July 11, 2014

Days 40-41 (over rough roads)

The last few days have been transit days.  A shuttle to a ferry to a bus to a ferry to a bus in order to leave Zanzibar. 

Leaving Zanzibar

We spent a night at the same beachside camp in Dar with little stinging jellyfish bits interrupting the afternoon swim, and then embarked before dawn on a very long drive over rough roads to Arusha

Driving through the heart of town in early-morning traffic, I tried to imagine (or remember) how it would feel to see an East African city like Dar or Nairobi through fresh eyes.  People everywhere, walking miles on dusty roads to work.  Green folliage, grey and brown streets.  Cars and matatus rushing by in apparent traffic chaos.  Someone always selling something- produce, children's toys, umbrellas, maps, puppies.  

On the road from Dar es Salaam to Arusha:

Road traffic accidents contribute a real and depressing % to mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

At one point along the drive, you could look up and see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro floating, disembodied, in the clouds.  

Kili, modestly

In Arusha we camped at a site aptly named "Snake Park," which housed all manner of local reptiles.  I was offered the chance to hold a baby crocodile, but wimped out and let the handler keep his own hands over the mouth.  

4 year old crocodile

Of course, I was later justified when someone else held the crocodile too loosely and he snapped his jaws in some massive chomps.  Apparently a baby croc bite doesn't feel much different than a bee sting, but I don't like the idea of bee stings from each of the seeming 100,000 baby croc teeth.  

June 26, 2014

Day 38 (my favorite ocean)

The final days in Zanzibar were lazy days.  These days in my journal don't even attempt full sentences:

Lying on the sunny beach in Nungwi, Zanzibar.  Like Diani, sand so fine that it almost feels like dirt.  Or silk.  More reminders that I'm on familiar terrain, close to Kenya, close to home.

The encroaching tide

Days were spent sitting by the ocean with beers, and nights the same.  Perhaps some reading, perhaps a swim.  Some fine dinners and local dancing.  A snorkel if you're ambitious.  It was a time to recharge, to exhale.  To be off the bus.  A time to enjoy the natural beauty of my favorite ocean, the Indian.

Beautiful shore

Fancy restaurant bar

Fishing nets drying in the sun

Boats, Boats, Boats!

Tide and pebble patters

By night, the same
(Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya)

One morning, overcast and breezy, I waked along the shore collecting shells.  White and brown and purple, some whole others broken bits.  It's the only time I can remember ever doing that, slighty guilted by the echo of old aphorisms, "take only memories; leave only footprints."  Writing this a year later, they still live in a ziplock baggie in the drawer by my bed, awaiting a next move.

A blustery wander

Hello, old friends

Napping on my kanga-turned-towel I tried to let them dry, but high tide crept up and submerged us all, journal included.  So I brought home not only the shells, but some Indian Ocean salt on this paper.

June 24, 2014

Day 36 (some places familiar)

Sitting by the water in Stone Town, Zanzibar, not far from where I sat in 2011 when some local kids were utterly scandalized by my being unmarried at 27.  Am now unmarried at nearly 29, and I wonder where they are.

This morning was the bus from our campsite to downtown Dar, and then the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar.  This group is trying my patience.  People have begun to crack open under the time and stress of travel and togetherness.  No one appreciates the crush of the local crowd onto the ferry.  They liken it unfavorably to the wildebeest migration across the Mara river.  One eagerly anticipates the end of his trip and a return to "normalcy." This perhaps is the problem with overlanding.  There is a start to finish trajectory, with completion as the goal.  And no one realizes that it's better to enter the ferry swept along by the push of the crowd than to be crushed in resistance.  

I spent the afternoon (post-delicious coconut fish curry) walking the alleyways of Stone Town, Some places familiar, others foreign.  I remembered wandering these alleys, off the beaten tourist path, the last time I was here, but today felt more intimate in a somewhat uncomfortable way.  The twisty backroads of Stone Town are roughly divided into 4 different areas: the waterfront, the tourist shops, the local shops selling fabric and appliances, and the local houses.  Today I found myself among people's homes.  Seeing mothers cooking, laundry hanging, doors ajar, I felt as though I'd inadvertently invaded someone's privacy, and was oft abashed to take photos.  

