Arriving in Zanzibar D5.15.29
Fri, 7 Jun 2002 08:57:17 -0700 (PDT)
Dear Mom and Dad,
Yesterday I went out to lunch with four new interns at the Tribunal. Then for dinner I joined the Interns Welcoming Dinner. Suzanne invited me because she wanted to go herself and felt better if she were officially accompanying me, or something. It was fun. They are all stuck in Tanzania for the summer. Of course they get to go on weekend safaris or jet off to Zanzibar for a couple days on the beach or diving. Still, I'd rather be traveling than researching stuff for judges' opinions.
I am now such a pansy-ass tourist. I flew here to Zanzibar rather than take the all-day bus and the all-night ferry. That would have been the cheapest option. But the all-day bus plus the fast 90 minute ferry works out just as expensive as my last-minute, standby flight.
At the airline office I met Ioanna, a Tribunal intern from Germany. She's been in Arusha since April.
Stonetown is very cool. Reminds me of a lot of places, like Varanasi, India; Saint Louis, Senegal; Casablanca; New Orleans; and especially Cuba. Winding streets, crumbling buildings. Nice sunsets. Hopefully some good seafood and beaches and diving.
My hotel is a rickety-old antique shop: big wooden beds, armoirs (or whatever you call dark wooden chests), carpet, mosquito net canopies. Attached bath (with hot water). Expensive at $10 per person, but I think Zanz and Tanz and East Africa are just generally expensive.
Maybe Spice Tour tomorrow, maybe beach, maybe wandering around exotic
Stonetown. I hear snorkeling's nice, and I like to Scuba dive,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm leaving Zanzibar soon. I came to this tropical island off the coast of Tanzania in hopes of a relaxing week, something to recharge my batteries. But I don't really need that since Arusha was kind of like that. Except Arusha wasn't much of a recharge because I was all stressed out again, tired of travel, after one day in Zanzibar. And I'm leaving now because this is no island paradise. Okay, it's nice--there's nothing wrong with Zanzibar. It's just that this is still Africa and I don't think I can relax in Africa. So I'm leaving, off to Zam and Zim. Goodbye to Zanz and Tanz. That is, if I can.
I had an opportunity for a cheap flight from Arusha to Zanzibar, so I took it. Lately, cheap is getting more and more expensive. I went on a cheap 6-day hike of Kilimanjaro, only $725 all together.
At the last-minute airline office I met Ioanna (Yoanna), an intern at the Tribunal from Germany. I had seen her around the UN tribunal offices, but I hadn't met her before last Friday.
On Saturday Ioanna and I went on a Spice Tour. It's something every tourist on Zanzibar does, and something every beach boy or unemployed English speaking local harrasses the tourists to do. Our guide was Mr. Suileman. I think he's been doing the tour for a hundred years (if he had been any more bored he would have been dead). Still, in spite of the disinterested tour guide (he really was okay and he knew his spices), the tour was excellent. Possibly my favorite thing to do--ever--is go for a walk and eat fruits and food I collect along the way. And the Spice tour was something like that.
We were crammed into a dala-dala (Tanzanian word for bush taxi) with 8 old tourists (over 50, over 60, over 75) and went out to visit some spice plantations, historical ruins, and the beach.
The plantations were really just small farms, almost like somebody's garden, but they had all the spices. I was introduced to the breadfruit, small carombole (starfruit), big starfruit, cassava root, tangerine, tumeric root, ginger, annis, lipstick fruit, lemon grass, cocoa, arabic coffee, perfume flower, pepper, cloves, cardamom, jackfruit, cinnamon, and mace/nutmeg.
The highlights were seeing the cocoa tree and cocoa pod. And nutmeg was cool because it's this black seed covered in red wax (mace) inside an apricot-like fruit. And lunch of spiced rice with coconut vegetable sauce was superb, maybe the best meal I've eaten in Africa.
Stonetown (Zanzibar main city) is an excellent mix of Varanasi (India), Havana (Cuba), New Orleans, and Cordoba (Spain). Winding streets, get lost, don't bother with the museums because I don't like being disappointed.
I went up to the North beach of Nungwi with Ioanna. Candy blue water, World Cup soccer, two dives off the Mnemba atoll, seafood, beach bars. This morning we got up at 5:15 am to catch the dala-dala back to Stonetown. And the ferry I needed to catch in order to catch my train to Zambia isn't leaving. I'm going to fly to Dar es Salaam instead. Should be able to make the train. The flight costs only $7 or $2 more than the ferry. I hope it works out.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm at an internet cafe. The connection keeps stopping, but since it's ordinarily slow, it's hard to tell when it's not working and when it's just slow. Just finding someplace to use the internet was difficult.
Okay, I hate this. It is intolerable. I'm in Lusaka, Zambia. There is absolutely nothing here for the visitor. I mean, attractions. All I want to do is use the internet and watch World Cup soccer on TV. Today was a rare, scheduled relax day for me. But obviously it has not been one. Doing day-to-day things in Africa are not relaxing.
This morning was something I came to Africa determine to avoid. I became upset and annoyed at the stupid little annoying and upsetting things which, with the right attitude, can be non-moving. I mean, little things don't have to move me to annoyance. I set a goal for in Africa to not get angry or upset.
Last night at the hostel (Lusaka's saving grace, but even that's annoying since the receptionist didn't know where an internet cafe in town was! Her job is to answer questions for travelers. Am I the first to ask, "Where can I use the internet, besides here at $7 an hour?") I met some foreign locals. They were young and living in Zambia. Some were born here, others were here because of their parents or something. Random actually. One guy told me he had an internet cafe. 'Great! Where is it?' Instead of giving me directions or an address he said I could call him in the morning on his cell phone and he'd drive me there. 'No really, that's okay, just tell me where it is.' 'It's no problem. I live right around the corner. I'll give you my number. Just call me in the morning.' I don't know what the problem is, but I've met lots of other Africans who cannot or will not give directions.
I ought to leave this internet place, but now is when I can use the internet. Tomorrow I'll be gone. This afternoon I'm watching soccer. This evening is nighttime and only muggings happen at night in Lusaka except maybe some nightclubs, but I live my life in such a way as to minimize taxi usage, so no nightclubs for me. If I have to take a taxi somewhere, I probably won't go, unless I have to go there, like an embassy for a visa, or a faraway train station.
The train from Dar es Salaam into Zambia took 43 hours and two nights. It was very nice, though uninteresting. What happens for two days on a train? I don't know. Not enough for a story.
The reason I took the train rather than a bus into Malawi was the train passes through the Selous Game Reserve. I heard that one could see animals from the train, a train safari. Excellent, that's why I'm in Africa.
We did pass through the Selous... at night. Or maybe it was the afternoon when we passed but all the animals were sleeping. I didn't expect any announcement from the conductor ('Ladies and gentlemen. We are now passing through the Selous Game Reserve.') but I just assumed I would know when I ought to be looking out the window.
In fact I did know when I ought to have been looking. I figured out by a map when we were supposed to be crossing the safari zone. Sunset and nighttime. So during the late afternoon, once the last farm was passed, I had my game-viewing eyes on. And I saw about 16 giraffes and a few baboons. The Great Train Safari it wasn't.
I met two Zambians in another compartment who were very smart and funny. We spent lots of time wondering who won the World Cup matches.
Eric Vance's World Cup 2002:
Except for today's matches, the countries in which I have visited have advanced. If I haven't been to the country, they're going home.
For example: Mexico, Italy, Croatia, Ecuador group. I've been to
only two of the countries, both Mexico and Italy advanced.
Germany, Ireland, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia. Germany and Ireland advanced.
Spain, Paraguay, South Africa, Slovenia. Spain and Paraguay are through (advanced).
Brazil, Turkey, Costa Rica, China. Been to all but China. Brazil and Turkey advance.
