At sundown and when the sun is down, you'll want to cover up as much of your body as possible, to avoid mosquito bites. So the long-sleeve shirts, pants, and socks are good. If you are planning to enter a mosque and you are a woman, then you will need to wear a skirt, cover your hair (with a scarf), and I think you need to cover your shoulders/wear long sleeves.

s.) Jewelry - don't bring or wear anything that looks valuable, even if it isn't actually valuable.

3.) Electronics -
a.) Perhaps the best thing I brought was a netbook. I bought an ASUS eee netbook on eBay, after much shopping and asking savvy friends for advice. I downloaded my photos onto it, used it to get online for personal reasons and for internet banking purposes. I heard that your digital camera can get a virus, if you connect it with a public computer in order to download photos. Not sure if that's true, but I think you'd get sufficient use out of your netbook to warrant bringing one, anyway. It's definitely worth it to bring a netbook as opposed to a laptop, especially if you are going to be traveling a lot/carting your computer around with you. My Timbuk 2 day bag was big enough to hold my netbook, which made things very convenient. However, people don't really go to movie theaters. There is only one commercial theater in Uganda - it's in a western style mall in Kampala, the country's capital, for example. Instead, people buy DVD's from street sellers, and watch them on their laptops. But my netbook didn't have a CD drive, so I couldn't watch any DVD's. Which really wasn't a big deal, but if you are going to be in East Africa for a long time then you might want a CD drive. Your computer's operating system MUST BE WINDOWS. Mine ran on Linux, and it caused problems because it was not compatible with the internet system. I had to have computer techs change my operating system over to Windows before I could gain access to the internet. Bring a neoprene case for your netbook, and an adapter for the outlet. The adapter you'll need for Uganda and Kenya is the same one that you'd use in Britain.

b.) I brought a digital camera, and looked after it. Never felt like it was in danger of being stolen. I didn't flash it in public, though by taking photos on the street, or in places where I'd draw attention to myself. I heard that I might want to bring an extra battery. This might be the case for you, if you feel that you HAVE TO take a photo of every single animal that you see in one day of a safari. There were a few cameras on my safari trip, and almost all of our camera batteries ran out by the end of the afternoon. But you can get photos from someone else on your safari trip (share photos), or just enjoy the view without needing to take a million photos. I don't have much of a zoom lense on my camera, and as a result my photos aren't that great, anyway - just nice memories. The hostels and the lodge that I stayed in when on safari in Maasai Mara National Park had outlets and power strips. So you can charge your batteries on the power strips. In some cases the building might run on a generator, and if that's the case then you might only be able to charge your battery on the power strips at night when the generator is turned on to power the lights. I personally would not leave my battery charging on the power strip unattended.

c.) If you are bringing a netbook or a laptop, then I don't think you need extra memory cards for your camera. Just be diligent about emptying the memory card when it gets full so that you have space for new photos. I brought a few thumb drives, and used them to back up my photos. I kept these thumb drives in a safe place. That way, if my computer had been stolen, I would still have my photos.

