Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Tazara train

We took the "express train" -- 46-hours from Kapiri Mposhi (near Lusaka, the capital of Zambia) to Dar es Salaam (the economic but not the political capital of Tanzania) -- even though the direct bus is 24 hours...ahem!

Everytime the train started in motion, a loud, booming noise accompanied a bone-rattling lurch forward that stung our eardrums and shook us body and soul (especially due to fear of train delays which we are told occur often). After the first time after which the fear of breakdown and delays dissapated, we couldn't help but giggle afterward, every time -- which was quite often, the train stopped at many stations at all hours, so getting sound sleep was out of the question.

Second class was nearly deserted -- we had a whole 6-bed compartment to our two selves! Our train porter was friendly and very occasionally stopped by to chat or clean (sweep or mop). Garbage bins do not exist on the train -- which I did not know until our friendly train guy took our two small bags of garbage and tossed them right out the window before I could protest.

We read a lot and (unsoundly) slept a lot and ate little -- the train food vendor network is not quite as decked out as it is in other countries. I made a good dent into Moby Dick which I am re-reading for the first time since high school. We did have some good food finds -- some fresh corn for dinner the second night and warm chapatis for breakfast this morning.

Toward the end of the ride (today, mid-morning), we saw giraffes and zebras and impalas and warthogs and wildebeeste! That was great fun, but mostly they were running away from the very loud train animal that was us.

Onward (I'm tired), onward

Well, my plans changed again -- they came full circle back to my original plans (Tazara train from Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania).

I met someone whom I had seen at the Livingstone hostel but did not get a chance to talk, until I was walking on the street in Lusaka. It became obvious that when the current flows that way, why paddle upstream?

Though I had been fantasizing about going to Lilongwe, Malawi and doing personal research on the Korean community there (including conducting taste tests at various Korean restaurants, heh heh), I had no guidebook and I read some travel horror stories on online travel forums regarding the Malawi-Tanzania border and going to Malawi would then have required me to rush to meet my next plans for southern Tanzania.

So, meeting my compatriot and heading for Tanzania immediately seemed the easiest and most logical thing to do (and right now I need easy as traveling in Africa is taxing, and I am tired and a bit homesick....)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Onto Zambia

First glimpse of Zambia from the bus:

I boarded a night bus to travel from Windhoek, Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia, just 11km from the famed Victoria Falls on the border with Zimbabwe.

This is dry season, so that means from the Zambia side I will see not a drop of water. To see any water, I will have to cross into Zimbabwe for the day. I wanted to avoid going into the country of that thug Mugabe, but I do not want to leave the area without seeing the falls. In dry season the trickle of water to be seen only on the Zim side is 4% of what one sees in the rainy season.


I'm in Livingstone, Zambia.

I was terribly sick today with some food poisoning, too sick to go to Victoria Falls.....I tried, I boarded the free shuttle from the guesthouse, but had to turn right around due to convulsing pains in my intestines (like someone had a grip on me with a wrench and was turning and tightening the wrench...) I slept for several hours in the shady African breeze. I don't feel that bad, because it is the dry season, so there is no water herein Zambia, just on the Zimbabwe side. I could stick around another day to go, but I don't feel so inclined (slight regrets about missing Victoria Falls, maybe would think differently if I didn't have my onward bus ticket for tomorrow and if the Falls were flowing...) so I'm moving onto Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, mostly to do some bureaucratic things like go to the U.S. Embassy to get more pages in my passport.

On the delta

Makoro ride:
Making our way through the delta:
View from the delta:

Hippopotumuses spotted:

Male hippo who jumps like a whale:

Sunset on the water:

In Botswana, near the town of Maun, I took a makoro ride on the delta. A makoro is like a canoe, made from a tree trunk, propelled by a poler who uses a long wooden pole against the bottom of the delta, about 1.5m deep, to create momentum to move the craft.

There are a few wider, main waterways for the handful of motorboats in the area, though most vehicles are mokoros. Much of the journey is directly through reeds and plants that to the untrained eye look undisturbed, like a new path is made each time.

Moving through the delta on a makoro, one feels like a tooth of a comb that pushes the reeds aside while moving through, with the reeds closing quickly behind us. Unfortunately, this means one spends most of the ride getting pelted in the face by reeds and getting rained on by pollen or dry flower petals. One must duck on occasion to avoid the large, ugly spiders, most of which are the non-poisonous variety.