Sweden, England, Argentina, Nigeria. I've only briefly been to Argentina and in fact do not count myself as having been there. Anyway, Sweden and England are through to the next round.
Denmark, Senegal, Uruguay, France. Denmark and Senegal are through to the next round.
However, I think maybe when the host countries are involved in the group, weird things happen. I haven't been to Japan or Korea (or Belgium) and they might advance.
I wanted to use the internet to check on overland trucks going from Victoria Falls to Cape Town via Botswana and Namibia. No luck. I'm going to Victoria Falls tomorrow. From there I don't know where or how I'll travel.
PS I tried sending photos again but no luck this time either.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Livingstone is a small town, so I've looked everywhere in order to find the cheapest internet. It's expensive, and slow, but I know for sure it's the best deal in town, so I've coughed up the money and I'm not going to think about it any more.
So the train from Tanz to Zambia was very nice and relaxing, but it wasn't the animal train safari I thought it might be. I saw maybe 16 giraffes and a few baboons. Most of the passage through the Selous Game Reserve was at night I think. I wanted to at least see zebra and the antelopes. Why couldn't the train have left an hour earlier to pass through the game park during daylight? And when I say the train was nice and relaxing I mean that I enjoyed the hassle-free trip. There was no luxury on board.
I arrived in Livingstone two days ago. This is the Zambian town of Victoria Falls. I've heard there's a Zimbabwean town on the other side of the falls. I might go there tomorrow.
The first day I was here I went on the Booze cruise along the Zambezi for sunset. The girl at the hostel said I should go because everyone else at the hostel was doing it, and it would be fun.
I was still unsure until she said she would drive me to the Waterfront where the others were watching the England-Denmark soccer match, and the place where the cruise would leave from. I came on the morning bus to Livingstone especially to arrive in time to watch the England match, so I accepted her offer and booked.
England won the match of course (I'll explain later). I met the others from the hostel watching the soccer and going on the booze cruise later. A nice bunch, but nothing exciting. The other half of the cruise weren't interested in soccer and would be picking us up later. How do I craft this story? It's tricky and I don't think I can do it properly at the moment.
On the bus to pick us up after the World Cup game was the other half of the cruisemembers. A German and an Irish guy, and then the Dutch bikini team. I had seen of them lounging at the hostel pool before I left for watching soccer. I mean, I saw one tall, bikini blond going from the bathroom to the pool, and I saw that there were others at the pool, but I never expected them to come on the boat.
The names, I think, were Karin, Bianca, Vera, Susan, Anika, and another. Most of them were blond. One Dutch guy not with them, Pieter, was watching the soccer with me. He was 7 feet tall, a doctor in two months doing his last training in a Zambian village hospital. I mean, 7'0. I felt very short next to him, so that I didn't realize that the Dutch girls were also very tall 6'0", 5'11", 5'10" and the three short ones were taller than two of the English girls on board, although the one English girl I knew from the backpackers in Lusaka, Beth, is a 5'9" blond herself.
To me, the booze cruise meant three things: sunset trip down the Zambezi river with a chance to see animals, all-you-can-drink drinks, and all-you-can-eat BBQ afterwards. It was expensive, but because of the peer pressure at the hostel, I booked it. The point, I think, is that I wanted my money's worth.
I came to Africa to see the animals, plus some other things (Vic Falls and Kilimanjaro two of them). I've already seen all the animals (except cheetah) on safari from 4WD landcruisers. I'm not going on any more car safaris, because, as I've said, once you've seen thirty lions, and tens of thousands of wildebeests, anyway, boat safaris are the next big thing.
On the Booze cruise I saw three of Zambia's five white rhinos, a couple of elephants drinking from the river, hippos, and crocs. It was a good safari. Sunset was very nice too. Pieter (the tall Dutchy, I mean the doctor one) also has a digital camera, but he forgot it at the hostel. He was disparaging my little 2.1 Mpix camera, so we decided to have a sunset contest, like best sunset photos. But all that was forgotten for a while. All-you-can-drink. I took a lot of photos of the blond Dutchies.
The free drinks was for a limited time only, only for the time on the river. I made more than most of it. The river was very nice. I think gin and peach is the best; stay away from the "jungle juice".
The third part was the food. I haven't had an all-you-can-eat BBQ in a very long time since I don't know when. I really like them. At the Waterfront restaurant where we watched the soccer game I decided not to order lunch. It was expensive, and all-you-can-eat was later. But all-you-can-drink was before that. I had a plate of chips in front of the TV. I should have ordered lunch with soccer. Even one beer was too many after another pre-6 AM African wakeup to catch the bus from Lusaka.
The all-you-can-eat was a disappointment. I had just two bites before I realized that I had drunk too much. Anyway, Anika, no Karin, took care of me, like rubbing my back while I decide if I should puke again. Beth was also very nice to me. When I pack my backpack, it takes me a long time because, though it's all jumbled, I pack so that I can find everything in the dark. I'm like that even when I pack myself. I mean, in my money belt, in the plastic bag with my passport, are passport photos, so even if I forget about them before going to the next embassy for my visa, I really hadn't forgotten because I'd already pre-planned.
So even when alcohol poisoning is involved, I'm organized without even planning for it. Sitting on the couch, pretty blondes on either side, feeling sick? No worries. Empty plastic bag I put in my pocket earlier that morning serves as an emergency bucket. Plastic bag in other pocket with toilet paper serves as clean-up. Anyway, doesn't matter. I went to bed early that night.
Next day all I was good for was watching more soccer. Senegal and Spain won, of course.
Eric Vance's World Cup:
In the first rounds, except for the host countries who complicate things, only the countries I've been to advanced. If I hadn't been to the country, they did not get past the first round.
For the second round, since all but the host countries (and Belgium, who was in Japan's group who messed everything up) were countries I've been to, it matters how many times I've entered the country.
Germany 5 times, Paraguay once. Germany won.
England also 5 times, Denmark twice. England won.
Senegal once, Sweden once. Hmm, tiebreaker is how many cities or places I've visited in the countries. Senegal wins. Senegal wins.
Spain 3 times. Ireland only once. Too bad for Ireland. Spain wins.
USA 10 times. Mexico 9 times. Very close, but hasta la vista Mexico. USA wins.
Brazil once. Belgium none (they only advanced to the second round on a fluke since their group had but one country I'd visited and it also had host Japan). Brazil wins.
Tomorrow's matches involve the host countries. So I don't know what's going to happen. Still, Italy and Turkey should win since I've been there but not to Korea or Japan.
The reason I came to this corner of Zambia was to see the falls. I saw them today. I said, "Wow" about three times. I got completely drenched, that was a nice surprise. Tomorrow I'll visit the Zimbabwe side. I watched a troop of baboons, very close, more interesting than the gorillas.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I should be in Zimbabwe already, maybe already two days ago. I don't have too much time left in Africa. I have to be in Durham in exactly two months (I'll drive with a trailer, anybody want to help me drive cross-country? Could you take the time off Dad?) But I've started meeting people again. And other people slow things down. When it's just me and a map, or a continent, I go here, there, this place, this place, this place, never slowing down.
The first 'backpackers' I stayed at in Africa was in Kampala. I stayed there an extra day as well. Lusaka had the second backpackers (hostels catering to young travelers who like everything easy, like me) and I spent a day there getting annoyed by slow, hard to find internet, and bad US soccer play.
The third backpackers is here in Livingstone, Zam. All the travel info you need is right there: bus schedules, maps, tour companies. They even drive you to the falls every morning. It's a nice place. Oh, they have kitchens, swimming pools, and at the moment, very many beautiful Dutch women.
Last night was Bianca's birthday. She's one of the six Dutch girls on the Booze cruise. The whole hostel celebrated. The owners (Australian) cooked a pojkie (something in a big pot, chicken, potatoes, spices, and pineapple) and a chocolate cake plus side dishes. I was mostly playing cards with Jan (German guy), Ronan (Irish), and three new Dutch girls Gabriel, Jacqueline, and Muriel. I had met Muriel briefly in the Lusaka backpackers' kitchen. She's going to be a doctor in August, doing her last training in a Zambian hospital (she didn't know seven foot tall Pieter, the other Dutch almost-doctor working in a Zambian hospital).
