Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to Get Around Moshi, Tanzania

Here is what I send to all new Volunteers going to moshi:

Internet Map of Moshi :

Taifa Rd: This is the major highway road that connects Moshi to Arusha and Dar Es Salaam. It is two lanes and is also the road that goes back to CCS Karanga. Karanga is several kilometers in the direction toward Arusha.

Best place for internet in town : two doors down from "The Cafe". Location marked by "S4" on the map. Mtaa wa KILMA rd between Market and Double Rd (also known as Mawenzi Rd) They don't have viruses on their computers. There is also a place that sells USB keys and other digital camera and electronic equipment - 1st world quality over on the street across from the mandela bank, on arusha and market street. (I think - my memory may be office but ask around and you'll find someone who knows) The owners are from Dubai.

Post office: is located near the Roundabout Circle, denoted as P.O. on the map and close to Kahawa house. Western Union is located across the street from the Post office. EMS courier post also available for shipping behind the Post office. Shipping packages to USA will cost about 50,000 TSH per pound air mail. Be sure to cover your packages entirely in brown paper or they will not accept.

WEECE volunteer placement:
 is on Sokoine Rd, north of Kilimanjaro Rd ... and is on the way to KCMC,. If you want to hitch a dala from Moshi town to WEECE, just ask for one going to KCMC - the major hospital in the area. From Weece to Moshi - you can get a dalad ala easily, just make sure they're going to moshi town - mawenzi bus station is THE major bus central station that gets you everywhere. Also where most of the taxis are. Kilimanjaro Rd, btw, is quite beautiful in winter, lined with their "christmas trees"

 This is the major hotel and shopping district, where all the tailors are located. There is a very good tailor at the corner near the kindoroko. Next door to the kindoroko is the Taj Mahal; the best local zanzibar pizza and BBQ at night time only. The owner is great and from Zanzibar originally. It is also a good place to be dropped off in town. It is located at the cross roads of Chagga Street and double street. There is a cafe on Chagga street but this is not "The CAFE" i was referring to above.

ATM/Foreign Exhange: Barclay's Bank ATM is located across the street from the Kindoroko. The best rates for Foreign Exchange is on Chagga Street, across from the Kindoroko.

Retail: Leather goods sold at Shah Leather goods. Also, several kilometers away from town toward Majengo on the Taifa, you can find great tailoring that beats the street tailors. Take a cab or dala dala. Great Business model. Forgot the name of the tailor but there is a sign in the shape of Africa outside.

Hotels: If you want to stay in town after CCS, I would recommend Bristol Cottages. Really nice, centrally located and amazingly quiet in town. Well managed.

Taxi/DalaDala :
 Taxis from Town to CCS Karanga should cost no more than 5000 TSH. Daladalas cost less and they will drop you off in front of the prison on Taifa road. then you need to walk down the dirt rd to CCS.

Corrections welcome.

All information effective as of January 2009. Updates are welcome!

Be sure to Print this out & Pass it on to other volunteers ............

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Final Notes from nearly 5 months in Africa

Since reaching America I've noticed:
  • Food tastes like crap. starbucks tastes like water and the milk terrible and flat. I had to hold a chocolate muffin to my nose, literally to smell it. nothings really 100% organic here, even though its labeled as such
  • Everyone does their own thing and doesn't stare at me anymore.
  • There are rules. Lots and lots of rules. Everyone lives in a box. And with a clock. and is super dependent on electricity.
  • Clean and antiseptic. My feet are clean for once.
  • Some people make a lot of assumptions about Africa; they've never been there but assume they know what it is, including telling me what I should think about the continent after several months there. Eh, to each their own.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading if you've been doing so the whole time. There is always going to be that story I can't tell online. Actually a good part of everything I did in Africa I did not write about here. But if you know me, and want to hear, I'll be glad to share it sometime.

But, until then,

Tchau. Kwa heri. Au revoir. مع السلامة. Adios amigos.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Arab, Euro, African Collision

The worst hour of the day for a plane flight.

A word about the Accra airport at 2:00 am... There is hardly anyone awake, and because I was early for my flight - the only flight that leaves after midnight from Accra - the customs line was completely deserted and silent.

Am I supposed to walk straight through and not get my passport stamped? I wander through to security, where two guards are cracking jokes and playing poker.

"No ladyee, you have to go back to customs..."

I protest, "But nobody is there!"

"Yes there is, you just gotta go back there and find them!"

I walk back to the customs area and hear nothing but the sound of dripping rain from ceiling to bucket and the faint hum, no wait - Snoring!?! From this angle, I see a foot sticking out from behind the customs booth. And, as I get closer, I see one mattress.

And then, two, three, more mattresses on the floor, each with a customs agent barefooted, snoring and sprawled out on top!!!

So here I am, unbelievably kicking the nearest agents' mattress and hissing, "helloooooo I need to exit Ghana, can you please stamp my passport?"

The tiny male agent - only about 5 feet or so - finally gets up and wobbles around in a drunken sleep stupor, pops his hat on sideways and wanders to one booth, only to find that it's not his booth.

Then he steps to the adjacent booth, realizes he's missing his stamp and then wanders back to his neighbors' booth fumbling around for the right stamp. Finally after 5 minutes of fumbling and bumbling he stamps my book and collapses back in a heap on his mattress.

Security was a no brainer after that.

Oh my Word. Only in Africa, I suppose.



Royal Air Maroc leaves Accra, Ghana at 3:40 AM, then hops over to Coutonou, Benin, a 50 minute flight before flying back to Casablanca and arriving at 9:30 am. We land in Coutonou somewhere around 4 am... the plane doesn't take off again for a while, until maybe 5 or 6? Then the lights go off. Some hours later, I am rudely shoved awake and the tray table slams down - "Le Petit Dejuener!" I am barked at to eat breakfast.

So in one night, I am rudely awaked 3 times, and exhausted from the heat, then the cold, and the shuffle. Horrible ordeal. I will give credit to Air Maroc - their planes are clean, fairly well maintained and the staff speak french, arabic and english. Although the english at 4 am is so fast and slurred sometimes I can't even understand it.

We arrive at Casablanca airport and immediately the difference is there; its much like a european airport. Few people on this flight are actually disembarking here; most are connecting.

One Ghanian complains about lost luggage... they seem to lose the luggage here a lot. It took me nearly 2 hrs to get my luggage. He got his earlier, and it was lock broken, thoroughly searched. I know my pack was checked in at the same time; there is no reason for me not to get it. I know they are testing my patience. So I wait.

It pays off. I get my luggage by 11:30 am from the transit staff who look at me sheepishly. Much of the conversation is french/arabic. They are a bit standoffish. a lot of angry people waiting for their luggage. The line is long. I am ready to fall asleep.

I decide to take the train into casa from the airport - its well connected, convenient. Most people who run businesses speak english these days, with a few of the older generation speaking french only. it pays to know french, even if its really bad. The train costs only 35 Dhrm into the city, instead of 300 Dhrms by taxi.

At this time of year, march, morocco is really green, pastoral.


The train dumps in the city at this station called Casa Voyageurs. It is maddness again, but with light skinned people; they are suddenly hassling us, demanding where to go. I am really fed up. I just want to get to a place and sleep. I don't care and I end up paying probably triple? but after all of that it doesn't even matter anymore. There are two classes of taxis, the small red ones should operate on meters but they harass tourists that have no idea with a prix fixe. With the french influence, these taxis are all tiny renaults with a flat yellow sign on top that reads "Petit Taxi" in french and arabic.

The taxi driver is a little bit of an old kook. He doesn't know where we're going, even though he has the address. We drive across the streets and half way across a main boulevard he slams on the breaks to avoid two giant white horses, completely decked out with arabian seat covers, and a old man and a young boy riding each in traditional moroccan costume. We detour and drive into this area with lots of arches and shops. He pulls aside and says ' wait here '. I am dazed. There are people sitting in a cafe drinking coffee on one side, with silverware and rugs for sale. On the other side a donkey tries to squeeze by in a street that really looks like its meant for pedestrians only. 2 minutes pass and he's back. We drive on, through twisted streets and then on to large boulevards. All the buildlings here are white, they look a little like the ones in Dar es Salaam but in much better condition. And the climate for me, is livable and breathable - it is dry, cool.


I don't spend much time in casa, actually spend most of it trying to catch up on sleep. I only head to the mall to get some toothpaste and that is it. Just walking around - It is really hard to tell who is or isn't a moroccan. A few times Spanish or Moroccan could be interchangeable. Lots of dark swarthy looking men. Arabic looking women.