We went looking for hippos! In the morning we saw 2 fairly comotose-looking hippos, only their heads slightly bobbing out of the water. Later we saw 1 male, 2 females and a baby. We needed to be careful not to anger the male hippo because they are powerful creatures and can be quite deadly when provoked. Though hippos are fat with huge bodies, they are excellent swimmers and can swim faster than a poler can pole any day. Because the hippo seemed to be approaching us at times, our poler backed us up nervously. He jumped in the water a few times as he swam, reminding us of a whale without the tailfin.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Botswana, briefly

I'm in Botswana now, only very briefly, for a side-trip to see the Okavanga Delta, the largest inland river in all Africa with abundant plant and animal life. We have only 3 nights here, then it's back to Windhoek to drop off the rental car and to catch the bus to Livingstone (yes as in "Livingstone, I presume?"), Zambia.

Immediately Botswana felt different from Namibia (stark and barren) and from South Africa (developed, at times manicured). We can't speed here because the cops have radars and because of the many animals on the road -- mostly cows, goats, donkeys, horses. It's very green, not to mention hot and humid! We are told to use lots of mosquito repellant and to wear long-sleeves and pants to protect ourselves from malaria (of course, because of the delta).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Namibia

At Cape Cross visiting the walruses. (Richard (brarthar), I thought of you and the fact that you used to draw these in childhood):

I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn:


Sossusvlei has the largest sand dunes in the world, literally a sea of sand! Of course, these pictures don't do justice to their immensity and grandeur and how they absorb and re-reflect the sun at sunset and sunrise.

Walking up these dunes is very tiring but very rewarding once at the top.

You'll simply must come see and do for yourself!

Friday, November 17, 2006

I am the horizon

For the next leg of my journey, I visited Skeleton Coast National Park. That part of Namibia (NW coast) is stark, barren, full of salt, sand, fog, clouds, and old ship wrecks. We had thick-cloudy weather which made it particularly atmospheric and arrived at camp as the sun was dropping below the horizon. This salty, desert coast is virtually empty in this pre-holiday time (it gets busiest in December and January). It's so remote that here, I'm not looking at the horizon, I am (in) the horizon.

We had had a 10-hour drive day with three mishaps -- flat tire, insufficient rand for the entry fee at the park gate (due to a dodgy ATM machine in the last town where we could re-supply and fuel-up, and an even dodgier bank with a changing dollar-rand conversion rate -- which decreased by almost 25% between the time of asking what was the conversion rate and asking to change USD), and loss of our lodging confirmation receipt which we observed could pose major problems in this low-tech area, as the most modern piece of equipment seen at the park office was a calculator. We somehow survived all this thanks mostly to the other half of this dynamic duo -- tire change, bribe with USD and the closed office by the time we arrived at a windy, wet, almost empty camp -- and had a "2 classics" dinner -- peanut butter and jelly sandwichs and beer.

We decided to meet the neighbors. They were nice fishermen -- father and son and uncle -- who were fishing for 2 weeks, "roughing it" -- complete with 2 generators 1.5m-high wind breaks, braai (barbeque), scotch, sweet wine (which they profusely offered us) and a pre-planned, typeset menu. They were nearing the end of their annual 2-week fishing expedition at Mile 108 camp, and we spent time around their fire warming ourselves and chatting jovially. They also helped with travel advice and looked at our punctured tire from the one flat to date (to see if we could fix it, but we could not.)

I'm now in Swakopmund, and old European town also on the Atlantic coast, a cute place with palm-lined streets and a jetty leading into the ocean, a bit reminicent for me of Venice Beach, California.

Generous Etosha

I spent three full, magical days at Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. The great gals I met on the Cape Point day trip connected myself and another independent traveler with similar goals and plans for the rest of Southern Africa, and a third traveler was met at Etosha. Fast, snap judgment decisions are made in creating travel alliances (and as pointed out in popular business literature this instinctual way of operating can be quite a bit more effective than long, drawn-out decision-making of weighing out pros and cons, etc., etc., cough-cough, etc.).

