On The Couch: Incredible Africa with Gus Cheung

Gus CheungGus Cheung has been working for World Expeditions since 2007 and her travels have taken her all over Africa including the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania‘s annual migration, South Africa to see the ‘Big 5’, Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas, Namibia, majestic Victoria Falls, Morocco and more.

In this article read from her some of the best-kept secrets of this marvellous continent. We sat down with Gus to find out why Africa hold such a special place in her heart!

When did you start working for World Expeditions?

Back in 2007 I had the privilege of being the Western Leader for two World Expeditions trips - the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and Tashkent to Isfahan. Afterwards I worked in their London office coordinating their charity and school groups, before returning to Australia to work with the Africa Operations team.

What is your favourite ever trip to Africa?

That's a tough one; it's like asking who is your favourite child! Every trip that I have done to Africa has been different and awe-inspiring in its own way. There are many places still to visit, however here are my top 10 experiences (so far) in no particular order:

  1. The national parks of Northern Tanzania - Witnessing the Great Migration and spotting tree climbing lions in the Serengeti; viewing lion cubs and rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater, the elephant herds of Tarangire, and the flamingos and monkeys at Lake Manyara.
  2. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  3. Whitewater rafting on the mighty Zambezi River and getting drenched at Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe).
  4. Kruger National Park, South Africa - Seeing the 'Big 5', leopard spotting on a night drive, taking a walking safari with a local ranger.
  5. Sossusvlei, Namibia - Watching the sunrise on Dune 45 - a photographer's paradise.
  6. Okavango Delta & Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana - Being poled along a waterway by mokoro, spotting birdlife and hippos, following a pack of hunting lionesses, magnificent sunsets.
  7. Souks and medinas of Morocco - Getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of Fes, haggling for souvenirs and sampling delicacies at the food stalls in Marrakesh, and then relaxing and scrubbing away your cares (and dead skin) in a local hammam.
  8. Mountain Gorilla trekking, Rwanda - one of nature's greatest interactions.
  9. Zanzibar - historic Stone Town with its wooden carved doors and local markets, and snorkelling in the clear waters - a fantastic relaxing destination after a Kili Climb.
  10. Madagascar - I won't be there until April, but I am pretty certain it will blow me away!

What is it that attracts you to Africa the most?

Encounters with the Masai people offer another dimension to our safari in Tanzania. |  <i>Andrew Thomasson</i>

The sheer diversity of wildlife, cultures, landscapes, cuisine, history, flora and activities - there is something for everyone. Seeing the wildlife in their natural habitat, trekking amongst beautiful scenery, visiting local markets and sampling the delicious cuisine, are the biggest attractions for me.

What is the best advice you could give someone considering doing a trip to Africa?

Africa is enormous, so unless you have at least 6-9 months to spare, you can't hope to see everything in one visit. Africa caters to all budgets with different accommodation standards and travelling styles - the choice is mind-boggling, so get some expert advice to choose the right trip for you. Africa is a year-round destination; whilst there are optimal periods which may be drier, this is also when you will encounter more crowds and peak prices, so don't discount travelling in the wet or shoulder seasons. Don't be fixated on just seeing the Great Migration, as you will have opportunities to see all manner of wildlife. Obviously wildlife sightings are not guaranteed - this isn't a zoo! There really is such a thing as 'Africa time', with service not being up to Western standards; so don't forget to pack your patience, understanding and sense of humour. Finally, book early to get the dates that you want as safari accommodation fills up quickly in peak periods, and Gorilla permits can sell out.

You have been to see the gorillas in Rwanda, what was that experience like?

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Going to see the Mountain Gorillas was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, and should be on everyone's bucket list. We witnessed quite human and familial behaviour such as the Silverback taking care of and grooming some youngsters, Mothers with their babies, teenagers playing or wrestling with each other or beating their chests. Words failed me, and I literally had to pinch myself afterwards to prove I was really there!

 What do you think is Africa’s best kept secret?

Umbrellas shade the priests and icons during the Timket Festival procession in Lalibela |  <i>Fiona Windon</i>

Experiencing the festivals and food of Africa. Also we have two new Madagascar culture and wildlife trips, including a family adventure, which visits the little known Pangalanes canal with coastal Malagasy fishing villages far from the tourist trails, and nature reserves that are home to lemurs and chameleons.

What is on your bucket list?

Walking amongst baobab trees in Madagascar |  <i>Gesine Cheung</i>

My bucket list gets ever longer every time I travel to Africa. I have visted more than 8 times and I will be heading to Madagascar this time. Other must-do's on my bucket list include hiking in the Drakensbergs (South Africa), the Simien Mountains (Ethiopia) and Reunion Island, and exploring Uganda and Kenya.

In your opinion, what is Africa’s best trekking route? 

For the ultimate trekking challenge, it is really hard to go past the highest peak in Africa - Mount Kilimanjaro. Summit day was the longest and hardest walk of my life battling the cold, winds, altitude and fatigue. But it was all worth it to witness the incredible sunrise over the African plains, the glaciers on the way to Uhuru Peak, the accomplishment of reaching the summit at 5895 metres, spotting Colobus monkeys in the rainforest, and finally the congratulatory beer at the end of the trek. A truly rewarding and memorable trekking experience!

Africa, on the couch

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