I'm on the train to Marrakesh the next day. Its a 3 hr ride south. I meet two extremely tall dutch guys who are also going there. An older brother and his younger teenage step brother. We have two hours to kill and they tell me stories of traveling through Turkey.

In contrast to the overcast cloudly and mildly polluted casablanca, Marrakesh's sunny mediterranean climate is a welcome change.

We get to Marrakesh and these two brothers look kind of lost. I know where I want to go; there is a great hostel here called Equity Point - which actually in my opinion is probably the best place I stayed, period. It is really more like a Riad, than anything else. The taxi driver is demanding 50 Dhms. I am saying, are you kidding. The two brothers look at me like they don't know how to negotiate. I keep bargaining. The guy is a hard head. I get him finally to agree to take us for 40. It should be 20-30. And I know with my directions that he can't get us to the door; I'm staying in an area where no cars are allowed, close to the famous Djemma el-fna.

Djemma el-fna.

Completely blew away my expectations.

This is a place to get lost. if you uncertainty bothers you; it might be a good idea not to travel here... The real life turns up after dark. That's when all the food stands pop open. everything from Tajine, shish kabobs, snail soup, sheep heads, to chocolate mousse, carts full of french pasteries.... you can sit here and eat forever. The food is delicious, and cooked right in front of you. Of course the sweets are good - a lot of french influence on the cuisine.
Plus, the entertainment.... it is a veritable circus of sensory delights: snake charmers, henna artists, story tellers, belly dancers, drummers, bands, people in traditional costumes strutting around, shishas blowing about. If you get bored by the happenings in the middle of the square you can always entertain yourself by shopping in the maze of souks surrounding the medina. There are spice racks, dried fruit stands, orange juice vendors, artisianal pottery, everything moroccan.

What amazes me, is despite all the foot traffic, the streets are really clean, well lit and safe to wander around. A little crowded at times, with the motorbikes, vespas, donkey carts and pedestrians all competing to get by. But it adds so much character to the place. Its not just for tourists, locals come to the souks and eat in the Djemma. Some of the storytellers, herbal fetish vendors tell their tales completely in arabic, and are surrounded by moroccans listening anxiously; of what I don't know, unfortunately.

The people, amazingly diverse, friendly. The women are allowed to dress liberally, or traditionally, their choice. As with most islamic countries you have the call to worship from the minarets, but its not "in-your-face" like it was in tanzania. They don't blast it so loudly you can't sleep. In fact, I didn't have a hard time sleeping there at all.

I did get sick for one day unfortunately. The second morning in marrakesh I ran a fever. I was really scared at first, because I wasn't sure if it was malaria from ghana. But after several liters of water, rest, and tabs of the local vitamin c fortified asprin, I was better within 15 hrs or so. We hit the hammam the next day when I felt better; this was a really neat experience - to be scrubbed, steamed and massaged in a bath house with other women; a tradition here.

DSCN1997 If I could trade another 2,3,4 weeks to stay here in morocco, I would. But, plans change.... I promise myself I am going to come back here to finish my visit someday.

My plane leaves for the states from Casablanca. On my return trip, when I get to the train station, I ask for a metered taxi. In fact, I start demanding it and everything en francais - " Il faut que vous tournez le conteur ou ..... pas irai!". The minute I say it - all the hassling taxi drivers look the other way. Some shake their heads. Plus, I only want to go a short ways. No interest. Aha! I keep asking for it, and finally get one that will take me. He has another lady in the back seat and appears to group his rides....

After confirming where I want to go, he runs off to get some change and says he'll be back in a minute. A hear a small voice from the back of the taxi, she says "er, Do you speak English?"


Ah, yes! wow, do I speak english? So I find out that the lady in the taxi is actually a local casablancan - who insists on a meter - because they would otherwise overcharge. I tell her I came from Marrakesh, and she actually the same - She asks how long, and I said I was only here for 5 days. She said it was too short. 5 days is too short for Marrakesh. Wow. I feel the same. I could spend a month in Marrakesh and it would make me happy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Americans, History & Ghana

DSCN1698Akwaaba. Welcome to Ghana, is what the sign at the airport says. I arrive with a bit of intrepidation because I have NO idea what Ghana is like. Except that I know that Marci has moved here recently. Something about traveling for several month just emboldens a person lots so you forget the "what-ifs" and just go.

The plane is freezing cold but the minute off the flight; it is a goddamn sauna. And it's nearing midnight. Customs is long; there's a separate line for ECOWAS, but even the south african shuffle though that line for West Africans; so typical I think to myself. The taxi drivers don't know where my hostel is. So Typical. But I am prepared. Armored with info. I figured this as much because I had the same trouble in Pretoria a week ago. I have to read the directions and simultaneously get smothered and hit on by the taxi driver. It is all in good fun. I just roll my eyes. Just get me there. No more talking please. I need sleep.


I think of East africa, and I brace myself for the hassle in the streets, touts and people following me anywhere. BUT - it doesn't happen here in Accra. ok, maybe only 10x less. I will explain why .

It is a lot hotter here in Ghana than it was in East Africa. I don't know if it has anything to do with the time of year but apparently this isn't the rainy season. 91 degrees Farenheit on average every day in ridiculous humidity. Rain is sporadic, and it doesn't stay wet long. People run around the street with bags of plastic water stuffed in their mouth as they work on the streets. Water in bags. Ice cream is also sold in bags. Of course you can get it in a bottle or in a box, but the cheap stuff is all in a bag. People chew off a corner of the sack, spit it out and then walk around with a bag stuck to their mouth.

These bags of water, ice cream, and more are all sold in traffic to ward off the heat. Accra has a huge traffic congestion problem. By midday expect most of the major streets through the city centre to be bumper to bumper. Cars, trucks, trotros, coaches, back to back and neck to neck. With a large percentage of the population unemployed many people make their living hawking goods on the street, as in many parts of africa. But compared to east africa, I have never seen such a large group of people and with so many diverse items sold in traffic. They really take advantage of the standstill traffic to sell stuff to people sweltering in the heat. You can buy everything in traffic.... super glue, socks, pants, notebooks, laptop cases, french-english translation dictionaries, chips, popcorn, lunch, drinks, flags of the USA, Canada, australia, ... they seem to like americans a lot here.

You just die in the heat. I fork out a 5 Cedi bill for a giant bottle of water. 4 Cedis come back through the window. I give the driver 3 Cedis, "that's for you" I said. The driver is sweating buckets, and the 3 Cedis go back out the window to buy several packs of ice cream and water. Ah, so that's where your money goes. I lay in the back, and wish for some air conditioning now.....

Accra has become a major business center. Also, LOTS of expatriates here. Tons of volunteers, peace corps, university students from abroad, hospital exchange programs, business people from the USA, Canada, Lebanon, India.... etc etc. It's a very safe city. The traffic can be a bit hectic and of course you have tro-tros ( their bus-taxi equivalent ) but I feel a heck of lot calmer here. People are pretty easy to deal with you don't have as much inflated prices for foreigners (oboroni - person who comes from beyond the horizon). In fact, I got into a tro-tro today and paid the guy 20 pesewas, and he gave me 5 back in change. I didn't want the change. I gave the 5 back to him. They see so many volunteers, business people and academics who come to study abroard, they don't bother trying to hawk more money from foreigners. Unless it is a taxi driver and a few people selling goods in more touristy markets.

But as a whole there isn't much tourism here; there isn't the draw you get for east africa, because most of the animals have been killed off. People come here for different reasons. They come for the drumming, the music, the culture, and the people. The people here are very nice, and it's really safe. It's squeezed in between several francophone countries; you can hop across the border to Togo, Cote d'ivoire and they're completely french.

The money here was recently revalued and the current exchange is 1.4 Ghana Cedi's to 1 USD. 100 pesewas make up 1 Cedi.

Accra is an odd place. Before independence, it was a British colony. But here they don't drive on the other side of the road. They drive on the same side as we do in the states. And everybody speaks English.

However, despite the English; few people here know where anything is. Is it the accent? No, because they know where major landmarks are. But once you start getting specific, like street names, places that are new or off the beaten track, they look at you and say they have no idea. After a week or so, it's not that they don't understand you; they really don't know street names.

The people here - they remember places. they remember circles, big places, gas stations, supermarkets. But they don't know the name of the street, or the number on the buildings. Taxi drivers will just look at you blankly and drive past if they don't know where you want to go. No, you don't want to make any money today?, I say. Funny.
Cape Coast
A must see if you are interested in African American history. This town was once the capital of Ghana. In the colonial days, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast. Literally there is gold here, underfoot. Ghana also produces a tremendous amount of cocoa, like its next door neighbor, Cote d'ivoire. But, despite this, you won't find a lot of chocolate made here; most of the chocolate is made in belgium, switzerland. Something about politics and subsidies and facilities. I won't get into that here.