d.) You can bring your cell phone with you to Kenya and Uganda if it's a tri-band that runs on 900 and 1800. To check to see if your phone is compatible with Kenya and Uganda, remove the battery from the back of your phone and look underneath the battery. It should say something like "900/1800". Even if it says that, your phone must accept a SIM card. Even then, your phone must be "unlocked" so that you can put a different company's SIM card in your phone. You can have your phone "jailbreaked" but I looked into it, and it's a pricey endeavor. I have heard that you can sometimes get your iphone to work in East Africa, but you'll need to take care of that before you leave the USA. And even so, I've heard that the phone still doesn't always work. I wanted to have a cell phone on my person, when my plane landed in Nairobi. I bought one on eBay that I thought was unlocked and compatible (900/1800). However it must have been dropped in water, because once I got to Kenya it would not work. So that was not the best plan. People will tell you to just buy a phone when you get to East Africa. This is definitely the way to go!!!! Do not buy a phone at the airport - you will pay significantly more money for it - I looked into it, and it was twice the price of what the same phone cost at the stores in the city. Cell phones in East Africa are pre-paid, like Europe. No contract. There are a few competing cell phone companies. The most popular seems to be Safaricom in Kenya, and MTN in Uganda. So you'll go into a Safaricom store, and buy a cell phone. The cheapest one was about $10. You'll then have to buy a SIM card for your phone, which is only a few dollars. This is essentially your phone number. Each SIM card is a phone number. The cell phone company team member in the store will take the phone and SIM card, and activate it for you. If you remove a SIM card from your phone and it goes unused for 180 days, and it's a Safaricom SIM card, then it'll go bad and your number will be recycled - given to a new customer. Just FYI. Some Kenyans have multiple SIM cards/phone numbers. You can pop your SIM card/phone number out of your phone, and pop it into a new phone, or a friend's phone at any time. Once you have your phone and SIM card, and your phone has been activated, then you will need to buy minutes. You buy a scratch card - they're sold all over the place. The seller gets a commission from Safaricom, so I tried to buy my scratch cards from independent businesses. They can be purchased in a variety of cash values. I tried to keep at least a $5 balance on my phone at all times. The instructions for how to add minutes to your phone are on the scratch card - ask anyone to show you how to add the time to your phone. You buy the scratch cards in dollar amounts, not number of minutes. So you'd buy a card worth $5, for example, as opposed to a card worth 500 minutes. The price per minute varies based on where you are calling, and the time of day. Calling within East Africa from Kenya on Safaricom is something like 20 cents a minute. But calling the USA is something like 4 cents a minute. That's the same price as inter-Kenya calls, amazingly. I think you get a slightly cheaper rate if you make calls between 9pm and 4am. But of course like all cell phone companies, rates and promos are subject to change. If you travel outside of Kenya, then buy a new SIM card in your next country. As I mentioned, MTN is the biggest company in Uganda. If you use your Safaricom SIM card in Uganda, then you will be charged a roaming rate. I don't know what this rate is, but it's so easy to buy an MTN SIM card once in Uganda, that I just went with that. The phone system works the same way in Uganda. I don't recall how much it cost to call the USA, but I think it was relatively inexpensive from Uganda, too. In both Uganda and Kenya, you only pay for outgoing calls that you make from your phone. You are not charged for incoming calls - whether they are local or international. Same with text messaging - you only pay when sending messages, not receiving them. I think it's about 12 cents a text message to the USA, but it's really cheap if you are texting someone in Kenya. Don't buy a fancy phone, by the way - it'll make you a target for theft. Another good reason to leave the iphone in the USA. Even the most basic (cheapest) phone that I purchased had the necessities - text messaging, calculator, alarm clock - and flashlight. Yes, the Safaricom phones come with flashlights. You WILL use the flashlight!! Amazing feature.

e.) Internet in Uganda and Kenya - If your hostel offers free internet, then it's likely going to be wireless. So you don't need any contraption to get online - just the name of the network and password, just like the USA. Same with some coffee shops that cater to westerners, but I found them few and far between. Even when I found them, the connection was sometimes very slow. Easier to find internet cafes with cubicles and desktop computers, where there is a space where you can pay for wireless access for your laptop by the minute. If you do not have access to wireless, then you will need to buy a modem for your computer in order to get online. Again, I suggest buying one from the company Safaricom. (Though some people say that the company "Orange" has better access if you're working out in the bush, but not as good if you are in town. And Orange is more expensive than Safaricom - same with the phones.) The modem is about $22.

Once you have a Safaricom modem, you'll need to buy a SIM card for your use in your modem. Just like with your phone, you'll have to give both the modem and the SIM card to a Safaricom store employee so that the staff person can activate them. Once it's been activated, you will need to insert it into your computer in one of the same jacks that you use for your camera and ipod. You'll then need to download some software onto your computer, in order to use the modem. I think it'll pop up automatically on your screen, the first time you insert the modem into the computer jack. Then, you'll need to buy airtime to use the internet. The airtime you'll buy is the same airtime that you'll buy for your cell phone. You just apply the scratch card to your modem SIM card instead of your cell phone SIM card. I don't remember how to do this, but I'm sure that someone can explain it to you. I only used a Safaricom modem and purchased airtime for the first month that I was in East Africa, while living and working on Daraja's campus. After that, I used wireless at hostels or internet cafes. So there's a good chance you won't need a modem at all. I'd buy a phone, first, and then wait and see if you want/need a modem, instead of buying both when you first arrive in East Africa. If you are using a Safaricom modem, the internet speed varies based on where you are located when you are trying to access the internet. You are not charged by the minute that you are on the computer, but by how much "action" you are doing on the internet, and how fancy the web page is. Each time the page re-loads, you get charged by Safaricom. So steaming music from Spotify, videos on Youtube, or Facebook's home page which is constantly updating itself all cost more money. It is amazing how quickly you can burn through airtime if you are streaming or on Facebook.

f.) I brought my ipod, but only used it on the airplane. I did use the headphones, though - at hostels when watching videos or listening to music. While I'm thinking of sound, I'd bring earplugs and an eye mask if you are staying at hostels and are a light sleeper.

