Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not that I'm complaining

First things first, I went back and added pictures to the last few posts, so check those out.

It's been a busy few weeks of lounging on the beach and I wish I could say it's all been perfect. It takes a lot to shake me these days, most anything I can just laugh off. I had been thinking lately that I don't seem to have interesting "overcoming adversity" travel stories anymore, and that everything just goes ok all the time. Then I thought about it and it's not that I'm not having issues, it's just that I'm not really impressed by them anymore.

If anything I just expect them. There is one thing however that still gives me problems, and being a child of the rains of Oregon it is embarrassing to admit. I am getting my ass kicked by the rains. At every turn I just get completely slapped in the face and kicked when I'm down by this damn weather. There are two important considerations to keep in mind:

1) this is no normal everyday drizzle. Rain in Africa is serious business. A number of times I've had the odd experience asking how long it will continue to rain only to be told that in fact it's not raining at all- "this is just a little precipitation." "Rain" means buckets of water per minute and drops the size of marbles, rains must be hid from. Rains change your day. As far as I can tell, only white people are stupid enough to try and tough it out.

and 2) I undertook an ill-fated experiment to try and camp. I bought my tent and sleeping bag and acquired a scratch yoga mat to sleep on, so I thought I had the perfect plan to save money and really take in the great outdoors (plus maybe have a lion story or two). Unfortunately, to my ultimate undoing, I discovered that "waterproof" is a subjective term. Maybe I'm an idiot for not doing more research before I bought the thing (bingo), or maybe I got conned by crappy Chinese goods. Either way, I spent several nights marking the hours by the rise in water level inside my tent. Webaale Nakumatt. I tried various ingenious schemes to soak up and prevent the drips, but ultimately gave up the morning I woke up in 3 inches of water with virtually everything I own soaked.

All my clothes have been wet for the last week or so. Try as I might, everytime I hang clothes on the line they just end up wetter than they started. It's a bit of a pickle. So if you're reading this from somewhere in Southern Africa and smell something like a mix between a Frat house basement and pet shop, it's probably me. In perhaps a related story, I've also been sick for the last couple weeks. Maybe it's due to the fact that I'm never really dry, or maybe to the fact that in an effort to save money I'm switched to the once a day meal plan. Whatever, I quit. I'm through sleeping in tents, dorm beds from here on out. I'm through starving myslef to save money, from now on I'll just shell out the $5 for a mediocre dinner- consequneces be damned. I may be coming home sooner than I had thought. Aside from this little rain issue, everything is hunky-dory though.

Anyway, back to the point. Since I last posted I have been on a series of islands in lake Malawi, reachable only by a once a week ferry or wind powered dhows (or in one lucky case a motor boat belonging to resort owner who took pity on us). I spent 3 nights on Chizimulu island, which was nice. It's a little island with a population of a few hundred with literally nothing that isn't brought in on the ferry. Basically options outside of the backpackers campsite were fish, nsima, and of course Coca-Cola. I have yet to go to any far strung corner of this continent where there wasn't coca-cola, much more so than potable water.

From there we took a boat to the bigger brother island, Likoma. Likoma is a booming metropolus with a restaurant or two, a post office, and (they say) the only hand-crank telephone left in the world. Likoma was also amazing, though the rains put a damper on things. When it wasn't raining, maybe 50% of the time, it was as close to paradise as you can get. I wish I had more to say about it, but I basically sat in a hammock all day reading with the occasional dip into the warm, crystal clear water to snorkel and observe the "greatest freshwater species diversity in the world." Not too shabby really.

So to bring it all back around to "overcoming adversity" stories. The islands were reachable only by Ferry, so I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the SS Ilala, quite possibly the oldest running boat on the planet (I heard told 1920's era, though more likely it's WWII). Just to make things interesting, there aren't any docks. To get on and off the boat requires a little Titanic lifeboat to the shore, and wading up to the beach with a 50 pound backpack. No big deal. My first day back on mainland, I got off the ferry at like 11pm and waded up the shore then hiked like a half mile to the first outcropping of village in Nkhota-kota. From there I found a little rat's nest local guesthouse. $3 for my own room. I was getting ready to go to bed and the desk guy who spoke no English came to my room with a little packet of powder and started gesturing wildly. After a few misunderstandings (is he selling me cocaine?), it became clear it was cockroach powder. Thanks man, good looking out. Cockroach free, no extra charge.