Every major european country wanted a piece of Cape Coast - they fought endless wars over it. Strategically it was really valuable. It was the major hub for the slave trade to the americas and the caribbean. The dutch, The portugese, the french, the swedes, the british.... eventually the british got it and controlled it and built this fort to export slaves, a place called Cape Coast Castle. Its' actually a well built fort; and honestly after seeing Zanzibar, the space that the british kept slaves in appeared to be a lot better than Stone Town Zanzibar. That's the one thing I hated about stone town; i went to a lot of the historical sites and through the winding streets. It had such a contorted twisted horrible feel to it. It really left me uneasy, sick. The arabs traded slaves there as well; to where I don't know.

Some americans come every year to visit cape coast castle, and place rememberances there within the slave dungeons. As for celebrities; word has it that Serena Williams visits Elimina every year - another fort/town about 10km from Cape Coast.

But, as for Independence from colonialism.... the roots started here in Ghana. Ghana won independence in 1957, on March 06. Last friday was the 52nd year of independence. Independence celebrations are like the US, a bit more subdued.... but they do deck out the entire stadium and downtown and have a giant parade. People are very patriotic, lots of gold, red and green. The first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkurmah is known for inspirating Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the USA. Also, W.E.B Dubois - first black american to graduate from Harvard is buried here. He actually moved here in the last two years of life to work on chronicles of african countries and to work on "pan-africanism". They were really trying to build a united Africa - one africa, not the africa like you see today with many small countries, cut up along colonial divisions... What they wanted was something massive like how China is. But unfortunately there was a lot of fall out. Also Nkurmah was exiled in his last days, some say because of mismangement, but others say because it was a CIA plot.... of the interesting characters I've met, I heard that from the son of the guy who worked as Nkurmah's personal press - reporter. How true I don't know.

Cape Coast is a small town and actually pleasant to walk around....admist the goats wandering the street and the sewage, but that's another matter. It is significantly cooler than accra, and little traffic. Outside of Accra it can be difficult to get around because there aren't as many trotros and you have to take a taxi, which adds up fast.

My gut feeling is that Ghana is still extremely valuable as a strategic point for the US. I went past the US embassy and it is one monster of a structure. Really ridiculous how obscenely big it is. Also ran into some marine corp soldiers, although they weren't soldiers...they were the marine corps band! Their only purpose - the entertain the troops. Thanks. so that's were our tax payer dollars are going.

If I had more time, I would have traveled north to Kumasi; they say there is a huge market there, and people say you can see more of the traditional ashanti culture there; although the bus ride was 5 hrs and I was too lame for that.... and then further north to Larabanga. Larabanga is one of the oldest mud structures - it is a mosque, and is known as the Mecca of West Africa.


I'm getting a bit tired of traveling. Being here in Ghana is making me somewhat immune to really enjoying africa, I feel like I've seen enough of the same thing over and over again.

Originally I had planned to go home 2 weeks ago, after vic falls. I extended it to come to Ghana. Really ready for something else, preferably home? Originally I was considering a border hop to see more of Francophone west africa - to lome in Togo, but I am so tired I'm staying put here in Accra for a few more days. My plane leaves to Casablanca on Saturday night at 3am - that's tonight.. Not looking forward to that.

I had plans to go through Europe before heading back. But the last couple of days have been lethargic..........I can't describe it - perhaps its the weather here, but I don't have the energy to go exploring, to brave the maddness of the crowds, the excitment isn't there, I have seen TOO much africa, yet at the same time, I am realizing, ironically how LITTLE of africa I actually have seen.

I am feeling really lucky that I've been able to see so much so far, but at the same time; I think I have overdosed on shooting from the hip and "just going".

Keep in mind, all of the traveling I've done since the beginning of this year has been ALONE.


Nobody is going to any place with me. Scary thought. It's so dangerous, people say - that continent africa. But its not entirely, you *can* be safe and just play it by ear. Talk to lots of travelers. Look dirt poor. Pretend that you work for the Peace Corps or just look the part. Some people think I'm nuts. Sometimes I think the same. But the rewards of doing this by yourself is really great - reap massive rewards. And see what you really want to see. Meet lots of really interesting and great people along the way. Make some awesome friends. Feel crummy when you have to part your ways. And then meet some crazies along the way. Feel relieved when you get to ditch them. And not feel guilty.

Things you learn on the road, you can never learn in school. And I mean it. 4 freaking years of university education will never teach you how to live like this, and how other people live in different parts of the world. An education from books won't teach you how to shoot from the hip; move to another place when ever you feel like it. Or to deal with touts, and the hassle and to qualify travelers and people on the road at the drop of a hat. You learn to go with your gut. And to listen to the locals and to find out what's there under the surface that the ordinary tourist doesn't want to know or doesn't care to know. There are days when I've literally packed up at 4pm and decided to haul ass to the next town instead of staying here because word is, the party's better over there. haha. Feel the freedom of not having to be locked down in one stupid country with one stupid set of rules that you might not like today.

Unfortunately my curiousity is dying. I just crashed this week. Hard. I have one more place I must absolutely see, and then...I caved. I have mixed feelings about returning to the states. But you know, there is no place like home. Today I just booked all my tix home. Yes, this whole time --- I have no valid return ticket. Until now.


A week to kill, so I go visit Soweto and the Swazis

Week of February 21 - 28

I get super lucky and manage to get all my paperwork in on monday morning for my visa to Ghana. It says 3 working days, but like everything here, it would be longer. So I budgeted a week to stay in South Africa. I can get my visa back within 24 hrs, actually for an extra 20 USD.
With time to kill, I get out of Pretoria to Swaziland, now that I have a passport.


It looks like South Africa but is governed separately. There is also a swazi king who gets to pick a new wife later this year. He already has a dozen or so wives. While the government is independent from RSA, they still share a lot of the same infrastructure. One thing that is obvious though is that swaziland is a very homogeneous culture. They all speak their own language - swazi and take pride in being an independent nation. There are plenty of NGOs that work with local communities in various crafts to help provide a living to large groups of people. The money is different but it has the same value as the rand. I meet some peace corp workers on break. I hear they get updates on their cell phones for potentially dangerous places to avoid in swaziland.


I did a short tour of soweto before climbing on my flight to accra. We learn about the history and its role in the anti-apartheid movement from our guide. Later we visit a museum named after a young boy called Hector. He was one of the kids in 1976 that was gunned down by the police because he didn't want to learn Afrikaans in school. Really horrifying the stories and documentaries. Afrikaans, a language that is similar to and created by the dutch settlers, was forced upon the colored & black populations as a form of control. We also saw desmond tutus and nelson mandelas homes. Very touristy - tutu's backyard.

Some short notes about Zambia

While I was in Vic Falls, I did the border cross to Zambia in order to get supplies, like food, money, etc.

Because of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, there isn't much to buy on the street. Most of the people cart stuff over the border

Seen at the border: Long line leaving Zim. Short line going back in. The border post has a special offer - no cost- for nationals who want to cross over to zambia for the day before 6am. Apparently so many have been going back and forth over the border to get goods from Zambia, they were trying to divert traffic.

By 10am, the border on the Zim side was packed. Waited about 2 hrs to get over to the other side. No touts, few money changers and relatively peaceful. The most excitement we got were from some of the baboons who kept running around trying to steal bread from people's bikes and bags.

The distance between the two border posts is pretty long. I would estimate that it is a 1km walk between the two, but I could be wrong because it was so hot.

It is cheaper for americans to enter Zimbabwe and then go to Zambia, then the reverse.

If you enter Zimbabwe, the USA single entry is 30 USD or 210 Rands (21USD).
Once you are in Zimbabwe, to enter Zambia it is only 20 USD for a day visa. They didn't even look twice at my visa on my way back into Zimbabwe and didn't ask for anything.

If you enter Zambia, the Visa is 50USD, and then to cross the border to Zimbabwe, it is another 50 USD.

You can walk the crossing, which includes the bridge over Vic Falls, and do a bungee jump along the way, or be lazy and cab it over to the Zambia side. Once you are past the Zambia border check, it's a taxi for about 2-3 USD to get to Livingstone, the nearest major town in Zambia.

During my walk across, I meet a woman who from Zimbabwe - she lives halfway between Harare and Bulawayo and is on her way to spend a month working/living in Namibia. There are a lot of people who are doing this. I help her carry her bags across the border. From talking to her, I'd estimate that probably a good 80% of the country has exited to any of the 5-6 neighboring countries for either temporary or permanent work.

