Tulgren sisters in Africa: Backpacking and blogging from Africa to Kenya

Leaping from Dune 45 in Namibia while on a camping trip.

Chelsey and Makayne Tulgren embrace adventure.

The daughters of Greg and Nancy Tulgren left Minnesota on Aug. 29, traveling to Africa to spend three and a half months making new friends, seeing new sights, eating new foods, and enjoying life on the other side of the world.

Both Chelsey and Makayne have been posting an account of their travels and have invited Forest Lake Times readers to share their adventure.

Chelsey’s blog, “Where Life Takes Me…,” is at chelseytulgren.blogspot.com, and Makayne’s, “Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life,” is at makayne.blogspot.com.

Most of the story and quotes on this page are taken from their blogs.


Both girls are Forest Lake High School graduates, Chelsey in 2005 and Makayne in 2008.

This is Chelsey’s third trip to Africa. While a student at the University of Minnesota, she spent the fall semester of 2008 taking classes in Nairobi and studying Swahili.

When the students were allowed to set out on their own, Chelsey ended up in a tiny Kenyan village, staying with a woman named Dorothy at the Ibrahim Feeding Center for children ages 0 to 5.

The second time, in 2010, she vacationed with her friend Pamela Nora in Tanzania, then returned to Kenya to see Dorothy again.

From the money Chelsey sends quarterly, Dorothy has added on to one building and made a medical dispensary.

On this third trip, Chelsey and Makayne intend to visit several countries in the southeast part of Africa, ending up at the Ibrahim Feeding Center in Kenya. They will be gone until Dec. 17.

The Tulgrens are active volunteers. Both have worked for AmeriCorps, Makayne one year and Chelsea two years. Chelsey worked for Admission Possible, helping lower-income kids get into college, and Makayne has been a literacy tutor for elementary kids with the MN Reading Group. They have volunteered in church, 4-H, and Humane Society projects.

Both have always had an interest in the different cultures of the world and a sense of adventure.

At the University of Minnesota Chelsey majored in agriculture education and minored in international agriculture and sustainability. When Makayne returns to the University of Minnesota in January, she will be a junior majoring in social services.

The Trip So Far

Suited and ready for gorge jumping in Victoria Falls.

After flying to Dallas and Dubai, the Tulgren sisters began their African journey in Capetown, South Africa. Instead of hotels, Chelsey and Makayne planned to make use of rest camp lodges and other inexpensive accommodations.

But the first four days in Capetown they were guests of Petra, the friend of a friend who had agreed to give them ride from the airport. Instead she also invited them to her home. Members of Petra’s family took the girls to visit a winery and hiking on Table Mountain.

The sisters are managing to have a good time on a budget. On Sept. 3 Chelsey wrote, “Makayne and I have spent maybe $60 since arriving in Cape Town, so anyone who thinks they can’t afford travel just needs to be smart and use couchsurfing.com.”

To travel this way, though, it helps to be young and strong. “Today I really wanted to go in the gift shop and buy that $8 sandwich. Instead, [we] waited to get back to our hostel where we could eat our oranges and granola bars,” she wrote on Sept. 6.

Running with the seals in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Another new friend joined them for a two-day tour of the Cape of Africa in a rental car. They drove to Hermanus, which Chelsey calls “whale central” for right and humpback whales. “We saw whales upon whales,” she wrote in her blog. “It was one of the most exciting times of my life.”

Makayne wrote, “We saw a whale literally jump out of the water! I will remember it for the rest of my life.”

After Capetown, a 1,000-mile, 14-hour car ride took them to Namibia. The Minnesota girls used the Facebook ride-sharing site to find two Namibian sisters who were driving home to celebrate their father’s birthday.

Five minutes into the trip, the Tulgrens were invited to stay with that family. They were there three days, and the father, Deon, helped them plan the next part of their journey.

With his goofy sense of humor, Deon reminded them of their own dad, and he looked after the girls like a father.  So they wouldn’t have to spend so much time on a bus, he took them with him as he traveled north on business.

Near Botswana they stopped at Etosha National Park, where Makayne experienced her first safari.

Another friend of a friend, introduced via Facebook, led a three-day camping trip.

Moving on, after an eight-hour bus ride through northern Namibia, they found a $5 place to sleep. New friends took them to a meal with corn meal porridge, mixed greens, and a fish that included the scales, head and eyes. “That was the best fish I ever had,” Chelsey wrote, “and I was so full I thought Makayne would have to carry me out.”

Then they joined hundreds of Namibians at the Zambezi River who were swimming and playing in the rapids. “One side of the river is Namibia, the other Zambia,” Makayne wrote. “We went to the only safe place to swim, where the water is too fast and rocky for crocs and hippos.”

Riding an elephant in Zimbabwe.

By October the girls had moved on to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where they intended to spend one day. Instead, they stayed almost a month.

Friends they made in Victoria Falls took them into their home and fed them. They made sure the girls had water and mosquito nets. They protected them from assertive strangers in bars.

The girls swam, went to concerts, saw a soccer game, rode elephants.

A whitewater rafting trip on the Zambezi River was so exciting they are bringing home a video of it. “We went down the largest rapids drop in the world, 16 feet,” Chelsey wrote in her blog. “Luckily, my nerves were replaced by sheer adrenaline. When our full day of rafting was done, I had never laughed so hard or smiled so big.”

Makayne said, “We will always think of the small town of Victoria Falls as a special place and can’t wait to go back there again someday.”

The Tulgren sisters are now in Kenya. Check their blogs to read more of their adventure, including the countries between Zimbabwe and Kenya.


“The hospitality, the openness and the kindness were completely overwhelming. I cannot tell you how many times I got chills from people’s generosity.” –Makayne, Oct. 31

“Dubai is a city of excess. If you ever want to see the world’s tallest, largest, highest, most expensive whatever, Dubai is your place.” –Chelsey, Sept. 3

“Living life with absolutely no sense of time! Being in the midst of huge mountains, sand dunes and the ocean that allow you to gain perspective on just how small you and your problems are.” –Makayne, Sept. 19

“People asked me before my trip, ‘Aren’t you scared or nervous?’ About getting along with my sister, maybe, but I knew they meant for my safety. Honestly, I believe in the good of people, and after four days in South Africa, that has shown through tremendously.” –Chelsey, Sept. 3

Enjoying time with friends in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

“If you have heard anything about Zimbabwe, I am sure it hasn’t been positive. I have nothing but good things to say about my new brothers.” –Makayne, Oct. 31

“Robbed. Most sad about my camera and all the lost pictures. However, I am fine; it was just a camera. When I watch the news here, I see people dying, people blowing each other up, people with no money and no hope. I honestly hope whoever took it benefits somehow, because I will always have those memories in my head.” –Chelsey, Nov. 19

“Africa is a continent filled with beauty and an endless amount of attractions, but the true attraction is the people.” –Makayne, Nov. 26 (by e-mail)

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do when I get home, and it is ok. I will figure it out and I don’t have to be in an urgent rush! I am going to enjoy life and know God has a plan.” –Chelsey, Sept. 6