Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote Zambia

We arrived in Lusaka, Zambia for just a day, to make our way to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. On the way down, there we saw many rallies for the upcoming presidential election, which is today. The rallies we saw were peaceful, and many people on the bus were excited. That being said, elections in Africa are often plagued by some unrest (so it was good to get out of the country’s capital)…or so we thought…

Some hostel mates (here in Livingstone) told us a couple of days ago, the streets were flooded by men with guns and tear-gas, so everyone had to run to the back of the hostel. (Luckily, we weren’t here for that). The people were upset because the ballots that were delivered for today’s election were already filled out, marking the current president. The people are suspicious that the current party will cheat the system…if the current party wins, we’re not sure how the people here will react. The government promised the people for the final results by tomorrow…otherwise they will have to wait until next week.

All the shops are closed, and not too many people are on the streets. Everything is pretty dead…kind of like the Falls we saw yesterday. Unfortunately, we came during the dry season, so there is only a tiny portion that has water. We also learned that a good deal of the water is being diverted for power generation, which the government makes more money off of than the tourism.

Friday, October 24, 2008

quick update

Hello friends and fam,

We are currently in Zanzibar relaxing a bit on the beach. We will be catching a flight to Zambia (Victoria falls)on the 27th and then on to South Africa afterwards. We plan to visit South Africa for two weeks (shark diving and climbing). We leave SA on November 14th, spend a few days in Dubai and then off to India

-We will update the last blog with pictures soon. The Internet is "African" speed here.

Man, how I miss pizza...................... Shantonu send us a crucial slice!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Karatu Adventures

Arriving in Karatu (Oct. 15th) to see Ngorongoro Crater, we started searching for a place to call home for a night before going out to find a guide. (It seems every major game park in Africa requires one certified guide and a 4WD vehicle). Ngorongoro Crater was once a super-volcano that erupted, allowing for multiple ecosystems to flourish. Inside the crater resides lakes, a miniature jungle, and plains, which creates a diverse and long-standing population of animals (like elephants, rhinos, hyenas, gazelles, wildebeest, lions, zebras, giraffe, flamingos, hippos, and monkeys).

Looking into the crater from the rim

At night fall, we had one lead – a guide who charged more than we were willing to spend. By sheer luck, we ran into a German woman (volunteering in the area to set up an orphanage) who knew of two others (also German volunteers, but at the local hospital) wanting to go. On top of this, they were all connected to Mama Pelangio, the town’s most loved and well-respected citizen. Through her connections she got all of us a car and guide for the following day.

We woke up early to get to the Crater before the animals disappeared into the shade (the afternoons are hot). The weather today was cloudy, so we could see nothing going up and over the Crater ridge. Once inside the crater, though, the weather started to clear. The ride in was crucial off-roading on the rim ledge. Our driver was 23, but he’d been driving these tours for some time.

A few of the animals we saw

When we got back from the Crater, our German friends told us of a burger joint in town to try, which even served Heinz Ketchup (a rare treat) with their burgers and fries…we had them drop us off there (since we hadn’t eaten anything all day). We met the owner (an English woman) and her man-friend from South Africa. We exchanged some pleasantries and learned more about South Africa.

Our next destination was Lake Eyasi, which we were determined to get to that day (Oct. 16th). They let us know the buses had stopped running. No problem, we found a dirt bike at the mechanic shop next door. It was a bit late, but we headed out anyway…

The road to Lake Eyasi was ridiculous – rocky at times, dusty at others, a total lack of road signs, and then it got dark. Mad props to Cesar’s driving skills. We made it to the campsite, where we met a local to take us out to the Hizabe tribe the next morning.

The Hizabe family we stayed with

The Hizabe tribe live in the bush, hunt by bow and arrow, and smoke a lot of weed (they are the only ones sanctioned by the government to do this).

One of many dances with Mary Jane

Over the years, they have become a little more modern, but do resist it for the most part. They take clothes (old shorts), rubber sandals and food (if there are shortages)…but the men wear animal skins for their tops. A multi-generation family usually lives closely together, sharing duties and food with one another. These folks spoke only in native tongue-the “clicking” dialogue…the most interesting language thus far.