I'm not familiar with livingstone, but she is; so we split a taxi over to the town. I ask for a place to shop and an ATM, she points me out to this giant 1st world market thing that looks like a Stop and Shop. I'm like um.... that's ok. we have plenty of those in the states. Let's go straight to town. So that's what we do. She is going to take the bus from Livingstone to Windhoek and then go from there.

There are nice commercial markets in Livingston. It is fairly busy and business is good. Tons of taxi drivers and a thriving market. I also visit a local market and hunt around for items. It is cleaner than the ones in east africa. I stumble across a zambian that actually speaks Swahili. Which is fair, since the tanzanian border is not that far away. I buy a lock from him because I lost mine. In contrast, the Zimbabweans that I run into haven't heard of sounds like chinese to them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zimbabwe: What I saw.


For all the god given shit the media has given it.

Things heard from some American and Canadian travelers:

“I heard the situation in Zimbabwe was bad, so we went to the Zambia side. I did the gorge swing and hit Zimbabwe for a few seconds before going back to Zambia.”

“I heard you could get cholera in Zimbabwe, so I’d avoid it. It’s a dangerous place”

“They are paying the white people to leave Zimbabwe so it must be very bad and nasty”

“Nobody should go to Zimbabwe right now, the situation is really awful and the country is falling apart.”

“We thought about going to Zimbabwe to go see Victoria Falls, but we heard the situation was bad and the we had to bring American dollars and that there wasn’t a good way to get money or supplies there so we went to Zambia instead”

Things from an intrepid Australian traveler:

“I really enjoyed Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. It is definitely worth seeing. I didn’t have any problems. The Zimbabwe side is far more magnificent than the Zambian side. You can only see a very small part of it on the Zambia side.”

I went per advice of the Australian.

Here is the truth about my experience in Zimbabwe.

I was lame and flew from Windhoek to Vic Falls, making a conscious choice to skip Botswana. As per word of mouth, Botswana has too many white people, its just another south Africa. And lots of mosquitoes this time of year. One person was bitten so badly in the Okavango delta that I thought he had a bad rash. No just that many mosquito bites. I shrudder at the thought.

Coming into Zimbabwe, the VISA for US Citizens is 210 Rands (the equivalent of 21 USD) for a single entry. I hopped over the border to Zambia for 1 day, 20 USD. Coming back in, they didn’t ask for any fee.

In contrast, going into Zambia, the VISA is 50 USD for US Citizens. To hop the border to Zimbabwe, it costs 50 USD for 1 day.

From the Zimbabwe side you can see the initial gorge at the start of the falls and walk along the entire span of the 3 sections of Vic Falls, or Mosi-o-Tunya ( aka Smoke that Thunders). In contrast, you can only see one section of the falls from the Zambia side. The border crossing to Zambia is a bridge from the other end of Vic falls and is truly an impressive sight. Vic Falls is nearly twice as long as Niagra falls. Unfortunately I have never been to Niagra, so I can’t compare…..

Number of Europeans, Asians, and Latin Americans I ran into in Zimbabwe: Plenty.
Number of Americans I ran into in Zimbabwe: ZERO

However, I am told an overland truck that had come in the month before, with some Americans.

There is a dearth of supplies in Zimbabwe.

Everywhere there is a shortage of supplies, even at the wimpy burger, they have only one kind of burger. I am hungry and I buy they have. I fork over a couple dozen Rand (South African currency). I get back change in mish mosh of US dollars and Rands. Such is the way currency is here. The shelves in the Airport are even bare.

Despite the problems, I hear locals talk about going by rail to Bulawayo. And that Cholera was surrounding Harare but other parts were fine. Hardly a case here in the 30km range near Vic falls. I want to stress the fact that rail here is running daily between Vic Falls and Bulawayo, not just carrying cargo but also trains carrying passengers. They don’t have this in Uganda, it fell apart years ago, the rail carting goods between Kampala and Mombasa. Talks are in effect to revive it but it sounds like years into the future before something will run.

One Hundred Million Zimbabwe dollars are sold as tourist items. It is laughable but these notes are also being resold on eBay for a good deal as a collectors item. They are probably worth less than 10 cents in USD by now, however. And yes, of course I bought one, generously for 4 USD. I felt bad. The guy had no money.

A year ago last February, I remember a guy raving about the lion walk he did on his safari in Africa. I had to try it because I remember. It is an experience to walk with lions. These are cubs still but not entirely babies… they are a few inches shorter than a fully grown great dane. I know this because Shoestrings has 2 great danes and they were taller but thinner in build than the lions I’d just walked with. Lions are really lazy after they eat the afternoon. But that is ok, I’d rather not be their meal!

As with anywhere in Africa, you have to watch your feet. Things are done at your own risk and you have to take safety measures into your own hands. If you aren’t fit, don’t try adrenaline activities because very surely you may get hurt. If you know your own body, you have an advantage. I decided to try my hand at white water rafting on the Zambezi. There are several of us, joining from a few overland tours and a guide. To get to the river gorge you have to nimbly crawl your way down a very steep, and rocky hill. One misstep and you’ll go sliding into rocks, dirt or worse yet twist or break something. I am terrified of going down hill, anywhere, anything. So slow was I going down. But give me a wave, and water, and I fear not.

At this time of the year (February), the gorge surrounding the rapids 11-23 in the Zambezi are extremely high towers of magnificently green and lush growth, nearly 1 kilometer high. You whirl around in a dingy like you’re in the middle of the waters in a JK Tolkien fable. I am told that within 2 weeks of rain, everything turns quickly from brown to green.

Everyone has a different fear. For some its heights, others, it’s water. The raft guides will warn you in advance about rough spots in the water but you have to swim hard to pull away from any strong eddies and whirlpools. Unfortunately, there was a guy in his 30s who wasn’t a strong swimmer and went overboard, crashing into the rocks. He couldn’t walk for a good while, smashing his knee and shin. From town, they managed to find 6 men to carry him back up the hill, and a damn steep hill it was. 750 meters from the bottom of the gorge to the very top. And you can’t stop when you climb back up, because if you do, the bees and wasps and whatever insects they may be will come bite or sting you. Painfully sweating, you just have to keep climbing straight up.

At Shoestrings lodge, the barman, Rodney, is a like a thin rendition of Bob Marley, with finely rolled but neatly kept dreads. Rodney and his pal pick up guitars and mess around with some chords. Some of the guitars are missing strings, but of course this is the way it is here. Supplies are tightly limited. His buddy saw my book on the table. He said, “Since you are reading ‘The Shadow of the Sun’, I think it should merit a song about Zimbabwe.” I feel somewhat honored to be entertained. There are so few people here and the locals are so bored. This is their watering hole and they find ways to amuse each other through banter, song and drink.

The two sing a sweet R&B song about “What did you see in Zimbabwe?”. Without any tourists in the sleepy late afternoon, just overland tour guides and a couple of locals. It makes for a good pause on big loafy coaches outside by the pool. In the back, two great danes poke around in the bush, chasing off baboons.

I am one of a handful of tourists staying at the Shoestrings lodge. Service is excellent and the company of locals that come every night is pleasant. Rodney makes a good DJ as well. There are plenty of young white Zimbabwe locals, and not all of them work in the tourism industry. I meet a graphic designer, a personal trainer and some cell phone company workers.

I do the tourist thing and go see the falls. There is a lot of water now and with the recent rainfall everything is a lush green. In the late summer months most vegetation turns brown or dies.

On the way to and from, the locals try to sell me goods on the street.

Its not reasonable to buy everything when approached. But how to deal with them is something I have yet to move past. So today, I speak to them in Swahili just for kicks. They are thoroughly confused. Look blankly at me. Some back off quickly. Others are more inquisitive. And I say, hey your cousins in the north, they speak this. This is akin to speaking to someone in Japanese when they only understand Korean. Haha! I explain it to a local. Do you speak Shonda and 100 other African languages, including Zulu? No, I did not think so. It would be wise to assume the same of me. And now they get it.

I hear from some locals that years ago, it was in reverse, Zambia wasn’t doing so well, and Zimbabwe was better, so the carting of goods happened in the opposite direction.

I meet two Americans in Pretoria who recently went to Vic Falls themselves. They tell me about some Canadians who were so terrified about walking around in Livingstone that they didn’t want to leave the hostel at all. Even walking in a group of six took some coercing. And yet, they were in Zambia. I hear similar stories from lodge managers who encounter female travelers that needed hair dryers and found out that there wasn’t anything of that sort available in budget lodges north of Zambia. Bottom line, if you feel that a hair dryer and normal toilets are a huge necessity, you’re not ready to come to East Africa. Please stay in Southern Africa. You’ll just be happier that way.

