Ebola Tour '95
Sex, Drugs and Danger
- 7 months
- 21,000 miles
- 19 African countries
- 4 European countries
- 160 journal pages
- 40 log bridges crossed in Zaire in 4 weeks
- 72 kgs (158 lbs.) of souvenirs shipped home after week 25 (5 more weeks to go)
- 111 meter (364 feet) bungee jump at Victoria Falls
- Grade 5 white water river rafting at Victoria Falls
- 60 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm slide film
- 20 lbs. lost by the end of Zaire dysentery; 10 of which was just due to travel
- 24 years old, Louise
- 26 modes of transportation
Modes of Transportation (in no particular order)
- jet plane
- light plane (Cessna)
- dugout canoe
- whitewater raft
- horse-drawn cart
- African taxi
- safari van
- flatbed truck
- double-decker bus
The journey/adventure begins Sunday February 12 flying from San Francisco to London without being able to sleep which is normal for me while flying. I make my way to the Liverpool Street station to catch the train to Ipswich where I and other fellow travelers are met by the Dragoman driver and transported to the ferry station where we meet the rest of our fellow travelers. We ferry to Belgium and drive for two hours before crossing into France. I finally get three hours of sleep after 32 without. We have dinner and spend the first night in France at an inexpensive travelers hotel, Formule 1, where my French comes in handy. I volunteer for the job of running the kitty for this the first segment of my journey. We're traveling quickly through France via tollway and only by chance do I glance out the rear window of the truck and see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We stop at a shopping center with a hyper-supermarket to buy lunch and I attempt to buy yeast for our "stores" in order to make bread later in the journey but I forget the French word and can't fake it with a store employee. We spend the second night in Bayonne at another Formule 1.
We cross into Spain at San Sebastian. Andy, our co-driver, grabs a train for Madrid with our passports in order to get visas for Mauritania. We'll meet him in Madrid. After lunch, Martin W. and I sit at a table outside the supermarket where we bought lunch and ask one another personal and manly questions imitating the non-stop talking of the three young English women on the trip. Everyone joined in eventually. We were driving around Burgos where a Spanish man, looking somewhat like Danny DeVito, surmised we were looking for a place to stay. Joe, had traveled for some length in South America and volunteered to handle the communication in Spanish. Senor DeVito showed us several rooms to rent in his apartment complex which were definitely not luxurious but they were beds even if just mattresses on the floor. After bargaining down to $100 for everyone to stay the night, we went to a bar just downstairs. The women left for a Chinese restaurant while the guys finished our beers. When the guys arrived at the restaurant, the women had seated themselves at every other seat leaving room for the guys in between. The group had begun to get more integrated and better acquainted since Martin and I started breaking up the young English women's triumvirate. We settled the bill individually with the Chinese proprietors and the last six of us were treated to a Chinese liquer. I had difficulty falling asleep and only managed an hour or two. The bed was soft and shaped like a banana. The next day the truck died on the highway to Madrid due to a clogged fuel filter. We spent the next three nights at a campsite in Madrid. My initial impression of Spain is that of a third-world country. It was quite cold overnight but I was comfortable in my silk long underwear and hat. I estimated it to be about 45 degrees when I awoke. There was frost on the tent one morning. Some people went into town while I and others stayed behind to do laundry and play an improvised game of cricket. Martin managed to break a pair of his glasses leaving him with his spare and we'd only just begun. Martin, by the way, is my tent partner. We are twelve passengers, six men and six women, plus the two drivers.
- Mark - driver, English, 30 yrs.
- Andy - co-driver in training, English, 25 yrs.
- Joe - employment counselor, British Columbia, 6'5", 270 lbs., 46 yrs.
- Michel - finance prof., from French-speaking Ontario, 30 yrs.
- Mary - elementary school teacher in Montreal, originally from Perth, 52 yrs.
- Catrina - desktop computer operator, Belfast, 41 yrs.
- Arne - student, Denmark, 20 yrs.
- Martin B. - last 4 yrs. in London as butcher & landscaper, Kiwi, 29 yrs.
- Martin W. - taught English in Japan for a few yrs., Wales, 30 yrs.
- Edwina - currency exchange mgr., Melbourne, 30 yrs.