I returned to the waterfront in the evening, to the magnetic pull of dusk swims in tropical settings, and watched young men perform acrobatic jumps from the wall into the water.  

Look for the jumper!

Grills were set for the seafood market, music was drifting, skewers were cooking.  Dusky lights.  I sat in the spot where I'd seen the streetlamps lit by sunset two years earlier, but I didn't try to replicate the illusion, lest it not be as good as the memories.  

By night, there were group drinks at a swanky rooftop bar, and then there were just the few, whittling away the hours and the beers, sitting outside on the cool sand throughout the forgotten hours of night, talking beneath stars about things almost said.  

January 15, 2014

Day 35 (so close now)

I'm still here!  Writing now from a new apartment in San Francisco that can just about fit in the palm of my hand.  It's been some long and trying months since moving back, and I'm still playing catch-up.  So today, a (mostly) straight transcription from the journal:

July 3, 2013
I'm in my tent at our beach campsite just outside Dar es Salam, and I can hear the waves of the Indian Ocean.  

I'm so close now to the place I've been calling 'home' for the past 2 years.  

It's been a long 2 days of driving, and an even longer 5 weeks to get here.  10 days now to go.  The beachside bar at this campsite is lovely, but I'm too happy to be alone, for once.  Though this has been a trip to remember, it hasn't been the trip I thought it would be.  Along the lengthy stretches of road, I've been doing a lot of reading, most recently enjoying the hiking memoir and collective essays of Cheryl Strayed.  What's sticking with me is her reminder, again and again, that the only way to change your life is to set about changing it.  To be better, you must work to be better.  These are the things that we must do for ourselves.  And I wonder, am I the problem in my own life?  

And my thoughts keep drifting back to that sorrowful Canadian- to the reasons why he's so sad and to the conclusion as to whether that sadness is OK.  I think that maybe 'sad' is just a part of who he is, and that it's not eliminating the sorrow that matters but finding a place or it to fit into his life.  I remember another sorrowful someone who once told me that the girl he loves was on Xanax and didn't love him back.  Such is the way the world turns.  We think it should crack or at least stutter under our pain, but away we spin.  And spin.  

Baobab trees tell of homecoming

Dar es Salam

November 27, 2013

Day 33 (around the bend)

Woke up early to embark on a 30 kilometer hike up to the town of Livingstonia, nestled among the mountains ringing Lake Malawi.  Did you get that?  30 kilometers?  That's like, 20 miles, for those following along with American goggles.  In canvass shoes like these.  Worst blisters I can recall.

We began along the paved roads, passing children carrying bushels of wheat-ish shrubbery to school: a punishment for prior tardiness.

The flat before the 20 mile hike

Overlooking Lake Malawi

Eventually the school children thinned out, and we turned right, away from the main road, to begin our wide switchbacks up into the hills.  Along the way, we were joined by two friendly dogs, mutts of the mushroom farm around the bend.  And they were so happy to be trotting along side us.  Sniffing the ground and begging for ham sandwiches.  Which made me both glad and sad... this is the best life for a dog, roaming free and leashless in the sun-warmed dirt.  One I'll never be able to provide in a San Francisco studio.

Dwarfed by Eucalyptus

We walked beneath Eucalyptus trees, which are some of my favorite.  We stopped to refill our water atop a waterfall, dropping sharply over the cliff.


At the top, I bought and ate a Mars Bar from a local canteen.  Begging the question, on a town on top of a hill in Malawi: Are we ever really that far from familiarity?

Also, a goat with a bouffant haircut, scratching his chin on a rock.

November 14, 2013

Day 32 (to chisel some)

One of the curse/blessing trade-offs of being always-on-the-move is that you have to be up and at 'em at the crack of dawn every day.  Curse because, duh.  Blessing because it turns out that sunrises are stunning.

Pure beauty

Drove to our second Malawi campsite today.  A more local, less touristy-feeling site, after long hours of winding up and over the perimeter mountains.  

