BootsnAll Travel Network

Dar Es Salaam

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

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

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 in Tofo, where I was hanging out for days and days at this very chilled out place called Bamboozi. A big group of people actually shuttled up from Maputo together to Tofo, and we all ended up hanging out the whole time. On the shuttle on the way up, in addition to much Portuguese pop music, the driver played some sort of mix tape starring: Bryan Adams! The whole bus was rocking out to “Summer of 69.” Boy, that’s weird, I thought.

So Tofo was filled with days spent scuba diving with Manta rays, snorkeling with whale sharks, lying on the beach and drinking. Ahh. The closest town is Inhambane, where we went for a day trip also. Went to the market, got a cute straw purse, and took a picture of the market scene, with a woman sitting in her stall: She = freaked out. Started screaming at me in Portuguese for taking the picture. Luckily I was with a native Spanish speaker, who can understand some Portuguese and just kept apologizing for me. It is going to be very, very difficult for me to show you how different it is here, readers, cause no one wants their picture taken. I have a few very cool ones that I will post tonight or tomorrow though. It is, as you can imagine, extremely poor.

So, back to Bryan Adams. A group of seven of us left the same day from Tofo for another town on the coast called Vilanculos, which was hit by a cyclone in February, but is pulling it together. On the minibus to Inhambane, who should come over the speakers but: Bryan Adams! Hmm. We all sang along, of course. Spent three nights in Vilanculos, and took a dhow trip out to this amazing island called Bazaruto. On one side of the island, a huge sand dune, on the other, and Edenic wilderness. Except for the 5-star resort, but never mind. We opted for the cheaper trip which = mistake. Our boat driver dropped anchor right on the coral reef, which kills all the coral, then on the way back in to shore we ran out of gas. The boat only had a 15-horsepower engine, anyway, but it was something. I wouldn’t have cared, but I had to buy the bus ticket for the next leg of my journey that evening, and by the time we drifted in to shore it was like 7pm. I = was pissed off. I guess I just have to adapt to Africa time, though. When we told the owners of the hostel (called Zombie Cucumber) that we had run out of gas, they were like, “Oh, that happens every time. He only brings enough for one way.”

Disaster was averted the next morning though, as I was given a seat on the bus from Vilanculos to Chimoio, Mozambique, sitting right on top of: a bag of dried fish! Lucky for me I got on the bus, cause it only goes every few days, when full. Three of us were going on to Malawi, so I have been traveling the last few days with a cool Danish couple, which has been great because all the buses in Mozambique leave at 4am, and going to the bus station alone at 4 am = not fun. And, you guessed it: back to Bryan Adams. On the fish bus from Vilanculos to Chimoio, guess who?? That’s right, people! Bryan Adams!! I think maybe he has some sort of contract with the Mozambique public transport system.

Spent one night in Chimoio, then carried on yesterday, leaving there at 4am, and arriving in Blantyre at 6:30 pm. Needless to say, a long day. Here’s what it entailed: woke up at 3am, sat on bus till around 5am, got off bus in Tete, in northern Mozambique, got on a chapa (minibus taxi) to the border, took a cab from one border to the other, then got another chapa from the border to Blantyre, then finally, a chapa to the hostel. The trip is a blast, but people don’t realize that travel like this is hard work. I’ll be here for at least one more night, taking care of big-city stuff like email, before I hit the road. I’m trying to change my plane ticket and leave Africa on July 27 instead of the 13 so I can chill a little instead of having to hurry up to Nairobi.

Oh, here’s one more good story for you, and I won’t mention where it happened, but it’s crazy. When we arrived at this town, a bunch of people harassed us to let them walk us to the hostel, and we politely declined. We got there on our own, to find the English expat owner really upset, cause I guess this kind of thing happens all the time. Anyway, she had complained to police that street kids were harassing her guests, and then when they delivered them to her door, the kids would demand to be paid commission. So the kids, in retaliation, keyed the shit out of her car, really, really badly. This had all happened the day we arrived, so she was in a tizzy. Told us first that she was going to pay the police to beat the shit out of the kid who did it, and then when talking about it more, she said, and I quote, “I hope the little fuckers have AIDS. They probably do – serves them right.” OMG, lady, I think it may be time for you to go home.

That’s my news for today people. I’ll try to post some pictures tonight from the hostel. Oh, and I ran out of hair product. Get ready for some crazy hair. And before anyone says, “yeah, but you’ll probably be able to find something really good for your hair in Africa, Becky,” I’ll just say that hair gel is low on the priority list here. More on Malawi later! xx


Swaziland Etc.