And yet, as a tourist destination, Vic Falls likely has its own economy, separate from the rest of the country in the upper corners, right next to the Zambia border. 30 km from the falls, you can look down the hill and just see green, green and more green. No high rises in sight. And if there are buildings, they are hidden in the vegetation until you get to a metropolis. And still the green dwarfs anything man made. The impression is that of an immense space of forest, bush that goes on as far as the eye can see. From the air it is nearly the same for hundreds of kilometers on end. Once in a while you see a flickr of something shiny, and that is a human settlement. Then it disappears again into green.

Some General Travel advice in Africa…..

Book things as you go. They are not only cheaper but I have found a wealth of better services and conveniences as you travel. Pre booking just doesn’t work very well here. You feel several things: Crunched for time. Screwed for additional money if you had to pay in advance. No flexibility in changing your itinerary. This goes for plane tickets, accommodation, tours. Traveling works best on weekends. Business is hard to do then because most places are closed then, and being on the road on a weekend is best because then you don’t miss out on anything and don’t have to worry until you get there.

For example, if you paid for a Mozambique visa in the USA it would cost 135 USD. Here in SA you can get one cheaply from a backpackers for just 85 Rand (8.50 USD).

Don’t worry about your plans tomorrow because that will only make you more worried. Time is not of essence here, only the experience is? Strange connotations are the only thing I can think of to describe it. When you get to where you are going, then figure out what you want to do next. Something that is really difficult for us westerners to do, but it works out better that way, counter-intuitively. Go with the flow, but also expect that not everyone is likely to know where you want to go, not even the cab driver or the local person on the street may know where you accommodation is, but that is ok because you’ll eventually find it, even if is several hours later. Raising your voice or cursing someone because you didn’t get what you wanted yesterday doesn’t work in your favor, if ever. And neither does locking yourself into an arrangement because then you can’t get out of it.

It took me about 2 months to really relax into thinking and traveling this way, and honestly if I had to leave to go home right now, I’d really be bummed. Go home? I can’t think of that now. No way. Bum.


At the backpackers, I learn from the receptionist Alfred, how few westerners really care to know about African culture.

Yes, South Africa in particular, may look like Europe, sound like Europe, taste like Europe, but its NOT. I mentioned to someone the other day how I keep getting odd flashes when I am walking around in South Africa that fool me into think that I am not on the Sub-saharan continent. It is deceptive, the roads, names, buildings, streets, shops, banks, people are so westernized here that I think for a moment I am somewhere in Europe, Australia or even the Americas.

Therein lies the problem. The danger lies in the illusion of safety.

At first glance, the inherent danger is not present, but only in the massive walls of barbed wire and high fences. The threat of being robbed is ever present. It is part of the culture; completely foreign to westerners, but the rational is clarified in one chapter written in 1967 from “The Shadow of the Sun”:

“I told him how I was continuously robbed. Suleiman considered this to be something completely normal. Theft is a method—admittedly unpleasant—of lessening inequality. It is good that they rob me, he declared. It can even be seen as a friendly gesture on the part of the perpetrators – their way of letting me know that I am useful, and, therefore, that they accept me. Basically, I can feel safe. Have I ever felt threatened here? No, I had to admit. Well, there you go! I will be safe here as long as I let myself be freely robbed. The moment I inform the police, and they start to pursue the thieves, is the moment I would be advised to move away.”

It takes a lot of digging to understand how different expectations are. I can’t claim to understand culture here, only a sliver of what people experience and what I read. But hopefully I will come away with a bit more than just getting the telescopic view through American media networks.

As one Afrikaaner put it “9/11 happens all the time in Africa. You just don’t read about it. It’s hidden away somewhere”

I read the same in “The Shadow of the Sun” - wars going on for generations, mass slaughter.

If there is only one book about African culture that I could recommend for the first time visitor to Africa, it would be “The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life” by Ryszard Kapusinsky. It is about more than the continent, it is about the underlying cultural forces that shape people's lives.  Written over several decades, short stories are based on personal encounters through the eyes of a polish reporter, beginning in the 1950s. In short, if you really want to understand Africa, you must read this book. Some defining quotations:

“Individualism is highly prized in Europe, and perhaps nowhere more so than America; in Africa, it is synonymous with unhappiness, with being accursed. African tradition is collectivist, for only in a harmonious group could one face the obstacles continually thrown up by nature. And on of the conditions of collective survival is the sharing of the smallest thing. One day a group of children surrounded me. I had a single piece of candy, which I placed in my open palm. The children stood motionless, staring. Finally, the oldest girl took the candy, bit it into pieces, and equitably distributed the bits.”

South Africa is probably one of the most racist places I’ve been, minus the deep south in the states. A Moroccan who has lived in a handful of different places across SA in the past 5 years speaks of the same. This is a place where a german-english boy can’t even date a Belgian girl without raising issues. The white people are exceptionally conservative and socially very segregated in parts. And despite this, there are still plenty of colored people. Especially in the North west, toward and into Namibia. The longer I am here, I hate to say this but African Americans really aren’t that black. They’re more like café lattes-- the Tyra Banks and Beyonces we see on tv. If you want to see really black black, come here, where they speak tribal languages and have their culture. But with the influx of goddamn American media, the culture I hear is rapidly disappearing, especially in the past 10 years, with MTV everywhere. I hear that employment in SA still has priority based on skin color, although now with black empowerment it is in the reverse of pre-apartheid… going from black first, then colored, then asian, then white. White people experience reverse discrimination, find it difficult to gain employment in certain sectors.

Travel can get monotonous especially on the road, if you’re not doing the driving.

Below I have compiled a Reading List that has kept me going during the long bus, plane, train rides:
  • The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs, economist, UN Millenium project in developing nations.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond, on how civilizations and cultures are shaped by geography
  • The Princess Sultan of Zanzibar, by Emily ___ last name I forgot? About the Arab life in 1800's
  • Aid and Other Dirty Business, by Giles Bolton a British UN Development worker
  • The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, A great work on african culture
  • The State of Africa: A history of fifty years of Independence, by Martin Meredith, politics in africa
  • Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: China in Africa – economics and politics

I read them, then gave the books away to locals. No room in my 65L pack. So sorry if I didn't get the book names entirely right.....

Deserted Beauty


It’s hard to write when you’re exploring a continent (and having fun). Too many stories and too little time to write. It’s been about 2.5 weeks since I last wrote anything and I’m only doing it now because I’m sitting here icing my ankle. Swollen, ow.

Seriously, I could have hurt myself any time in the past 3 months, especially in east Africa, anywhere where they boil giant pots in the crowded markets or on the broken down sidewalks. Or maybe hiking, or on the street with the mad insane reckless driving they do up there. But No.

It was really stupid how it happened. Of all the places I could have injured myself it was in one of the safest neighborhoods in Pretoria (South Africa), on a goddamn sidewalk while getting dropped off in front of the backpackers here. Not even walking fast. Just one step and rolled onto my butt in the street.

But - Fate has a way of working itself out.

In a blink, darkness settles outside and a thunderstorm rolls in. So, now I can’t even bother going outside to the log cabin where I’ll be sleeping tonight. Nobody’s around so, it’s me, the lodge receptionist, Alfred, and a computer. He keeps me preoccupied with stories of being a soldier in Sudan for the SA army. I can barely keep my eyes open at this point, sadly tired, but I struggle to stay awake while we wait for dinner to arrive. We swap stories of Uganda and Sudan,Rwanda and Burundi. Our experiences are similar in what we observe there.

Southern Africans have it lucky. What I mean by Southern Africa is not just SA, but inclusive of countries like, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, even. I call South Africa, especially the garden route and Cape Town, the “Nice Beginners” Africa, despite the bad rap it gets about all the crime, etc. The main reason why is because it is simply easier for a westerner to travel. If you have never left the USA, Canada or some other first world country before you will find it relatively easy to travel through Southern Africa. Why? You have good infrastructure – good roads, transit. Gas stations are well stocked with supplies and toilet facilities of reasonable cleanliness and actually work. Plus, the tourism industry is really well developed. At the McDonald’s in George on the Garden Route, there are signs on the door that indicate it is a backpackers bus stop. There is catering, delivery, pickup, laundry facilities. Consistent Electricity. Black south Africans moan when there is no electricity. Try that with East Africa. When the power gets cut several times a week, sometimes several times a day; they simply yawn and just wait for it to come back again.

Rolling back to - Namibia

In Capetown I hunted around for options to get to Namibia.

