Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Time I Almost Got Eaten By Lions

It was 2 am. Mtera Dam, Tanzania, on the dirt road 30 miles north of Iringa. Nate, Quinn, and I were going to join Quinn's family on a 2.30 am bus to Dodoma. The bus stop was in the next village three miles away, so Quinn's family took most of our belongings and hopped on a shuttle, while Nate, Quinn, and I biked there to meet them.

I rubbed my eyes half open, and dragged my zombie body onto my bike. The rough road shook up my sleep deprived brain, like one of those baby rattler toys, and left my state of mind as a box of scrambled jigsaw pieces. 'But only 3 miles!', I kept thinking, trying to conjure bubbly optimism and 100 happy faces to get myself to the bus stop.

It was pitch dark and Nate and Quinn rode in front, as was usual. Was I dreaming? I couldn't tell the difference. Pow! My bike staggered on a large loose rock, and I came tumbling down onto the gravel dirt. 'Aigh...', I grumbled.

'Come along now, MinWah, you're almost there!'

I picked myself up, but was not seeing 100 happy faces.

I arrived at the village gate under a bright orange streetlamp. 'This is it!' At least, I was pretty sure this was where Quinn's family said the bus stop was. Wasn't it? I looked around. Not a sign of life. I blinked. I squinted. 'Hello? Anyone home?' Nope. Just an empty village road with a few cool-colored streetlamps.

'Nate and Quinn would have stopped at the turnoff to wait for me', I thought, and continued biking along the road. A few more pedals. Hmm, something was wrong. I stopped. I looked around again, searching for any small clue. Once again, only a few fluorescent streetlamps and the gate glowing orange behind me. There's got to be lots of people somewhere, waiting for this bus. How come there's no bus around? And what about the people? Maybe there was another gate along the road, perhaps on the other side of the village.

Go ahead or turn around? The bus is leaving soon! I went ahead. Nate and Quinn had to be stopped somewhere waiting for me. So I started biking...I biked and biked, rushing to that obscure bus stop somewhere at the end of the village. My water bottle fell. My stick fell. I didn't stop to pick them up. My heart was racing. The road was pounding. Before I knew it, I was speeding down a steep hill, blinded by the rush of air, the absence of a moon, and the shocks of loose gravel and sudden potholes. The lights of the village were far behind me now.

It was 3.30. Where in the world was everyone? I stopped and looked again. No sign of anything. The bus must have left already. But why didn't I see it? There's only one road. Does this bus even exist? Who in the world takes a bus from a village on a dirt road at 2.30 in the morning?

Suddenly, a dark figure appeared 10 ft in front of me. I nearly tripped over my bike. It was a Maasai. He held his staff behind his neck across his shoulders, with arms draped over it. He walked deliberately across the road, and disappeared into the thorny trees. What was the Maasai doing out alone at 3 am, besides startling a young bike tourist? I wondered. Maybe he was looking for a lion; you know they say, Maasai are infamous lion hunters.

I put my bike down and sat beside the road. It was impossible to bike back up the big hill to town in the dark. There were only two things I could do now. I could sit and wait for the bus, hoping that the bus was still behind me. If that wasn't the case, I could spend the night out here, bike back to the village in the morning, figure out how to get to Dodoma and find my friends in the city. The thought of the task was overwhelming. I started to sob softly, the exhaustion of fighting rough road for the past 2 hours finally reaching me, and drifted into a partial doze.

A soft rumble stirred my senses. I opened my eyes and looked around. Nothing. But the rumble was growing louder and louder. Was it true? Was I really hearing something? Yes, there it was. The glimmer of hope. The faint glow of dilapidated headlights. I ran into the middle of the road flailing my arms. Oh no, not a good idea. They can't see me and I'll get killed. Should I keep to the side of the road? What if they don't see me? I flailed my arms on the side of the road. The faint glow came closer and closer, but had no signs of stopping. As it passed me, my heart sank. That was it.

But then it screeched to a stop. I heard voices screaming from within the bus, 'Oh my Gosh, MinWah!' Quinn's whole family stuck their heads out the window and waved. I wasn't alone afterall. One of the passengers helped lift my bike onto the roof and I climbed inside the musty overcrowded bus.

As the bus started again, a drunk Tanzanian police officer sat next to me after Quinn's mom introduced him to me. 'He was very kind and helped us find you,' Quinn's mom said. He must have lost the part that I was tired though, because he started talking incessantly, saying he was Maasai, and wanted to write to me in America and asked if he could hold my hand. I leaned my head against the window, folded my arms, and made blunt comments to drunk policeman. Even his heavy breath couldn't trump my overwhelming sense of relief knowing that I found my friends. In my sea of comfort, I wasn't far away from home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Full Pictures on Picasa

Greetings, again. I am pleased to announce: pictures are posted on Picasa!

Especially for those of you without Facebook, where some of these pictures were posted, I hope you forgive me for the long delay in posting pictures. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Update on the Knee

Thank you to those who responded to Minwah's recent updates. After leaving Africa I was able to make a few, but I could not really tell the story for those who had stayed behind, even for Orian, who was in contact with me more than anything else, and definitely not for Minwah, Nate, or Quinn. Although speaking from personal experience, it is almost impossible to make a blog post in Africa unless you are in a major city like Tanzania, and even then it is a feat, especially when you are on the move. So it is nice to see these updates after the fact. I have some more pictures from the trip, and maybe I will add to the posts I have already made. Some stories are easier to tell upon reflection, when you have a little distance, both in terms of geography and time.

I do have another update to wrap up part of a story: my knee. The update: as of today, I consider my knee pretty much healed. I've been able to run 25-minutes on the treadmill multiple days a week, and actually on Friday I ran 30 minutes, and today (Sunday) I ran 30 minutes, and did some elliptical work and stretching, and also walking to and from the T and the gym, and my knee is not acting up at all. YAY! It's been a long process, and is definitely the worst injury I've sustained in my life. It's only been since early October that I've been able to stand for a long time and walk for distances without my knee flaring up, and it's only been the past week or so since I've been able to run.

For those of you who read all along, or for those of you who have seen me since the trip, you know that my knee was the reason I left Africa, and it was not an over-use injury this time (on my bike trip across the U.S., I was constantly dealing with various over use issues). It was, like many accidents, the silliest of mishaps, one wrong step into darkness, a wrenched knee. Even at the time I considered myself I mentioned before, I really thought in that split second I realized that I hadn't placed my foot on something solid, I thought I was going to go down into the darkness of the water at the base of the dock, tangled with my bike, too hard to find. So when I found myself wedged between the dock and the boat, I counted my blessings.

At first my knee seemed to heal quickly, but as one month passed, and then two, and I still could not walk around the block without an awkward gait and pain, I started to worry. Of course, in the first month, I didn't exactly take it easy. I thought that if I kept exercising...gently, mind you...the knee would work itself out. So I took the dog for a walk everyday and did yoga in a room heated to 95F. Well, the knee didn't get better, and for awhile it got worse. So I tried not doing anything. This was very hard for me, and actually took some concentration, to convince myself, "not today, just a little longer," and especially with the grey and rainy spring/early summer, didn't do anything good for my spirits.

Eventually I started to see a physical therapist recommended to me by my father, who has gone to this guy for various things, most recently his back. I've always been a little skeptical of traditional doctors and their ability to treat musculoskeletal injuries, but since Dad used to call physical therapists "physical terrorists" I thought I would give this place a try. Everyone was super nice and gave me little exercises to do to keep my supporting muscles strong, or build them back up. They also tried some techniques like ultrasonic stimulation and some kind of voltage stimulation that was supposed to get gunk from the healing process up and moving. This was in late June and early July.

The physical therapy process was an interesting one since I haven't had any before. I don't have time today, but maybe in the future I'll write more about the experience and the things I tried. Anyway, if you are in CT, I definitely recommend the Eastern Rehabilitation Network branch in Blue Back Square, West Hartford. Since Orian and I didn't have insurance back in the States, my parents generously assisted me financially by paying for my sessions: at $90 a session, they weren't cheap, but they were worth it. I don't remember now how many sessions I had, but I think I had around seven.
If I need to get physical therapy, I'd still be a little skeptical if I didn't have a recommendation from someone. If you are thinking about P.T. for something, ask around and find someone through a friend. I guess it's like finding a doctor: some are better than others. But a bad physical therapist has the potential to do a lot of damage.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here, the Long Journey Has Ended

Ah, There's No Place Like Home...
(I mean, There's No Place Like Sleeping in the Streets of Egypt)

Edfu, Egypt

Suez and Cairo, here we come!

North of Zafrana, Egypt

Mouth of the Nile

Ras el Bar, Egypt

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Road That's Passable

CONGRATULATIONS to our fellow Irish lads for Biking Across Africa!!!

We meet Maghnus, Brian, Burns, and Alan in Moyale, the border town of Kenya and Ethiopia. In the coincidence that we are stuck in Moyale due to money issues, we happen upon the four of them in the streets of Moyale, Ethiopia side. 'Hey bike tourists!' Nate and I run up to them and before we know it, questions start spewing out of our mouths...Where did you start? Where are you going? What's the road like? Where did you find water? Are there good camping spots? Where are you from?...