Driving through Malawian mountains

We stopped at a local market around the way where women scowled at our cameras and I bought the most rewarding avocados I've ever encountered.  Though, that may be more a product of 32 straight days of camping food than of the produce themselves.  Though the sugar snap peas I also bought certainly didn't distinguish themselves for superstar flavor.  

But I'm getting side-tracked.  Which is easy to do when you build up a month's worth of food cravings.  My hand-copy journal is riddled with notes about the things I wished I was eating along the trip.  

We arrived at our site in the mid-afternoon, and most people went straight for a dip in the lake.  

Looking left

Looking right

My tent-mate and I went straight for a wood-carving lesson at Norman's school of woodcarving, where I was assisted by self-nicknamed "Mr. Nice" and she was assisted by "Mr. Bombastic."

Norman's School of Carving

And by "assisted," I mean that they would lavish praise upon our wood-carving skills while we hacked away at a block of tree for an hour, and would then finish 90% of the actual work in the last 10 minutes. 

The facade of skilled craftsmanship

The real craftsmanship

I (sort of) made that!

Norman's youngest son out of 12 sat an elevated railing, chipping away at a hunk of wood with a hammer, as his penultimate son joined us on our log to chisel some masks.  

The penultimate son


Following the carving, Mrs. Nice and Bombastic, not wanting to adjourn the evening too early, led us down a winding path through dusky greenery, to visit the local witch doctor for individual predictions.

 Through the dusky green

Growing up with a dad who faked preposterous fortune cookie fortunes during my childhood (Hi, Dad), I don't subscribe to much spiritual hokum, as it were.  Nonetheless, I was still hoping for a prediction with some vague poetry that could be retained and applied future situations needing the weight of significance.  Unfortunately, the "prediction" consisted mostly the answers I had already given to Mr. Nice's inquiries through the course of the afternoon:
- You have a sister;
- You don't have a boyfriend;
- You like your job.

What it looked like inside the hut

What it looked like with a camera flash

But the best part was their final pitch, in which they offered the sale of any or all of the following 3 potions:
1.) Love Potion #9- For single people who want to find love.
2.) Love Potion #7- For coupled people who want their love to last.
3.) A potion for hangovers.

Clearly, people who have done their market research.

October 30, 2013

Day 31 (no matter where)

Woke up today with the soft colors of dawn in front of me, and the sounds of waves lapping against the shore.  

Room with a view

Still in Kande, we started the day with a frenetic village tour.  Leaving our camp, you could see dozens of feet under the gate, shuffling and stamping in anticipation, some hoots and exclamations of excitement bursting through.  When the gate opened to let us tourists out, nearly 20 some-odd men began hollering and clapping as though cheering rock-stars onto the stage.  In a mere moment, we were engulfed by self-proclaimed tour guides and wood carvers, painters.  Each one adopted one of our overlanding team and tenaciously held on, both figuratively and literally.  

Canadian-donated water pumps (Canadians are popular in Kande Beach)

Lost it!

Fuzzy Kande

Village tours or slum tours, in general, get mixed reviews.  How much of the concept stems from Westerners using the context of someone else's poverty to promote their own altruism?  Fetishizing the real flesh and blood lives of other people.  But, really, how else can we know things if we don't expose ourselves?  From my end, my favorite thing to see around the countries I've been is always the commerce.  A peripteros selling lottery tickets in a plaza at the base of the Acropolis in Athens.  A hair salon in Kibera.  And these in Kande Beach, Malawi:

Kande Butchery



Bike repairs


After the village tour, I spent some afternoon time on the beach and even went for a full-body dip in the lake, where the schistomites weren't feeling as prickly as the day before.  The waves were much larger, and the current much stronger than the Indian Ocean, confusing what I thought I knew of lakes and oceans.  To get out, I had to use the high-knee-stepping technique, like a freshman practicing for marching band auditions.  And I thought, "at least it's just a lake."  As if no one ever drowned in a lake, and I'd never read Kate Chopin.  

Lake Malawi

I went online at the cyber "cafe" in the campground's reception area to take a peak at the rest of the world and found that both DOMA and Prop 8 were overturned by the Supreme Court.  History happens every day, no matter where we are.    

And then I sat here, at this table by the lake with my American water bottle and my Malawian beer:

And wrote this.