From there the plan was to take a minibus AKA matatu, AKA, dalla-dalla to Lilongwe via Salima. We made it about an hour or two down the road only to find out...

It's not there. Road's finished. Washed out. Thank you rainy season. So thanks to some quick decision making by Bright the Peace Corps, we hitched a ride in the back of a 4x4 pickup going back the other way and taking the other road, the "bad road." Aside from some slipping around and a little crick in the neck from sitting in the back of a truck for 4 hours, we made it with no probalems to Lilongwe, capital of Malawi.

So there we have it, that's all she wrote. After spending like a month without internet I'd been having some serious withdrawals, so I needed a fix. I've been in a cafe for a good 4 hours, so it's probably time to get on with my day. Next stop, Zambia.

Periodic Updates from the Lost One

(Actually Lake Kivu, stolen from the facebook page of a certain tall German)

Let's see, I got this one Sunday morning not too long ago:
Sitting in a bar on the beach drinking kuche kuche beer and listening to a rasta with a fiddle sing sweet songs about fishing and hiv.
And a few days later, right as I was getting home from work:
Camping on the beach, sunrise over the water. Would be perfect except there's a damn monsoon and my tent is about as 'waterproof' as a silk hankie. 
It reminds me of when I was in college in Vermont and my other brother would call me in February to tell me that he was biking to work because it was supposed to hit seventy that day in Santa Barbara.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dispatch from nowhere

Posting is becoming a bit of a struggle these days, though I'm doing my best to outfox this Malawian infrastructure. I won't be able to post any pictures for a while unfortunately, but as soon as I can I will.

I am still working my way down the lake one beach at a time, living the dream to the best of my abilities. This country is kind of a strange can of worms so far. It's incredibly poor, noticeably much more so than Uganda or anywhere else I've been- I think I heard that it's the 8th poorest country in Africa (so one would assume it must be up there on the list worldwide). There is almost no infrastructure, towns are tiny collections of shops with little inside, and people are just kind of ragged. On the other hand, it is somehow incredibly touristy and expensive. Mzungu price is in full force here and people seem offended when I try and tell them I won't pay 4x the real price. Everywhere I go there are a hundred local kids and men chasing me to try and sell bracelets and ganja (allegedly some of the best/cheapest in the world is in Malawi, although I of course wouldn't know anything about that). The roads along the tourist strip are great and there's delicious western food everywhere. It's a land of contradictions and I can't figure it out. That plus it costs $2 a mintue to call Tanzania 100 miles away.

Anyway, I'm in Nkhata Bay chilling out. It's a little village in the middle of nowhere turned cheap toursit destination. I'm pretty sure it's Valentines day, the place I'm staying had a big party with free watermelon/waragi jungle juice. A good time was had by all. I've been doing a little snorkeling and saw some fishes and crabs and such. I guess that's about it. I leave tomorrow on a ferry to Likoma island in the middle of lake Malawi, where I will have to stay for a week until the next ferry comes. From there I may go to Mozambique if I can get a visa, because the word is that due to 25 years of civil war, bridge bombing and landmines it is a relatively untouched corner of the planet- inaccessible by road from the populations center and capital of its own country. I'm just kind of moving with the winds, so I may or may not end up there or somewhere else.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Our Lost Little Lamb

in zanzibar kickin around eating coconuts and lobster claws on the beach. tell mom and dad i'm ok. if not back soon avenge death
Since I now live vicariously through Luke's posts as much as any one else, if not more, I have been taking the lack of updates pretty hard. Well, lucky for you, me and the whole wide internets, I'm gonna step in and help the little fella, who's having some internet connection issues. Don't get confused though, people. I am not back in Afrika, however much I would rather to be.
The internet in Malawi is awful. This is the third town I've stopped at and the first with any internet at all. No cell reception outside of towns either. This country is the VILLAGE. Lake Malawi is amazing though, bathwater with waves and golden beaches.
That's about all he gave me to work with. So to round this thing out, I'll just include a hil-arious joke that some mysterious person forwarded me about the pending/considered/whatever homosexuality law in Uganda.

