Jill's African Adventure
* The Long Road to Malawi: Part 2
* The Long Road to Malawi: Part 1
* Parc National des Volcans
* Kibale Forest
* Back and Forth from Kampala
* Rafting the Nile
* Murchison Falls
* A Day in The Life
* Hell's Gate
* Nairobi and Around (Part 2)
* Nairobi and Around (Part 1)
* A Dhow Trip From Lamu
* Watamu: Ruins, Monkeys, Shrews, and Jellyfish
* Hiking in Lushoto
* Changing E-mail Address
* The Problems of Itete
* Village Life
* Hanging Out in Dar
June 22, 2005
The Long Road to Malawi: Part 1
I have now visited four of the five countries that Lonely Planet considers to be part of East Africa. (And when it comes to East Africa travel, Lonely Planet is pretty much the only game in town.) The one country left is Burundi and since I wish to arrive back home in one piece, I will not be going there on this trip. It is time to move on to Southern Africa: next stop Malawi.
Sort of. I have to get there first and that is proving to be a bit time consuming. In order to get transport on to Malawi I need to reach Mbeya, Tanzania. I left Rwanda about 2 weeks ago and went to Uganda. Due to poor infrastructure, getting to Tanzania from Rwanda is actually most easily accomplished by going through Uganda first. My bus ride to Kampala was uneventful, although the lead article in the newspaper I bought to entertain myself on the ride was that about 30 people had been killed in a bus accident on the route I was travelling just a few days before. But I arrived safe and sound and it was nice to arrive back into a place with which I was already familiar. I spent two days in Kampala enjoying the backpackers scene suspecting that it would disappear as soon as I got on the bus to Tanzania.
My suspicions have thus far proved to be correct. I haven't met another travellers since I left my hostel to go to the bus. Well, maybe the crazy Chinese couple, but more on them later. (I have met many mzungu though, but all are working here.) I arrived in Bukoba, Tanzania on the Western shore of Lake Victoria without incident. In fact, unlike some of the Ugandans on the bus with me, I was not hassled at all at the border.
Bukoba is a pleasant little city. I got to enjoy eating fresh yoghurt and walking along the shores of Lake Victoria, watching the locals playing football (and I mean real football of course, not American football). The locals have recently set up some cultural tourism programs in the area, which, unfortunately I did not find out about until the morning that I was leaving. It would have been nice to visit a village, eat some local food, and watch a blacksmith at work. I did, however, get to visit a nice little museum where I learned about how cloth can be made out of bark -- a very laborious process resulting in cloth that cannot be washed. It used to be widely used, but since the arrival of western clothing is now only used ceremonially. There was also a large collection of beautiful wildlife photographs documenting the fauna and flora of the region.
From Bukoba, I took a night ferry to Mwanza on the Eastern shore of Lake Victoria. The highlight of the ferry ride was the fish market. At around 11pm we stopped at a port and on the dock, and in many canoes surrounding our ferry, were fishsellers. There were tons of them and it was a crazy scene. The sellers had bunches of fish (mostly Tilapia) tied together with string. From the docks they would pass the fish over to the passengers on the ferry. Often they would gut the fish first: the kids (many of them were probably 13 or 14) were so quick that I was amazed no one sliced off any fingers. Sometimes the fishsellers would climb over into the ferry to complete the sale. From the canoes, the men would take the bunches of fish and hang them off the ends of their pointy paddles in order to pass them in to the passengers on the ferry. The passengers would then place their money on the flat of the oar. Just by being there, I provided all assembled with some entertainment. Many of the fish sellers tried to sell to me and many people found this and my reply, "sihitaji - I don't need" to be quite funny. One of the boys involved in the fish-gutting was born to be an entertainer. He wanted me to take a bunch of pictures of him and really hammed it up for the camera. Alas, he will probably be a fish-seller for the rest of his life...
We arrived in Mwanza early the next morning. Mwanza is, I think, I very pleasant city despite the fact that there is not much to do there. From Mwanza one can get on a train which will take them all the way to Dar es Salaam. If you look at a map, it may appear that Dar is out of the way for one going to Mbeya and Malawi, but in reality getting to Dar is a necessary step. I was quite dismayed, therefore, to discover that first class on the train was booked through July 5th and 2nd class was booked up for a week. For a 36 hour train ride (as it is scheduled, but this is Africa where everything takes longer), I did not want to be in 3rd class or 2nd class sitting. My only other option was to take a bus to Dar, but the bus is about 30 hours long and passes back through Kenya. Having already been on much of that route and much preferring train travel I decided to just wait a week and get a train ticket. I was quite concerned about what I would do in Mwanza for a week, but I need not have worried.