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 I spent about a week going up the SA coast, and took a final bus from Cintsta to Durban – Greyhound this time. Which was fine, except that they played movies on the bus, which was also fine, except the last one was Hannibal. Have you people seen this movie??? Dude actually chews someone’s face off! I had to sit there with my sweatshirt over my head and my fingers in my ears to try not to hear the screaming. Anywho, arrived in Durban at a nice hostel, but in an unsafe neighborhood (what else is new) and just chilled for the night. Spent the next day getting some books and booking my safari – doing big-city stuff cause I was off to the bush. I’m glad to be out of SA actually, not that it wasn’t beautiful, but there’s a lot of racial tension and everyone is so, so paranoid about crime that it’s nice to be someplace more relaxed. Durban is a very multicultural city though, with a huge Indian population, so I sampled something called “bunny chow,” curry that they stuff into half a loaf of bread. Tried the mutton and the chicken – both yummy, but a little weird. Left Durban last Friday for Swaziland and decided to do it the way the locals do: minibus taxi, which cost 160 Rand vs. 360 for the fancy bus. I was the only white person on the bus, and actually was the only white person all day until I got to the hostel pick-up place. I got lots of questions – “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you on the Baz Bus?” So, the minibuses: They are all white minivans, and they have their destination on the front. You wait at the stands, and put your hand out for the direction you want to go, and they cram you in and off it goes on two wheels. JK! I was sitting in the seat right by the driver, aka, the “death seat,” cause if/when the minibus crashes, guess who flies through the windshield? Anyway, I dozed off en route, only to awake to a tap on the shoulder and a “Hey, they’re talking to you,” said by the man next to me. I turned around to face the crowd: “Yes, everyone, what can I do for you?” “You can’t fall asleep – you have to keep the driver awake if you sit in that seat! Talk to him!” Um, guys? Don’t you think somebody else would be better suited to this task, seeing as we don’t speak the same language? After an awkward attempt (“So, uh, where are you from?”) on my part, it was back to silence, and about 40 kilometers outside Manzini, my Swaziland destination, a girl was crossing the road behind the bus and: We hit her. She kind of bounced off the rear left bumper and then the trailer carrying all our luggage rolled over her. Very intense. Both her legs were broken, and the driver and all us passengers had to go to the police station for quite some time. Left, with a very alert driver, arrived in Manzini alone and faced down a chaotic minibus taxi rank. A cab driver who wanted me for a fare was kind enough to walk me over to the next bus I had to get on, since I was too cheap to take a taxi. Boarded bus #2, got dropped off at a cool art collective/bar in the middle of nowhere, and waited for the shuttle to the hostel, which was on a nature reserve. Swaziland is very pretty, very hilly and lush in some places, but there is garbage everywhere. People just chuck it out the windows while they drive. So I arrived at the nature preserve around 8pm with a few beers in me, cause I met this old South African dude who bought me dinner and drinks while I was waiting – yay me! Very nice, had lost his wife recently and was alone like moi. The nature reserve was cool, but, there was a mountain bike race going on, which scared off all the animals the next morning when I went for a walk to see me a zebra. I did see a bunch of warthogs though, and was walking along a quieter path and an impala just rose up out of the grass in front of me. Very cool. Hung in Swazi for two days, met a Kiwi dude who was going on to Maputo, Mozambique and we split a taxi from Manzini. Which was actually a 1983 Honda Accord or something, with red velvety seats. The driver only charged us 50 Rand each, which is like $7, so I don’t know how he even made enough to cover the gas. We did keep stopping to pick people up though. Arrived in Maputo on Sunday afternoon, had a wander around town with dude, got a few drinks, slept under a mosquito net at Fatima’s (hostel) and left yesterday morning for paradise: Tofo. It was about a 7-hour bus ride, full of other backpackers. In each town we stopped in, kids would rush the bus, trying to sell sodas, cashews, cookies, etc. Maputo is very dirty, and poorer than any place I’ve ever seen. We drove by people living in grass huts right by the main road, garbage everywhere. It’s pretty shocking, actually. Kids wandering around with no shoes, tattered clothes, etc. But the city is also very multi-cultural, with a lot of Portuguese people still living there. Anyway, I didn’t give it much time, as I was anxious to get here, Tofo, this tiny little beach hamlet. Lots of poverty too; kids following you around trying to sell you bracelets, sodas etc. I’m staying in a place right on the beach, in a grass hut if you can believe it. The dorm area actually looks exactly like the one in The Beach. Have met some awesome people, so there’s a crew of about eight of us, just hanging out. Snorkeled with whale sharks this morning and doing some diving the rest of the week. That’s pretty up-to-the-minute, peeps! I’ll be here for about a week, then I have to bust a move through northern Mozambique to get into Malawi, and then off to Nairobi for my safari on June 23! After that, I’ll probably go to Zanzibar for 10 days or so…ah, the life. OK, lovies, keep the comments coming! Peace out. xxx