Seeing another game park in these parts helps round out my knowing and understanding of the different terrains of Africa. As compared with Kruger, Etosha is less dense with foilage and animals. At Kruger, the animals are more hidden from view because of foilage cover. At Etosha, I could see many different animals at once on the plains and in the fields. Also, different animals are more prevalent in one place versus the other, for example the impala at Kruger and the springbok at Etosha. Generally, I saw larger herds of animals at Etosha, possibly again because of the bush cover at Kruger.

In Etosha, we saw many lions! On the last of 3 evening drives before gate-closing at sundown, we were heading to the "Fairy Tale Forest" when we came upon 3 females with 4 cubs sleeping in a field. After witnessing that and stopping and at the Oliphantbaad watering hole jeweled by the white rocks reflecting the dusk, we raced back, in a manner of flying-driving, in an attempt to enter the camp before gate-closing at sundown to avoid a fine. We were making good time (and it was good fun flying through the park at dusk with the endless generosity of colors and changing light under the expansive African sky) but were intercepted by a giraffe family calmly and peacefully munching trees, wondering why the car animals and the human animals were not in their pen as all others were in camp, except us. We simply had to hold an extended photo shoot of those proud and gangly creatures in sunset sillouettes while practicing in our heads what to say at the gate for a good excuse. Excuses were ultimately unnecessary as no one cared that we were back late and simply pointed us to enter through another side gate which still sat open).

That same night, we cooked a marvelous camping-supply based meal of marinated chicken in onions, butter, red wine and fruit juice over a fire. How it turned out so delicious that the pan was wiped clean (literally) with bread we were eating, was pure luck and magic and the principles of balanced flavors (sharp, sweet, salty and sour, a hallmark of Asian cooking). That this meal was consumed under a brilliant, starry sky made everything feel more blessed.

More lions -- Later, at our camp's watering hole, we saw 1 female and 2 male lions sleeping, slumbering full-bellies up, rolling around on their backs. On the scene were also 4 black rhinos -- 2 males, 1 female and 1 baby -- and the family of giraffes we had met on the road. A short while later, we witnessed a bit of a stand off. That the rhino parents were particularly protective of the baby rhino was no surprise, but when the show-down occurred (the male rhino-lion pairs facing off individually), the lions showed deference to the irate rhinos. As they came particularly close to a fight in the final moment -- the lions sat down in response. The giraffes kept watch at a safe distance in the background. Eventually, the lions deparated, but they let us know that they are still king of the beast by roaring all night long!

p.s. Thanks to Michael for being my sous chef and for the sunset Etosha "flight" and for the pictures (including the one above)!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In Melville, toward Namibia

We left Kruger today after a full 5 days of the park, a place teeming with death, the risk of death and life. We're back in Johannesburg, in a neighborhood called Melville, a hip and happening place with many used bookstores, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is a nice treat after 5 hot, dusty days of driving many hours to see the many animals and reach our accommodations for the night -- including a few mishaps like driving the wrong way, undoing in the afternoon the whole drive we did that morning, unrealized until we reached our original departure point. Of course at that point we never could not make it to our planned destination.

I attribute this to being in the southern hemisphere and therefore the light not quite the opposite but different from what we expect... of course that is my opinion, hee hee, not shared by my friend who does not let us off the hook so easily. I have no sense of direction, I admit fully, and practice seems not to bring improvement. And we both space out from time to time, going deep into the inner terrain where it's damn interesting and apart from all things concrete and worldly, including getting from point A to point B.

I'm ready to leave South Africa. For all its overcoming of the poison of apartheid and the ground-breaking, precedent-shattering move to reconciliation, I feel weary of the furrow-browed, long looks of suspicion, unopenness.

Tomorrow I leave for Windhoek, Namibia, and I pick up another rental car and drive throughout northern and central Namibia and the Okavanga Delta in Botswana for 2 weeks.

Namibia is a naturally harsh, mysterious and singular environment. For much of its history, the extreme environment was deemed inhospitable and insurmountable (to the outsiders).

Can't wait to see with my own eyes.

Friday, November 10, 2006

In the bush

Kruger National Park is outstanding for wild life viewing. It's really fabulous to be here!