Meanwhile, a crowd of Ethiopians forms around us. Sooner or later, we are the biggest show on the street--passerbys jumping up and down, trying to get a glimpse of the faranjis; taxis and cars honking their horns, trying to get through; locals mocking our mannerisms, trying to make sense of what we say; 'front row' spectators with jaws hanging open and eyes stuck in a trance, mesmerized by the incessant exchanges gushing out of our mouths.

But our excitement is interrupted by a cool breeze--the sun is fading fast, and the boys have not yet found a place to stay. We agree to meet later at 'Fekadu Hotel' for drinks.


Nate and I arrive at 'Fekadu Hotel', eat our share of injera and stew, and blabber excitedly while we wait (about how we have new people to talk to besides each other). Waiting--8 o' clock--waiting--9 o' show. Nate says: 'They probably couldn't find a place to stay until dark, and by the time they got settled it was too late.'

But actually, the conversation went like this--
Maghnus: Where'd you say they'd meet us?
Brian: I don't remember. I wasn't listening that closely.
Maghnus: What do you mean you don't know? You said you knew! I thought you knew, that's why I didn't ask twice.
Brian: Sorry, man. It started with an F. Something like Fruc...fruc...fruc-ti!
Maghnus: Fructi?
Brian: Yes. I'm positive--
Maghnus: Fructi? Isn't that the name of a shampoo?
Brian: What?...No! It's Fructi--
Maghnus: No! That's not right! Fructi is a shampoo!
Brian: Just listen to me. Nate talked to me...not you!

...they walk up to a local...

Maghnus: 'Chyu know where 'Fructi Hotel' is?
A Local: Fructi, fructi, oh yes, yes!(...leads them blindly in circles...) Here, Fructi...! (points to most dilapidated building on street)
All-Other-Locals: Faranj! YOU! You look for hotel? Cheap! You you you! Birr? You! Shilling? Change money? You! Rich man!

...taking matters aside...

Brian: I don't think they're here.
Maghnus: Of course this isn't it! I told you!
Brian: This isn't my fault!


I find that's generally how conversations go when you're traveling with other people for a Long. Time. If you get past it though, it all becomes good fun.

They were headed in the opposite way: from Addis Ababa to South Africa. They were traveling much more high tech than us. They had laptops, ipods (man, haven't seen one of those in ages...), cameras, and video cameras. They had sleek-looking Thorn bikes, and color coded Ortlieb panniers. And Maghnus--crazy guy--brought 150 patches with him. Generously, he lent a few to me. (Thanks, Maghnus!)

On the other hand, Nate and I had what Orian coins 'wingnut bikes'. My panniers looked like lopsided tumors growing off my wheels, after I resewed them to double their capacity; my 15-20 liters of water bottles hung off the sides like Medusa's hair in an intricate strap system; and my bike frame screamed 'whackjob!' because a hippie painted it with leopard prints when he was stoned for three months.

But our new friends found value to our 'wingnut-ness.' Nate and I helped them tune brakes and shifting, patch up tires, and repair Maghnus' bent frame. In exchange, we played with their 'tech gadgets'--music streaming from the ipod like a heaven sent gift to feed the soul...

It's simple moments like these that inevitably keep you going. That there was nothing to be afraid of, even in the vast mystery that lay in front. That these Irish lads were physical proof that the road ahead was passable. That we--we were not alone.

(Thanks: Maghnus, Brian, Burns, & Alan. Keep in Touch.)

Sure Has Been a Long Way!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Apologies, Apologies...In a Nutshell

I realized from a few recent emails that by fading out on this blog, we actually left many people in limbo worrying about us. Did we make it? Did MinWah get eaten by a lion? Did Quinn die from malaria? Did the lot of us get kidnapped and held for ransom? WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO US?!!!

Now, you can take a few deep breaths and put yourself at ease. Because WE MADE IT! Though we all had different ways of making it, we all made it safely back to the US, and back to our respective lives.

I will hopefully, in shah allah (God willing), be writing stories about our African journey in retrospect. They will be posted here.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported us; it meant the world when we were stuck in the most daunting places. So, if you're bike touring and just happen by...

Much love,

What Happened to Us (in short)

Nate and I arrived at Port Said, the Mediterranean Sea at the mouth of the Suez Canal, on Aug 6, 2009. Then we did a little musing about in Ras el Bar, the mouth of the Nile River. He wrote about it:

As you know, Karen went home in April. She had been thinking about going home since Malawi; she wanted to spend some time with her family before she started grad school in the fall. Then in Dar es Salaam (capital of Tanzania), she sprained her leg and decided to fly home.

Quinn got malaria in Tanzania. He had been sick for 3 weeks before we actually found out. After he recovered from that, he started to think about bike touring in Europe instead, where he could visit friends for the summer. He knew the section through Northern Kenya was going to be on rough road. Would he want to relive pain when he's just recovered from malaria, and already gone through his rite of passage on his Alaska-to-Argentina trip? Ironically, when we reached Nairobi, he found out he got malaria again, and decided on Europe.

Orian left us at the head of the Bad North Kenya Road; he hitched a ride straight to Ethiopia. Since Karen wasn't in Africa anymore, he wanted to get to Egypt in time to fly home for their anniversary. He figured he'd skip trudging through bad roads, because like Quinn, he felt he already went through his rite of passage on his Alaska-to-Argentina trip. He had to take some buses through Ethiopia and Sudan in order to make it. But what a trip, Nairobi to Cairo in 6 weeks!

Sometimes, I wish I'd taken a bus through some parts of Ethiopia too! I wouldn't have been so mentally drained by the time we entered Sudan.


Where We Are Now

I am back in New York City with my parents, although I travel frequently to Boston for my job search. Nothing has amounted to anything yet, but I have had a few first round interviews, and that's a start. I'm trying to follow other, more creative interests in the meantime...(like urban farming and fixing bikes in order to nurse my withdrawals from New Zealand and bike touring)

Karen is getting a Master's in Building Technology at MIT. She's very happy with her program. She's studying water flows in cities and gets to go to South America in January to study archaeological sites!

Orian received a Gates Scholarship to pursue a PhD (building high efficiency diesel engines) at Cambridge University in England.

Quinn just landed a temp job in Alaska, working with his parents at Boeing's missile defense site. He's starting college in California in January.

Nate biked back to Wisconsin from New York. I think he's spending time with his grandparents and looking for a job as a writer.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

They keep you going

Yay bicycle tourists!! Out of the last three months, no sign of crazy people on bikes in Africa. And out of all the places in Africa, we met 2 here in the North Kenya desert! How happy we were to meet them! They were coming from Nepal and the Middle East, had taken a boat from Yemen to Djibouti, down Ethiopia and into Kenya. They had been riding through the desert for 10 days, only able to do 40 kms in a whole day's ride because of The Really BAD Road. It's been a common theme: people telling us about The Really BAD Road. I've been having major doubts about riding through this 600 km desert, but they did it! I had renewed hope for our own journey north. I'm bracing myself for the next few days.

A white man stopped in his landrover to ask if we were Ok. The next day, the same man stopped. He invited us to visit him at the Anglican church in Marsabit. So we did, and what a lovely home to come to after 5 days in the desert. A beautiful garden, and MARMITE! They were missionaries from the UK, and really wonderful hosts in the middle of nowhere. What a nice surprise. After a days of rest here, we might be ready to brave the harsh desert again...

He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand...

...and I said, I've travelled every road in this here land.' As I wrestle with wind throwing me into the sand and choke on the dirt that fills my lungs, all that keeps me going is good ol' Johnny Cash.

It is a God forsaken land in Northern Kenya. The days are so hot, the road so tough, and the wind so windy!! We made it from Isiolo to Marsabit in 5 long days. Didn't even think I'd make it after falling over so many times, lying helplessly in the sand. But we're only halfway to the end of the rough road, and not even to the roughest part yet.

It's only me and Nate now. It was a sad day when we parted three ways in Isiolo. Orian left early in the morning to catch a ride to Ethiopia. Quinn left after breakfast back to Nairobi. I couldn't help but let the tears run down when I thought of our long journey still ahead. The Northern Kenyan desert was looming before us. just us two-the two rookies. What would we do about the bandits? And water? And the rocky, sandy road? And the unrelenting sun?

But we all had to move on. And I thought back to leaving Karen, Ariel, and Seager after my cross US trip. We would all be alright and thinking of each other. What could I do? I took a deep sigh, loaded up my bike, and started pedaling...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Update from Ethiopia

I just spoke on the phone with Orian, who has just crossed over the border into Ethiopia. He was sampling some of the local cuisine, getting his first taste of njera, the spongy flatbread made from fermented grain.
"It tastes like that stuff in Botswana--it must be made from sorghum," he said, referring to this thick sour porridge we bought at the gas station in Nata. We'd added sugar but still couldn't stomach the taste.
Njera is tasty, though, at least when used to scoop and sponge up the spicy lentil or meat stews that are characteristic of Ethiopian cuisine. At this border post, all they had was meat stew, Orian said, which he won't eat. I could see it being a little tough to enjoy without something to temper the sourness.