Jumping the Shark

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 Cape Town. Since the weather had been so bad, the sea was extra-mega choppy, and at least nine people out of the 22 who went out were barfing their guts out by the time we got to the site. I, on the other hand was sitting in the front of the boat, loving it! Me = tuff chick. So, we got out there, and the cage that you get into is shaped like a loaf of bread, with an open top. Five people can get in at once, so everyone wetsuited up, put on masks and jumped in. As soon as the boat stopped, there were sharks circling, which gives credence to the argument that they’re becoming used to associating humans with food, but never mind.

So we all jumped in and the sharks were RIGHT THERE, literally inches away. We saw 4-5 Great Whites, the largest of which was around 12 feet long: babies. It was so cool though, right up there with skydiving as ‘most exciting thing I’ve ever done.’

Left Cape Town the next day on the Intercape bus, which is, contrary to all the “take the Baz Bus or you’ll be killed,” a perfectly safe and luxurious way to travel. The Baz Bus is this shuttle they’ve set up for backpackers that picks you up and drops you off at the hostels, but it also costs three times more than the regular bus. Plus, they really use fear as a selling tactic, and I wasn’t having it: I didn’t come all this way to isolate myself from the culture I came to see. So, anyway, it’s been all public transportation for this girl. Stopped that first night in Knysna, pronounced Nize-nah, and it was pretty bo-ring. Met a few cool peeps in the hostel, did a lagoon cruise, and cruised on after two nights to Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa’s surfing mecca, once again on the Intercape bus. The first night stayed in a DEAD hostel. where there were three people including me; the owner locked up and left at 9pm. Actually, since it’s “winter” here, the whole route along the coast has been very, very quiet.

Jeffrey’s Bay: Spent the first night in the dead hostel, then moved the next day to the par-tay place, Island Vibe, where I experienced two firsts: surfing and bedbugs. The surfing was so, like tubular, dudes, it almost makes me want to move off to Hawaii and be a full-time surfer chick, seriously. So I (and about 10 others) had a two-hour lesson, I stood up on the board a few times, and lived my Blue Crush dream. Next, the bedbugs: so I had to leave the hostel at 4:30am to catch the bus, and I didn’t want to rustle this little silk sleeping bag I have and wake people, so I just slept on their sheet: big mistake. I awoke COVERED in bites, all over my shoulders and arms; it looks like the chicken pox and itches just as much. Barf. I didn’t even know it was bedbugs till I got to the next hostel in a little nowhere called Cintsta, and they were like, “Where did you get those?” General freak-out ensued, as I washed everything in scalding water and coated myself in antihistamine cream. Luckily there was another woman staying in Cintsta who had gotten the shit chewed out of her too, so we commiserated. Spent three relaxing days in that little burg, tried to surf again but was a little big for my britches as the undertow almost dragged me to Antarctica. Maybe I should take another lesson. OK, all, off to my busy day of snorkeling and eating fruit on the beach. More later!


Into Africa

May 20th, 2007

Becky 022.jpg

Hey all! This has been a long Internet day, what with the Italy posts too, but I found a super-cheap place and the weather sucks, cause guess what? They actually have winter here – go figure! So I arrived in Cape Town on the 16th, and had forgotten to book a ride to the hostel. Luckily there was another dude on the plane with me who WAS getting picked up to go to the same hostel, so it all worked out, cause there’s no public bus or anything. The Cape Town airport is actually quite small, smaller than Madison’s, which I wasn’t expecting.

The first few days on my own have been a little overwhelming. I’m glad I left things so open-ended, but the options here are countless and the distance is vast. Thursday the weather was terrible so I got a lift to the mall (joy) and hung around there for awhile. Picked up some second-hand books on a street called Long Street, which is simultaneously touristy and seedy as hell. Like I said before, I’ve been warned innumerable times by everyone about watching my bag, watching myself, never going out alone after dark, etc., etc. I wasn’t nervous before I got here, but all the warnings have made me more so. Let’s just say I have a third eye in the back of my head.