They live very simply, sleeping under the stars with only a piece of animal fur between them and the ground.

Matress Discounters got nothing on this

The water supply comes from a Baobab tree; it acts much like a sponge. The tribe will cut a hole in the center, which is filled in the rain season and provides water for many months. In dryer seasons they rely on a root that looks similar to a potato. The tribe’s menu consist of a fruit, which is also found on the Baobab tree and tastes similar to a dehydrated orange and whatever meat that is brought back from hunting.

When we arrived, the men were making arrows, and women were producing crafts that they sell to make extra cash. During the day the two genders seem to live separately.

The women sit under a huge tree and tend to the two small children while crafting. They make mostly necklaces and bracelets. The string is made up of shredded strands of a plastic bag. They ball up the strands, which they chew to make more pliable before twisting them together.

Working Women

The men congregate under a rock ledge and spend most of the daylight perfecting their arrows, making bows (the bow string is animal tendon), or gathering fruits and water.

Making the quiver for an arrow

Before dusk we joined the chief and his son for a hunting expedition through the bush. We returned only with a lousy bird - maybe enough to make a chicken nugget. Rajib and I survived off crackers and bottled water for two days.

Rajib should have stayed in Boy Scouts for the archery merit badge

Even with some luck and patience they rarely bring back larger game, such as, impala and hyenas. When they strike it big, they celebrate with a traditional dance and singing, and likely even more smoking

They also explained to us that when they lost a member of the tribe the body would be wrapped in animal skin and left in the bush to be eaten by hyenas. They would then leave the area. Because of this tradition, they do not eat the meat of the hyena – for them it would be like eating their own kind…that being said, they do sometimes hunt the hyena for the skin.

At night the men and women smoked enough to make that animal-skin-bed seem like a posturepedic mattress. Rajib and I chilled and enjoyed the serenity of the remote African night, and did not partake in the weed-fest.

When the men and women feel the urge to make sweet, passionate love, or need an intense “make-out” session they take a few short steps to a simple, half-opened grass hut that reveals the romantic African sky.

The grass hut with multiple skylights

What was that? Oh yes, they are swingers…

The next morning we woke up around 6:15 and headed out for a second round of man versus nature. The tribe hunts before sun down and sun up, but if they kill large game they will take a few days off. They said the favorite and most common meat was that of the baboon. That morning the son killed another weak bird, but the chief scored a bush baby - (a kind of monkey).

Even being from Tennessee and all, I still felt a bit saddened to see the little fellow with an arrow through it…and to make things worse it had a little baby. I asked what they would do with the baby, and the chief said eat it. I was thinking, man, this thing is only the size of a Snicker bar (like the bite-size one you get for Halloween).

Sillouette of the bush baby kill...sorry little guy

It’s interesting to see how different our outlook is on this subject. They see it all as food and we look at it as a defenseless little creature. We’re brought up to treat animals with some kindness and taught to be compassionate to all living things…but if it’s just food, it becomes a matter of survival of the fittest, and the bushmen just have to man-up. But wait, don’t think we are not tough…..I can a shotgun a beer in only a few seconds and Rajib probably kills at least 50 mosquitoes a day…sometimes he go’s on a mad spree to hunt down the innocent ones, and then I have to calm him down.

On our way back to town the dirt bike broke down (remember how we got it at the mechanic shop...probably not the best thing to do). After spending a couple of hours waiting for the local mechanic, and then waiting for him to try to fix the bike, I found a Coke delivery truck willing to transport us and the bike back to Karatu. This was a nice ride…and we weren’t the only hitchers – there were 5 others with us sitting on crates of empty coke bottles. When we got into town, we gave the bike back and headed for Arusha by station wagon “express” (we just had to wait an hour for the car to fill up with passengers).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meeting the Masai

So, we are now back....i know a little early. We had an issue with the clutch on our dirtbike, which made it impossible to go deeper. To get to the village of Merirany, we first took this old and over-packed bus down a dirty and bumpy road for about 2 hours. When we arrived we looked like old men due to all the dust in our hair and facial hair. Only minutes after stepping off the bus and starting a search for a dirt bike, we got approached by immigration officials. They were dressed in civilian clothing and asked us to come with them to their office.