3. Misc to Pack -
a.) A journal and a few pens

b.) camping style clothes line - I brought this Coghlans Pegless Bungee Clothesline.

c.) Headlamp and extra batteries. The name brand batteries sold in Kenya are expensive. The cheaper ones run out really quickly. Even though your cell phone will have a flashlight built in, some places are so dark that you'll really want the headlamp.

d.) The Rough Guide to Kenya (better than Lonely Planet), and The Lonely Planet Guide for Uganda (Rough Guide doesn't make a book for Uganda). I would buy the most current edition, even if you can get an older one for less/free. Things like phone numbers change quickly in East Africa - you need the most current info. A novel to read. There are book stores in Nairobi and Kampala, but don't expect to find what you're looking for in more rural areas. There are book exchanges at some cafes and hostels, but I still say bring what you want. I read them on bus rides, mostly.

e.) You do not need to bring a mosquito net. Every place I stayed - with the exception of one hotel - had mosquito nets over the bunk beds in the hostels and over beds in hotel rooms. They were in perfectly good condition - no gaping holes.

f.) Sleeping bag liner. I won't sleep in a hostel or hotel bed without one - protects you from bugs. I looked into making my own, but it wound up to be cheaper and easier to just buy this one - Sea To Summit 100% Premium Silk Sleeping Bag Liner. It's also easy to hand wash in a sink, and air dries quickly. You don't need any other bedding - including a sleeping bag, unless you are planning to camp instead of staying in hostels, obviously - or if you are planning to climb Mt Kenya or Kilimanjaro. Even still, you can rent sleeping bags etc from expedition companies once you are in East Africa.

g.) Note: next time, I WON'T bring Bug spray - I brought a bottle of Adventure Medical Ben's 100 Max Deet Tick & Insect Repellent. Never used it. I don't like chemicals. Just covered my body with cotton clothing, instead.

h.) Hand sanitizer. I kept a little bottle in my bag, along with toilet paper, every where I went. I never expected a toilet stall to have toilet paper, or a sink nearby. Even if there's a sink, there may not be soap. You can buy little bottles of hand sanitizer at the grocery stores, too. Don't overload your travel bag with these things:)

i.) Nail Clippers & a nail file, hair brush and bands, tweezers (if you can't live without them, like me), a pair of scissors or a Swiss Army knife. This should be obvious, but if you use a hair dryer or any other electrified hair things, get used to living without them. I guess if you're living in Uganda for a while, then you might want to bring a very small travel iron for the mango flies in your clothes? You can probably find razor blades for your razor at the grocery store, or just buy a new razor. I brought extra blades with me, so I never had to look. I know you can find dental floss and other dental health items in the grocery stores:) The big grocery store chain is Nakumatt - in both Uganda and Kenya. But they aren't in every community. If there isn't a Nakumatt in your community (I'd look into it) then you might want to bring extra bathroom stuff if you have particular preferences.

A view of the inside of a Nakumatt - this is what it looks like if you just checked out. Looking back at the cashiers and rows of merchandise for sale, behind them - looks like a US grocery store. PS - if you are vegetarian or vegan, and if you are in Nairobi, then you will find the best selection of fake meat products and assorted other items that you might have a taste for at the Nakumatt located in the Westgate Mall. In my opinion it's the fanciest and nicest mall in Nairobi. You can buy organic bulk items (couscous, etc), the soy milk that you're used to, etc at Healthy U chain stores - but expect to pay much more than you'd pay in the US for the same items.

j.) Bathroom stuff - you will not find chemical-free, organic soaps, shampoos, lotion, lip balm, toothpaste in the grocery and beauty supply stores, no matter how much you are willing to pay for them. In Nairobi, there is a health food store chain called "Healthy U". They sell organic body products, but of course at a premium price. I was told that women's personal hygiene products - name brands - are more expensive in East Africa, so you should bring your own supply with you from the US. Maybe they were a little more expensive in East Africa, but given how much room that could take up in your pack, I don't think it's necessary to bring a huge supply of the items, with you. You can pick up what you need at Nakumatt.

k.) Sunscreen - I was under the impression that it'd be hard to find and/or expensive in East Africa, but as long as you can get to a Nakumatt then you can buy it there. But I'm glad that I brought one bottle of it - you'll need to wear it when you're outside for an extended amount of time.