Aside from the weather, Cape Town is beautiful, set on a bay with Table Mountain behind the city. Friday the weather was good – hooray! – and I took full advantage of the day. Have met tons of cool people at the hostel, which is by far the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, with hardwood floors, pretty decor and an incredibly helpful staff. One of the dudes who was staying there, a fellow American on a RTW tour, rented a car Friday and invited me to join him for the day of sightseeing – a stroke of great luck, cause a tour down to the Cape of Good Hope would have been around $50.

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We went first to the top of Table Mountain, then drove down the cape to the point, then back up its east side to a town called Simon’s Town, where there’s a beach filled with penguins. In fact, here’s the wildlife I’ve seen so far: baboons in the Cape of Good Hope park, tons of lizards, penguins and seals in the bay by the shopping mall. And I’ve barely even left the city! So it was a great, full day of sight-seeing.

Saturday morning dawned gross, windy and rainy. I had to reschedule a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 22 years, to today, but guess what: today sucks ass too. So, it’s now rescheduled for Tuesday, cause tomorrow I’m doing my: SHARK DIVE! Am very, very excited about that one, let me tell you. I bought an underwater camera today to showcase the sharkies. Don’t worry, mom, I’ll remove all my shiny jewelry, and I won’t try to pet the little fishies. So my plans are a bit up in the air at the moment. I originally thought I’d go north through Mozambique, but I’m trying to work out a way now to do some diving there as well as cut across to see Victoria Falls, which is unfortunately most easily accessed through Zimbabwe. The political situation there is less than ideal, to put it mildly, and I’m not going to do it if I can’t find a cheapish/safe way to get there. As for the rest of South Africa, I’ve decided to bypass the backpacker Baz Bus (sorry Toni), which is very convenient as it drops you off and picks you up at hostels, and take the Greyhound, which is actually quite nice here, and about a tenth as expensive. So that’s what I’m off to do now: book the first few legs of my Greyhound journey up the Garden Route, which extends from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, then I’ll carry on up the coast for a while before veering off into Mozambique. That’s it for now, folks. Keep the emails and comments coming, and I’m going to try and get some pictures on here – we’ll see about the results.


Lemon Trees, Package Tourists and Frosting

May 20th, 2007

After Rome, we arrived in Sorrento much relieved to be in a smaller town. We had neglected to get accurate directions to our hostel, which was actually in a suburb of Sorrento, and after what really was the Bataan Death March, uphill in the blazing sun, with our bags, we found it about 6 hours after we arrived. It was a private room, I’ll give it that, but it adjoined a barnyard, so I have to take away some points. We promptly canceled our booking for the following two nights and changed to a hostel in central Sorrento. Returned to town for a wander and some dinner. Sorrento is a pretty little Mediterranean town, sitting on some cliffs, with pastel buildings the color of frosting, or to quote Karen, “This town is so sweet, it’s like frosting.” There were lemon and orange groves everywhere, and orange trees growing on the city streets. In the central square, I’m pretty sure we heard more English than Italian, as there were oodles of package tourists from the U.K. there also.

That evening, I started to feel sick – really sick, like a terrible cold was coming on. Come on it did, and it turned into a full-blown sinus infection. I brought some antibiotics though, an extra round that the doc had prescribed for the one I got right before I left. Anywho, checked in to Sorrento central, and decided to spend the afternoon of the second day on the Isle of Capri. A French Canadian girl named Stephanie staying at our hostel accompanied us to the ticket booth, and we hung with her and a Chilean woman later that night – my age and traveling alone; it gave me heart for the trip to come. So, Capri was gorgeous, like a fairy tale. We brought a picnic lunch, because we had heard how expensive the island was – they weren’t kidding. Baguettes, ham and a bottle of wine (no glasses) shared between the three of us = heaven. Walked around in some gardens, walked to a monastery, paid .50 to use the bathroom, petted some cute stray kitties and kept wishing I’d see George Clooney somewhere. By the end of the day, I felt mega-sick, and Karen and Mike wandered a little while I sat on a park bench, slurping a lemon ice and mouth-breathing cause my nose was so stuffed up.