Option 1: Take a 19 hr bus ride to Windhoek, then go from there and miss everything in between.
Option 2: Rent a car and drive it.
Option 3: Overland tour 7 days to Swakopmund and then figure out how to get to Windhoek.

Option 2 looked really attractive until I heard how bad the roads were from another American who had just driven down to CT from Namibia. Many of the main highways are just gravel straight up for miles on end. Amidst 5 ciggies and baggy eyes, I hear: Bumpy, exhausting, hellish desert, 30 hours. And now, with the rains, many roads towards sossusvlei are washed out. Trucks? No problem. But a small car? Forget it. Driving on the left side of the road would have been interesting, though.

Ok, so I finally caved in and did a 7 day overland tour. Moo. Herd. Clueless tourists is the first thing that come to mind. A part of me wishes I didn’t.

Turns out I got lucky and with the flooding I would have never made it Sossusvlei otherwise.The tour is small, with a group of germans, dutch and some Australians. I’m the only American.Ai Ais is a place in the south of Namibia where I think where we went canoeing. It is really quiet and beautiful. The water banks almost lined with sand and only a few feet of green vegetation. Really odd, how dry it is and suddenly a body of water right in between it all. A day later, we visit Fish River Canyon, the oldest canyon in the world. It is rocky, dense and dry this time of the year. The rocks along the edges are like slate.

Keetmanshoop is an interesting stop over. The cars here are few and infrequent. Drive slowly. It is a sleepy, gambling, small supermarket shop town. And there is on a few blocks a ‘China shop’ where people from China have set up stores to sell goods imported from China. Just oddly out of place.
Soussusvlei, particularly deadvlei is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in Africa.

All at once you have an intense surreal color in dryness – almost an unnatural beauty, both simultaneously deviously dead and alive.

We hike Dune 45. By this point it is hot, almost scorchingly so. It is a steep but deceptive climb. Every few steps forward you slide, without warning, sometimes forward, other times backward. It is emotionally draining. I dare not look down while I keep crawling up. It seems like there is no end to the top. It feels almost defeatist at times, like the sand is going to cave out under you and sending hurling down the sides with no warning. Hopeless, fearful is what I feel. Like there is no love in this world, no love to save you when you need it the most. Like whatever you do, everyone will just leave you behind, like you are failure to no end. But you have no where to go, no where to stop, because if you stop, you will just slip down the hill, and you can’t tell how far it is, it is so flat simultaneously so far down, so painfully dry and ready to tear away at your skin if you fall into it. But you have to go up, continue forwards, even through it feels like your lungs are about to collapse from the dry heat. Its not even that far up, I tell myself. I could only keep going by looking at my feet. One slippery step at a time, feet heavier with each step as the sand crept into my shoes, making them heavier each second. Then, finally without much of an announcement, people are standing in front of me. This was the top. I cried, tears pouring nonsensically down my cheeks with relief. I did not want to come down.



Swakopmund is a lot like a German town in the middle of the desert. No, correction – it is Germany in the middle of the desert. A lot of white people. The cars drive extremely slow here, almost unbearably so. Small VW bugs. Uniform. Simple. Just a white, sandy quiet town. In the middle of nowhere. And horribly overcast most of the year.

At the Villa I am staying at, I meet a young man, rather wide eyed, round faced, and with short blond hair, somewhere in his late teens. I quickly discover that he is the son of the property owner. We talk and I hear that Namibia didn’t want to be a part of the mess SA was, with apartheid. But, he wants to have a farm someday in Namibia, even though he knows it will be difficult. I ask why he wants a farm so bad? When his family is running a Villa? He says, “because I am a boer. I want to farm. It is what we do. Farm. And I know that our younger generations will suffer because of what our ancestors did with apartheid. We have a saying for that in our culture.”

There is a tourist arcade in Swakopmund called the Brauhaus arcade. It is a lot like little Germany. The houses are colored brightly, almost too brightly for the dull gray weather. Seeing sandunes just at the edges of town is almost too surreal.

In the Brauhaus arcade, I discovered a daily shuttle called Town hoppers that runs from Swakopmund toWindhoek. It is the mini version of the south African Baz Bus. Much quicker than the train which takes all day but twice as expensive at 220N. The train goes for 79N but is a full day and is super slow.

Namibian dollars are interchangeable with SA Rands.1 to 1. Pay in rands and get back change in both currencies. But if you brought Namibian dollars into SA. Forget it. You can't get change anywhere, except if you traded with a tourist going back. And that's exactly what I did, with two guys from Argentina going back to Namibia from Vic falls. They flew into Windhoek from Buenos Aires. We swap stories. They long to go to Mozambique but moan about how difficult it is for them to get a visa. Strange, because it is no trouble for Brazilians. I have no knowledge of the politics in Latin America but that I something I promise to do next year.

Lots of overlanders here in Swakopmund. I meet a bunch of older kiwis in their 50s that are overlanding in a group from Cairo to Cape, all driving their own 4x4s with 2 guides in their own vehicle. The 2 guides are from Nairobi, Australians originally. They started initially in Jordan. I hear that they had to ferry their vehicles over a portion of the middle east between Jordan and Egypt, just to avoid Israel. The reason why is because if the Sudanese have any suspicious that you have entered Israel recently, they will not allow you to enter Sudan at all. They hate the Israelis. I hear they insert a piece of paper with a stamp on it during border crossings in Israel, and then take it out of your passport when you exit the country. Something similar happens with Americans in Cuba via mexico.

At breakfast, I have a English bloke talking excitedly about coming to visit America. And wanting to know if it was safe to drive across the country – worries about getting mugged. He was really blond, literally and figuratively. I said, only if you don’t open your mouth you’ll be fine. And don’t be stupid and go into bad areas at night by yourself.

I go sandboarding and quadbiking. The quadbiking is amazing across the dunes. You can push the bikes limits and go literally sideways on the dunes. Absolutely thrilling. Some of the best fun yet I’ve had here on the continent. Sandboarding is pretty awesome. I do the standup so that I get my taste of boarding. Never done it before, but I am told it is slower than snowboarding and a good place to start boarding. 1st try on the board I’m already zooming down the hill and staying vertical! Cool beans. I manage to do a sweet stop at the end after the first couple of tries downhill. The boards are designed for sandboarding, and they put a coat of wax on the boards before each run to keep it slick and prime it after with some sand; otherwise you just get stuck and don’t move because of the friction. The scariest and most adrenaline run – the lie down boarding – super fast down hill. Its really deceptive because sand makes things look different – you feel like you’re going vertical at one point. Amazing ride. Had so much fun here. Only missed out on the skydive but maybe next time.

I meet several groups of American students in Swakopmund. Semester at Sea, Furman university, others studying abroad at UCT. The largest group of Americans I’ve come across yet. I’m proud to say that every group is racially diverse. They all have the same accent. Now I can hear it after spending weeks around dutch, germans, Afrikaans. And there is a certain arrogance to the American attitude. Can’t place my finger on exactly what.


Of all the places, I’d imagine one could be robbed, Windhoek doesn’t seem to hit the top of the list. However, upon arrival I hear that several of the guests have been robbed. One, several times in one day. Gack. The area is approaching 35% unemployment and the diamond industry has tanked as of late. I arrived Sunday, and the town was dead. Almost everything was closed, a few locals meandering on the streets. The local mall is open but go there and expect to be robbed if you are carrying anything in your hands.

Despite this, Cameleon backpackers is a good place to stay. Not much late night entertainment, so a bunch of Norwegian, French and South African 20 somethings and I amuse each other with SA trivial pursuit. We are all so bad, it is hilarious. But one thing is really obvious, American media has made its dent worldwide. Everyone knows the names of actors and movies from Hollywood at the drop of a hat. And yes, everybody speaks English. They don’t like late night randying or lights so we had to use our own flashlights and play in the dark.

Once again, I meet someone who is driving Cape to Cairo, and then some. This one is an interesting character. Andy is French, on break, and worked for a French-Jewish South African NGO. The plan is to drive from Cape to Cairo and then overland to Morocco via Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and then up through Spain to Marseille. Along the way, he is showing a variety of films on silver screen mounted off his 4x4 truck and hoping to get some reaction and input from locals. Neat idea, although his hard drive just crashed and is now stuck in Windhoek for a week waiting for repairs because he only has one copy of all those movies!