l.) A nalgene bottle and baking soda to keep it clean. Be VERY CAREFUL with water consumption. You CANNOT use a water filter of any sort (no matter how expensive, how good, no matter WHAT the company says) to purify drinking water in Uganda or Kenya. You MUST drink bottled water, or boil water over the stove before drinking it, or cooking with it. If you boil water over the stove, then it must come to a rolling boil before it's safe to drink. I would not use any water purifier tablets or chemicals, to purify water. I bought large jugs of bottled water at the grocery store, and then poured some of it into a nalgene to make it easier to carry around with me on day trips. Kenya and Uganda DO NOT recycle, by the way.

m.) Towel - I brought a medium sized Sea to Summit microfiber quick-dry camping towel. It still takes some time to dry, but is the best you'll find. You really do not need one any bigger than size medium. It's just more to carry.

n.) Clif bars (never saw them in East Africa), and a set of utensils. I like the bamboo ones from To-Go Ware. They're lightweight and enviro-friendly. When you return to the USA do not put them in the dishwasher - it'll ruin the finish on the utensils. I didn't see plastic, disposable utensils at fast food joints in Kenya. oside from the Clif bars, I don't see a reason to bring any other food with you.

o.) Bring a photocopy of your passport. If you are trying to enter a government building, then you will need to leave your ID with security in the building lobby. They might accept a photocopy of your passport. A hard copy of important phone numbers. I scanned my passport, drivers license, vaccination immunization record yellow card, bank cards, health insurance cards and emailed the PDF documents to myself. That way I could always access them from any computer in East Africa, if I needed them. I also emailed important phone numbers to myself, so that I could also access them from any computer.

4. Medicine Stuff -
OK, I read and heard so much about this - what to pack. In the end, you can probably buy it in East Africa when you need it - assuming you'll have access to a Nakumatt in your community, a doctor, and a pharmacy. But don't rely on me - I'm not a doctor or a health care professional. One of the heaviest parts of my pack was my bag of medical supplies, which I almost never used. But some things I'd pack -
a.) A few bandaids

b.) Anti-itch cream

c.) hand sanitizer, as I already mentioned.

d.) A multi-vitamin and a B-complex vitamin.

e.) your anti-malarial. I took Malarone. Best price turned out to be "order by mail, in bulk" through my health insurance company. After that, Costco has a better price. Something to know is that Malarone only protects you against certain strands of malaria. Not all strands. So you could still get malaria, even if you are religiously taking your Malarone. I assume this is true for all anti-malarials. I don't know about Malarone, but you can buy Doxycycline at pharmacies in East Africa. You might need a prescription from a local doctor - not sure. I don't know if it's cheaper than buying it in the USA or not - I didn't really price it.

f.) DO NOT bring your own supply of cipro (antibiotic) with you, from the USA. My amazing doctor in Nairobi told me that for some reason the cipro from the USA does NOT work on East African diseases. You will need to buy cipro from an East African pharmacy.

5. Documents & Currency -
a.) Passport with a few blank pages (and a photocopy of it)

b.) Drivers License (just for photo ID purposes)

c.) I was told to bring a few passport-sized photos of myself, which I got at Coscto. However no one ever asked me for them.

d.) Yellow card - a record of your vaccinations proof on it that you've had the Yellow Fever vaccine

e.) You really DO NOT need US dollars in East Africa. The only time you will need US dollars is when you enter East Africa, and need to buy your first visa - most likely at the airport. Bring exact change. Check the current price in US dollars before you leave the USA.

f.) You do not need to bring foreign currency with you, purchased from a broker in the USA. You can just pull out some cash in the local currency, from an ATM at the airport. I crossed into Uganda from Kenya in the town of Busia, on the Uganda/Kenya border. There is a Barclay's ATM right there at the border, so you don't even need to bring the other country's currency with you. But I can only confirm that for Busia - I don't know about the other border crossing locations on the Kenya/Uganda border.

g.) Your US-based health insurance card. I don't know how that would work, since I didn't have reason to use it. Proof of Travel Insurance. I looked around a lot, and went with World Nomads. When seeking medical care in East Africa you will not be seen by a doctor, have your lab work done, or get treatment until you have pre-paid. You can pay in cash - just get your receipts. I never presented proof of health insurance - just paid over the counter, out of pocket for care.

h.) ATM card & credit card. Call your bank in advance and tell them your travel plans, so that you will be able to withdraw money and charge things in East Africa. I never used my credit card, nor used my ATM card as a debit card to pay for things. I always paid in cash - withdrew money in local currency from the ATM's. The ATM's you are most likely to see - Barclay's, Equity Bank. I tried to patronize Equity Bank ATM's because the Equity Bank Foundation does a lot of good things, and the bank was established to provide services to low-income East Africans who would not otherwise have access to a bank.

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