Next day: Pompeii. I think it was neat, but I was in a foul, sick mood. I tried to keep up with the whippersnappers, but spent a good portion of the day sitting on wall, blowing my nose. It really is an awesome site though, and as luck would have it, FREE that day. (That means both the Acropolis and Pompeii free!) The streets are incredibly well preserved, many of the buildings still have frescoes on the walls and the homes still have the mosaic tiles on the floor. The “official” brothel, out of 25 that they said existed in the city when it went bye-bye, was in really good shape too: there was a “menu” on the wall with all the available positions, visitors needed only to point at what they wanted. And for illiterate citizens, there was a big stone penis on the road, pointing the way. How helpful!

After Pompeii we went to Positano via bus. A gorgeous ride, and another beautiful little city clinging to a cliff. For those of you (ladies) who have seen Under the Tuscan Sun, this is the village that her Italian Stallion is from. It was very pretty, very touristy and very steep. I got separated from the kids though and got into a foul mood. Pouted at the bus stop for about an hour before they came and joined me and we returned to Sorrento. Left mid-day the next day, after Karen did a little shopping, to return to Rome for our last night together. The hostel that final night was a total hole – think multi-national frat party – but it was right next to the train station where we all needed to go. Karen left early in the morning, and Mike and I didn’t have any plans, so we: went back to the Vatican to check out the picture gallery! (Sorry Karen.) Then Mike took off around one, and left me to do some expensive Internet-ing, and then it was off to the airport for my 7:30 flight to Athens-Johannesburg-Cape Town. After all that, I think I can say that I’m pretty confident that I’ve seen everything I wanted to in Rome – Africa awaits.


When In Rome

May 20th, 2007

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Hey peeps! Still here in Cape Town as I fill you in on Roma and the rest of Italia. Just BTW, if any of you are thinking of coming to South Africa in winter (their winter) here’s a piece of advice: bring a jacket. Got here on Wednesday afternoon, weather was okay, but I was exhausted from 24 hours of travel. Thursday it pissed rain, yesterday was thankfully gorgeous, and today, tomorrow and Monday it’s gale force winds and rain. Sigh. At least the hostel is nice, cause I sure am spending a lot of time in it. More about Africa later, though. Now I’ll cast my mind back to Rome and what already seems like forever ago.

Met Karen and Mike at the baggage claim in Rome, with my bag and those of most of my flight companions’ mysteriously missing. Picture an irate Italian man, gesticulating forcefully with his hands – now picture about 7 of them. Well, our luggage turned up on a different baggage carousel, and we were off on the Leonardo Express into Rome. Now, when you buy a ticket on an Italian train, you have to validate it as you board. Oops. We ran to catch the train and probably passed two dozen validation machines, without even SEEING them. Five minutes later:

Karen: Hey, why do our tickets say (in plain English) “This ticket must be validated. You will be beheaded if you don’t stamp this ticket.”
Me: How could we have missed the machines and the writing on the ticket?
Mike: We are dumb.

Seriously though, it made for a nail-biter of a ride into town, because we thought for sure the ticket man would come and fine us for being ignorant Americans. We made it though (Take that, Italy!) and decided we would save our 11 Euro tickets for the return ride. Karma, however, bit us all in the ass, because all three of us managed to lose the tickets over the course of the week. We, as Mike said, are dumb. So, into Rome, found our hostel without much difficulty. It was very clean and in a good location near the Colosseum: It was also very, very loud. Teenagers. We did go out for an amazing meal that night at a restaurant coincidentally very near our hostel, thanks to my super-cool friend Nicolle, who showed me a Food and Wine before I left with lots of great Roman restaurants. The first one we ate at, and returned to two nights later (La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali), was actually full of Americans who had read the article and taken the tip. Well done, Food and Wine. Luckily Karen and Mike were into the food thing, cause we took the magazine’s suggestions for the next three nights.

So our first day in Rome was a bit overwhelming – strike that, they all were. We literally didn’t know where to look, there was so much to see; everything seemed old and important. Everything is old and important. We went first to the Colosseum. Got there nice and early before the crowds and the heat set in. Another life-time must-see sight = checked off! Wandered through the Forum with no guidebook, so everything pretty much just looked like ruins, but we returned a few days later and made up for it. After the Colosseum and the Forums, we went to the Trevi Fountain, which was cool, but packed to the gills with tourists of course. In fact, I’ve never seen more tourists and tour groups in my life than I did in Rome; I don’t think there were any actual Italians there. After tossing the requisite Euro into the Trevi Fountain to ensure our return to Rome, it was off to the Spanish Steps. Guess what, everyone? They’re just steps – but it was very hot, which may help explain why I was so underwhelmed. Here we found the rest of the tourists who weren’t at the Trevi Fountain. Then, it was on to the Pantheon via a gelato stop – Pistachio, Chocolate and Tiramisu – then to the Piazza Navonna to see some famous fountains. Unfortunately, the most famous one was covered in scaffolding, but we hung for a little while anyway, looking at all the artists’ prints in the square. Somebody was also filming a model draped across a car for an ad or something. At least we think she was a model: vacant stare + stupid outfit + anorexia = model. We considered getting a cappuccino, but at 5.50 Euro, we decided to carry on to Campo dei Fiori, a nearby square and the site of a small farmer’s market early in the mornings. Had some coffee here (1.80 – yay!). Believe it or not, we carried on – over the Tiber River to the Trastavere neighborhood to check out a church, then back over to see the Circus Maximus (think “Ben Hur”), which is now just a field, THEN to a church called St. Peter In Chains to check out Michelangelo’s Moses. Man, I’m exhausted just writing it. After a great meal at another Food and Wine recommendation, it was time to collapse into bed.