"Did you try the coffee yet?" I asked.
"No, although it looks like this place has some...wait, that looks like an espresso machine! That's impressive, this is such a hole in the wall place!"
"That sounds like what Charlie promised."
Charlie was a British bicycle tourist we met on the road in Tanzania. We'd had a slow and chilly morning, stopping every 10k for chai and chapati. We were going up a hill, also slow. "Is that a bike tourist?" Orian asked. We frequently had false calls--from far away, locals carrying bags of charcoal or whatever on the side of their bikes will look like a bike tourist. But as he got closer, this cyclist was pale skinned and had touring bags. Charlie was animated and traveling solo from the U.K. "Ethiopia has coffee," he'd said. "Relic of the Italian occupation during World War II...everyone has an espresso machine. You'll go into this little hole in the wall place and they'll have an espresso machine."

Romano, an Italian living in South Africa, had promised something similar. Romano had done missionary work in Ethiopia a decade or two ago, and said they were big drinkers of coffee. He didn't say anything about espresso machines, though--he talked more about traditional coffee ceremonies, where it sounds like they drink coffee the way South Americans drink mate: grounds are put into a cup and the first drinker (usually the visitor) gets the most potent brew, which gets progressively weaker as the cup is passed around, the grounds not being changed, and each drinker consuming the whole cup. All the other countries we'd been to we did not find much in the way of brewed coffee--even South Africa relies on instant coffee.

Orian has another 1000km to go before getting into a big town, which may be Addis Ababa. He's only got $20, so he may not be drinking much coffee, but hopefully he gets to have a few cups. I know he's been missing his morning cup. Maybe he'll get to sample some traditionally brewed coffee--I hear coffee originated in Ethiopia.

Orian and the others split up when the tarmac ended south in Kenya. Nate and Minwah are riding the dirt section and it sounds like Quinn is heading to Europe to bike tour there before flying back to the States.

Hopefully when Orian gets into Addis we can get some stories straight from the horse's mouth.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Chitenge is the word used for 'material' or 'fabric' throughout Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.  It is usually very colorful and sold in 2m long sections.  Two pieces are enough material to make a tailored outfit but it is often worn unaltered: one piece is wrapped around the waist as a skirt and occasionally women will wrap a second piece around their head, tied architecturally, and may have a third piece folded and draped over their shoulders.  

The fabric made in Africa is wax-dyed.  Below, the pattern on the top (the orange one) was made in Tanzania on a piece of fine cotton, and the bottom pattern is from Zambia, on a courser weave cotton.  The pieces from Africa tend to be very colorful.

In Mbeya, Tanzania, we stayed near a police station in the middle of a market.  Across from this police station, while Orian was trying to talk to the guys and find a place to stay, I went to the fabric stores to look around.  I returned the next day and picked out some chitenge that is wax-dyed and made in Pakistan.  Chitenge from India and the surrounding countries tends to be on a finely woven cotton with more subtle colors and more intricate patterns.  In the pictures below you can see the subtle tie-dye or batik-type pattern underlying the main print.

I had a couple of outfits tailored from the Pakistan-made cloth in Dar es Salaam.  Each outfit cost $20 to tailor, which is not small money (I hear tailoring is cheaper in India), but it is also a good deal for the cut and the fit, especially because the tailor provided the lining and the zippers.  
The style is a little conservative, which is how most people dress there--very modestly.  The outfit on the top is two pieces, a top and a skirt.  The way the tailor matched up the swirls in that outfit is very geometric: notice the reflective symmetry on the right and left sides.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Zanzibar Again...

So, I'm out in the rain with my bike, heading towards the dock.  Orian is out there already.  I'm following the crowd, which is pushing all against each other, the each man for himself mentality.  I think briefly back to the time I was in Japan.  I had gone to the fireworks with an MIT friend who was living there, Miles Colman, and there were 3 million people there on the riverbanks, watching the fireworks.  When the fireworks were done, everyone started moving at the same time.  I would have rather left early, or lagged behind, because I don't like being in the main part of the crowd, but the crowd was so big, it just went on.  We were pulled into the crowd, converging from the banks into narrow streets leading towards the one T station in the town.  And no one shoved, no one pushed, no one tried to move past one another.  They just accepted their place in line and orderly moved towards the station.  It was the least stressful crowd situation I've been in.  Now, I don't know what that says about Japanese culture, but it was in contrast to the confusion and commotion and anxiety of the dock.  We were funneled towards a narrow opening in a gate, I was stuck when someone tried to push their way in front of me, and then the crowd pushed us through.  

We were in the loading area.  It was dark, except for the lights on the boat, and the headlights of the cars, that were parked haphazardly, no system.  People everywhere.  I did what I try to do when I get in a crowd--step off to the side and survey the situation.  I needed to find Orian--he had come in ahead of me, and I knew he would be somewhere off the side, waiting for me with our things.  I moved towards one of the cars where there seemed to be fewer people and moved to walk around it.  

I took a step.  I put my right foot forward.  There was nothing beneath it.  I felt myself falling.  I cursed in my mind but did I scream?  I don't think I had the thought, it all happened so quickly.  I knew in that split second that I had stepped in that space between the dock and the boat.  I am in the water, cramped between the boat and the tall unforgiving concrete side, dark, the boat to my other side, dark, tangled with my bike.  Dark below, dark above, so much will I ever get out?  Will anyone hear me shout?  How will I find Orian?  I must find Orian.  But I am not in the water.  I am trapped between the boat and the dock...the boat is close enough that I cannot fall through.  Only my right leg goes in; my torso, my hips keep me from falling the rest of the way.  

I am so relieved that I start to howl.  I can get out, I thought.  I see people moving towards me, moving to grab me.  I can get out myself, I thought; I can't let these people help me, they just want money.  But my bike is on me, on top of me and I cannot lift it, my position is too awkward.  I just need Orian; if he is here, everything will be okay.  I try to tell them this, but they speak no English or do not want to listen.  Okay, I am hysterical, I would not listen to me either.  Am I even intelligible?  Strong arms lift me out as my bike is lifted up and off, and just as I am starting to feel better, I try to stand.  My leg gives way beneath me.  I am so scared.  What did I do to my leg?  I am sobbing and howling now, I have no idea where Orian is, maybe he will hear me?

The guys are dragging me around.  They keep pulling me off balance but it is not their fault; they are trying to get me to a safe place, trying to help me find my husband, and my leg will not hold weight.  Every time it gives way I sob because I am scared and confused and I don't like when my body does not work.  And now it is starting to ache and burn.  Around me I hear "mzungu," and I know they are talking about me and telling people how I was hurt, trying to find Orian.  I wonder how they will find him, but we are the only white people on the dock, and there he is, right in front of me.

They let me go, and I just wrapped my arms around him and sobbed, big chest shaking heaves.  "What happened?" he asked.  I try to tell him that I fell off the dock, but each time I try to say a word I just quiver and let out a sob.  I think he got the idea; he carried me over to my bags and set me down.  He went off to get my bikes.  I set out to try out my knee and see what was wrong with it--it was obviously cramped and would move, but was it broken or sprained?  I credit my background in athletics and my training in science to provide me with a presence of mind to do that while still sobbing hysterically.  I could move my toes.  I could move my knee around.  There was no pointed break, no torn ligaments.  Okay.  

And I still cried, I cried because I knew that I couldn't ride to Nairobi.  It was so easy for a little mishap to just decide the rest of the trip.  There was nothing I could do; it had been decided for me.  And cried because I was still worked up at having almost fallen into the water.  Orian comes back, and with him around I calm down, the adrenaline stops being pumped into my system, I can breathe without quavering.  I let him pick me up and help me hop up onto the boat.  The guys put us into their little cabin on the ship, a little area blocked off from regular passengers by a little locked half-door.  They went to look for a key, and when they couldn't find it, they hammered at it.  They helped us bring our bags up.  They did not ask for money.  There were some cushioned benches.  Orian set me up on one of the benches, with something under my leg to support it, because it did not want to bend but gravity was dragging at it.  He brought over the first aid kit, and we dressed it as well as we could: 2 Aleve, arnica gel (which I discovered on the last bike trip...homeopathic remedy for joint and muscle pain), and an ace bandage.  I drank a soda (I'd had nothing to drink since the chai in the morning) and fell asleep. I'd wake up occasionally and stretch my knee some, or would ask Orian to help me down the stairs to the bathroom.  

