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Follow Friday: Be inspired by Michael Theys

Editor’s Note: Inspired by Follow Friday on Twitter, I am profiling (in far more than 140 characters) extraordinary travelers who you, too, should follow! Through these profiles, I want to introduce you to globetrotting souls that follow their hearts to places near and far, so join me each Friday in my quest to be inspired by some of the most intriguing adventure seekers on our planet!

Be inspired by: Michael Theys
Follow him at:

To me, Africa seems like the most exotic place on the planet. I can’t imagine a culture more different than my own. If you’ve read my profile, you know that my ultimate travel goal is to visit every continent before my next milestone birthday, and Africa is set to be the grand finale on my world tour. (I’ve decided that I’m not going to visit Antarctica because I feel the moral obligation to save it from the wrath of humans. But I digress…)

Michael’s username, @Africafreak, caught my attention. I’m guessing that he has a thing for Africa, no? So I wrote him to ask his advice on tackling this massive and daunting continent and began digging into his blog,, to learn that Michael is actually Belgian-born. As a kid, his dad worked for a freight company that transferred him and his family from one African nation to the next. Keep reading to find out why Michael is such a freak about Africa and what everyday occurence he considers the ultimate travel nightmare.

@jenngaines: First, can you please introduce yourself and tell us how you found yourself in Africa and where are you now?
@Africafreak: Bonjour Jennifer! Thanks for having me! And hello everyone; hope you’ll enjoy reading these lines…will try to make them as interesting as possible, I promise. lol! ;)

Some of you may already know me via Twitter, but if not, I am a 25 year old (oops…almost 26) chap from Belgium!

In my earlier years, I had the privilege to live and travel across Africa, mainly in the Eastern (Kenya, Tanzania) and Southern (Zambia, South Africa) parts of this delightful continent. I also spent a couple of years in the DRC (Congo) and Burundi (in Bujumbura, the capital city).

It’s been an amazing journey all in all, although it does have disadvantages. Especially when you make new friends and have to leave them only after a few years! It’s an eternal renewal: packing, unpacking, new country, new house, new school (sometimes in another language), friends, culture. It can be very challenging at times, but it’s part of reality when choosing the expatriate way of life!

Currently, I’m back to my country of origin (Belgium), in a small suburb near Waterloo, where Napoleon got defeated by the Brits. It’s been a little more than a year now, and I must admit that the adaptation to European lifestyle is somewhat “delicate!”

Everything is so different here: I miss the African citizens, their warming hearts, the culture, the endless plains, the wildlife and the sunshine naturally (and boy do I need it)!

Lately, I’ve decided to share some of my experiences with people (hopefully the entire world some day) and am planning to return to Africa in order to reveal some of my travel expeditions in “real time!” If you’re interested, please do visit my Africafreak website!

@jenngaines: Please tell me a little bit about your most recent adventure.
@Africafreak: My last year or so has been rather calm in terms of travel, so I can’t really talk about anything recent! I did a safari in the Kruger Park just before I left the country though, which was absolutely incredible. We spent three nights in the middle of the bush, surrounded by hyenas and African wildlife. Such an incredible feeling to hear them laugh, or to experience their sight with a flash of a spot light! It’s like a kind of hide-and-seek game, a little daunting as you would expect, but so exhilarating!

The safari proved to be particularly rewarding as we saw lots of game, especially around the Skukuza area; giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocs, huge herds of buffalos (one of which comprised of at least 1000 individuals), but also lions and cheetahs (the only time I ever saw the latter in this particular reserve).

Been there? If not, I truly recommend the destination. Kruger is astonishingly unique. Believe it or not, as a part of The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, it is larger than Switzerland, Taiwan OR Belgium. (Ok, I know Belgium is a small country…but still!)

@jenngaines:People travel for different reasons. As a traveler, what really inspires you?
@Africafreak:What inspires me is the discovery of the unknown, the difference in lifestyle, culture and scenery. I’m also a nature lover at heart, so travelling enables me to come across some of the most remote and unspoiled places on planet Earth.

I love the contact with people! There is so much to discover and learn out there. I just find it FASCINATING! It also made me understand that we (as human beings), are part of a beautiful (yet extremely fragile) ecosystem that should be protected and respected no matter what.

It’s funny but I get the feeling that the more I travel, the more I want to, and the further I need to learn about the “other”. It’s an addiction I guess! But a good one to have! ;)

@jenngaines: What is your most memorable travel experience?
@Africafreak: I’ve had so many that it’s hard to pick THE one! I’d probably have to stick with some of my whale encounters at Hermanus, South Africa. Been to Tadoussac in Quebec as well, but the experience never came close to what I’m about to unveil here!

Each year between July and December, these fascinating creatures (Southern Right Whales) come very close to shore to nurse their young in the sheltered bays and inlets of the region. This enables mesmerizing whale watching opportunities, sometimes literally from only a meter away! It’s almost as if you could touch them!

In other words, you don’t even have to take a boat as the mammals come directly to you! I’ve had instances where I was sitting on our Bed & Breakfast terrace, enjoying both the stunning sunset and spectacular view of the whales, swimming and breaching right beneath our eyes. Magical moments that will stay deeply anchored in my mind forever!

@jenngaines: What is the most challenging travel experience you’ve had?
@Africafreak: Ever heard of the term “overbooking?!” It’s every traveler’s most dreaded nightmare! On one occasion, I almost waited 48 hours before I could take my plane back to Belgium (was in South Africa at the time). You know the feeling, don’t you? You wait for endless hours to board the plane; ask for info but never get a proper answer; the plane is first delayed then cancelled of course! You have to wait some more for the bus to take you to a hotel. (It’s freezing cold outside, help!) You end up at the hotel, wait some more for the keys, go to bed at like 4 in the morning (were supposed to depart at 7 pm the previous evening) and same thing the next day!

Eventually, they were able to put me on another carrier flight. Needless to say that I will never (EVER) fly with these people again (won’t mention the name; starts with an “I” ;))! Such a bad experience. Never again!



My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!

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