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Dar Es Salaam

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Yo, all. I’m writing this the same day, from the same place as the last entry, from Nairobi, but I thought you all could use a break. The cities I’m visiting are largely impenetrable, because of the obvious language barriers – in Dar it’s mostly Swahili, but also Arabic and Hindu. I’m having some feelings that I’m only skimming the surface because I’m moving so fast at this point. And I’m severely limited, being a female on my own – going out after about 6pm is out of the question unless I meet people. Got a single room at a travelers- hotel, only a few cockroaches, but have had difficulty meeting people for the last few days due to no hostels. Nice to have my own room though.

Dar is a pretty multicultural city, but I have errands to do here – Internet, buying a sleeping bag and mat for my safari, changing my plane ticket, stocking up on stuff, etc. The first day was fine. Was awoken at around 5am by the Muslim call to prayer – very cool! It was one of those moments on the trip where it occurred to me just how far away from home I am. Laid in bed worrying about handling myself in the big, bad city for a while. It really is exhausting to be constantly vigilant, but I knew that would happen I suppose. At the beginning of the day, no biggie, by the end, exhausting.

So, left the hotel, and pretty much every man on the street says, “hello sister,” or more commonly here “Jambo,” which is a greeting they give tourists who don’t speak Swahili. The slightest acknowledgement leads to more unasked-for attention. Another common one is “mzungu,” which means “white person.” On Day 2, I wore jeans instead of the a-little-longer-than-knee-length skirt I wore the day before, and got less attention. I’d rather be hot (it was 90 degrees) than harassed.

Day 2: Not a good day. As I said before, I had to pick up a sleeping bag and mat for my safari. I sensibly got a taxi from my hotel to a big store called Shoprite, as the area I would’ve had to walk through was unsafe. Guys trying to sell stuff often walk between the cars, and I noticed one approaching, selling of all things, stickers. Cool! Because I had this great idea to cover my water bottle with the stickers of all the countries I visit and was having difficulty finding them. How convenient. So, I bought a Tanzania one, and the cab driver was like “No, don’t do that,” and then “Put your wallet away!” RIGHT after I bought it, which I promptly did, in my bag at my feet, thank goodness. Because not 30 seconds later, the same (I assume) guy who sold me the sticker ran up behind the car, reached in and grabbed my neck, trying to get the gold St. Christopher necklace given to me by my parents for safe travels. Oh, the irony. I yelled and reached up in time to grab it, but not before he broke the chain and scratched the shit out of my neck. It looks today like I have a huge hickey. The cab driver was like, “Those fucking fellows” over and over, and patted my knee when I started to tear up. He said that’s why he told me not to buy the sticker, cause apparently these dudes just use it as an opportunity to case you. It could have been much worse though – thank goodness my wallet was out of reach. It was my back-up wallet anyway, the one I keep very little money in, just in case of situations like these. Never thought something like that would happen to me though. It sucks because it was a meaningful necklace, but I will be sending it home from Singapore with other things.

That night, I met some people from the hotel, an American guy and German girl to have dinner with, and we ended up having a nice time, and going to a locals/travelers bar around the corner from the hotel, where I added three labels to my ongoing “beers of Africa” collection, so it ended up OK. Left Dar early in the morning for Nairobi, where I now sit writing. Today, I look for a new swimsuit, cause somehow I managed to leave mine in Tofo (MYOB), and meet my safari group, so it will be at least a few weeks before another update. Till then, love to youse all. xxx

Adventures in African transportation

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Hi all! I’m here safe in big, bad Nairobi, waiting to meet my safari group this evening for the trip that leaves tomorrow. I’m pretty thrilled about the prospect of meeting some other travelers and having someone hold my hand for a little while. So, I think I left you in Blantyre, Malawi, where I landed with a nice Danish couple. Here, my friends, is where the transportation saga gets really interesting. Brace yourself, mom and dad. Everyone else, pop some popcorn.

Phase 1 of the epic journey from Blantyre to Nairobi begins…
There are many bus companies operating out of Blantyre, I’m told, and advised to take a night bus called the “Axa bus,” which departs Blantyre at 5pm and goes overnight to Karonga, near the Tanzania border, arriving there around 10am, which is perfect, as Karonga is not a nice place to spend the night: One must make it all the way to Mbeya in Tanzania for a good option. Anyway, this bus leaves on Fridays and Sundays. I arrived on a Thursday late at night, and just couldn’t face another 17 hour journey the next day. So, I decided to take a bus run by the national bus line called the Sacramento (I don’t know why, either.) which made the same journey, only leaving on Saturday night at 5:30 instead – I certainly didn’t want to wait till Sunday to leave – way too late! And this Sacramento is a “luxury” bus service, people – think Greyhound, only shittier. So I thought, same difference. Here, dear readers is how it played out:

1) Arrive at bus station around 5pm, and sit, waiting, till 7:30. In the dark. Fall into narrow trench I don’t see after crossing road to eat dinner. Well, at least the bus came, I thought, never mind the windshield, cracked in a million places or the rust around the wheels.
2) All’s well till 3am, and then Boom! a huge expellation of air as the bus hits what I can only assume was a crater-sized pothole and limps to a stop about 20 minutes later.
3) Everyone, including self, mills around bus, waiting for something to happen. Eventually decide to go back inside and try to sleep. Large African lady in seat opposite me keeps shaking fist in air and saying “Aye, Sacra-MEN-to.” As it gets light, notice many young Malawian boys standing outside my window, holding out their hands, repeating “Give me money.”
4) Around 7am, an American expat guy named Mike announces to me that he’s abandoning ship and I’m welcome to join, cause this bus could sit here all day while they wait for an elusive mechanic from a city 200k south. I throw in with him, cause really, how could it get worse than sitting in a dead coach by the side of the road with no toilet? Side note: If any of you ever travel extensively in Africa, I’ll make two life-saving suggestions: First, carry toilet paper. This is essential. Second, severely, severely dehydrate yourself. One day I went until 5:30pm till I had a sip of anything. It sounds harsh, but believe me, it’s better than having to pee when you’re wedged into the back of a minibus.
3) We exit the coach to hordes of young boys with bicycle taxis, 3-speeds, ready to take us to Dwanga, a “town” about 2km ahead. I think they’ve just been sitting there, waiting till we gave up. I get on one bike and my bag gets on another. This part was actually pretty fun. In Dwanga, I have to pee, despite dehydration. I enter a pub, they show me to the toilet outside, which makes the squat toilets everywhere else look palatial. It’s so gross I pee next to the building instead of inside it. Back on the road the most decrepit chapa (minibus) I’ve ever seen, held together with duct tape and gum, is waiting to take us to Nkhata Bay, not where I want to go, but close-ish. At this point, I’ve abandoned hope to get to Karonga and have decided to settle for Mzuzu, where there’s at least a hostel. It’s about 8:30am before the bus fills up, and I mean FULL, and we take off.
4) Minibus, inevitably, breaks down. Am struggling to see humor in situation. Haha! All of us are shuttled from dead bus to a passing pickup, where there are: 22 people in the bed of the truck. My size truck, people. The bags are “tied” to the back end, although to be fair, they didn’t need to be, as the 4-6 people sitting on top of them held them down just fine. I begin to question the integrity of my brand-new conditioner bottle, as everyone uses my bag as either a seat or a step-ladder to get in and out. I sit, at various times on bags of grain, the floor, standing and finally holding onto a bar on the back to make room for an old lady with some live chickens.
5) About an hour into the truck ride, guess what?? Haha! The broken-down Sacramento bus PASSES us!!! Haha! Hilarious! I talk myself off the ledge though. This will make an hilarious story!
6)American guy disembarks to walk 40 minutes to his solar-powered hippie compound near Nkhata Bay and leaves me to fend for myself. The truck stops about 3km outside Nkhata Bay, and everyone is instructed to get out and walk, because the truck doesn’t have a taxi license, I assume. I politely say, “I cannot get out of this truck. I would like to ride in the front. Thank you.” The truck driver can see that I’m five seconds from losing my shit, and says, uh, OK.
6) I’m here in Nkhata Bay! Yay! Except that now I have to catch another minibus to Mzuzu. On minibus, am sitting next to man with huge bag of dried fish. Of course. This ride, though tedious, is uneventful.
6) Arrive in Mzuzu, where I should have been this morning at 5am, around 3pm. Get taxi to hostel.
7) Here it is people, the very best part: I must spend the night here in Mzuzu and leave for Karonga the following morning, Sunday morning. Cast your minds back is none other than the Axa bus, en route from Blantyre, the very same one I didn’t want to wait for! HAHAHA! (Maniacal laughter).

That, everyone, was one day! Here’s the next day, but I’ll abbreviate for all your sakes.
1) Taxi to bus station in Mzuzu.
2) Bus from Mzuzu to Karonga
3) Shared taxi from Karonga to border.
4) Walk across border and additional mile, I’d say, to
5) Minibus (called daladalas here in Tanzania)
6) Bus stops every 25 feet to pick up and drop off. The usual, by now. Could have taken taxi direct to Mbeya, but wanted to save ONE DOLLAR. What is wrong with me?? There are banana trees everywhere though, and the nice man sitting next to/on top of me, buys me a cooked banana to try when I express skepticism. It’s like tasteless mush, not sweet at all; they actually salt them. Is gross. Man throws most of it out window for me, in addition to aluminum cans and plastic bags. This is also normal.
7) Arrive in Mzuzu, relatively unscathed at 4pm. Eat. Finally drink something – can of Coke in 30 seconds flat. Bus to Dar Es Salaam at 7am next morning. Nightie night.

I was going to combine the entries and write about Dar now too, but I’m sure you all have to take a break and go to the bathroom or something, so I’ll make it a separate entry. Peace out. xx

Ryan Adams would hate Mozambique

Friday, June 15th, 2007
Hi all! Here I am in Blantyre, Malawi, on my first computer for days and days. And naturally I forgot my journal with all the juicy (well, some of the juicy) details in it. Anywho, I think I left you ... [Continue reading this entry]

Swaziland Etc.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007
Well, it's been a great morning of snorkeling with whale sharks here in Mozambique, but, back to South Africa and Swaziland! So, where did I leave off? I think I was covered in bedbug bites, ah yes. So, in total ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jumping the Shark

Monday, June 4th, 2007
Hi all! Well, I'm here in Mozambique, writing about all the stuff I've done two weeks ago already... I'll start with the shark dive! We were able to do it in an area called the Gansbaai, about two hours east of ... [Continue reading this entry]