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.