Pablo: Yah! I met an old friend who almost shocked me to death. He told me that he was in the gay choir.
Bahati: Jesus Christ of Nazareth! What kind of songs do they sing?
Pablo: No, he meant GAY for Gayaza Archdiocese Youth choir.
Bahati: Eeeh! You almost shocked me too.

HAHAHA. Wait, what? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Inland beach bumming

I am now in Malawi, the train in Tanzania was utterly problem free (unfortunately?). Malawi is a nice place, pretty similar to Uganda really. It's very green like Uganda with subsistence crops everywhere, everyone speaks at least basic English like in Uganda, and most importantly people are unbelievably friendly like in Uganda. Had I only been to these two places I'd probably generalize that Africa is just like this, but it's not always the case. Kenya was surprisingly devoid of subsistence farming, and Tanzanians neither spoke much English or were overly interested in me. Not that it's a bad place, but it just didn't have the same welcoming feeling.

Malawi so far is an interesting place. It's really undeveloped, no Internet cafes or even cell phone reception outside of reasonable sized towns- at least in the north where I am so far. On the other hand there are amazing backpackers campsites everywhere, much nicer and more common than in most of East Africa. This is cool because they are fun and full of other travelers to meet, but for whatever reason the people running them seem to invariably be unhelpful, uninterested and borderline hostile. I don't know whether they're used to whiny overland-truck tourists or racist South Africans or something, but they just kind of treat you like you don't matter, whereas everywhere else people treat you like a potential long lost cousin or something. I'm having a blast, I've been traveling for the last few days with a couple Kiwis and camping every night.

Things are good, I'm working my way down the Lake Malawi coastline. Lake Malawi is big, clean, and very beautiful. It's warm like bathwater with beautiful beaches, so it would be hard not to be having a great time.

(My good buddy the security guard, Boss Xosa)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another week, another amazing trip.

I just arrived back on the mainland from a week or so beach getaway in Zanzibar with Caitlin. It was amazing: turquoise water, white sand, deadly hot African sun. It was everything a beach vacation is supposed to be, and not much else- which obviously is a great thing. We sat on the beach, we snorkeled a bit and we ate a lot of very fresh very cheap seafood. Anytime you can buy lobster claws from street vendors, you know you're doing something right. Aside from a brief bout with as sick-as-I've-ever-been food poisoning (Streetfood Special), it was perfect. That only lasted about 8 hours, so it was fine. Very ok.

It has been strange to be in such extreme tourist central areas, very very unlike being in "real" Africa. It's odd because everyone is so used to crappy, rude white tourists that everyone who deals with tourists just kind of ignores or preys on you and it becomes kind of just like every other tourist place. It's unfortunate because the majority of people who visit Africa never see the best part about Africa- the kindness of strangers. Oddly enough though, a funny thing has started happening to me. Caitlin and I will be dealing with some street tout trying to sell us something or bargaining with some vendor for a coconut, and at least once a day in Zanzibar get "It's clear you have lived in Africa for awhile. Where have you been living here?" I don't know whether it's my wicked tan (I'm convinced some Italian tourist asked if I was a White Kenyan), or my Pidgin English ("My dear, 3,000 Shillings, it just can't be. You must reduce a bit"), but something somewhere has flipped and everything seems to be cheaper.
(Sunday is apparently Locals Day at the beach)

I'm in Dar es Salaam for the next two days then I hop Ye Olde Timey colonial train back into the heart of Africa. I got my Safari mustache and my tan shirt all packed, so I'm ready for anything. Two days over the mountians to Mbeya and the Malawian border if nothing goes wrong. We'll just see.