Towards Kruger / Orpen Gate via Blyde River Canyon:

Kruger is teeming with life:

The lions were too far away to capture with my camera, but with a couple more days here, maybe I'll see more!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Becoming 'like a left person'

I'm in Nelspruit, South Africa, which is between Johannesberg and Kruger National Park. A friend from New York (who since moved back home to Croatia) is here with me giving me good company!

Yesterday in Johannesberg, we visited the Apartheid Museum. Though I had familiarity with the history and I followed the end of apartheid as it was unfolding, I came to see many more layers of it, and I began to understand why still most every South African I met (in Cape Town) has a furrow on the brow and not an open countenance. It was so moving, I was in tears.

Today, I will begin my first ever African safari!

My big adventure has been driving on the left side of the road in a manual transmission car with the driver seat on the right side of the car. I have to constantly coach and remind myself to stay on the left side, turn to the left side, 'drive like a left person' -- it's challenging.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cape Town escapades II

The next day I went to Hout Bay, drove along the Atlantic coast, did a tiny bit of bicycle riding and hiking, and reached the south-westerly most point of Africa, Cape Point! I saw whales, baboons, ostriches, dassies and jackass penguins (when they cry they sound like donkeys). The scenery was STUNNING, truly some of the most breathtakingly-beautiful I have seen IN THE WORLD.

Hout Bay:

Lovely creatures:

The coast:

Cape Point:

Some great gals I met that day and I went out for a dinner at my favorite little cafe on the corner (I eat there once a day hee hee), a friendly place with healthy food, a cool vibe and mixed crowd, followed by music and dancing at Mama Africa. Yes, this is a tourist establishment, but the band played with their souls and spirits, and even the covers they did, they made all their own.

I caught the tail end of a birthday celebration for a very special person at the guesthouse and shared more good music and true revelations of our beings. How often do you meet people with whom you can talk honestly and openly from the get-go? It is happening here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cape Town escapades

Now I know why people say that Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world. Though I am not qualified to say it is THE most beautiful, I certainly agree it is A most beautiful city.

One must-do in Cape Town is Table Mountain (by foot or cable car). Katie found out that climb from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (where we could easily have spent all day) via Skeleton Gorge was an excellent one, and it was (go Katie!). The views were SUPERB! Some people warned us about the strenuousness of the climb, and there were a handful of ladders and some scrambling and a waterfall to climb. One risk is that the weather can change quickly, and in fact for a while near the top, the clouds started rolling in and tailing us, but they then held, and we were able to get down (via cable car) safe, warm and dry.

Kirstenbosch Gardens:

Ladders and a waterfall to climb (featuring Katie):

View from Skeleton Gorge

A white-sanded reservoir near the top:

Eye-to-eye with the clouds:

View from the other side, Platteklip Gorge:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Eulogy for PW Botha

""He will be remembered as a brutal dictator who enthusiastically presided over a system which denied the majority of people all their most basic human rights. He was responsible for the misery endured by the millions of South Africans he condemned to poverty. He robbed the majority of their chance to live a normal existence and improve their lives.

"He was responsible for the pain inflicted on the thousands who were jailed, assaulted and tortured by his apartheid state thugs. His hands were stained with the blood of hundreds who were murdered during the struggle for democracy and liberation under his presidency.""

Cape Times
November 3, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cell of prisoner 466/64 at Robben Island

I visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 of the almost 3 decades he served for the cause of democracy and racial equality in South Africa.

We were lucky to get tickets -- when we called on Tuesday, we were told that there was no availability until Sunday (when neither of us would be in Cape Town). We decided to go down to the waterfront and try our luck with last minute cancellations. As luck would have it, there was a large convention group there for the tour and not everyone came, so we procured the only 2 extra tickets. (Later we would learn that several others from the guesthouse tried as well and were not as fortunate.)

It was a great day, very moving. The tour guides, all former prisoners of Robben Island, added a lot to the visit -- a lot of history and commentary with humor and humanity. It was an honor to be present in the place where the peaceful end of the cruel, inhumane institution of apartheid was planned, prepared for, and patiently, actively awaited and cultivated.

The day after I visited, PW Botha died. I did not find out until the following day (I was not on the internet nor watching TV news, and I heard the following day from my tour guide for a 1-day trip I took to Cape Point.)

Sunset, the return ride by boat to Cape Town: