May 2010


I was happily surprised yesterday morning at breakfast when the creepy male voice interrupting my solitary breakfast with “I think I’ll sit next to this young lady” turned out to be Diek! And my new friend Seanna, who I like WAY better. We went in to town (Moshi) later in order to get me a hat (since I’m woefully unprepared for the behemoth that is Kili, whatever I’m renting), a pack of cards, some snacks and water, visit the bank, etc…..and managed to do none of these things. Instead, I spent about 10 cents on a bag of sugar cane pieces and got picked up by the litter police when i spat out a chunk of the fibers onto the dirt road. A TINY PIECE OF SUGAR CANE FIBER ON A DIRT F*CKING ROAD. Anyway, poor Diek and Seanna have been in Africa all of 24 hours and I’m surrounded by these people trying to pull me into the office where they can “educate” me in proper trash disposal. Obviously this meant a fine, and I refused to pay the exorbitant sum of 50,000 shillings. I didn’t even have that much on me. So when I told them that I wasn’t going to pay them, and that I didn’t even have the money, the most vocal of the litter police started shouting, “well then we shall take you to the police and you shall be in jail! JAIL!!” I’m reasonably sure this was some sort of scam, even though they had uniformed tshirts and I was shown a single laminated ID card (upside down). They kept insisting that I had to pay or get thrown in jail, and when I had emptied my pockets of money, Diek came to the rescue and bailed me out with 3000 shillings. About 2 bucks, but it’s the thought that counts. Anyway, they ended up letting me go for 40,000.

First run-in with African law enforcement!

Now I’m going to go climb Kili! Seriously, like right now.

…and I can’t f*cking see it. Why? Rainy season. The entire mountain is covered in fog. And big swirly clouds, which are kind of cool I GUESS in that they’re so close to the ground, but I think I’ll just hate them for obscuring my view of the mountain I’m climbing in two days. The past 24 hours have been divided in to camps of Awesome and Not As Awesome.

Awesome: Coming home last night from the internet cafe to my dank little hotel to get distracted by some Spanish or Latin American soap opera marathon. And watching over an hour of it with a tiny Indian woman who told me to call her Auntie Meeni. She chose to react to every overzealous plot line with her hands flying up and crying “On No! That woman is a vicious witch!” Or some variation thereof.

Not As Awesome: I left my ipod on the plane from Malawi. The tally of things I’ve lost that I really didn’t want to lose is now up to three. Although I have been consoling myself with the fact that the ipod was a year and a half old, which, in Jane Possession Time, is practically ancient. And the new ones have video! DJ had one and I lusted after it a bit. A sign?

Awesome: MY BUS LEFT ON TIME. I REPEAT, MY BUS LEFT ON TIME. HOLY SH*T.

Not As Awesome: Said bus ride was 9 hours of Tanzanian radio, played deafeningly. Somewhat mitigated by the 3 hour movie (in Swahili, but with English subtitles!!), but still. See above about missing ipod. Staying positive though! What a great way to learn about contemporary Tanzanian pop! *slightly strained smile*

Awesome: I bought a bag full of passion fruits for about 75 cents. Chinatown, you have fierce competition.

Not As Awesome. They’re all I’ve had to eat today.

I’m excited to see friends from home tomorrow though. Diek and Seanna. Get. Ready.

It’s like the illicit love child of Cairo and Lusaka and Cape Town. Figure that one out. I’ve only been here for about 4 hours, but I think I picked the skeevier of the 2 budget hotels I chose from in the 2003 Lonely Planet on offer at our lodge in Senga Bay. Fortunately, there is a large gate blocking it from the efforts of the rest of the alley way, and a sign on the stairs forbidding the presence of “women of ill-repute”. Please consider all obvious jokes already made in my head, as I am once again travelling alone.

Yes, Team F*ck Up has temporarily disbanded and Tash is now safely in South Africa I hope. One can never tell. Once TFU, always TFU, I say. I myself almost didn’t make it here…I was 11 USD short of my plane ticket after I had emptied all the cash to my name on the desk of the poor Air Malawi official who had to deal with me. Malawians being the nicest people I’ve met so far in Africa, he actually offered to pay the difference himself once I started rummaging through my things in search of something to sell. My new friend Kristina came to the rescue though, and generously lent me the sum.

And there was beer on the flight!

It’s desperately hot and muggy out though, so I think I will retire to my garret and sweat under the ceiling fan and see what night sounds filter up to my third floor window. I am on a six am bus to Moshi, the base town of Kilimanjaro tomorrow.

TFA FTW!!

I mean...I guess this is ok.

It’s taken us three days of buses, but the Team has finally made it to the beach at Senga Bay!

…where it is windy and overcast!

Apparently my battle with the weather continues. Anyway, yesterday morning in Lilongwe, things were looking up. Went to the bus station, got told that a direct bus was leaving for Senga Bay at 1:30. A 2 hour ride. Perfect! Carlsbergs by the beach! This is going to work out just fine!

No.

After we raced to the bus station (being late after lunch) we were informed, with much languid head-nodding, that the bus was not yet there, and would be leaving at 2:30. Fine, this being Africa, I would have eaten my shoes if the bus had actually left at 1:30. When 2:30 rolled around and the bus hadn’t even showed up…you see where this is going. Long story short, our 1:30 bus left at 5, leaving DJ and Gums with plenty of time to combat boredom, standing in the bus station singing Queen and trying not to kill EVERYONE. Oh, and when we finally left the bus station, our euphoric fit lasted the 15 minutes it took to drive to the mechanic’s lot, where we waited another 45 minutes for the bus to be fixed. Awesome!

Anyway, it was completely dark when we got to Senga Bay, and we had no idea where we were going. We were supposed to be meeting Tash’s friend Kristina at this hostel on the beach called Cool Runnings (I have yet to figure out if there’s any association with the movie), which had no address or phone number. After much pleading with the bus driver to drop us off near it, a nice man named Timothy offered to walk us there. Thank goodness, cause despite the driver and conductor’s insistence that it was “just down the road”, well, YOU try walking through rural Malawi in complete darkness, with nothing but the moon and people’s cooking fires to light your way, and having no idea where you are supposed to be going. Actually, since they were Malawian, they probably wouldn’t have much of an issue. Timothy was fantastic though, and we would have never found the place without him. Malawians have been nothing but friendly so far–really sweet people.

I sat in the middle.

Team F*ck Up’s luck continued to run as expected though, and when we got to cool runnings they had neither food nor beds! ┬áKristina was there though, and she is lovely, so we just drank beer for dinner, put our stuff in her room and slept outside on these makeshift beds. Which the lodge had kindly sprayed with bugspray. Which meant that mine, of course, when I went to get in it a couple hours after they had made it up, was sprinkled with a healthy layer of tiny, dead ants. I put a blanket over them and slept in my sleeping bag. Mmm, crunchy.

But this morning I watched the sun rise over Lake Malawi and had my toes in the sand and the breeze in my hair and everything was better. And then there was french toast with bacon, bananas, and honey for breakfast and everything was MUCH better.

It’s the little things. I hitched a ride into town with Tash and Kristina on the back of the lodge owner’s tattered yellow pick-up. She bought us doughnuts (yes!) and I think I have a flight into Tanzania now, so I won’t have to spend 4 days busing through the length of the entire country without a guidebook. Things are looking up! Hopefully…you can never tell with TFU.

TO THE BEACH!

Tragedy has occured. This morning, in the hectic scramble that was TFU oversleeping and then trying to get out of the hostel, into a taxi, and to the bus station by 5:30, I lost my Indy hat. I KNOW. Devastating. Tash left her towel. And that was the beginning of a very, very long day.

We have learned that buses in Africa will tell you that they leave at a certain time, when in reality they leave whenever the bus is full. So this morning, that meant that TFU raced to get on this bus at 5:30, and it left at a quarter to eight. They also play music–loudly–and while I like African music just fine, for the first two hours of waiting for the bus to leave, they played the same five songs over and over again. The only thing stopping us from getting our murder on was the thought of Zambian prisons, where they also probably pipe music in all day long. There were two songs though, that deserve recognition. Choice, they were. Real winners. One, after it played about 3 time, caused us to look at each other and ask, “are they really saying what I think they’re saying? Wait, you hear it too?” Because the lyrics to the chorus sounded just like “why would you want to f*ck a boy”. Sung very cheerfully by a male chorus. The other song, which resisted our best efforts at drowning out with Beyonce, was some sort of heavily auto-tuned midget-voiced techno pop, with a long introduction of said midget laughing and giggling some sort of monologue.

Of course, another key component of our 14 hour bus journey was when we stopped at the Zambia and Malawi border, and Tash and I couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to be doing. We managed to find the exit immigration for Zambia, but then wandered around until someone pointed out that we had to cross the border on foot, and that Malawi was that way. At which point it began to pour. So TFU left Zambia, sprinting through the rain across that dark red earth, hollering, “is this the way to Malawi?” at the sensible people crouched under palm frond shelters.

To our credit, though, we did manage to survive food-wise on the equivalent of about 30 cents. I traded the coke bottle they gave me on the bus for water and a town we stopped in to refuel, and we bought a bag of peanuts and a bag of popcorn from the vendors that swarm the bus, holding their wares up to the windows. And of course, pap/nshima out of a bag! I had never had fresh peanuts before. They’re nice, sort of like chesnuts, only they’re a bit of a b*tch to open.

We thought we were probably going to get killed when we got to Lilongwe, as it’s rather dodgy after dark, but ended up at a sweet little hotel where we both got to shower and watch some movie we didnt understand! Taking a bus to Senga Bay in a couple hours. It had better not f*cking rain, although, that would just be typical.

That cabbie had better be taking good care of my hat.

My Gap trip is over and I am sad. It was f*cking fantastic, and the people I met were simply superb. WE ARE THE PARTY! I’ve got so many fond memories now, and a whole ton to catch up on. This whole blogging once every week or so deal isnt really working for me…but I am doing so many things like getting drenched at the Victoria falls, and trying not to get malaria that I am finding it difficult to get to the internet.

Anyway, I petted a lion yesterday. Yeah, no matter now awesome your Friday was, mine was better. Because not only did I pet a ten-month old lion cub, but I also got a hot stone massage and partied with 23 of the coolest people I’ve ever met. We all have fantastic nicknames. That’s important.

So…I think I’ve mentioned that me and my roommate DJ Tash form Team F*ck Up together? Yes. Well, we are on our way to Malawi, and have taken a 7 hour bus from LIvingstone to Lusaka today. Without any money. Or food. Or water. Well, we had a litre of water between the two of us. And we begged a banana seller to accept Botswana Pula, so we had 6 bananas for lunch. Four, actually: DJ left two on the bus. And because we’ve been having difficulties with our debit cards, we arrived in Lusaka with absolutely no money, starving like the monkeys who used our tents as trampolines in Livingstone. Fortunately, we were able to get some cash, but because we are Team F*ck up, we didnt take out nearly enough and when we got to the hostel, we realized (after we had ordered celebratory savannahs) that we had barely enough money to cover dinner, hostel, cab, and bus fare to malawi. oops. We now have about the equivalent of a US dollar to buy enough sustenance and water to survive a 12 hour bus ride. Luckily, the rugby was on, and I am travelling with a charming blonde Australian. Which means we’ve had several more savannahs, and an entire bottle of wine on the gentlemen surrounding the bar. So. Me and DJ have made it to Lusaka, and for now we are slightly drunk and well-fed. We saved some of our left over pap, or whatever it’s called here, some sort of cornmeal porridge stuff, like polenta, and we put it in a plastic bag for breakfast. It’s classy. SHUT UP WE HAVE NO MONEY AND TASH LEFT OUR LAST TWO BANANAS ON THE BUS.

Let’s see if we make it to Malawi!

P.S. Iceman, Disco, Sparks, Bones, Meters, Baby Max, Grooves, Dark Horse, Cupcake, Dr. Zhivago, Her Majesty, Sarge, Screamer, Bullitt, Snappy, Swampy, Robin, Buck, Spike, Danger, Timon, Waffles, Tigger, Silverfox (all one word, no dashes), and of course, the inimitable Chuck Norris and Boss Lady…. DJ and G(H)ums pronking miss you.

The time for Malawi is beginning.