I guess that is the end of that story.  There is not much to tell; the boat ride was fine and quite comfortable; it helped that we had our little bench and also that there were fewer people on board, and that the ocean did not make the boat tip quite as much.  We went back to the hotel we'd been at earlier in Zanzibar.  Orian came down with a bad cold, and so the two of us were invalids for the three days we were in Zanzibar and one or two days in Dar.  While in Zanzibar Orian would put the tarp on the rear rack of his bike and I would hop up and we would ride around when we wanted to go somewhere.  Each day I could hobble around a bit more.  It was funny; when we finally got off of Zanzibar and took a boat back to Dar es Salaam, it was the same boat we'd taken to Pemba and Back: the Buraq II.  We got to know the crew well.  One young man, Havi, introduced me over his cell phone to his girlfriend, who was super cute.  She wanted to learn English; I sent her one of our Swahili-English dictionaries, c/o Havi.  She said he wants to marry her but she wants to go to school first.  

When I think back on our time in Pemba, I just shake my head and chuckle a little bit.  It was not the smoothest trip we've ever taken.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pemba Island

The ferry was just off the dock, making its way out to sea.  Looking out at the water there was only darkness, but lights glowed warmly inside the passenger area behind us an occasionally illuminated a wave crust just off the boat.  It was a hot and sticky night, and Orian and I were glad to be outside with the breeze, away from the crying children, the stale breath of a room packed too tightly.  There must not be any regulations on carrying capacity, I thought.  

People were not quite ready to sleep.  What had been a quiet and private little corner turned into a happening spot, with 12 or 15 men standing about 8ft down from us on the walkway,crammed together, leaning against the rail, trying to see over a stack of bags and mattresses to watch a movie playing inside.  A cute little boy came and sat next to Orian and me; I was writing in my journal, but Orian was talked to him awhile.  Then Orian was reading, and the boy moved closer to me, staring at me.  I looked up.  "Hello," I said.  How are you?" "Give me money," he said insistently.  "No," I responded, "Where is your mother?"  He pointed inside.  "Give me some money."

"I am not going to give you any money," I said, and went back to writing in my journal.  But the moment was gone and I was tired of writing.  The boy was still sitting there.  I leaned up against Orian and tried to sleep.  Every once in awhile I would open my eyes, when a person walked by or when a wave crashed loudly, and the boy was still there.  Every so often he would stick out his hand or demand, "Money."  Eventually he went away.  

We set our bags up against the wall, and we each lay our sleeping pad partly on our bags and partly on the deck.  The deck was not more than a meter wide, and after the boat pushed off more foot traffic began filtering past, which meant we had only a foot and a half or so in which to spread out our stuff and find some sleep.  I got myself situated quite comfortably, and drifted off.  But there was a drip from the floor above; we didn't know from what, but it was a constant drip, and as the boat rocked from side to side, the drips would drip on us as it leaned to one direction and then drip into the sea when it tipped towards the other direction.   I sat up.  We lay a tarp for me over by the railing, away from the drip.  People had to step over me to walk down the way, so I had a hard time falling asleep because I was afraid someone would not see me--I did not want to be stepped on.  But it was comfortable to lay flat, instead of on my bags and I fell asleep again, only to be woken not much later by water crashing above me.  I got wet--though not soaked, enough to not want to stay there; the tarp was in a puddle.  
"Orian, I got splashed by a wave," I said to him groggily, nudging him awake.  
"Oh yeah?" he said, "Do you want to move?"
"Not really."
"Well what do you want to do?"
"I don't know," I said stupidly, "I guess I'll just sit here [against the wall, where it was drier]."  There were no obviously open spaces, and I didn't want to sleep by myself.  Even though I cannot actually interact with Orian when I am sleeping, I preferred to sleep next to him.  So I went and sat on my bags by the rail and groggily tried to relax, not expecting to find sleep there but too tired to think of a better solution.  The ferry tipped back and forth more and more violently with each tilt until it would suddenly calm before beginning the procedure anew.  That is why I had been hit by the wave; we had passed the protection of Zanzibar and were getting the ocean waves at their full strength, which were causing the boat to tip further towards the water.  The water was splashing aboard more and more violently.  It was getting to difficult to avoid; I sensed that if I stayed there I would be soaked in no time.  Not only that, but because of the rocking motion, sitting up was making me feel nauseous.  I got up and went towards the smelly bathroom at the stern of the boat.  There was a large coil of rope there, by which the anchor was attached to the ship.  There were now only a couple of people here, although it had been crowded when Orian and I first boarded.  I sat down.  It was nice and I was dry.  I went to get a tarp and one of my bags for a pillow and a fleece to keep me warm and set it next to the giant coil.  I fell asleep leaning against my bag.  

When I awoke, an hour or so later, there were more people around me.  There was a man sitting next to me on the head of a pipe.  He had his elbows on his knees and propped his head in his hands, trying to sleep.  There were more people on the other side of the corner.  I fell back asleep, taking time to overcome the nausea I had in my belly every time my head was lifted up.  

Retching.  That was the next sound I heard: violent, dry, heaving, right by my head.  I had taken my glasses off and stuck them up my sleeve (the easiest place to keep them safe and handy) and I am blind without them, but I guessed that someone was getting seasick.  "Not near me, please," I thought to myself, "not on the floor next to me...if she vomits there...," here I imagined the smell, the wetness, "I am close enough to being sick when I am awake as it is."  I fumbled and found my glasses, putting them on.  There was a middle-aged crone in black (black dress cover, black head cover), leaning over, one hand on the railing, the other clutching her stomach as she leaned over, heaving just outside the bathroom but not moving to open the door.  The man sitting next to me on the pipe opened the bathroom door because she seemed content to get sick on the deck.  Opening the door brought a flood of "fresh" foul scents; the smelliest bathroom I'd seen on the trip.  It swung open; the woman didn't close it behind her.  The man closed it.  I am not sure whether the woman was sick or not, but she was in there a long time.  By the time she had come out a long line had gathered, women and children, needing to pee.

I was a bit astounded by the quality of their dresses, the dresses on the women and the dresses on the little girls.  Many wore crappy plastic flip-flops, some wore nice heels, but almost all the women had on chiffon beneath their black caftans and head wrappings.  Chiffon veils.  Little girls in chiffon, wearing dresses that would be on a flower girl at a fancy wedding.  Many women in Tanzania wore clothes like this;  the girls might be playing in the mud, living in thatched huts, but they played in chiffon.  The women might squat in an outhouse and have no plumbing  and eat chips (french fries) for a meal, but they wore chiffon, or silk, or satin.  And here on this boat it was even more astounding; I cringed whenever I touched a surface on the boat, and I was in my dirty traveling clothes.  Well, whatever.

I slept like this the rest of the night, until day started breaking.  It was cloudy and started drizzling before we pulled into the dock on Pemba.  There were no lights as we approached the island, even though the dawn was just breaking.  Not very well developed, not like Zanzibar, where most places had decent electricity.  

It was very picturesque when we pulled in.  Misty harbor, beautiful dhows.  When we pulled in, we let most of the passengers debark before we tried to get our things off.  Orian brought some of our panniers, which we had had to take off to load the bikes, and I had the handlebar bags.  I sat with the stuff while Orian made trips back to the ship.  Off the boat, all was chaos: no rhyme or reason to the unloading, not traffic patterns, every man for himself.  I held our little corner; it was alright, the crowd moved past to get off the dock.  It started raining harder; I put on my rain jacket, opened the tarp, and sat underneath it.  Once we had all our stuff in one place, we braved the rain to load our bikes and moved towards land.  It rained harder and harder as we moved towards the buildings off the dock, that we were completely soaked within 100m.  We just wanted to find a dry place, but someone saw that we were mzungus and waved us into immigration.  Another hassle; they stamped us for Pemba Island.  Then they sent us back into the rain.  Everywhere people were standing under the eaves, just waiting out the storm.  But we didn't know where we were, we were hungry, and we had no place to go.  I was already soaked.  I just wanted to move somewhere dry, where we could sit out of the damp and eat something hot.  We passed buildings, trying to find our way through the blinding downpour.  Up a hill that was now a river, overcoming branches and other obstacles the river carried with it.  I didn't know where to go, just up, past the little shanties that probably had chai but had no shelter.  Up, up, I hope I find something, and then there were some buildings.  The rain let up a little; still raining, but easier to see.  
"Una chai?" Orian asked the shopkeeper.  "Do you have chai?"  He did and we parked our bikes and went inside.  No chapati.  I picked a roll and ordered some soup, and Orian had some njera-like crepes: basically, a spongy pancake,  not very flavorful.  The soup was overly salty, but was warm.

We sat there, wet.  I put my contacts in at the sink; better to wear contacts when it is raining.  This is where I would put contacts in in Tanzania; it was hard to find water, but at places with chai we were brought water with which to wash our hands and I would take advantage of the opportunity to wash my hands, use hand sanitizer (the water was no good to drink), and put in my contacts.  

We talked about what we would do next.  First we needed money; we had 60,000 shillings but we would probably need at least 40,000 for the boat ride, and a night at a guesthouse would cost 10,000-15,000, and we needed food.  The rain had let up some; we wandered into the street and rode up to an intersection with what looked like the main street.  Pemba looked dead, like one of those towns in the American West that used to be vibrant but now was dying, buildings boarded.  It reminded me more of the American dying towns than African dying towns, because many of the buildings were multistory (instead of one).  Across the street was the Pemba Crown Hotel (aptly named because no royal ever had slept there), which had been recommended to us by the immigration officials down on the dock, but which cost 10,000 shillings per person, more than our budget, especially because after riding up and down the road, there was no ATM.  There was one in Chake, we heard, about 30km away.  

Well, okay, so no luck there.  We still needed to figure out when we could get a boat to Tanga.  It was raining again; I didn't want to go down to the docks.  It wasn't that far: maybe a quarter kilometre or half a kilometre; I just didn't want to go.  I hate riding in the rain, especially because as I sit there getting all wet and sticky, I just can't help picturing the decline of my things into irreparable sliminess, moldiness, and smelliness.  I know, I know, it's not very tough of me.  I might get used to it if there were dryers...but I won't make any excuses.  Orian said I could wait in the cafe and wait for him.  What a husband!  I'm glad he puts up with me.

Anyway, he went down to the docks, I sat in the cafe, and 30-45 minutes he came back, completely drenched, because while he was out it had starting downpouring.  What he had found out was that there might be more ferries coming into the opposite side of the island from where we were or there might not be.  There might be a ferry to Tanga or there might not be.  
"There is no boat to Tanga," one person said.
"There is a boat, the Fatih, but it only goes once a week.  Maybe it will go this week.  Let me call my friend."  So he called his friend.  "Maybe it will go out Thursday.  But  it doesn't go out from this dock; you must go to the other side of the island."

With that air of uncertainty, we decided to risk going to the other side of the island.  The road took us to Chake, where we could pick up some money.  We found a transport across the street from where we ate breakfast a van that would seat 12 people with an open rack on top for luggage.  Orian and I were the first people on the bus; we negotiated $4 for the two of us and our bikes to Chake.  Eight more people piled in and we set off.  Not bad.  We hit the first bump.  Thump.  There was no suspension.  Okay, that was okay.  One young man drove the bus and the other manned the door, pulling it open and bargaining with potential passengers: destination, price, all shouted out of the door of a van that seemed to only slow when a bargain had been struck.  More people piled in before others climbed out; we ran at an average of 16 passengers.

Orian and I nodded off, tired from a restless night on the ferry.  Thump.  I woke up to a burning sensation in my nose...I had been leaning my head against Orian's shoulder as I slept, and one of the bumps we hit sent my nose into his arm.  Ouch!  I rubbed my nose and looked out the window.  It was raining, but pretty, mist settled in the valleys, different from Zanzibar; hillier.  

We were soon in Chake, got some money at the ATM; though the town did not look much busier than where we had started this morning, it apparently had a hospital, a small airport, and this ATM.  We found a transport to the port we needed to get to, a pickup in which the back had been converted to hold passengers: benches, a roof, and tarps on the side that rolled up and down.  We started with them rolled down, because of the rain, but rolled them up to get the exhaust moving.  As with the van, there was a driver and another man who collected money, found passengers, etc.  Since they couldn't talk directly, the collector communicated with the driver by banging change on the metal bars.  

This truck ran at an average of 20 passengers or so; although this leg of the trip was shorter, it ran longer, because there were many passengers and they were all local.  It was cramped and sticky, but we soon arrived at our destination.  I was happy to get out of the back of the truck; breathing in exhaust was making me feel nauseous.  We unloaded our bikes in an empty dirt lot near the dock, the driver over charged us, and then he took off.  Orian went to ask about ferries while I loaded our bags onto our bikes.  Well, he went to find someone to ask; this town was even smaller than the one we had arrived at Pemba in and was nearly deserted when we arrived.  

There were no boats at the dock and no one had any definitive idea of when one would arrive.  No one seemed to have any interest in the boats, or anything, really.  We found a place to eat, but all they had was chai, which we were not in the mood for.  As we stepped into the restaurant, over the stone gutter, a pipe from the upper floors of the building sputtered and spat out a liter of coagulated blood, which is probably the most disgusting thing I have seen on the trip.  That also turned my appetite from the place.  After wandering around the neighborhood, in which we found tiny shops selling nothing and no food, we decided to go find a guesthouse.  There was one.  We rode towards it.  It was up on a hill, which was well-paved, and had a nice view overlooking a quaint cove that seemed blue even on this grey day, with a canoe carved from a single tree, and a palm tree.

We tried the guesthouse, asking them what their fee would be for the night.  A young man ran off and brought back a laminated piece of paper, with fees in English and prices in U.S. dollars, listing a single room at $10/night*person.  Although it seemed like a decent place, I was tired of being overcharged, especially in a town that obviously had no business.  We tried bargaining--I offered to pay him 15000 shillings a night for Orian and I to both sleep in a single room, with the promise of purchasing meals from him.  He wouldn't accept.  So we left.

We rode back to town and picked up a transport; that was the only guest house in town.  This time we did not sleep; we were too worked up.  All I wanted to do was to get off of Pemba--no one here had been friendly, no one here had been gracious, it was raining, and there was no way to get to Tanga.  Although Orian had thought we could find a local boat, if not a ferry, to Tanga, there were also no local boats, and the people we talked to made it clear that if there was 1. they never took them, and 2. it was forbidden anyway, because there had been an accident.  The only way was back to Zanzibar, and if we could manage to catch it, back to Zanzibar on the very ferry we had come in on...I didn't think I could bear to spend another day on Pemba.

We made it back to the dock by 6p.m.  We managed to find some food at the restaurant at which we'd eaten breakfast; everything else was closed.  My stomach was happy and settled a bit.  It was raining.  We rode down the hill with the river; it wasn't raining hard enough to grow the river that had been there earlier.  Okay.  Although we were told that boarding began at 7 p.m., at that time there was no sign of boarding.  We waited under the eave of a large building as it grew dark, and as it grew dark the rain picked up.  It was cold.  I went to see if there was a place inside the building; it was a large warehouse, where others were waiting out the rain.  Orian and I went in, and I slept on the floor so I would not get too anxious waiting.  

Orian came to wake me up around 10p.m.  I had been asleep an hour or so.  He said that they were starting to load the boat; I said that I needed to get ready.  I mentally steeled myself to go out in the rain, put on my visor so that I wouldn't have rain in my eyes, and headed out into the night.  


As some of you may know, I arrived back in the U.S. last Tuesday, May 5, 2008. I flew out of Dar es Salaam, through Dubai, and into the Boston airport. The events that precipitated my departure from Dar took a little while to put down onto paper, but I will share some of our adventures with you. I also have some updates on Orian and the Three Musketeers.

When last I updated the blog, Orian and I were planning on taking a ferry to Zanzibar, then from Zanzibar to Pemba, then from Pemba to Tanga. The map we had showed that a ferry went from Pemba to Tanga, and we'd heard from various people that there were no ferries but there were boats. After Orian's experience taking boats in South America, he was pretty sure that once we got to Pemba we would find something.

The day left Dar es Salaam it was rainy. I waited at a cafe while Orian went to pick up our visas from the Egyptian embassy (although I had been thinking that I would go home in Nairobi, I had no ticket home, and we didn't want to discount the possibility that I might change my mind, which happens, so we had both gotten visas). When he got back, it was time to pick up my clothes from the tailor, and then we rushed over to the ferry booking office; it was 11:30a.m., and the schedule departure was noon. When we got near the office, the locals recognized us as mzungus (foreigners, white guys) and led us to a ferry booking office, and then surrounded us and took my bike from me to help put it on the boat. They wore uniform-type looking things, and the gangplanks were narrow and steep, or stairs, so I didn't complain. One guy helped Orian lift his bike up to keep it up over the railings. With their help we and our things were loaded on. It was a passenger ferry. We thought it would be a passenger-car ferry, like I've taken out to Block Island, and as Orian has been on in South America, or like we rode on in other parts of Africa. But it wasn't; it was for passengers only, which may be why it was so hard to get our bikes onboard. Once we had boarded, the guys wanted money for their services. Apparently they didn't work for the boat company. Whoops. We should have known; we'd been in Africa long enough. No one does anything for "free". Still, their services weren't worth the 10,000 shillings (~$10) that they had demanded, especially because we hadn't asked, and would have handled loading the bikes by ourselves, as we ended up doing on the way down. We gave them 2,000 shillings each. We had 4,000 shillings left. We sat in first class. It was fairly nice and clean, of Japanese manufacture probably, or at least made for a Japanese market, as there was Japanese lettering all over the ship. Foreigners are only sold first-class tickets. Actually, sometimes they just have to pay a higher price without improved accommodation, as our tickets from Zanzibar to Pemba were twice as expensive and we slept outside on the walkway getting wet. More on that later.

The ride took about three hours, and was fairly unremarkable. I got a little bit of motion sickness and went to sleep. The sky showered a bit, turning parts of the sky a dirty grey color. Soon, we saw an island peeking up above the waterline, green, low land.