I meet an Australian girl, Candace, who has been working as a volunteer in the rural western cape of SA. Originally from SA, she is doing a border hop so that she can extend her stay in SA as an Australian citizen. One thing I have learned, while traveling; not to rely on pre-planned trips by travel agents. She got ripped off for her trip to Namibia. Had she traveled on her own to the backpackers it would have cost her far less money, but she would have had to plan it out herself. It takes a bit of time to plan, but then you have the free to change your mind and see different things as you go. I think I have finally relaxed and destressed because ask me 2 months ago, I would have seen things differently, and been worried at each step in SA. EA is an entirely different story; I can’t see myself relaxing there at all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Electronics while Traveling throughout Africa

Electronics while Traveling throughout Africa.

At 4:08am on February 16, 2009, Christina Chu said…on the CCS community site

Hey Madeline,

I'm so envious you're going to Dharmasala. That is next on my list. Although my CCS ended in December, I am still traveling africa. I'm in Namibia right now. As for a laptop, I wouldn't bring one, but that is because i'm traveling so long haul... going on now for 4 months. Plus in africa, it could easily be stolen. There are abundant internet cafes.

As for cameras - I would bring a cheaper digital one, unless you're a photography enthusiast. I always worried about having an expensive long lens camera stolen or broken, but that is just me. One memory stick in the camera is enough. You can always buy USB sticks as you go. For quick pictures find a computer with microsoft picture manager and compress the pictures down so that you have a backup copy that can be quickly uploaded to or This is in case you lose your high res pictures on USB sticks.

The only other electronics I brought were a few USB keys and my iphone which was indispensable. If you can afford the bill, you can get mobile internet off an iphone anywhere in Tanzania.

The USB keys are GREAT insurance against power surges/failures -Example: if you are working on a document, be sure to save the document as you're writing it ON THE USB key, not the computer's hard drive. This way, if the power suddenly cuts out you can walk away without losing any data.

In addition, you can use the USB keys in all the Internet cafes; the keys are lightweight and paying just $1/hr (on average) to use the internet at a local cafe helps contribute to the local economy. Take care that the computers you are using have anti-virus protection. Many places don't yet.

East Africa as of summer 2009 has High Speed Internet by ocean fiber optic cable. However I don't know how far it has penetrated. There is wireless depending on where you stay - some hotels have it.

Since you're in india technology access will be substantially easier in major cities as you have hyderabad in the south - tech capital.

I have been living out of one bag - 65 Liter Osprey backpacker for the last couple of months. When i run out of room and i want to keep things, I go to the post office and ship it home. It really is a great experience - using the post office because you really get to learn how things work there -- you'll see.

I brought my iphone - indispensible. If you have a USB charger that is all you need. It is more of a pain to use wall chargers and these take up more space, since i've been going through so many countries, but a USB phone charger wil work on every computer you run into, which is fantastic. Often I will just buy 2 hrs at an internet cafe, and use the internet to blog about everything, transfer, compress and upload pictures, check email and simultaneously recharge my iPhone.

Don't need water purifiers. Just malaria tabs if you are in the region. Pack warm clothes and light weather clothes. Close toed shoes and open. EVERYTHING else, you can buy as you go, unless its prescription like contacts. Of course this is personal because I can live without my entire makeup bag, no problem. The 3rd world is more developed in commerce than we think they are, which is amazing.

Hope to see you in san fran. please drop me an email or comment on my blog sometime, i hope to hear from you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

hate you, love you RSA

It's been a while since I last blogged, but a lot has happened in the last 3 weeks. This is the short of the long..

Was sick on my way from Maputo to Johannesburg. No I don't think I got malaria, but had fever for 2 days. Got myself self-tested for malaria... damn why are these things so hard to take?

Nothing much exciting in Joburg. Tons of gated houses. Everything has a ridiculous amount of security. Took the train from there to Cape Town instead of PE or East London because it ran everyday, instead of 2x a week. The Shosholoza Meyl overnight tourist train ROCKS. Amazing, reasonable price. Have never seen SO many stars and galaxies at night so low to the horizon.

Spent almost a week in Cape Town recuperating from being sick. I think my immune system just got worn down by the travel.

Yes crime is rampant , even the local afrikaaners we met get caught up by it. One of the advocates (their version of a lawyer?) got his thumb slashed on Long street - the party street - here in cape town. Also, Some of the tourists are really stupid about carrying around super expensive cameras around poor people. What are they thinking? One Dutch girl I dragged into a cafe because she was aimlessly staring in to space sitting outside while some homeless black woman was picking at her nice cell phone, camera...etc. It was just not safe. I like most of the Afrikaaners i've met. We stayed out late drinking with a bunch and they are pretty cool. Lots of good stuff but I won't write about it here.... Few americans here, only probably 10%

I did the tourist thing in Cape Town. A little Californish here. So suddenly I don't miss home anymore. Robben island was definitely worth it. I am embarrassed to say that I haven't even been to Alcatraz in my own town. Did the Garden route to Jeffrey's Bay, Ooutdshoorn, and Swellendam via the Baz Bus in 6 days. Knysna is Nice for old people, Wilderness is AMAZING. wish I had time to stay there. Incredible service, and cheap. Did things I'd not imagine doing - like surfing?!, caving?.... ok I passed on the bungee jump. Wish I had more time on this route. Words cannot describe the beauty here. It is more beautiful, varied, and fruitful than the California coastline, IMHO. They put Napa valley to shame.....I would love to spend another month here.

It was damn worth it, every second. I traveled by Baz Bus and stayed at various hostels. Talk about Hospitality.... they really have it figured out for travelers down here. Why don't they have this in the States? The standards are pretty good here and cheap. During this season, there are tons of europeans that come down and its quite a bit less stressful with them here. Aussie and Kiwis are really pleasant to travel with.

The bills were also pretty sweet....

What I got for about 600 Rand (~60 USD) ?!

2 nights accomodation in a backpackers
A Ton of Laundry
13 Beers + shots + Brutal Fruit etc... (ok no i didn't drink this all myself)

RSA is really trying hard to not to be a 3rd world country and its very schizophrenic? - forward in some ways, yet backwards in others.

ATMS are in 11 different languages. wow.

They only like 1st world money at exange bureaus. They don't want no 3rd world country moolah from Mozambique, or Zim or Tanzania or Kenya.

The newspapers are a mish mosh of afrikaans and english. Like the titles of some articles are in English, but the article is in Afrikaans. Um. Translation please?

In some places like Fraanshoek, you only see white people and it looks like Europe. Same with Gauteng
In Khayleshita, it's a township, huts, towns, ridiculously dirt poor black people. There is also a big economic divide among the black people.

In Cape town it is so very cosmopolitan.

I think they hate us one language geographically clueless insular English-only speaking Americans.....but like the rest of the goodies we make?

And then there are stupid things.....

For example : Today I waited 1 hr in line at the exchange bureau to change Rands into USD. And then when I got to the window, I was told by the teller:

" I need to see the ATM receipt for the Rands you want to change to US Dollars"

I said, "I don't have the receipt, but you see here my passport says USA citizen"

She says "No I can't change your rands because we need proof that you have brought money into this country"

The South African law requires that you show the ATM receipt for the Rands?!?!?!?!??!?

Oh god did I want to explode.

I find out later that there's tons of money laundering going on in RSA because of the millions of Zimbabwans and Congolese pouring into the country because their life just sucks up there. Hard living, bad economic times. And you know what is even more messed up is that the black people say they don't mind white people coming here and buying stuff and competing for jobs, but they have their own xenophobia amongst the black people - the native south african blacks feel entitled to jobs and houses above other black immigrants...... there's a lot of conflict there and hate, apparently... BUT they think it's ok for me to be here and take jobs and houses, etc and all that... I'm not white but anything light skinned to them is a non-issue. Black people here tell me they are racist among themselves... they still value skin color, like how light skinned you are puts you into a different higher class category.

It is confusing and since I've been here I've had a mad identity crisis. I'm Asian I get the "Konichiwa!!!! Ni Haw!!!!!" But I don't identify with Japan or China. I identify completely with being American. Say wha? yeah you got that right, bro. Obama Country. It is hard because Japanese tourists travel a lot and the name calling doesn't stop when I walk down the street - Yo sista, hey Asian sista, hey China girl hey I wanna talk to you....I wanna have a drink with you.. the Constant Picking- in East Africa it was worst, but I still get it once in a while here in CapeTown.

I was really mad when someone accused me of forgetting my language because I did not speak Mandarin.For the 100th time, I couldn't take it anymore... so I turned around and screamed, REALLY YOU KNOW OBAMA DOESN'T SPEAK TO AMERICANS in KISWAHILI !!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Despite all of this --- Three weeks ago, I felt like I had about enough of Africa. I could go on and on but no time left to write!!

But, since being here in SA now part of me wants to stay longer, and I don't want to go home.

I know, crazy. I have a love-hate affair with South Africa.