After asking for our credentials, we proceeded with the shake-down. We followed them back to a dusty, vacant room with only two tables and one room that read "interrigation office"-written in pen on some loose paper, hung above the door. They asked for our documents and asked what are business was in the village. We replied, "just to check out the scene and visit the Masai." Cesar told them not to worry because our embassy knows we're here...he then proceeded to ask for their names and pulled out his cell phone (that doesn't work overseas) and pretended to call for our safety (after feeling they were being shady and trying to scare us).

In the end, we were held by them for a couple of hours...We found out that this area is the only place in the world that mines Tanzanite (a precious gemstone), and they have to make sure no one comes to smuggle it out. For our adventure, they required us to have an escort (basically a local that they trusted) to monitor our movements around Merirany.

After finding a guide and bikes (passed by the immigration officials), we made our way out to a Masai village. The ride there was full of bumps, loose dirt, sand and was like out of movie. After 30 miles we arrived at the village and met the locals who showed us their homes. Some were traditional mud-huts (sticks and cow poop), which are only made by the women. We exchanged conversation through our translator, who barely knew english himself. We all sat around under the full, African moon and talked. They fed us some awesome beef and rice dish and tea before we headed to the mud-hut to sleep.
Shots with the Masai and our guide (babysitter)
The sleep was not so good. They set up a fire in the hut (because they thought we would be cold) but there was no ventilation - We think we have the black lung now. It was like tandoor oven in that piece! Also, the cow-hide-placed-on-some-sticks bed was angled, so we kept sliding off the bed. Besides that, the bed was too short...even for rajib. Due to the crucial sweat through the night, we woke up dehydrated. It was a great experience, though.

This was our bed in the mud-hut

The following day, we rode out further to see some mines and hike up a rock formation. The view was nice, land was flat, and it was peaceful. Due to the failure of the clutch, we had to return to the center of town. From there, we headed back to Arusha to get ready for our next trip to Ngorongoro Crater. (Internet cafe is shutting down, so we're out)

View from rock outcrop

Sunday, October 12, 2008 many things to see!

Today we arrived in Arusha after a two hour bus ride. We just chilled and walked around offered drugs about 13 times, asked if Obama will win 11 times and asked to take at least 15 safaris. Our plans are to find the remote and traditional tribe, Masai. They are the tall skinny folks that have amazing ups and crucial traditional clothing. With some advice form the locals we gained an idea where we might find them. The Masai are herders/nomads and live in the bush. We found some guy here that agreed to rent us his dirt bike for few days. We are departing tomorrow morning for our quest to hopefully find the tribe.... and yes, straight Euro baby......two dudes on one seat!

We hope to take part in the traditional life they live. We are only taking our tooth brush and mosquito nets to cut down on logistics, sure our pits will be fuuuuuuuuuuuunky...but breathe should be fresh. We are also bringing the camera and hope to get some incredible shots. We aim to return in a few days. The commute should only take a couple of hours to the area. I plan to make it there in about 6 hours. We were told to head east to a populated area and then a take a dirty and bumpy road for 30 or so miles. Once we find this place, we must head straight into the bush to find them.

My ankle is getting better and no longer require a stick to walk, but still need help with my bag, thanks Rajib.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Short and sweet----So, we are now in Tanzania. The bus commute was dreadful and dusty...but we made it with no break downs. We got so see many animals in the bush as we drove, and are now staying in Moshi, which lies next to mount Kilimanjaro (The largest mountain in Africa). We are really enjoying it here and very happy to leave Mombasa. Mombasa was muggy and too busy. Upon arrival Cesar asked some guy if we could rent his motor bike for about two hours to get closer to Kilimanjaro. He agreed and we were on our way for 12 dollars! We had no clue where we were going, just kept the direction of the mountain and drove for maybe 45 minutes. We seemed to be in a remote area and people were so excited to see foreigners. Children chased behind us...perhaps the next Boston Marathoners? Everyone waved and yelled out welcoming gestures and graced huge smiles. At one point we came across some herders...