We disembarked on a loading dock, surrounded by cargo containers. The sky had cleared up and it was nice. There was such a crowd, and the gangplank was so narrow and steep and gangly that even I, carrying nothing, had to watch my step going down. So the unloading of the passengers was slow. Orian managed to find enough gaps to carry our loaded bikes down and we hopped on. We were stopped a little ways away, near the exit; we had to go through customs, even though it is the same country. I have a Zanzibar stamp and a Pemba stamp in my passport (no exit stamps, though; the offices were always closed when we left). We left the gate and were immediately surrounded by men of all ages and health, trying to sell us hotels and ferry rides. We rode past them. We had not eaten since the morning and it was near dinner time. We found a street with a market, where we were again besieged by people wanting to find us restaurants and little market stands and spices. We drank some juice and escaped.

We needed a place to camp. We figured it would be difficult, especially since it was obviously a very tourist-y place, even more than Dar es Salaam had been. We tried talking to police; they did not speak very good English. The guys wanting to sell us stuff did speak decent English and many of them wanted to walk us to the 'cheapest hotel in town'. They all named the same place; we figured that hotel was giving them the biggest commission and decided to strike out on our own.

Throughout our stay on Dar I was impressed with the variety of languages these sellers were conversational in (English, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese), and their persistence, as persistent as a mosquito attracted to blood. They would do their very best to find a service they could sell you: they would try to bring you to a 'cheap' hotel, where they would get a commission; they would try to get you to buy spices from someone in the market (from whom they would also get a commission); they would pull out a cd of 'Zanzibari' tunes and would start singing them. I enjoyed this part. "What does this one sound like?" I would ask. "How about this one?" I would get serenaded in the street. We were not looking for one of these guys; we hoped that asking a policeman would get us a spot near a police checkpoint or something. So after we drank our juice we began asking.

Three policemen, a quarter-kilometre, and a threat to go off and find our own lodgings, and one of the men who was hanging out with the third policemen serendipitously remembered that there was 'a very cheap one just there, I will take you." It turned out the be 15,000 shillings (less expensive than the one being hawked at the market) and quite decent--clean, large room with space to put our bikes, a television, and complimentary breakfast. We left our stuff at the hotel and wandered down to the wharf.

"Let's go to the market," I said, "I don't think there's anything down by the docks." I would have though there was, but earlier, had seen nothing to suggest that there was. So we went to the market and then started walking from there to where we thought the shore was. We picked up a few guys along the way, including one who stuck. He asked us what we were looking for, and at first we said "nothing, just wandering", but eventually got it out of us that we were looking for a restaurant. After he promised to not ask us for money I slowed down my step and stopped trying to lose him. He took us wandering through picturesque little alley ways that were very much in the style of colonial neighborhoods: white stone, multiple stories (no traditional African style that we came across had multiple stories), narrow alleys.

Eventually we found a nice Italian place where my tongue met the delectable tanginess of real cheese for the first time in a month. We sat watching a soccer game on the beach; there must have been at least 40 players. I marveled at how playing soccer 40 people could all feel a part of a single game.

We relaxed and talked. By the time we finished, it was nearing dark, and we hoped we would not get too lost in the winding alleys. But we decided to take the main road back, which took us by construction and some old buildings that looked like forts but were covered in construction barriers. The main road was not a main road as such; it was just a road that went along the coast of the bay and was not an alley. It plopped us out right in front of the exit to the dock, in very little time, very painless, and it took us past all sorts of fancy, well-lit tourist lodgings, including some very posh and luxurious looking halls. We came from exactly the area that earlier I had looked down and thought led nowhere.

The hotel was nice and screened so we had no mosquitoes. We awoke in the dark to the sound of a muezzin calling prayer at 4a.m. (I always sleep after the muezzin call, and during it. Do Muslims go back to sleep or stay awake?). After breakfast (complimentary fruit and toast at the hotel), we checked out of the hotel, went down to the dock to buy tickets for a night ferry from Zanzibar to Pemba Island, scheduled to leave that night at 10p.m. Boarding would begin at 7p.m. Until then, we had all day to explore the island.

We set off. The island is long in the north-south proportion and short in the east-west direction. We decided to take the road from Zanzibar, on the west coast of the island, to a beach town on the other side. We hoped to see spice plantations and avoid the busy traffic that most likely plagued the main road on the coast. After some false starts, we found the road that took us that way. It was the narrowest road we'd been on yet, a real single lane. But the traffic was slow and sparse, the weather beautiful, and the terrain was not tough. In fact, Zanzibar, at least the parts of it we saw from the water and from our bike, was flat. A lot of lowland. I pictured the island flooding 'during the wrong season'. Palm trees that reached up to the sun and little communities boarding the road, like we've been seeing throughout Africa, but closer together, one house visible from the next. The riding was easy. The area seemed poor, poorer than the other little communities we'd passed by in Tanzania, judging by what was not in the stores, but rich in produce, coconuts, fruit trees, soil.

We rode and did not see spice plantations, just small houses with fruit trees. We also did not go all the way to the other side of the island because the road (on the map, one of the main roads of the island) disappeared into a wide but terrible dirt track. We rode aways on the dirt. The little rocks stuck up at the worst possible angle in the soil, which was rock hard, and held them there. Imagine large size gravel pieces, the pointiest parts sticking up. The wheels went over them alright, and it was a bit hard steering, but we'd done that kind of thing before. But we were just doing a circle, and earlier in the day I had looked at my wheels and noticed that the tire had peeled away, and I was worried what the sun and the rocks would do. We rode aways and then gave up, doubling back and taking a well-paved side road that even had shoulders and less traffic. It was really beautiful, very green, shady when we turned off the main road, and fewer houses. We saw people out on the road, walking and riding, and to me it felt like a Sunday morning outing, though it was a Friday.

It was hot, and sunny. We came upon a group of men sitting around and a couple of buildings with a porch, that looked like they might have some things, and in particular, sodas. We'd been drinking a lot of soda since the first time we got bottled Cokes way back in Botswana on Orian's birthday. Sodas were cheap (the ones with returnable bottles anyway), and sometimes cold, refreshing, with some sugar to keep us going. Although my teeth were starting to complain. Now that I am back in the U.S. I have not had any soda for awhile; it is nice to not have that sweetness sitting on my teeth all the time. But that day I wanted one and we stopped. One young man, a student, spoke decent English. He spoke to Orian; I waited to see whether they would have a cold drink or not. But an old man with bad teeth (not that old, maybe his 50s, but looked older, and old for Africa) came up grinning and engaging me in conversation. I didn't really understand what he said; he didn't understand what I said. We passed on conversational niceties. Then he moved closer to me. I was with Orian, no need to be too uncomfortable I thought. The man was nodding and grinning, then pointed at me, then poked each breast, right in the nipple. "Okay, keep smiling and grinning," I thought, "maybe this is some local greeting or something." Later on, another incident, on Pemba Island, put this in perspective: while we were in the warehouse, staying dry while waiting for a ferry, two men to whom I had spoken briefly before, came up and said to me, "Girlie, boyie?" They couldn't tell if I was a man or a woman! Because I have short hair, because I wear pants, because I have little breasts, because I ride my bike?

Anyway, with that taste in my mouth, I drank my Coke as quickly as I could and wanted to ride.
We took a different road, one that would take us back towards Zanzibar in a little circle. The foliage here was even a little different; the trees not quite as tall and shady. It was a dustier green color, with vines. But no spices yet! We rode through some lowlands, where the trees opened up and we could see coconut plantations. Just schoolgirls of all ages in light blue skirts and white blouses, light blue head coverings, coming home from school or just for lunch. Some men on the right side of the road. I mistrust these groups of men, sitting around, not doing anything. We have had no really negative experiences, but someone often comes to ask us for money. One walked out; Orian slowed and stopped and I kept going, more slowly. But Orian called and waved me back. It was a spice plantation. We had talked about buying some spices, so we went in. They had some black pepper, white pepper, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, chile. Fresh nutmegs.

They talked us into letting them take us on a spice tour. It was fun; we walked around, O and I and the pair of tourist guides, looking at vanilla and black pepper vines, shoots of cardamom and turmeric, orange groves, rambutan (like a lychee), and a lipstick tree (native to the Americas, according to wikipedia).

We spent some time there, we rode some more in the sun and rode back into the busy, dirty, smelly area of Zanzibar (Stone Town). We had time; we checked internet and ate dinner. I had a lot of fun. It was relaxing, fun. Orian and I were both in a good mood getting ready to board the boat, excited to be moving on. We were planning on boarding a boat immediately from Pemba to Tanga, not spending a day on the island as we'd done on Zanzibar.