Next stop, Namibia. We'll see how that goes =)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Out East and Down the Coast

Moshi - through Jan 3 - 2009

I spend NYE with the volunteers from my house here. We have a grand old time. I feel like I've returned home. I left my heart in Moshi. Michelle isn't feeling well and then some, so I leave her to recuperate for the next few days before she starts work in Moshi.

I learn a couple of new things here in Moshi.

Dar es Salaam is a bad place to import goods to. The locals would rather drive to Mombasa and then cart it over the border. Damn socialist government.

Remittances from abroad is difficult. Most citizens don't have bank accounts or credit cards. Bank transfer fees are ridiculously high. Money going out of the country is easy, money coming into this country not so simple. I spend some time trying to educate a few on import/export business, but I don't know if it is worth my effort of time. Does my effort even matter anymore? I realize I am getting jaded. I need a vacation.

When Africans want to move FAST - haraka haraka - they really do move FAST. No Pole Pole Normally you can a ticket from Moshi to Dar the day before or the morning of. After the New year, there weren't any tickets, not for two days after. And its not just Mzungus (foreigners) traveling. These are locals. Apparently most of them go back to Dar for work and return to Moshi for the holidays. There is a line in front of me of natives trying to get tickets the day before and they are also turned away. It is early in the day and I actually have a local Tanzanian do the asking for me, but that doesn't even work. My suspicions are confirmed when I visit a bookstore in Dar es Salaam the next week and hear the same story from the fellow work manages the store; his hometown is also Moshi.

Dar es Salaam - through Jan 5, 2009, & Jan 11

Originally I was going to join two volunteers to make the trip to Zanzibar but I miss getting a bus ticket. Perhaps that's fate. Because I went solo, I decided to stop in Dar for a day and see the commercial capital. From the 12 floor of downtown dar - city centre. It is a mess. I show someone the picture and she says it looks like Mexico City. I'm not sure what that looks like but Dar downtown has lot of buildling that are about to fall apart, completely ruined crumbling. Actually some of them have already crumbled and are just lying there. And people live in the ruins. Then you have interspersed some really new high rises, mostly banks and government buildings that are shiny, new and towering. They don't care about restoring old arabic looking architecture here. Later I find out why - the Arabs ruled Zanzibar in the past and they don't restore buildlings - because of the corrosion from the sea, when buildlings get old they just tear and rebuild. I would hope that they do keep the world heritage sites in tact but you can also see that some of the less important ones aren't really maintained and falling apart in Stone Town.

On my way back from Zanzibar, I stop again through Dar. The airline booked this hotel for me because my flight to Jo'burg is so early the next day, and the commuter flight from Zanzibar does not flight earlier than 6:30 am. This hotel - slipway- is far from the downtown and the lower residential old town that I visited on my initial pass through Dar. It is a completely different town north of the city centre. Two to three lane streets, major beer industries, toyota dealers. I saw it all at 5 am, but had it been a picture I could have almost placed it in the industrial area of hong kong. The Embassy/UN section is well built out, nicely developed, a far stretch from the town. A completely different city. I'm only at slipway for about 12 hrs but I don't like it. It is a hotel/mall. It is way too americanized. They even play NCAA basketball on the TV in the pub in the mall.

Onward to Zanzibar - through Jan 10, 2009

One word: Unsettling.

I had to hunt for tickets at the ferry in Dar and got harrassed a lot. Thankfully with a little rudimentary swahili I was able to tell the touts off. If you know how people are here, you can get them to go away, but that's only after spending a month in this country, AND it still takes work to get them to stop. They keep asking, also how do you know Swahili and want to know everything about you. How awful for travelers otherwise. I saw two americans backpackers staring straight with this look of fear on their faces while I walked through the streets of Dar and tried to say hi to them. I think they were experiencing culture shock and didn't even say anything. Oh, and another thing you won't see in a 1st world country - on the ferry to zanzibar, they all laze about on the floor. Hardly anyone sits on the seats, not matter how well off they are. they like to hang on the rails or nap on the floor of the ferry. Clearly jeans are a status symbol here. Most of the tanzanians who travel have some money and they all wear jeans. Some designer, others not.

Side note about clothes - if you think you are doing good by donating your clothes for charities here in Africa. Think Again. The donated clothes aren't being given away to the people who really need it. They are being resold to exporters who then sell to resellers and resellers and resellers here in Africa. Profits are made in between for various qualities of used clothes. Lots of people here are sporting t-shirts from various univerities or rock concerts or cafes. They don't know what it means. Don't ask them if they went to University of Alabama. They got the shirt from some 2nd/3rd/4th hand store. And yes the items here are resold again and again. Aid can be dirty.

The first few nights in Zanzibar I had a hard time. I stayed at this place which was next to a disco and I completely regretted it. It made me miserable. And I got ripped off by the brit that was running the place. It was worse than the cheapest place in Moshi. I moved to Stone Town just to get some sleep at a good place run by Indian folks who know how to do it right. With my plane leaving south in just 4 days, I had to decide between going north to Kendwa or to stay in Stone Town. I opted for the latter on advice of a local and also because I can see beach anywhere in California.

Stone Town is a veritable maze, filled with tourists, vendors and then some. Lets just say that my time in Moshi has equipped me well to deal with the hassle on this island. I HATE the hassle, and no where worse is it than here in Zanzibar. I was insulted several times by locals because of my race. I was ready to slap on a burka just so they couldn't see my face and think I am local, just to avoid the harrassment.

The longer I have been in Tanzania, the lower my respect for european tourists became. I don't mean to say this for all european tourists, but especially germans started to irritate me more and more the way they treated the natives. In one shop I literally was moved verbally and physically to the side by some germans. And its not just here, I've heard worse stories in Moshi; one of the American girls I was living with wanted to punch the lights out of European who treated the natives like shit. They are just reinforcing how the colonialists treated people.

It is also disappointing how few locally made goods are sold here. I really had to hunt for Tanzanian made goods. A lot of what is being sold are imports from Thailand, India...South Africa.

I did an nice tour of the architecture and the spice plantations. The plantations were touristy but neat; to get there I get a ride on the back of a vespa. So much safer and different from Kampala. It's actually clean on the streets here. And a lot less scary. Architecturally it really is a beautiful town, some of it is crumbling and others still OK. I wandered into some of the residential areas just to see how people live. In these areas there is less hassle and off the tourist trap. Some of the natives stop to chat with me. We have a good, friendly discussion. I discover that there is a lot of mixing of bloodlines here. Several of the young men were half oman, half zanzibar, others half indian, half zanzibar. A lot of muslims; in my confusion in the heat, I almost stepped into a mosque improperly dressed once, thinking it was a museum; I was called quickly out thankfully before any damage could be done. Mindless hassling aside, it is otherwise a beautiful place.

Maputo, Mocambique - through Jan 15, 2009

Before I arrived I heard from various Tanzanians that Mocambique is a rough place. I was not going to take any chances, especially because I don't know a word of portuguese.

The place I'm staying at is good, near the UNDP and its cousins. A really quiet comfortable B&B running around 50-60 USD. Really quiet. No hassle. Nobody staring at me. I find it ironic that I can actually rest here in Maputo. It is more peaceful than Zanzibar and I'm getting more sleep. My favorite place so far. The owners are really nice quiet portuguese.

I haven't been to the downtown area of maputo, but will tomorrow. Just walking around yesterday, there isn't much hassle on the major streets, compared to Tanzania. And yes, relatively little hassle from the street vendors. Then again I probably don't know what hassle is because most people speak Portuguese here, but very few people ask me to buy things, and they certainly don't follow you and pressure you to buy like the Tanzanians do.

The local food is GOOD, compared to the bit of fare I ate in the Jo'burg airport on a stopover -- the food from a chain cafe was atrocious. In Maputo, they actually flavor their meat well here. Most of the goods in the supermarkets are imported from Italy, Spain, Venezuela, a lot of Brazil, and of course South Africa. In general it appears that they like to trade with their Latin sisters.

Unlike Rwanda, most people here in Maputo don't speak English. I have to work to find people who do. The signs are all in Portuguese. The owners of the patisserie where I ate lunch didn't speak a word of english and neither did their staff, except one black guy who apparently was brought in over the South African border from Koomatiport. They know how to cook here.

There are a few individuals staying here, not families or couples. I'm not sure what their business is, but they don't bother me, and I really like that. It seems like some are here to do NGO/UN work. The NGOs here are really wealthy. The cars are really new and nice here; you don't see a lot of broken down cars like up north.

For once, it is nice to have some down time and to do nothing, just sleep, eat, laze around, watch movies, and most importantly not feel hassled!!


Next Stop, Jo'burg.