What's the point of this email? Let me think about it.
This morning I tried to convince Muriel, Gabriel, and Jacq to come to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls with me today. It's a little complicated. Yesterday I saw the Zam side. When I saw Muriel at the hostel I knew for sure I wanted to stay in Livingstone another night. So today I wanted to see the Zim side, return to Zam, then go back to Zim tomorrow and continue down to Matopo and Great Zimbabwe ruins.
Muriel said, "You just want to stay because three beautiful women are sharing your [dorm] room." She's very smart.
So the three beautiful women agreed to come to Zim with me. (Only Gabriel is actually beautiful. Muriel is very good-looking. Jacq is attractive as well.) But then the plan hit a snag. Zimbabwe charges $30 for the passport entry stamp (they call it a visa) for Americans and Dutch too. So to go for the day and come back to Zam would be too expensive. I'm going to Zim anyway, so I should have just paid the $30 and gone across the border, but, but.
So, the plan is for the four of us to go to Zimbabwe tomorrow. How did I convince three beauties to travel with me? Charm.
What happened today? Am I going to actually say something in this email?
I need to back up, correct a possible misperception. Almost everywhere in my travels (in Africa) I have met other travelers. Even in Ethiopia, Timbuktu, the Sahara desert. There were people all over the place in Arusha, Tanz. But here in Zambia (and I suspect in South Africa as well) there are just like too many people. I can't do anything because I'm just talking with other travelers or playing pool or showing off my pictures. I haven't written in my journal for ages.
On the Booze cruise I had already met the British contingent watching soccer. But when we all went upstairs on the boat to sit, I sat in the middle of the Dutch group. People go on these backpacker trips to meet people. I could have sat with my English speaking friends, but I met new Dutch friends and kept my English friends. What I'm trying to say is that as an American I feel obliged to be included in everybody's circle. At the hostel I play pool and ping pong with the English, cards with the Dutch, cooking and eating with the other Dutch, I befriend the Slovenians, and I'm best friends with the other American at the hostel.
It's kind of funny (I'm laughing at myself). Maybe because there aren't many American travelers I don't form a clique of American friends. The English at the hostels tend to associate with the other English people, so there's a big English group. When four Dutch girls come to visit two of their Dutch friends, they form a pretty strong Dutch group. Muriel has her own group too.
Yesterday I visited the falls (from the Zam side) with a Slovenian couple. Before that, in the morning, I fixed my breakfast with the Dutch group (of 6 beauties). In the afternoon I played cards with Muriel's group. Okay, that's enough. There are a lot of people at the hostel and I'm best friends with everyone. Maybe that doesn't work.
Today while the police were arresting the owner of the hostel (who makes a mean pojkie) because he fired a guard who had been stealing, I was drinking coffee with Muriel, Gab, and Jacq; and I decided to wait another day to go to Zimbabwe. Maybe the (3) Dutch beauties would come to Zim with me, or not. I was going with my English friends Trevor, Carrie, and Jayne to watch Frank and Beth jump off the Vic Falls bridge (with a bungy cord).
I caught the end of the Turkey Japan soccer match (been to Turkey, not to Japan, but host countries mess my neat World Cup system up, so I wasn't completely sure Turkey would advance, but they did) then went to the bridge to watch bungee jumpers. Returned to Livingstone to watch Italy-Korea (been to Italy, not been to Korea, but they're hosting so I don't know). The 3 Dutch beauties decided to come with my to Zimbabwe tomorrow, so they met me where I was watching the game and we went to the forex change office.
I exchanged US dollars for Zambian Kwatcha to buy Zimbabwean dollars and South African Rand. Tomorrow I will pay my visa fee in Rand (I've worked it out, cheaper that way), then pay the $20 Vic Falls entry fee in Zim dollars, showing them my bank receipt and claiming that I don't have $20 US anymore. So I will pay in Zim$ at the official rate of 55 Zim$ to 1US$. However, I got a 500 to 1 rate, so the falls entry fee will be about 2US$ instead of $20.
I don't know if there's internet in Zimbabwe. Their president dictator probably doesn't like the internet, but tourists can still go there, so there should be internet, but it will be slow and expensive, so I'll still use it but I won't like it.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I don't have much time before a second booze cruise, so I'll keep it short, which is good.
Today I visited the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls. The first time was two days ago in Zambia with a young couple from Slovenia. Today I went with three Dutch ladies, Muriel, Gabrielle, and Jacqie. The Zimbabwe side was much better.
I've already been to spectacular waterfalls, the Iguacu Falls, in Brazil and Argentina.
Victoria Falls are nice too. But they're no Wonder of Africa. Lot's of "Wows".
I convinced the three Dutch ladies (different from the six Dutch girls on the Zambesi River sunset cruise) to come with me to Zimbabwe. Then they convinced me to go on safari with them to Hwange National Park. The driver/guide was trying to convince us to pay lots of money to go, "This is a once in a lifetime experience..."
I made him stop right there. "I've been on safari in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I've been to the Serengeti. Tell me why it costs so much here in Zimbabwe."
The Dutchies negotiated a good price (Kenya prices) and said, "We would like you to come with us." How can I refuse? I wasn't planning to go on safari again. We'll see what happens.
Oh yeah, yesterday I was wondering why the beautiful Dutch ladies were being so nice to me. They're very attractive. Last night I understood. They all have boyfriends (or ex-husband and child). No wonder I was so charming. They're not available.
Zimbabwe prices for certain things are so cheap. Cheaper than anywhere in the world cheap. So for tonight's booze cruise I don't have to drink so much to get my money's worth. Good thing.
Dear Mom and Dad,
This is the cheapest email I've ever had to pay for. In local terms it's not expensive for an hour of internet. I mean that locals can afford to browse and use email. But for the traveler with US dollars, it means 30 cents an hour for fast internet, and that's at a bad exchange rate.
I am in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The country's econcomy is about to collapse. I don't know what's going to happen. Fortunately Zim has lots of beer halls and liquor is ridiculously inexpensive. That keeps the locals pacified, away from mass protests or any feeling that they have power to change anything. Feeling disenfranchised? Down and out? Like to have a better society and life for your children? Nah, drink another whiskey or vodka.
Today I wanted to buy a tent, see the museum, change money, buy stamps and use internet. One out of five is bad. And I'm very lucky to be doing internet, that this place is open late. Otherwise I'd have been 0 for 5.
I went on safari with three lovely Dutch ladies and I visited Great Zimbabwe ruins, sub-Saharan Africa's best archaeological site according to the Lonely Planet. Hey, that's what they said about Axum, Ethiopia. But this email is just about today (in which nothing happened).
I woke up in my rondavel at Great Zimbabwe ruins. The hut was very nice, like with a big framed mirror and two beds with clean sheets and blankets and carpet. It only cost me $1.33. Hot shower in the bathroom hut just outside.
Quickly packing since the 'Overland' truck was leaving at 8 AM. Yesterday I met (stalked) the overlanders at the ruins and talked with them and their driver and arranged to get a lift with them this morning back to Bulawayo. Great.
But at 7:45 I heard the truck driving away. I hoped they'd stop at the rondavels to pick me up, or at the gate for their check-out or something, so I shoved everything into my daypack (big backpack left in Bulawayo), 30 seconds, and ran to catch them. But they were gone.
Lesson #2 was "Never rush in Africa." Ahh, are overland trucks actually part of Africa? Do they know the rules?
Overland trucks are big, outfitted working trucks, like trucks used to haul dirt to or from freeway constructions. Brits, Aussies and Kiwis, some Europeans and maybe an American pay not-too-much for the truck to lead them everywhere. Nairobi to Cape Town is the standard. The truck goes on safari and to all the major places. Usually the people camp and they do communal cooking. It's an inexpensive way to do Africa. It's a six week or six month tour, with guide and driver and everything included. If you're worried about traveling on your own, you join an overland truck. Supposedly they go around the world, like London to Cape Town, the ship it to South America to Alaska, ship it to Australia or something. I've heard of people hearing about people spending three years on an overland truck around the world.
It's easy for us independent travelers to scoff at the overlanders. Just like you could tell people on the OZ experience from the ones who hitchhiked or took regular buses around Australia. The ones on the OZ bus are a little younger, more female, more cliquey, and generally have more fun. In Australia one can do everything they do, but cheaper on one's own. In Africa, the overland truck might be the cheapest way to travel. I don't know exactly.
I'm not doing a good job of explaining, so I'll skip it.
So last night I talked with the driver of the truck and the tour guide, both 20 something Brits. They saw no problem in me getting a lift with them to Bulawayo, 309 Km away. Zoe the guide introduced me and asked if it was alright if I rode with them tomorrow and nobody had any problems.
But they left early. What gives?
I left my breakfast, in haste, in the rondavel. I was planning to eat the two rolls I had prepared the night before at the hotel restaurant, leftover from the bread basket.
I walked the 2km to the road where I saw the truck! They had stopped at the curios market (the souvenir stands of desperate Zimbabweans desperate for tourists and doing quite well). Strangely, a couple of the overlanders ignored me. I was expecting, "Oh hey. You found us. Yeah, we were ready early."
I talked to the driver. He said I would have to pay $20 for the ride,
because, "It's only fair."
"But the bus would cost only $1.50."
"Yeah, mate, but we're not public transport."
"I'm willing to pay some, but not 20 dollars."
"We talked it over." He got out his calculator. "The total trip costs...divided by ...days...16 pounds per day. That's what these guys are paying, so it's only fair."
How the heck is that "only fair"?
No worries. I took the buses to Great Zimbabwe, I can take the buses back.
I walked along the road past the curio sellers. I am a sucker for stone bookends, the ones with half an elephant (or rhino) on one side, you know, the animal split in half by books. But I don't want to buy things because they're heavy, ("They've not heavy." "They are heavy. I don't want to have to carry them. And they take up too much room in my backpack." "No, they don't take up too much room. You can put them in your backpack.") I know perfectly well how heavy they are and how big they are, but I bought them anyway. They're cheap enough to break in my pack and I won't care.
Down the road at the bus stop, tried hitching a few cars. Just missed a minibus. Tried hitching the overland truck as it passed. I waved too. No ill feelings. They don't want me on their truck, fine. I am an outsider. One thing about the trucks is that the people become fast friends. Some people might think they would like to meet other people, but they don't. They're already surrounded by their best friends who they've shared adventures and all that with. If you want to meet the truck people you have to catch them early, before they've bonded too much. Ioanna and I did that on Zanzibar, met a truck (sans truck) and became friends with them. I was even included in their drinking games. Rarity I think.
I caught the next passing bus. Stood for half an hour crammed into other Zimbabweans, my tall neck bent straight down, head on the ceiling. Then to the next town's bus station. Not too long for the bus to Bulawayo. Loud music, all that.
No truck, so I got to experience local Zimbabwe more.
Too loud music on board, but it was African so maybe cultural but annoying since the songs go on and on and on and on, same beat, same, same, same.
Had time to read my book, finished it. Now what do I read?
Eating local foods thrust at me through the bus windows. I really like that.
Had it while waiting for the bus, some bread from the loaf I bought at yesterday's bus stop break (they stopped at a grocery store for everybody to shop. I think it was a specially designated 'grocery store' bus on the way back to the villages).
More bread. Bananna (60 per US dollar). Two Zim donuts.
It's always a game, or trial, to eat local foods, like find out what they are and how much they should cost. Always have to get a good deal. Hate being ripped off.
I maybe could have talked with people sitting next to me, but I dislike the conversations which follow. They always, always ask, "How is the US?" How am I supposed to answer? And they always ask about the weather, doesn't matter that I've already told them I've been in Africa for four and a half months. Just a thing to accept I guess. How is the United States?
I went to a hotel in the middle of town rather than back to the backpacker hostel in the suburbs (in which I was the only guest). Tourists don't come to Zimbabwe anymore. The country is really cheap. But, good news bad news, it's because it's on the brink of collapse. The Zim dollar is at least 600 to 1 US. I should be getting 800 by now. Every day it goes higher and higher. Three weeks ago the rate was 350 to 1.
I don't have enough time to say what I wanted to say. It's because I don't write in my journal anymore. I bought a new one in Arusha and I don't like it.
I spent the afternoon trying to balance a million things. I need to buy a tent for Botswana. Lodging is incredibly expensive (like $80 a night) while camping is like $4. Transport through Bots and Namibia is dismal, so I'll be hitchhiking. A tent will come in handy.
Man, okay, Bulawayo reminds me of Modesto. Big, wide streets, modern (1970s) buildings. Camping stores (like Army surplus shops) but no 1-2 man tents. I walked all over the city. And I called several places. It really is a story, but no time to tell.
The place is closing,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm hoping to leave for Botswana tomorrow after I visit the museum here in Bulawayo.
I think the main purpose of my emails is to have something written about my travels so that when I re-read them I'll be reminded of what I was trying to say, and I'll do it better the second time around.
I went on an unexpected safari to Hwange Nat. park with three lovely Dutch ladies Muriel, Gabrielle, and Jacqueline. I wasn't planning to go on safari (again) but they asked me to accompany them so I went. It was pretty cool, and different from the previous safaris. We spent lots of time at the (manmade) waterholes, in the hides, watching the wildlife come to the water. Mostly it was elephants. I counted the first day, 122. It got tiresome to stop the pickup (fitted with bleacher seats) to look at elephants in the bush. As we were leaving the park on the second day we saw two leopards cavorting.
I went to Bulawayo the next day, and when I discovered that there were no tourists at my hostel, and nobody going on tour to Matobo, I went the Great Zimbabwe ruins. A great city existed there from the 13th to 17th centuries. My hired guide kept exclaiming about, "Imagine! The workmanship. People today couldn't build these walls."
The walls were blocks of granite piled on top of each other without mortar. The first place (Hill Complex) was well-constructed. Today's locals probably could build the same things if they wanted, but they never would. I could build the same walls given enough time. They were nice, but not architecturally fantastic.
The other complex, the Great Enclosure, was different. The blocks were very well put together. It was a "Wow" of Africa. The dudes who built it were very skilled. The Great Enclosure is a wall 11 metres high, 230 m in circumference, with some stone building ruins inside, most notably the 11 m high conical building which nobody knows what it was used for.
It was previously reported to the world that the ruins were from the Phoenecians or some other non-African civilization. Possibly the legendary Biblical city of Ophir. But the site is definitely African. The early white explorers just didn't want people to believe that Africans could be capable of something like that. Their position was that anything good in Africa was of European origin.
I was about to head for the road to get a bus back to the city to stay the night then get a bus back to Bulawayo, when I decided to stalk the other tourists I saw there. At the museum was a group of overland truckers. They're young tourists who go from Nairobi to Cape Town in a big truck and camp and do things together. I found out they were returning to Bulawayo the next day, so I made friends with them and they told me I could ride with them.
But the next morning they left early, without me, and when I caught up with them down the road (they had stopped at the souvenir market) they told me it was only fair for me to pay 18 times the bus fare ($20). An extra body in their truck, for half a day would cost them nothing, but fair's fair.
So I took the bus. Back in Bulawayo I ran around trying to buy a tent for my upcoming travels/hitchhikes through Botswana and Namibia. But I got bupkis. No tents. I think I'll just sleep under the stars in the bushes. I have a sleeping bag and a mosquito net. Who needs a tent?