The time to board was 7p.m.; it was dark. We had all our stuff on our bikes, all prepared, but the place was a zoo. So many people, pushing and shoving. It was not like the first boat we took. It was a big cargo ship--half passengers, half cargo (local cargo). There was no easy way to load the cargo; it was handed over the side of the ship. We had to pay extra to load our bikes, which we put on one of the walkways. The boat was packed. Deck passengers were cramped, sitting with their luggage between them; the lower decks were just as bad. We should have boarded even earlier; all we could find was a space on a walkway. It was nice at first: though a little sticky, it was slow and quiet. But then people started filling in the walkway as well, and when the boat got going, the water dripping from the upper deck splashed inwards towards to cabin, onto us and our things. Sometimes we could smell the bathroom just around the corner; one of the most foul smelling bathrooms I've smelled in Africa, the smell would waft around the corner.

We pulled away from the dock; it was magical, despite the discomforts, the gently rocking waves and the lights way off on the dock. Going on a sea adventure. Off to to the mainland...

Well, I started off the post by saying I would tell of my adventures and give some updates. But I had more to say than I thought, and will split the story up into parts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Three Cheers for Kenya!

Cheers, cheers, cheers...An African hippie, fantastic border crossing into Kenya, and unprecedented Kenyan hospitality!

Most of the people we have met in Africa really enjoy their meat. When we enter a restaurant, they bring us goat, beef, or chicken by default. And when we say we just want ugali and veggies, blank uncomprehensive stares is all we get. But Major, one of our hosts outside Moshi, was a vegetarian. That was the first surprising thing about him. Secondly, he wasn't just any vegetarian. He grinded different grains together to make his own mix of ugali/nshima meal. traditionally, ugali is made only from pounded maize, but Major's was from sorghum, rice, wheat, and finger millet. He was a dietician by hobby, and said that the different colors in his mix meant different vitamins and minerals for a complete and varied diet. He also ate sprouts, which I hadn't heard anyone mention since I lived in a hippie community in New Zealand. Major didn't take painkillers, and instead studied Indian and Chinese Acupuncture and Reflexology to cure his ails. At 60, he had the energy of someone in their 20s and said he would still like to be healthy at 120. I believe he could do it!

We followed a road skirting the foot of Kilimanjaro and headed into Kenya. The border crossing was our best one yet! The exit immigration office was a small shack set just outside a small village under a picturesque Kilimanjaro. The officials sat outside the shack enjoying a coke, clothed in tshirts and khakis. A small dirt road took us into Loitokitok town, Kenya. At customs, there were no sketchy moneychangers and no audience. The officials greeted us with warm smiles, and were very impressed that we had come from CapeTown. Even though the town had no water that day, they brought us over to their reserve water jugs and filled up our water containers for us. Though we were surrounded by rough, dry heat and dust, we did not feel it.

Since we have entered Kenya, we have met this hospitality everywhere. We met Johnathan, a man who resigned from the National Hospital to start a small community clinic near his home village. He showed us around Emali town, his clinic, and his blooming garden. We met a heap of open friendly workers at the Makutano gas station who said 'of course you can camp here!'There, we also met Jeremiah and Charles, a civil engineer and a businessman who took us around their home town Machakos, and took us to visit the earth dam they were constructing.

We are now staying in Machakos, about 60 kms outside of Nairobi, killing time while we wait for Orian to catch up with us. After watching Champions League football last night with our friends, we realized how much we missed watching games. Barcelona play Chelsea tonight! Who are you rooting for?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Safe Haven in Arusha

I met Father Dan and Father Bill in Beagle Bay, a remote Aboriginal community in Australia. When I emailed them that we were in Tanzania, Father Dan replied that we must go to St Theresa's Catholic Church in Arusha. He had already sent a text to his sisters there that we were coming.

Sister Mao greeted us warmly when we first arrived in Arusha a week ago. When Nate and I left for our week long journey in the bush, she sent us off with plenty of juice, water, and various snacks.

We came back to Arusha with heads hanging low from exhaustion, physical and mental fatigue. And we showed up to the church with a sick Quinn. The nuns welcomed us back, and were so happy to see we were safe. They gave us big teddy bear hugs that felt the world to us. There was nothing like coming back to a place where we knew we were safe and looked after by such a loving family. We were gifted with the comfort of love and a home away from home.

Indeed everyone at the church has become like a family to us. Meeting, talking, and eating with the nuns and priests have been keeping us entertained. Nate is Yesu (because he looks like Jesus with his beard), Quinn is Kwinini (because he has malaria and is taking Quinine-Kwinini in Swahili), and I am Rafiki (because I was the friend of Father Dan).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sorry for the delayed news from the other trio...Nate, Quinn, and I. Nate is updating better than me, so check out his blog:

We had similar troubles in the rain in Malawi, like Karen and Orian. So much rain that the three of us got pretty sick as we crossed into Tanzania, plagued with puking, nausea, disorientation, etc. But we were so lucky to meet with Quinn's family who brought all sorts of goodies from home. How we missed feeling safe and at home again! Many many thanks to Los Baumbergers...

Coming into Tanzania, on top of being sick, we encountered other stressful headaches that have challenged us. At the Tanzania border, we had to pay 100 USD for our visas. But since we were coming from Malawi, we only had Malawi Kwacha. The border officer wouldn't accept Malawi Kwacha, only USD. We tried to explain that we didn't carry USD around, but he said that we would have to change into Tanzania shillings and then go back into USD. As the three of us were discussing what to do, one of those sketchy moneychanging sleezeballs comes up to us and says, 'the officer says you need some money changed? we give you good rate'. Unbelievable! The border officials are working together with those sketchy sleezeballs! And this is happening all in front of a huge sign saying 'Money changing at the border is STRICTLY prohibited!'

Nate and I took a 7 day trip into the bush while Quinn spent time with his family on a safari. We had yet new surprises...but running out of time.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dar es Salaam

We made it to Dar and will be here until Thursday, April 23rd or 24th, waiting for some Egyptian visas and some clothes I got tailored from some chitenge (brightly colored material used as a sarong or for tailored clothes). Then we are going to take a ferry to Zanzibar and Pemba Island and from there back to the mainland to avoid having to bike out of Dar and to see where some spices are grown and some Indian Ocean islands.

From the coast of mainland Tanzania, we will train and bike to Arusha, getting a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro and then take the road north to Nairobi.

Tanzania has been quite a colorful experience. The main language here is Swahili, and is the first country we've been to that has a common language other than English, so more people speak very little or no English than in other countries, and almost everyone addresses us first in Swahili, and only very occasionally in English. We have a couple little phrasebooks and have learned how to purchase things like chai and chapati and to count, as well as have some minor exchanges of greetings. It is hard for us to converse beyond a very topical level in Swahili, but people here really appreciate the effort. We will say a few things beyond Jambo and Mzuri, the basic greetings, and out will pour a flood of Swahili and smiles directed at us, more than we can keep up with.

Tanzanians have been some of the friendliest people we have met so far, and we appreciate that the friendliness is not offered with an expectation of getting money or a gift as it was further south. In Malawi and south, excepting the Boers and all our hosts in S.A, whenever someone offered us assistance or friendliness, we were always a bit wary because sometimes people would offer help and then later ask us for something. Here, people occasionally still put out their hands as we go by, but no one who has hosted us has later asked for anything extra. This is distinct from someone performing a service for us, like showing us how to get somewhere...I am not being entirely clear on how these experiences are distinct, but that is the feeling we get.

Orian and I are still traveling alone. Quinn met up with his parents, went on safari with them, and contracted malaria, from which he is recovering in Arusha. Nate and Minwah took off on a loop down some dirt roads while Quinn was on his family excursion, and the three of them will meet in Arusha. I think the five of us will try to all meet up in Nairobi.

Tanzania has a much better variety of food. For breakfast we can get big, moist, homemade rolls, any number of fried doughnut-like pastries, or chapati and chai, always sweet, occasionally spiced, and occasionally with milk (chai ya maziwa). The maziwa is always fresh although has not been pasteurized. So Tanzania is the first place I've tried raw milk, which is definitely what the Lonely Planet health book advises against--unpasteurized milk! It is incredibly rich and always served boiling hot (so it may be boiled). One full cup of milk will last in my stomach all day. Lunch is sometimes chipsi mayai (or french fries (chips) with an egg) basically a french fry omelette. We've also been seeing more wali ya maharagwe (rice and beans). For breakfast, I've seen many people eating a chicken broth with small piece of meat, slice of lime, and chapati or other starchy thing. For dinner, people like to eat rice or ugali with meat and tomato sauce.

There has been much more of a presence of Islam here in Tanzania. Many of the towns we have been through have mosques and many women have their heads covered. Here there are often women on the streets in the full veil as well. Men will often have the little hat and occasionally the ankle-length robe...but not nearly as often as the women in head coverings and veils.

It is interesting to see that there seems to be much more of a diversity of cultures living together here in Tanzania. We still see the same second-hand western clothes and women with chitenge wrapped around their waists, but we are also seeing more women in western clothes and women in clothes with obvious Islamic influence. The most interesting style we've seen recently is that of the traditional shepherds, with cloth draped roguishly over their shoulders, white plastic sandals meant for girls, beaded arm and ankle bracelets, and earlobes stretched and occasionally plugged. The cloth garment is held together by a leather belt that goes over the ensemble (basically your typical men's leather belt but not being held in place by belt loops) and occasionally they wear basketball shorts underneath for modesty. The leather belt holds their most essential items---handmade short sword sheathed in leather, torch (flashlight), wooden club, and cell phone. A few had assorted other items like a washcloth or a comb. Seeing these shepherds in small villages playing pool alongside men dressed in western gear, the shepherds look far more distinguished and well kept. They are also usually very tall and very lanky.

