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 cafĂ© 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 flickr.com or picasa.com. 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 =)