That night while eating dinner I met the director of a local orphanage. This is not all that unusual of a thing. They see a mzungu and they think: money!!! At first I politely declined to look at his photos, but then I remembered that World Juggling Day was in a few days and that I had been thinking I would like to juggle for the kids at an orphanage to celebrate if the opportunity arose. And here was opportunity knocking. The director was happy to have me stop by the orphanage to juggle. It was a good morning. After the kids had their breakfast they were assembled in their rec room. I juggled for them for about five minutes -- to much applause. I then had tossed one beanbag to the kids and had them throw it back into me to juggle. This degraded into fighting over the beanbag in a record amount of time - about five minutes. This is not too surprising considering the orphanage has nearly 50 kids. (In a 3 bedroom house -- they sleep 3 to a bed.) I then had some of the adults organize the kids into a line and took turns "passing" beanbags with them which they though was great fun. This must have gone on for about 20 minutes. Fairly soon, however, things degraded into chaos. The Canadian volunteer working there and I organized the kids into a game of hot potato with one of the beanbags and it was a big hit. After that chaos was allowed to rule. Some of the kids danced, some played football, and others just ran around. It was a fun morning, but the people who work there must be saints. After a few hours I had had about as much of the chaos and noise as I could take. Did I mention that it was chaotic? Still, it is a really good place for the kids: they get to stay off the street, go to school, have some adult attention, and eat three meals a day. Which is a lot more than can be said for many children here.
The day after visiting the orphanage I visited Saa Nane Island Reserve, which is about a 15 minute ferry ride away from Mwanza. Interesting events started on the ticket line. In addition to a ferry ticket, you must pay in order to bring a camera with you. Regular cameras were 500Tsh (about $0.50) and video cameras were 1000Tsh. There was a Chinese couple who had a big camera bag which said "Video" on it. And they said they had a regular camera. Unsurprisingly, the ticket seller did not believe them and asked to see the camera. The man got really angry and started yelling that the sign didn't say that they had a right to search your bags and that no one else's camera was being checked so he wouldn't show his camera. The ticket seller then handed back their money and said that if he couldn't see the camera they couldn't get a ferry ticket. The man started yelling about how it was a violation of his human rights and that he was going to complain to the Chinese government! It was crazy. They must have spent almost 10 minutes arguing without resolving anything before I was able to buy a ticket and go down to the ferry. I'm not sure what the eventual resolution as, but the couple did eventually get on the ferry. And I did later see them with an ordinary camera. Although it was really small compared to the size of the bag...
The island was very beautiful. Lot of great lake views, hills with huge boulders, and a lot of grasslands with yellow-green grasses as tall as I. The wildlife was also diverse and enjoyable (except for the few caged animals). There was a wide variety of birds (my favorites were the red and gray ones) and lizards galore. The lizards came in a variety of colors, but mostly variations of grays. One type of lizard, however, was about 10 inches long and had bright pink heads and blue bodies. It was fun to watch the lizards running and jumping. It is amazing how quickly they can move and how far they can jump.
The highlight of my day, however, was watching the impala on the island. My first sighting of them occurred as I walked around a boulder and saw two males on an opposite hill staring at me. I stayed still and eventually they got over their fright and started eating. As they moved around I caught sight of a few more. There were at least four males -- not a bad size for a bachelor herd. I watched them for a little while and then continued on. Later in the day I was walking on a path through some tall grasses and then all of a sudden there was a clearing with a whole bunch of impala in it, about 15 or so feet away. They were more startled than I was and ran off into the grasses, but not far. I could just barely see them through the grass and watched them. (It is really amazing how quickly an animal can disappear in the grasses. It is easy to imagine how an animal would not see a predator coming.) The male was watching me, but most of the females were eating. I think that there were about six in total, but it was impossible to be sure. At least one was a juvenile. Twice, one of the impala made a vocalization which I believe meant that it did not want me around. Both times I moved a little bit away. I thought that if they were truly scared they would run away, but the male had big horns and I didn't want to take any chances.
Posted by Jillian on June 22, 2005 10:29 AM
Category: East Africa
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