The overland truck people weren't very nice to me (they passed as I had my thumb out on the road, I waved, they didn't), but I'm still grateful for meeting them. I found out they were going on a tour of Matobo, so today I went with them (just the 5 of 14 who like to do things in Africa besides drink cheap, cheap vodka or gin).
The guide was the best I've had in Africa. He taught me so much, like about tracks and droppings and plants and animals and everything I go on safari to learn. He was a white Zimbabwean. Maybe that's why. No struggle with the language, and knows the things I want to learn.
We drove around in the truck and then walked some. The best was coming up to four white rhinos. They were very close. They could have charged at any time.
We also walked around the granite boulders and visited a San bushman cave painting site. It was cool. 2000-6000 years old. Some pictographs more recent. Nobody has studied it much. And anyone could come in and spray paint the site and the government wouldn't care.
On CNN.com I'm reading about the white farmers having to stop working their land and vacate. It's a mess. Some of the farmers have been here for over a hundred years (they're very old), almost sa long as the blacks. But it's no good for a few people to own all the land. Famine is no good either. The president, Robert Mugabe, is an old crazy man. Brilliant and power-hungry.
And I'm glad I won't be here for the total meltdown,
To my Daily and Weekly List,
Here are three photos of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Caption 1: I took this photo of Jonathan Schorr and me enjoying sunset at Shira Camp on Day 2 of our trek. The top cone of Kili is in the background.
Caption 2: This is the rainbow sunrise, at the time of singing "Cumbuya", which signaled that we were going to make it to the top, after five and half hours in the cold and dark.
Caption 3: Sunrise from the crater rim. The top of Kili was still another (slow and easy) hour walk up.
I have found a fast internet connection at the same time as I have my photo CD with me. I don't want to fill up anybody's inbox (sorry) so it's only these. I might be able to figure something better out. I really want to show off my lion photo and all the others. My warthog photo is a classic.
Dear Mom and Dad,
It wouldn't be the whole truth if I said I was still here in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for the cheap, fast internet. A major factor in my staying an extra day and a half was the cheap candy. Locally produced sweets, dirt cheap, are one of the things I love about traveling. My absolute all-time favorite are licorice allsorts. And yesterday I found them, small packets for 5 cents each. Plus, donuts are 7.5 cents each. A double cheeseburger with egg, 79 cents.
Last night while high on sugar and chocolate, still postcards not written (if I have your address I'll send you one) backpack not repaired or packed, pants pocket not sewn up, missing button not replaced, anyway the lure of another day walking around eating cheap food and candy and cheapest internet in the world (more satisfying than free) contrasted with the fearful, expensive unknown of Botswana (the former Bechuanaland)--I stayed.
I didn't even try to find a tent today. Yesterday I went to another place, and they had a two-man dome tent, but it was heavy, bulky, and expensive. I'd rather be eaten by lions than carry it. Their one-man green canvas tent had poles 1.5 m long, straight out of 1950s "Boys Life".
Yesterday I spent the morning into afternoon at Bulawayo's excellent Natural History Museum. Yes, the best museum in Africa (I haven't been to Egypt). I spent too much time in the geology section so I was fatigued for the history part, but I still got the gist. San Bushmen, Great Zimbabwe, violent tribal chiefs, Cecil John Rhodes; actually, the history part stopped at around 1900.
Quickly: the Bushmen are from the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy". They're the primitive hunter gatherers who have been completely pushed-out exterminated in Zimbabwe by the Bantu tribes and the whites. Great Zimbabwe was the center of a civilization which mined gold and smelted iron and traded with the Arabs and the Chinese (maybe via the Arabs). The Shona are the tribe succeeding the Great Zim civ. Then Mzilikazi broke off from the Zulu nation Shaku Zulu created (19th century) leading and conquering as he moved north into Zimbabwe. Then Rhodes decided he wanted to "paint the map red" from Cape Town to Cairo by making a string of English colonies. He led the English forces into Zimbabwe and Zambia, signed some treaties and stuff. You've heard of Rhodes' scholars, funded by C.J.'s fortune from the South African diamond mines (he sold his company, De Beers, way back when for a ton of money).
Rhodes led the first Zimbabwe civil war. The second ended in 1980 when the country achieved independence. I'm not too clear on the history of that. I'm making this up, but it must have been that Zim (Rhodesia) became independent from Britain in like the 1960s, but it was still white-ruled and federated with England. So in the late 70s they had another civil war and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, ruled by the majority blacks.
They say the third civil war is happening right now. President Robert Mugabe (president or PM since 1980) started losing popularity and power in 2000, and getting old, so he started a "land reform" program. Sure, white farmers own the majority of Zimbabwe land. The peasants, if they haven't died of AIDS, are landless. So Mugabe basically made it illegal for whites to own lots of land. The peasants occupied the farms, displacing the whites and the blacks who worked there, and have started squatters camps.
What made Zimbabwe such a prosperous African country (my own, uninformed opinion now) was the majority of people weren't subsistence farmers. Big farms and efficient production meant people didn't have to be tied to the land (90% of Ethiopians work the land and that country has no hope for development).
Land reform is necessary. But agitating violence against the farmers who have been in Africa, some for over 100 years, isn't good. And fixing elections isn't good either. Fallow fields, pull-out of foreign investment, avoidance by tourists, means Zimbabwe is facing famine and disaster. All because of the Old Man dictator Bob.
I think he wants to turn Zimbabwe into Cuba, a country isolated from the rest of the world. Cuba has survived, Zimbabwe won't. I don't know what's going to happen.
Back to last night, for some reason I was reluctant to leave for Botswana. It was like intuition was telling me to stay. I knew I wouldn't find a miracle today (meeting somebody with a tent to hitchhike through Botswana and Namibia, preferably female), but still something made me stay.
I decided it wasn't fear of Botswana, but the lure of candy and internet, and some other good reason making me want to stay. It's nice to believe that our sometimes sub-rational thoughts and decisions are reactions to guidance from some omniscient source. Doesn't matter if it's true, who could know?, just that it's better to have faith in the non-logical than not to. It doesn't hurt me to believe that what I want to do (spend a day eating candy) is the right decision for some unknown reason.
How many people have I met on this trip? How many of those people would I have met if I'd been a day slower or faster in my travels? Just imagine all the different stories, by meeting different people and having different circumstances, if I'd been one day off.
Today, my extra extra day in Bulawayo. Tangent. I like this place. The streets are so wide (built so that the big oxen wagons could turn around in the middle of the street), and everything seems nicely familiar. The buildings look like those in Australia. Downtown is full of department stores and supermarkets (stocked with candy) and fast foods and take-aways. I went into Woolworths today, bought a chocolate bar for a dime, package of allsorts for a nickel.
I also visited the book shops. Maybe that's the reason I was meant to be here today. At a second hand book shop I noticed a book about dowsing--divination--psychic phenomena. It says most anybody can learn to dowse (to find water or anything by divination). The woman at the shop sold it to me for 3.3 cents.
(Almost finished) Yesterday in the park near the museum I found a one Zim cent coin. That's one hundredth of a Zim dollar. I thought the one Russian ruble I found in Moscow was cool. One six thousandth of a dollar. But this one cent coin is worth one sixty thousandth of a dollar. In 1980 one Zim dollar was worth more than one US dollar.
So today I walked around, wasted time at internet (I should be finding a place to live in Durham, NC, less than two months away), ate candy, browsed bookshops, ate meat pies. Still no backpack or clothes repairs. A true relax day. No, stop it. I've got to leave tomorrow, but today was worth it (worth a day less in South Africa or day less packing in Modesto, which is a city with wide streets, supposedly so that the wagons could turn around in the street).
Tomorrow I go off into Botswana. It will be a true adventure. I've camped without a tent before, but I was traveling by car. Three years ago down the West Coast of Australia, with Pieter (crazy Dutchie) and two other people, we slept under buildings and on top of rest-stop tables. I even went with Pieter to Kings Park and slept in the bush, just outside the city. Why not Botswana?
