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Africa For Dummies

Thursday, July 26th, 2007


Hi all! Blogging on the morning of my departure from Africa – it seems like forever that I’ve been here. I was going to title this one “Out of Africa,” but really, it just seemed way too obvious. So instead, I’m going to compile a few tips for you in case you should decide to undertake a journey like mine. I’ll give you a rundown of the last week though first.

Spent nine days on Zanzibar for some much-needed beach time. I sort of, kind of have a tan now, but my stupid antimalarial medicine is getting in the way – one of the side effects is increased sun sensitivity – but in my case, it seems to be preventing me from turning a golden brown. I may just stop taking them, since I forget half the time anyway. Then at least I’ll look nice and brown against the white hospital sheet.

So, hung out in Stone Town on Zanzibar the first two nights with a bunch of dudes I met in Lamu and Dar Es Salaam – ended up at an African hooker bar one night. At least the dudes told me they were hookers. Took off for the beach and met up with two girls that I’d met on a ‘spice tour’ of Zanzibar, which, although interesting, mostly consisted of tromping through the bush and looking at plants. Not sure what else I was expecting…so, shared a room with these two lovely (that was for you, Fiona) girls, both med students, and a good thing too, since I needed minor surgery: swam past and brushed against a sea urchin! Ouch! At least 4 little spines got stuck in my foot. One of the local beach boys (basically a dude who’ll sell you anything, and I mean anything, you want) came over with the local cure – a Fanta soda bottle full of fresh pee and a papaya! “No, no, I’m fine,” I protested, to no avail. So he dumped the pee on my foot and rubbed the papaya goo all over it to “draw out the spines.” Not sure what the pee was for, except perhaps for a joke. So I hobbled back to my part of the beach with my pee foot, waiting for the miraculous cure. When it didn’t feel any better the next day, I made one of my roomies dig out the spines with a needle and tweezers.

After they left, I moved myself from the beach where I was, called Nungwi, to one a little further down, called Kendwa. Weather wasn’t great, rained a few days in a row for a good part of the day, but as soon as the sun came out, I was out there! The bar where I was staying hosted a party one night and I ran into two Dutch guys who I first met in Cape Town 2 and 1/2 months ago! I think the one dude was on E or something cause he was sooooooooooooo thrilled to see me, overly thrilled. He told me how the first picture on his camera is of me, him and this obnoxious Zimbabwean tour guide we met in Cape Town. Not sure if I shared that story or not. So, he left me with his email, with little hearts written all over it.

Left Zanzibar for the epic trek to Nairobi, spent the night in Dar at the same shitcraphole motel I’ve stayed at each time, killed the obligatory cockroach as soon as I got in, and then completed my date with destiny: got the last Harry Potter. Hooray! I basically got off the ferry, cabbed to the motel, then walked as fast as my chicken drummy legs could carry me to get the book. And got some much-needed western-style hair product for my crazy afro. Spent the next day on the bus with Harry, as well as most of the next day in Moshi, where I stopped to try and glimpse Kilimanjaro – no luck. All clouds. Finished the book just in time to sell it to a fellow American in the hostel for $20, after I paid $38 for it – not bad!

Hit Nairobi uneventfully, have spent the last few days sending things to London for pick up at a later date, getting my stupid plane ticket worked out finally, shopping etc. Met a cool dude from the UK who agreed to carry my jeans and warm shoes to London so I can get them when I return there in November. We ate dinner last night at a hotel around the corner and were entertained by a Kenyan guy in what looked like a waiter’s uniform covering Kenny Rogers’ songs on a synthesizer. You haven’t heard The Gambler till you’ve heard someone with a Swahili accent sing it accompanied by a synthesizer, my friends.

That’s it, you’re up-to-date. I’m just killing time till my taxi comes to take me to the scary bus stand for the airport. There’s a shuttle from here for 1200 Ksh, which is almost $20, or I can take a taxi/bus combo for 340 Ksh, which = more money for beer at the airport. Unless I get mugged on the bus. Which probably won’t happen. But, I babble. Without further ado, here are a few tips for an enjoyable time in Africa.

[read on]

Pole Pole in Lamu

Saturday, July 21st, 2007


Pole Pole (Polay Polay) translation: slowly, slowly, or, ‘take it easy.’
Hey all, blogging from Zanzibar, my final stop on the Becky Africa Tour 2007. Well, actually, I’m going to stop in a town called Moshi, which sounds like a video game character to me, to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I thought I saw en route to Nairobi the first time, but didn’t. Oopsie. Otherwise, I’ll be here for the next week, at the beach. Went to the beach one day in Lamu, but it was a disappointment – very windy and rocky. So we’ll see what Zanzibar has to offer. But for now, back to Lamu. I took the bus from Malindi, the “good” bus, with armed guards. I guess the road between the two towns used to be pretty heavily preyed upon by bandits from Somalia. I couldn’t decide if the soldiers made me feel safer or more worried… Stayed, for the majority of the time in a guest house called Casuarina, a picturesquely crumbling Swahili building, tall and a little maze-like inside, with a thatched palm roof and an open balcony to catch the sea breeze. My room had a big double bed with a mosquito net, which I love sleeping under – very, very romantic, but the mattress was so thin I felt the slats of the bed every night. Bathrooms were pretty bad – no hot water. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I had a hot shower.