After taking a few photos of Mt. Kilimanjaro (pictures coming soon) and running short on time we decided to head back to town. We are heading to Arusha tomorrow to find a way to Ngorongoro crater.

We were about to have dinner at this restaurant next door and this English girl just explained it was a terrible idea. It has been taken hostage 4 times this month...hunger pains are not so bad...or are they?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Plans Change (Again)...Sunny Beaches, hoooo!

After two more days in Nairobi, we got tire of this city. We decided to head east to Mombasa. Everyone said it was a beautiful, chill place with beaches close by...but really, it seemed just as busy as Nairobi. As soon as we got into town, we grabbed a tuk-tuk (aka auto rickshaw) and headed for a matatu (minibus) to take us to Malindi.

In Malindi, we found a campsite near the beach to crash (it was like 10pm, and we had been traveling all day). In the morning we found that our campsite was a bit further from the beach than we thought, especially for Cesar's bum legs. Instead of finding a comparable place (in price) to stay, we just went down the road and went all out.

The food here was amazing, met some cool staff, and got to chill at the beach and the resort's sweet pool, which looks out at the beach. One day we went hand-line fishing with some local fishermen in their broke sailboat, which they had to bail water from every 5 minutes. The crew was an interesting mix...They were all African, but some looked more Indian, while others looked more Arab. We didn't catch anything, but the ride out was peaceful...until it poured.

A couple of other days Cesar got some bushman medicine massaged into his ankle. Not much else happened out here...

Also, pictures will come when we get the wireless hook-up

We are planning to head to Tanzania tomorrow, so we're not sure how available Internet will be for next week.

Plans Change...

We had plans to go northwest of Meru to visit some tribes, but on the way down from Gitonga's house, and with a few steps from surfacing the peak of Mt. Kenya, Cesar suddenly got ambushed by a pack of ragina and blood-covered hyenas. Amazingly, he managed to deal with most of them with some karate kicks and throwing stones, but lost his which he took a nasty plunge. The outcome resulted with a sprained ankle and a small (but deep) puncture to the knee - man, was he lucky... Here's a picture 1 hour after the battle.

Due to its graphic nature and PETA, the hyena remains could not be shown

The real details are a lot more lame - like some 80 year old falling over a few rocks...(sorry to anyone around 80 who tripped on a rock).

We decided to head back to Nairobi to take it easy, so Cesar's ankle and knee could heal. Gitonga was heading there, so he was a huge help in getting Cesar's bag and getting us a hotel once in Nairobi, where we spent a couple of days chillin' out.

Gitonga's hometown

After a crazy matatu bus ride, we arrived in Ntirimiti. The matatu is small Nissan van that can never be filled. It has like 8 seats, but they fill it to 16 - no personal space exists in a matatu. At one point, Rajib's head was at a 90 degree angle, with two dudes on his lap.

We got out, and started our 2 mile trek up to Gitonga's house with 80 lbs. packs on our backs. It seemed like the United Nations got the excess dirt from around the world and dumped it on this road - it was so dusty...we got browner than brown!

"No Rajib, we're not walking back 6 miles to get your hair gel!"

After the crucial trek, we took some chill time in the farm-hand's home before hiking up the hill behind Gitonga's house. This hill was ridiculously steep. We were already way up in elevation, and this took us that much closer to the clouds. We chilled up there, took in the view, and returned home to find a feast waiting for us to crush. We had some avocados and put some potatoes in the fire, which we ate 45 minutes later, and more tea.

We slept in the living room by the fire...but Cesar still froze. (Rajib had like 4 layers of clothing on and 3 heavy blankets...maybe he should've given one to Cesar?)

The next day we walked like 9 miles up and down the Kenyan hills looking for elephants. All we found was their crucial dueces, unfortunately. On the plus side, though, we saw zebras, baboons, warthogs, and South African gazelles from afar. This was not a safari, but Gitonga's backyard!

When we got back we were very hungry, thirsty, and tired. We ate Ugali (maize-based chunk of grain), tea, milk, and Sukumawiki (made by one of Gitonga's 13 grandmothers). Then we just chilled by the fire again, roasting potatoes, and struggling to make a huge Cesar fire. This was our favorite part - chillin' and hanging out with the family, talking and drinking tea.