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Little White Sugar Cubes

May 17th, 2007

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Left in the morning for Santorini on a 8-hour ferry ride. Never has the world seen so much gin rummy played in one day! Got to Santorini around 3pm, picked up at the port by one of the owners of our hotel. Another way up is on donkey-back, so you have to watch out for the doody. Santorini sits one one side of a caldera, so the scenery is very, very dramatic; our ride up from the port was practically vertical. All the houses here look like little sugar cubes, and the landscape is actually very barren, with low scrub and not many trees. The towns look like little fairy tale places, with cobblestone streets and the white buildings clinging to the cliffs. We turned a corner in Thira, the main town, and there it was – the postcard shot you always see with the church with the blue roof and the cliff in the background. We spent the first day wandering and ate – you guessed it -Greek food! I had moussaka, which in retrospect was a little heavy for hot weather. Witnessed a gorgeous sunset over the island, though we’d been told we should go to Oia (prounounced eee-ah) for the BEST SUNSET IN THE WORLD! Over the next few days, we managed to cover the island, taking buses everywhere for 1.30 Euro, which is about 1.80 – very reasonable. We went to Oia, which was just as lovely, but got the shaft on the sunset, people. It was hazy and lame, and a complete public relations failure. I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the Santorini board of tourism. Over the next few days, we checked out the black sand beach in Perissa, the red sand beach in Athrotiki, and generally just chilled. Back on the ferry for the slog to Athens and seeing the Acropolis.

Back in Athens, and by coincidence, in a hotel/hostel right across the street from our old one. (Next door to the assault-and-battery bar) No problems though. We high-tailed it to the Acropolis around 4pm, and guess what? It was some holiday or something and it was FREE – usually 13 Euro! Yay us! It was very cool to see, one of those things I can now check off my list. Checked out the museum up there, and walked back to have some dinner at our favorite crepe place (we’re like locals now) and got ready to fly off to Rome the next day. I’d love to come back though, I’d just skip Athens entirely and hit the islands for a few months. Anyone interested?

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Clash of the Titans

May 17th, 2007


Hi all! It’s been a while, I know. As I get ready to write this blog entry about Greece, I’m sitting in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s pissing down rain, and I’ve been advised countless times to keep track of my bag, watch out for muggers, don’t go out after dark, etc. etc. Today after the update, I’m going to book some stuff for myself for the next few days, at least. The options = overwhelming. But, more about South Africa later – back to Greece.

Karen and Mike and I met up at the airport in Athens, no problemo. Got to our hotel/hostel with a minimum of confusion, too. The first few hours/day in a foreign city are always the hardest, before you know where you’re going. We took it easy the first night and dined on gyros (of course) and drank Mythos, the Greek national beer, walking through a square to get there that we dubbed “Hooker Square” – I’m sure y’all can guess why. May 1st dawned hot and sunny, but unbeknownst to us, it’s also Greek Labor Day. That means everything, including the Acropolis = closed. And we were leaving the next morning for Santorini. So we walked around dejectedly instead, drank some more beers, ate some more gyros, and saw 1) a kitty with its legs broken, dragging its body across a piece of plywood, and 2) a bar fight, and I mean FIGHT, right outside our hostel, where 5 dudes chased one guy down and started punching/kicking and hitting him with a bat. We told the front-desk guy at our hotel, and his response was “well, maybe it’s because of the football.” That was it. We didn’t see a chalk outline the next morning though, so I guess he lived. We changed our plans to come back on the early ferry on the 6th though, so we could see the Acropolis. Pictures, as always, to come when I can figure out the upload process.