Lamu is a center of dhow building as well, and all the traditional boats have this blue carving on the wood. I took a dhow trip with a bunch of other tourists on my second day – all girls, a few Canadians and Brits. Spent most days hanging out in cafes, in one called Bush Gardens – not sure if the joke was intentional – but the owner is named Satan.

Me: Nice to meet you; I’m Becky.
Him: Hello, I’m Satan.
Me: Could you spell that for me?
Him: Just like in the bible.

OK. It was at Bush Gardens that the true meaning of pole pole became apparent: You order a juice and a companion orders a tea, for example. Someone will make your juice, fresh passion fruit and lime in my case, and then, after they are done doing whatever they have to do to a passion fruit to get the juice out, and juicing the lime, let’s say 20 minutes, they’ll put the tea kettle on to boil. Dinner = a two-hour affair. Luckily, I had nothing better to do than sit there and read or spend most days wandering the streets, soaking up the culture. Went to “ladies night” at the local bar – one free soda! Other impressions of Lamu – no cars, they get around on donkeys and try to convince stupid mzungus to take an embarrassing donkey ride. I can just imagine them talking about which one is the bigger ass in Swahili as they lead the donkey along. Anyway, I gave it a miss, but all those donkeys add up to one thing: lots of donkey shit, everywhere. And the electricity in Lamu is sketchy at best, so you can be walking down a dark alley in a mine field. And me with no flashlight. I got some funny statistics though: 3,800 donkeys, 4,500 cats, 45 mosques and 19,000 residents on Lamu. I’m not sure who counted all the cats, which are everywhere, all strays, and oddly, almost all calico. I thought much of little Gracie. The buildings are beautiful though, but like I said, crumbling everywhere. No one seems to fix anything here.Everything, from the roads to the buildings to the buses, is in some state of decay. Most of the clothes people are wearing seem to be the castoffs of the west, actually. All the clothes and shoes you donate to places like Savers get sold to some third party if they don’t sell there, I think, and then get resold in African markets. I’ve seen countless Green Bay Packers jerseys, for example, and the other day I saw some dude with a “Smith Family Reunion, July 5th, 2005, Charleston, South Carolina” t-shirt on. There were also lots and lots of veiled women here, with only their eyes peeping out from flowing black tents. They definitely got a raw deal, as the men are all in white robes, which is at least cooler.

So, all-in-all, Lamu was very enjoyable. Got some culture, ate tons of seafood and coconut rice. Met a Peace Corp girl and her boyfriend on their way to Mombasa the same day as me, so we were all on the same bus, in the back: big mistake. It was so bumpy, aka, filled with the usual potholes, that at one point I had my sandal clasp undone (though they were still securely on my feet) and we hit a pothole so huge that they flew off and under the seat next to me. The best part was that there were speed bumps on this road – I mean, could a more arbitrary speed bump even exist? I think not. Spent the night in Mombasa, which seems a nice enough town. Got around in little tuk tuks, a preview for Thailand I’m guessing. Will try to take some pictures of them for you.

Bus the next day to Dar – which I was not looking forward to. A long, long dusty ride, with a seat that was stuck in a reclining position and a seat mate who was taking up his entire seat and half of mine. I kept trying to nudge him back, to no avail. And then he noticed me struggling with my seat, trying to get it to sit upright and he very kindly reached across me, touching my chest in the process, to help. There were these two British kids (19 qualifies as a kid now) sitting behind me who saw all of this unfolding and I found out later that they were remarking on its hilarity. Got to Dar without serious incident though – one flat tire and one more border crossing, spent the night at the good old Safari Inn, met some dudes randomly in the restaurant, and set out the next morning for Zanzibar, where I now sit. That’s it for now folks, probably it till a wrap-up “Becky’s impressions of East Africa” entry from Nairobi, where I’ll arrive on the 25th, leaving for Singapore on July 27th. Hope you’re all well and I’m out to the beach. xxx

Jambo from Kenya!

Saturday, July 7th, 2007
blogphoto.jpg Hi all! Blogging from Lamu, Kenya, a small island off the northeastern coast. Finished the safari on the 3rd. Was very cool, but I don't have my journal with me right now, so details are ... [Continue reading this entry]