I wrote this on Saturday, July 6, 2002
Dear Mom and Dad,
I hope you?ve had a good time in Yosemite. I am in Windhoek, Namibia. I've done lots the past week, but this is a daily email, just something to get me started in email mood.
Another pre-6AM African wakeup. For breakfast I ate game biltong, droewors, and a chocolate bar. It was a good meal of just stuff I had in my small backpack, eaten in the back of a French couple's pickup. Yesterday after the safari drive at Waterberg Plateau Park I asked if anybody was going to Windhoek with room for one passenger. They said they were going to Windhoek, but no room, but I could sit amongst their luggage and camping equipment if it wouldn't be too uncomfortable. Ha! The most uncomfortable ride is waiting on the side of a road with thumb out hoping for a sympathetic passing vehicle.
I looked out the window for cheetahs, read some of my book, and ate my kuku jerky, dried sausage, and chocolate. It was very comfortable.
Arrived in Windhoek still early. They dropped me off right at my hostel. Checked into the dorm room, then went to the backpackers? travel tour booking office to get on a tour to Sossusvlei. Waiting for the woman to finish with two Danish backpackers, waiting, reading the message board, looking at the tour leaflets, waiting. I wanted a three-day Sossusvlei red sand dunes Namib dessert tour. Just quickly then on to South Africa.
The two leaflets said Saturday and Wednesday departures. That's today and too long from now. I'm really on a tight time schedule. Just four weeks left in Africa, and I want at least three weeks for South Africa.
I talked with a English woman bicycling through Africa. She said she was going on a Sossusvlei tour leaving tomorrow. Yes! Perfect. "But I don't know if they have any more room."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll have room," I said. "I'm very lucky with transport. It'll work out."
When I finally got into the office, I said, "Hi. I'd like to go on a
three-day Sossusvlei tour. Tomorrow."
"Oh sorry. They're fully booked for tomorrow. I just checked for these people."
"Uhh, so is there room for just one person, me, tomorrow?"
"No. They're completely full. But we have another tour leaving on Wednesday."
"No. Wednesday is too late. I need to go, go and get to South Africa. Is anybody renting a car?"
"Nobody I know of. I'll keep my ears open and let you know."
"What about the buses to Cape Town? When do they leave?"
"Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. 5 PM."
Would I be crazy to leave Namibia without seeing the red sand dunes of the Namib dessert? Yes, and no. I really like Namibia. It's my favorite country in Africa. I will for sure come back here. That's the only country in Africa I feel sure of returning to. But the red sand dunes are one of the five reasons I decided to come to Africa (Sahara, Axum-Ethiopia, Serengeti, Vic Falls, Sossusvlei). But I want to get to Cape Town and South Africa quickly.
"Are there any other options for getting to Sossusvlei?" I asked.
"No. Not really. There's no public transport."
"Could I hitch? I mean, I've been hitchhiking through the north from Botswana."
"People do it, but it often takes them a week."
"No. That's no good. I think I'll just leave for Cape Town on Sunday. When do I have to book the bus before."
"You could do it tomorrow, but I'll keep a look out for anyone hiring a car for Sossusvlei."
I went out of the office and talked with the Danish couple. They are thinking of renting a car for nine days for a big Namibia tour, but they can only get the car Monday. I felt pretty confident I could convince them to start their Namibia tour with Sossusvlei, and I could get off somewhere in time for the bus to Cape Town. But still, I should be on the tour leaving tomorrow. When I learned that there was one going, I was sure I'd be able to get on it. Seriously, everything is working out for me since I decided to spend an extra day in Zimbabwe.
I went back in to the tour agent woman. "Are you sure there isn't room for just one more person? There must be room for me. I'm very lucky. Is there a chance they'll have a cancellation."
"It's not likely, but I'll call them again. I just phoned and they said they were, 'fully, completely booked.' But I'll ask them to phone me if there're any cancellations."
She phoned. They decided to switch vehicles, so there's room for one more. "Like I said, I'm very lucky."
I went outside to the pool patio, talking with the Danish couple and two English girls. We played pool, then went out for lunch in town. I had the monkey gland burger. It was a big burger with monkey gland sauce which was like a sweet barbeque sauce. I don't think it had anything to do with real monkeys. I've eaten kudu and gemsbok (oryx) already in Namibia. If real monkey were on the menu I'd order it.
Now I'm back at the hostel doing internet, offline.
I wrote this three days ago on July 7, 2002 just before my trip to Sossusvlei.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I left Zimbabwe finally Friday morning. I'd spent an extra day and a half there just eating cheap candy and doing the cheapest internet in the world (so inexpensive that it seemed like an even better deal than free) and eating 7 cent donuts whenever I fancied. I was nervous about going to Botswana because I didn't have a tent and accomodation there is incredibly expensive (like $80 versus $5 in a tent). There were no suitable tents for me in Bulawayo.
The night before my extra day, eating licorice allsorts and chocolate in my hotel room, I wondered about all the people I wouldn't have met on my travels if I'd been traveling one day faster or one day slower. And all the people I didn't meet because I missed them by just one or two days. If I stayed an extra day in Zimbabwe would it be a good thing or a bad thing? Like, was there some force making me want to spend more time in Bulawayo (I mean, besides the candy and internet)? Because I wanted to stay in Bulawayo. My brain said, 'Let's go. One day more in Zim is one day less in South Africa.' But my whatever said, 'Stay. It's just one day. And it's nice here.'
How does one distinguish between laziness and fear of traveling (hitchhiking around, camping without a tent, another new country I should be excited about but, even me, still scared of the unknown) with a proper signal to rest or keeping getting [candy and internet] while the gettins' good? The answer I used to use when I asked myself, "What should I do?" was "What do I want to do?" I haven't asked myself that question in Africa, like at all.
So the answer is do what I want to do and just believe that it's for a good, unknown reason. It's better to believe that our sometimes irrational actions are responses to signals from unknown forces, than to upbraid ourselves for laziness when we take just one extra day in a place we like.
Whatever. I was just scared of traveling by myself or something, and I was hoping for a miracle.
Last week Friday, Bulawayo, breakfast: I got up early so I could eat breakfast (included in the hotel price, $2) early, so I could get a bus early enough across the border to Francistown so I could buy a tent before the stores closed (for the weekend). In the dining room was a woman eating. I thought I should say, 'Mind if I sit with you?' but I wasn't exactly sure she was eating alone. Between my two bowls of cereal and milk I thought it again, or at least of asking her, 'You wouldn't by any chance be going to Botswana today would you?' But I didn't.
I left to pack up my last things, but turned back to ask the woman at
reception, "Hi, yeah, do you know where I should go for a bus to
"You want to go to Botswana?"
"Yes. Where should I go for a bus or a minibus? I want to go to Francistown."
"You can take a taxi to Belmont."
"It's a suburb."
"On the road out of town towards Botswana?"
"Yes. You can go there, the taxi driver will know. But, there is a woman here going to Botswana today?"
"In there? (the dining room)"
So I went back to the breakfast room. "Excuse me. Are you going to
"Yes. I'm going just right now," she said. "Do you know where to go?"
"Then do you want to go together with me?"
"Yes," big smile.
"Well, just let me pack up my bag and we'll go to the bus station."
"Great, and my names Eric."
"Cecilia. Nice to meet you."
Cecilia is a Zimbabwean (white) living in Botswana. My miracle happened.
Going to Botswana:
Okay, so things have happened really fast the past week and I haven't wanted to write much in my journal, so keep reading if you want, but if you don't I'll just summarize: I went for two days in a makoro (traditional dugout canoe) in the Okavango Delta, then up to Namibia. There will be another email about Namibia.