So long time since last blog entry. I’ve met up with my GAP group, and they are BRILLIANT. I’m in Windhoek now, and have been riding this truck called Denver through Namibia for the past week. There are 22 of us on the trip and everyone is a rock star. Our fearless leader, Elbie, is chill like a day at the beach and she takes fantastic care of us. She calls everyone honey and drinks vodka. Our driver, Barry, has worn shoes twice, smokes a pipe, and has a pile of bangles on his wrist, one of which he uses to open beer bottles. Also, he is Chuck Norris. They are both South African badasses. The first morning on the bus, I decided that (about 12 hours after meeting everyone) we all needed trip nicknames. Now we all finally have ones. I actually have two. Officially, I am known as “Gums” because I eat winegums all the time. Whatever, they are a delicious confection and you cant get good ones in the states. I refuse to be judged. Unofficially, they call me TFA, or “that f*cking American” because I’m the only one on the trip. Everyone else is Canadian or European. Except, of course, for my fantastic roommate, DJ Tash, who is Australian. Together, we make up Team F*ck Up. Because most of what we do together ends up going wrong. Anyway, here are some highlights over the past week.

1. Climbed up this massive dune at Sossuvlei, the dead pans in the Namib desert to watch the sun rise over the dunes.

2. Quad biking in Swakopmund. I only had one accident where I drove into a dune pit and almost flipped. Had enough speed to get back out though…was also the only one in the group to get air going up a hill!

3. The food on this trip is great. We stop for snacks all the time, and last night we had stewed springbok for dinner. I also discovered these snacks that are a combination between potato puffs and bacon. This. Is. Genius. And it needs to be sold in America IMMEDIATELY.

4. I got thrown by a horse! TWICE!! Ok, that wasn’t a highlight. But I was really glad that I had, in fact, brought my eye surgery painkillers with me.

5. We went game driving and saw elepants, lions (including cubs, and an attempt at a kill!), giraffes, about a million zebra and springbok and oryxand kudu and antelope…It’s amazing, the few minutes in Etosha and we’re all like HOLY SH*T A ZEBRA!!! And by that afternoon, everyone is going…dammit…prey, again! BUT, I did spot a leopard, the most elusive of the big five, not ten feet from our truck, sitting in the brush off the road. I win at game spotting.

Anyway, tomorrow it is off to Botswana!

1. Pickpocketing is real.

2. Sometimes, when you visit a city for the first time, you can spend every single day lounding around a hostel courtyard drinking, instead of actually sightseeing. And there is nothing wrong with that.

3. Great white sharks are really, really big. AND AWESOME.

4. South Africa has winter.

5. If Barry slows the truck down, hang on.

I knew I was going to like South Africa when I got off the plane in Joburg and the first thing I saw was a giant candy store–one of the good ones, where they have that wall of candy and you can fill up a giant bag with whatever mix of sugary happiness you like. Only in this candy store, they had the gummies, chocolates, liquorice, etc…and about 30 types of dried meat. I could have spicy antelope strips with my sour patch kids! No bacon though. Still. BEST THING EVER.

Cape town is a gorgeous, relaxed city. I havent actually done anything touristy yet. I was supposed to go to Robben Island today but it’s some sort of public holiday and so the place is closed. I might go for a hike on Table Mountain with new friends. I’m staying at the Long St. Backpacker’s Hostel, which is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. The people are super friendly, the reception desk is a bar, the rooms are nice, and they can help you plan all sorts of fun things. Like tomorrow I’m going cage diving. I decided to do it…I just really want to see a great white up close… And I’ve met a bunch of new friends, fellow travellers all in their twenties, so we went out last night and had a grand old time. It was some Dutch holiday, so there were all these people in Orange, running around yelling. So of course, I spent the evening mocking the Dutch. I’ve actually encountered a rather high numbe of Dutch people on this trip…

So yeah, last evening was REALLY FUN!!! Except then I got robbed! Yeah!

Just my phone though, lifted right out of my pocket. One of those classic moves involving a whole group of people: a few to get in your way to slow you down, one to pick your pocket, and then two or the more to hand off the goodies to. I felt my phone get taken, so I knew what had happened right away, but of course the hand offs were too quick and then they all clustered around confusing everyone and it was all sort of a mess. Police were pretty unhelpful, and I got very angry. Anyway. It was only my phone. I still have all my cards, money, passports, camera, et al. I do not have good luck with phones.

Cape Town FTW! I think I should spend the day in a bar.