Gitonga's family, well...excluding the other 12 grandma's

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Back To School

First thing in the morning, the cow has to be milked for Kenyan tea. In Meru they have tea at least 8 times a day, since it is much colder by Mt. Kenya. This morning we helped out...but we were too slow, so we only gave it a few tries.
Milk does a body good, but milking makes the fingers slimy

After having tea and a couple of slices of bread, we met the children of their school. In the morning, they always sing songs to start the day. After a few questions from the kids, they requested each of us to sing our national anthems. Alessio (from Italy) did an excellent job. Between the two of us, we managed to get all the words...but we'll leave it at that. The children then sang Kenya's national anthem with no problem.
School children assembled to start the day with a song
Saying our goodbyes, we headed to Gitonga's hometown, Ntirimiti.

Chickens and Shrinkage, Oh My!

Our first night in Meru (Sept. 28) was spent at Gitonga's family's village school. This school was established by his father to provide primary education to the children in town.

This spot had modest accommodations...showers and bathroom outside, and fire for heat, light, and cooking. What it did not have in amenities, was well made up for in our host's care for us. We met Gitonga's mother, father, and sister, who all took very good care of us.

Starting up a fire for dinner

Some may think we're not eating well here, but it's the opposite. The food has been fresh and plentiful. The staple is potatoes, but we've also had rice, corn, carrots, chicken, and beef. On this night, after touring the school, we killed a chicken for dinner...pretty crucial! We ate everything (edible) - from the feet to the heart.

Potato mash with beans and carrots (Mukimo)

Showering outdoors in the cold, with ridiculously cold water, is liberating but a bit shrinkifying. The good thing is, afterwards the air feels warm...for like 5 seconds, at least. (Then around 2 hours later, you can find your nunu again.)

Feeling clean and free, we decided to set camp (thanks for the tent, dee). They told us it never rains, but it did that night. They seemed to think we brought the rain, which is good for the crops.

Crucial Cut and New Amigo

We woke up early again to continue looking for some fly rides. Before heading out though, Rajib needed a haircut. We went to a barber right behind the hostel. For like 3 USD, Rajib got a crucial haircut, head massage, and shampoo. Here are some pictures...

IBM to...
... BMX!

The next morning we met Gitonga (Hillary), a local Kenyan who was visiting the hostel for breakfast. Within 1 hour, we jumped on the local bus and traveled 5 hours with him and Alessio (an Italian dude volunteering in Kenya) north to Meru.

African War-Face
Sexy never left Africa

The bus ride was long, bumpy, hot, but colorful. The seats were very small, but they still pack more people than seats. The mexicans got nothing on these Kenyans! Overall, the ride was great because we got to see how most people here get around...not to mention a 6 hour bus ride was only around 7 USD.

back of the bus

But, if you plan to travel by land in Africa expect to make stops to pay off the corrupt police. That being said, it is against the law and the government is trying to stop it (unsuccessfully).

Kenya, hoooooooo!

Landing in Kenya was no problem...except Cesar's passport was kind of full from all his previous travels. While getting through customs, Cesar made friends with one of the security officers. She helped us get a driver to get to our hostel and we arrived kind of late - like around midnight.

The room was small, had two small beds, some ripped up mosquito nets, and no air-conditioner...but cozy, and definitely beat the plane seats. Our room also had a sink, but the bathroom and shower were shared.
Our room

Rajib in the mosquito net

Being off time by 7-8 hours, we woke up around 6am (Kenya time) to find some motorbikes. Our plan was to get the bikes to start heading south to Capetown on our own. We explored the streets on downtown Nairobi to get a feel for the city and meet people who could lead us to our dirt bikes.

Reality struck by the end of the day...

Dirt bikes in this city are too expensive, especially with all the hustlers. We saw a crucial 1975 Mini 100, but this too was a bit steep for our budget. There were also other factors to think about - like crossing borders with corrupted officials, not having local vehicle insurance, or anything else the local authorities could make up to hold against us. At this moment, we are undecided on our mode of transportation to get down to Capetown (for our flight to India).