It's much, much, much nicer riding public transport with another person. If I were a nice guy or more gregarious with strangers, or new to traveling, I might make friends with the locals around me on the bus, then it would be like traveling with friends. But I don't. I talk sometimes. I always greet the person next to me, but I don't encourage conversation.
Our minibus didn't go all the way to the border, the bus boys had lied to us (and charged us for it), but Cecilia and I figured out where we had to wait for a passing minibus to the border. Unfortunately, as we waited, several passed by, fully full. They don't leave Bulawayo unless full, so unless something, they're still full.
"I'll just try to hitch," I told Cecilia. A couple cars passed, ignoring us. Then we saw another minibus comings towards.
"C'mon Eric. Get lucky." I had told Cecilia earlier not to worry because I was lucky with transportation.
The minibus stopped, Cecilia and I got the last two seats.
At the Botswanan border, we were stunned at the long line at immigration. But Cecilia had a resident's permit, and we talked with official at that window (no line) into stamping my passport too.
Across the border waiting for more minibuses. One came and it was a mad scramble to get inside. Cuba has an excellent system of standing in line. When you arrive at the congregation of people you ask, "Who's last?" and then you're after that person. When someone new comes and asks you say you're last. Everything works mostly orderly that way.
Botswana is a super-orderly African country, but not for piling into minibuses. One guy had his elbow in my neck, so I just used my legs and crushed him against the doorjam, then used football moves to wiggle and squeeze my way in around him into the minivan. I sat in the back, crushed between two fat women, with a large man (bigger than me) also in the back row. But the journey to Francistown was short and I was even able to fall asleep. Maybe lack of oxygen.
In Francistown Cecilia walked with me to the sporting goods superstore and waited outside at the Wimpy's with our bags while I bought a cheap, lightweight Chinese tent, the "Bushwacrer."
Then Cecilia walked with me to the bus station. My plan had been to camp in Francistown and get the bus to Maun for the Okavango Delta the next day, but, I wanted to check the bus schedule just in case. There they told me the trip was only five hours (instead of nine). It was only 3:30 PM. Cecilia said she would never take a bus at night, especially Friday night. Drunk drivers and animals on the road.
But there was a half-size bus leaving for Maun right then. I said goodbye to Cecilia and crammed in. There were no seats for me, but it was the last bus of the day, and I don't mind standing as long as I'm moving. Plus, it would gain me a whole day. So like, the extra day in Zimbabwe wasn't a waste at all.
I really liked the bus. I was standing in other people's space, but they didn't complain. Like a woman had to sit diagonal because I was standing right over her, and two more people sat with their feet up (on my backpack) because there was no other space for my bag, but nobody complained.
Later, when I had a seat, after eating local food at a rest stop, I gathered my row's garbage, and the woman next to me gave me her napkin for my greasy fingers. It was a communal feeling.
Most of the people got off at a town along the way, at night. The bus boy (conductor, assistant driver, associate driver, ticket man) said I could sit up in the front. 'Oh no,' I thought. 'So I and the driver get the brunt of the head-on collision. That's how the Irish Zen monk died while traveling (a book I read in West Africa).'
So I went back to my seat in the back. But then the driver (who had started talking to me) basically invited me to sit in the front, so I did.
Tangent: It's sometimes strange thinking about all the people I meet while traveling, and what they'll be thinking about me. I will never see Cecilia again, but we spent a day together and she was so helpful. What if her bus crashes into a drunk driver, or mine? We'd never know what happened to the other person. What if my tent turned out to be a lemon, like ripped and got soaking wet and all. She was a part of my tent-buying experience, but she'll never know the outcome.
So I sat in the front with the driver. After five minutes I put on my seatbelt. Ten minutes later we hit three donkeys in the road. I closed my eyes for the last two. Driver's window shattered all over us. Our bus was completely smashed up. Nobody was hurt.
It was good. I've been wondering when my bus crash would come. On each of my big travels I'm involved in one bus accident. This was more severe than the ones in India and Venezuela. But only the donkeys and the bus suffered, so I'm glad I got the African crash out of the way.
There were only seven passengers on the bus. We got a refund for the portion of the journey we wouldn't be taking on the bus. We all had to hitchhike our way the 250 km to Maun. One car stopped. I think the driver was drunk. Three people got into his car. Definitely not me.
On hour later another car stopped. I got in with a young woman from the bus. The driver was Indian. He was drinking something, but I don't think it was alcohol. We talked about Hindi music, which he played very loudly. We saw many kudu and one zebra along the side of the road and crossing it. The driver would even turn the car to shine the lights at the animals. It was really cool. Kudus are large antelopes, with white stripes and the males have the best horns of any animals, big sweeping corkscrew ones.
To Maun, latenight taxi to the campsite. The manager talked me out of taking his tour to the Okavango because there wasn't much water there. Told me to take a bus up north, then the ferry, then I could arrange something with the local polers' trust.
My tent is too small for me, but I can lie flat if I go diagonally. Up early in the morning. Minibus to the bus station. Jumping on the waiting bus, going to Sepupa. But no seats for me. They said I could wait for the next bus. I said I could stand.
So I stood while the people in the back blocked my way further down the aisle and talked about me, the white guy standing. It wasn't nice. Not at all like the previous bus. I don't like when people just talk about me in front of my face. They were being mean, and it wasn't just the Lariam. Then one man in the back stood up and asked where I was going and where I was from. He gave me his seating saying, "We don't want you to think all Botswanans are rude, not giving you a seat. We want you to invest in our country."
So I took the seat. He was nice, a cop from the Delta area. Saw a San Bushman family waiting for the bus on the side of the road way up somewhere in the Botswanan dessert (just grey sand, round huts with thatched roofs, and lots of people waiting for buses). This family tried to get on, but I don't think they had any money. The two men were drunk. The little boy was naked. His penis was semi-erect, just like I read in the books. Bushmen are born with an erection and die with an erection. You can see it in their cave paintings too.
So these real Bushmen didn't get on the bus. I mean real as in they looked like Bushmen. Orangish skin. Slanted eyes, high wide cheekbones, hair coming out in little tufts from their heads. The best part of the bus ride was noticing all the passengers with Bushmen blood (noticeable in their facial features).
Pickup truck from the bus stop to the boat ferry point. A dead man was being transported in the ferry. The driver didn't want me to get on, but I got on the boat anyway along with several other locals. First time I've been on a boat with a dead man. He was wrapped in blankets. Before we left we all stood up and said a little prayer or something for him. He probably died of AIDS.
OK, listen to this. I haven't verified this, but two people told me. In Botswana, 60% of the people are HIV positive. The cop said the people just didn't understand. Like many tribes are polygamous. Most guys have girlfriends. Lots of wives have boyfriends. They don't use condoms. 60% HIV positive. It's shocking. The country's finished.
While I was arranging my two-day makoro trip through the delta I met a Hungarian couple, Zoltan and Orsi (Orshi). I asked if I could go along with them on their two-day trip. Sure. Then Zoltan asked where I was going next. I told him I had originally planned to go back to Maun and across the Kalahari to Windhoek in Namibia, but since I was already so far north and so close to Namibia I was just going to go north.
"We're going there too. We can give you a lift."
The Okavango river runs through Angola and Namibia into Botswana where it hits the Kalahari desert. There it forms a delta, never even coming close to the sea. So for two days I was in a makoro (dugout canoe) pushed by a local poler with AIDS. Maybe he didn't have AIDS. He was a little sickly though.
It was very peaceful to skim through the reeds and grass. Just me and my poler Moises. No motors, no other noise except birds and the rush of the reeds. From ashore in places the delta looks like a field of grass. But we poled through it because it was all water under the grass. Sometimes going into deeper channels between water lilies, papyrus, hippo grass, bamboo. Stopping at some islands to look at the red lechwe antelope. Stalking elephants on the mainland. Watching "rivuh" monkeys (vervet monkeys) or "cucular aibeecee" (sacred ibis). Moises' English was horrible. Unless I already knew the species name, his mutterings were of no use.