We've been in Dar since Monday evening. There are many mosques near our hotel, and one in particular is very close, so we hear the muezzin call to prayer five times a day. Sometimes it adds an exotic flair to the place. Other times it is intriguing. This morning it started at 5a.m. and went on for literally an hour, the low, droning, metallic chant. I thought, 'this must be why we don't hear it in the states...they would get shut down for disturbing the peace!'

I haven't been taking nearly as many pictures as I would like, but I will make an effort to take more before leaving Dar. Sometimes I am self-conscious...I don't always feel comfortable taking a picture of the shepherds, for instance, just because they look cool. Sometimes I don't want to display this obvious sign of wealth (I have not been wearing my wristwatch since Livingstone, Zambia).

Two days before we arrived in Dar, we rode 50km through a National Park. The road was quite flat for the first time really since Malawi and we had a tailwind, although the day was very humid. The terrain was open savannah, low open scrubland. We saw many giraffes and we saw buffalo for the first time, a few elephants and some quite cheeky (literally and figuratively) baboons.

We haven't seen many mazungus in Dar es Salaam, but we met more mazungus on the road in Tanzania than any previous country on the trip, including Charlie, a cyclist who has spent the past 10 months cycling down from his base in the U.K. This man was quite outgoing and we chatted for quite awhile on the side of the road. He has been bike touring for the past 10 years, and has been on this road in Tanzania 3 times (!) as well as doing the Alaska-Argentina trip and some touring in Southeast Asia.

We've camped in some incredible places, my favorites being a pine forest plantation in the highlands, where we slept on a bed of pine needles so thick it was like being on a mattress and our tent was cozy and warm since the night was so chilly, and the other being the day we came down from the highlands into a humid hot yet arid area and slept in the vicinity of seven large baobab trees.

I also want to mention something about the traffic:
We had a couple of scares the two days before reaching Dar es Salaam. The drivers of the buses here are really inconsiderate and the roads were not very good (imagine a two lane country road without any shoulders and buses bigger than greyhound going 100km/her around twisty little corners) so pretty scary. Also, we've had a couple of close time I was stopped ahead of a bad traffic spot (steep and long mountain descent...two lanes...and three cars decided to pass a truck even though they could see me in the oncoming lane) and this local guy flew past me on a bike and the last car decided to go anyway and there was a collision. The car didn't even stop. I made sure the guy was okay but all his stuff flew down into a ravine and I was pretty shaken up--tired from the long, steep, windy road without a shoulder and very little or no barrier between the road and a steep slope, and the sickening crunch playing over and over in my head, so close. And two days ago we were going up a hill, not as steep, and this bus decided to pass an 18-wheeler with double trailer, but the trucker wasn't having it. Orian was riding in the back and riding out in the road a little ways to try to force the trucker to slow down but he got within 5 or 10 ft of the truck without the truck slowing down and narrowly got away. I was ahead and by the time they reached me the bus had passed the truck, and the line of three large vehicles (there was another truck past the first) came within a few inches of my panniers going like 80km/hr...Since then the traffic has been better but a bit wary to take the road into Dar.

We hear the traffic continues to be bad through Kenya, which is why we're considering taking some trains north.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Long-Overdue Update

Apologies to our faithful readers for not updating the blog sooner. The internet connection between Livingstone, Zambia, and Mbeya, Tanzania has been so painfully slow that it was practically impossible to update, even if we had been willing to spend the small fortune it would have cost in internet time.

A lot has happened since my last post, that I am not even sure where to start. We have witnessed the agressiveness of African killer bees and why they were given the nickname "killer", we have enjoyed eating with our hands the local dish nshima, we have crossed flooded waters on our bicycles and refused to give countless people money.

After leaving Livingstone, we got more of a taste of local food and how people eat. There is mainly subsistence farming in Zambia and Malawi, and people eat relatively well since the soil here is so productive. Everyone has a maize plot, and the popular food to eat is nshima, which is a very thick porridge made from maize flour, which is taken off in pieces and used to scoop up the "relish" (usually tomato sauce and spinach or rape or sometimes cabbage), similar to the way a chapati is used to scoop up daal or something.

As soon as getting into Zambia we were hit with rain. It rained at least part of the day almost every day we were in Livingstone. One day it rained particularly hard while we were in the market, and the access road to Gustave's farm was this clay-ey mud that was so hard to traverse. It I took off my shoes so they wouldn't be ruined but then had no traction, so I was slipping and sliding even as my bike became harder and harder to move...the mud just caked on until the diameter of the wheel and increased by 3 or 4 inches. I ended up dragging my bike the rest of the way home! Fortunately, it was only a quarter of a mile or so.

This rain plagued us through Malawi, sometimes giving respite for a week and then coming back with a vengeance. On the days it only rained at night, the days were often quite comfortable with an overcast sky blocking the sun's most intense rays. But the days that it rained it rained hard, until all of our stuff was wet and smelly, and there was no way to get it dry without the sun, since everyone here air dries...there is not an automatic dryer to be found anywhere.

The worst rain came the day we rode into Nkhota Kota in Malawi. Not only did it pour buckets, monsoon-style on us for twenty kilometers, but we slogged through several kilometers of roads flooded to our knees, almost losing our bags in the process!

Well, now we are in Tanzania and so far it is our favorite country. I would recommend tourism to Tanzania above Malawi or Zambia based on my own experience.

Running out of time, will try to post again later.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Past Nata

There are few villages in the 500km north of Francistown and only one in the 300km between Nata and Kazungula Ferry, the border crossing. Leaving Nata, the first road sign one sees, about 500m out of town, is a sign that warns about animals. Be particularly careful at night, it says.

We had been warned throughout Botswana of this area of road, and questioned about how we would deal with animals. "Do you have a gun?" was the standard question, followed by assertions that the road was riddled with elephants, lions, and buffalo. "15km out of town there are elephants," we were told.

The scenery in this part of Botwana had changed. The rest of the country up to here had been flat (or at least a constant uphill with maybe a single hill or so in one day), with grassland and shrubland, the small thorny shrubs. Just south of Nata we had seen some full grown trees, but at Nata, near the salt flats, we encountered palm trees and open grassland.

This stretch of road was very nice. There were several stretches with horrific potholes that had caused bent and broken axles and flats in several of the semis we saw...these stretches deterred most traffic from using this route and were navigable by bicycle and only lasted a few km before relatively smooth sailing. The road was narrow, two shoulder-less lanes, like a small county road in Wisconsin. The veldt was close on both sides of the road, and we were soon surrounded again by the shrub land of the veldt...though these shrubs were taller than the ones in southern Botswana and eventually began to grow into trees even further north.

I did worry a bit about the lions and hoped we wouldn't see any, but I was not too concerned all the same, as lions like to do their hunting at night, don't prefer humans (you don't hear too many stories about human-eating lions, especially with all the other tasty game out there), and probably don't hang around the roads much.

We were excited to see elephants, and elephants we indeed saw: elephants crossing the road, elephants eating branches, elephants making loud and weird and prehistoric noises. Our mid-Western raised boys compared the number of elephants we saw each of the three days we rode on this road to the number of whitetail deer they see in Wisconsin. We saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, and baboons. We even wandered off the road into the veldt at one point to try to get closer and take better pictures of a group of 11 giraffe, picking our way through the poky yellow grass and only sort of keeping an eye out for snakes.

Our first day riding a big strong tailwind picked us up and blew us 65 km in three hours. It rained on us and then left us, with a sun to dry us all off. It left us near a cell phone repeater tower, not far from the road, where we decided to spend the an compound with a 2m tall fence with razorwire on the top. Fortunately for us the compound wasn't even locked, just closed with a little bit of twisted wire. And I definately slept better in that compound than I would have out of it, for on the short (~50m) access road to the gate of the compound, there in the fine sand, were a bunch of prints from a large cat, and soon after entering the compound we saw several large elephants next to the gate (you have to be careful at night in the bush as an elephant can walk right over you without thinking twice). The other nice thing about the compound was the ladder to the cellphone repeater tower. The ladder went all the way up to the top, which was ~200ft up from the ground. I didn't climb up, but the others did and had a fabulous view of the surrounding area and even climbed up early the next morning to experience the sunset from a bird's eye view.

Another tidbit to add: the land through Botswana was flat, especially north of Francistown. On the way to Francistown the road was flat but we were climbing. After Francistown and especially north of Nata the road was just flat, no rise, no fall. When we crossed into Zambia we began to see more trees with green foliage (instead of the thorn trees in Botswana) and more hills, but the land is still relatively flat and has been since Bloemfontein, South Africa).