I bush camped with Zoltan and Orsi and the two polers/guides. Went for a walk through the bush. Saw hippos, elephants, and baboons. The guides built a big fire to keep the animals away from our tents. I didn't want them to. I wanted to hear hippos and elephants outside my tent at night and imagine the hyenas and lions (not on our island) lurking in the dark bush. But everybody else wanted the fire.
Back through the reeds and grass and water lillies the way we came. It was peaceful.
Heard elephants trumpeting at night back at the main camp. Next day I went with Zoltan and Orsi into Namibia.
Today I'm going to Sossusvlei, the red sand dunes. In a few days I'll be in South Africa.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Just before my makoro canoe trip through the Okavango Delta I wasn't sure how or which way I'd go into Namibia. All I wanted to see there were the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. Then Zoltan and Orsi (Hungarian couple) said they were going north into Namibia and could give me a lift. Great.
Just after my makoro trip I met an Italian guy at the campsite. He left Maun, Botswana on the bus after mine, one hour later. When he got to the ferry site in Sepupa he was told that the public ferry had broken that day, and that he would need to charter an entire boat to get to Seronga. The boat I was on was a special one there only to transport the dead man back to his village.
So the Italian stayed a night in Sepupa. Then the next day confirmed that the public boat had just gone kaput, so he got a bus to the next village. The bus from there (Sepupa) up north across the river then back south to Seronga (much easier to take the boat if there is one) broke down too.
So he stayed a night in another village. The next day he hitched and got lifts in trucks and arrived at the campsite in Seronga in the evening even after I had returned from my two-day Okavango trip. I had only just gotten on (two minutes to spare) my bus in Maun.
Just across the Namibian border in the car with Zoltan and Orsi, driving through the Mahango Game Park, we saw a leopard cross the road. It was my sixth leopard spotting. I have seen every animal I have wanted to see, except the cheetah (and the chimpanzee).
That night at our rest camp (Zoltan and Orsi stay in bungalows, I sleep in my new tent), at the waterhole, waiting for dinner, we saw zebra, steenbok, wildebeest, rabbits, and eland. The very cool thing was there was no fence between us and the animals, and my tent was the closest one to the floodlit water spot. At night (when the light was still on) I could look out my tent and see little antelopes and birds coming for a drink.
The next day we drove to Etosha National Park. The guidebook says it's really nice, like one of the best parks in Africa. I wasn't planning to go. I've already been on safari again and again and again, but my ride was going there. I was traveling quicker than I expected, so I had the time. (Returning to the US in early August, arriving at Duke in North Carolina mid-August.)
We spent two days in the park, lots of driving for Zoltan, lots of me looking out the window spotting game. We couldn't stay in one of the lodges inside the park because they're all fully booked out by the South Africans on holiday. But things work out.
We stayed one night just outside the park at a campsite (with pre-erected tents for the Hungarians) which had three cheetahs in a cage. It was nice to subconsciously spot the cheetah (sudden twist of the body with involuntary pointing and "Cheetah!" exclamation), but it didn't count. I've already seen cheetahs in captivity in the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
Eating the braai barbeque with us were five students (Belgian, German, and Taiwanese) from Stellenbosch, S.A. who had rented a van for a quick loop through Namibia. They were doing almost the exact itinerary as I wanted and even said, "We'd offer you a lift, but we have absolutely no room." Fine. I was going to have to leave Zoltan and Orsi sometime, but I wasn't too worried about finding another lift.
Back to Etosha. We went to the Haunted Forest where there were strange looking Moringa ovalifolia trees. In West Africa I asked everybody I met if they'd seen the moringa. Those are the miracle trees (12 different species in Africa, now I've seen one.) We saw three lions and very close, threatening elephants, plus I saw a meerkat for the first time.
Again, that night we got the last accomodation at the guest house/rest camp. Very lucky. It required one man getting a phone call from his company and leaving his room at the moment we were inquiring about rooms. We didn't even have to pay for that room. I was planning to leave Zoltan and Orsi and hitchhike to Windhoek next morning, but they convinced me to stay with them for one more day to go see the Cheetah Conservation Fund set-up, and the Waterberg Plateau park.
At the CCF I saw six more cheetahs in a fenced enclosure. Doesn't count. The tour of the area and their operation (to save the cheetah from extinction in Namibia) was so disappointing. The cheetah museum was extensive, but I didn't learn anything new except that 95% of the cheetahs in Namibia live on private farmland. Only 5% live in the national parks and protected areas, so no wonder I haven't seen one. Oh yeah, if you want to see the African wildlife you've read about or seen on TV, come now. The great Age of Mammals is fading to its end.
That afternoon at the Waterberg Plateau I saw the roan antelope and the sable antelope. The sable is big and black with long sweeping horns. Almost at the end of the truck tour safari I spotted a black rhino in the distance. That's what we had come to see.
Back at the camping resort I asked if anyone was going to Windhoek tomorrow with room for an extra passenger. A French couple said they were going, but had no room, unless I wanted to sit in the back shell of their pickup with all their camping gear. Of course I wanted to.
I got to Windhoek (the capital of Namibia, the former German and then South African colony of "South West Africa", which got its independence and changed its name to "Namibia" only in 1990) and immediately made enquiries about a quick three-day tour to Sossusvlei, the red sand dunes of the Namib desert.
Most of the tours left that day (Saturday) and Wednesday (today). But I found out about one leaving the next day (Sunday). Great! I told you I was lucky. But it was fully booked.
I inquired about if anyone was renting a car to go there, I could join in. No. No public transport either. So I made tentative plans to skip it, just get the bus straight to Cape Town. Even though the red dunes were one of the main things I wanted to see in Africa. I decided earlier that Namibia was my favorite country in Africa and I'd definitely be back, maybe in many years with my family. This country is perfectly set up for family vacations.
I guess I need to get to the point in this email: Namibia is Australia. They're exactly the same.
The towns look Australian (especially Western Australia). The San Bushmen are just like the desert Aboriginals (I mean hunter-gatherer tribes with no obvious place in the modern world, with creation stories and rock paintings everywhere, and alcoholism.) And the landscapes are the same. Waterberg Plateau is a sandstone escarpment like the ones you see all over Australia. The deserts are both full of acacia trees. The Red Centre of Australia has the same orange and blue coloring of the Namib desert.
The very clincher came while we were driving around the cheetah center. On the dirt road in the flat desert (with lots of plants and animals, ostriches are emus, springbok are wallabies, kudu are red kangaroo, oryx are grey kangaroos, jackals are dingos, warthogs are wombats, klipspringers are rock kangaroos, Okavango delta is Kakadu, licorice allsorts, getting lifts in cars) I saw a yellow diamond sign with a kangaroo on it. In the middle of Namibia off on a distant dirt road (we had taken one of the many wrong bush paths) was a sign warning drivers to look out for passing kangaroos. I don't know why it was there, but I have a picture.
Back in Windhoek I was disappointed that I would have to skip Sossusvlei in order to have enough time in South Africa, but still not worried. Surely something must work out. I've been very lucky.
So I asked the tour booker if there was any possibility of a cancellation, could she just call and check. So she called. They decided since I really, really wanted to go, they could fit me in. So I went.
Three-day, two-night budget backpacker tours. It's Australian South West Africa.
The Namib desert is spectacular. Climbing sand dunes for sunrise and sunset. I love the orange and blue sky, and especially the orange and blue and black of the dunes in the early morning sun/shadow. I took 300 photos.
Now I am really looking forward to my 22 hour bus ride to Cape Town. I'm excited. Somehow long bus rides are really fun.
To South Africa,
West Africa I:
M email ,
West Africa II: M email , D&W , Photos
Ethiopia: Both M&W emails , Photos
East Africa: M email , D&W , Photos
5th Month: M email , D&W , Photos
South Africa: M email , D&W , Photos