- Alice - just graduated from Oxford, looking for business admin. work, English, 23 yrs.
- Fiona - student, York, 6' blonde, 19 yrs.
- Clare - just finished law school, North London, 22 yrs.
We camp tonight on the southern coast in the resort community of Almuñécar, past Granada. There ALWAYS seems to be tea brewing. In the evening Alice asked me if my hair was taking a long time to dry and I replied "it was never wet." I hadn't washed it for two days and it gets greasy. Alice was embarrassed. Our driver, Mark, drove relief trucks into Romania. Joe and Arne make a cribbage board from scraps using the truck's hand drill and twigs for pegs. I slept well with the sound of the surf making it easy to fall asleep. An aviary is right next door and provides much bird noise. The beach is very close and 2500' - 3000' dry hills are in the near background. I walked half an hour into town where there are a few small shops. I sit in the Plaza Pablo Picasso, rest my feet and blend in well with the locals. Well at least no one pays me any attention. There are several older folks sitting in the plaza soaking in the sun and warmth of southern Spain in the winter. Our campsite is just across the street from the beach and Mediterranean Ocean. My Spanish is returning and is very helpful. After dinner at a bar on the beach, I order four beers and say "I can wiggle my ears." The bartender says "Que?" Reminds me of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. The ferry takes 1 1/2 hours to cross from Algeciras to Ceuta on the African continent. Ceuta is actually Spanish territory.
Arrived just after dark at Asilah after traveling through Tangiers. Dinner is mashed potatoes, green veggies and pork steaks with a good onion sauce. Asilah is on the coast. At night it dips down to about 50 degrees. We crossed some low mountains/hills to go from Ceuta to Tangiers and Asilah. There are only seven days remaining in Ramadan. None of the women are devout Muslims (covering their face). I went into the small medina of Asilah this morning. Asilah is a small, quiet, clean and not poor city. The Berbers sell wool/silk carpets. I entered a shop and went upstairs, sat down, drank mint tea and talked to the shop owner while he showed me a book of receipts, addresses and comments from people he shipped items overseas to - many in California. The women spend three months making a carpet. Girls go to school from age six to fifteen and then make carpets. Asilah is at 34 degrees north latitude and probably has a similar climate to San Jose. It's about 70 degrees today with a breeze but still hot in the strong sun. There are lantana bushes in the strand along the beach - palms also. While walking to the post office at about 3:30, school just let out and five girls about 14 or 15 years old were giggling at me and said "hola." I replied and asked if they spoke French and then asked where the post office is. It was just around the corner and they came along to point it out. A person showed me postcards for sale, then brought a friend over to sell hash. When I said "no", he threatened to put it in my pocket and cause trouble. I walked away, then he said it was just a joke. While I was walking back to camp along the strand, I met a young taxi driver, Abdul, who spoke to me about Ramadan and invited me to dinner but I'm cooking tonight - vegetable curry. Later I learned that Andy, the co-driver, would have cooked for me while I went to Abdul's.
We drove towards Fes the next day but at 4 PM and 7 km from our campsite, fuel was not reaching the engine. Crud had clogged a fuel pump. The truck has multiple filters, pumps, etc. We pulled off along the road at an intersection in town. One local man in particular was very helpful in getting a mechanic who finally bypassed the problem pump. The mechanic took the filter, etc. to his shop for cleaning. The man in charge was particularly aggressive at keeping pasersby and children away in order to ensure that none of our tools and spare parts disappeared. He even threw stones at the kids. Welsh Martin and I were the only passengers to disembark and help. We were finally on our way by 8 PM. We were able to communicate in French! P.S. Everything, including the truck, is brand new, except the truck's chassis. A late dinner was pasta, tomato sauce with tuna.
After a quick breakfast, we went for a tour of Fes, including a lengthy tour of the old medina, a walled city. There are 200,000 narrow, crowded streets. Our guide, Kalam, was wearing patent leather shoes, a nice white djellabah with an oxford cloth, button-down collar shirt, buttoned at the neck, pants, a nice watch and Ray Ban sunglasses. (He also had long, black eyelashes.) Kalam was also wearing a Canadian pin on his djellabah! While we were walking through the medina, Joe and I were referred to as "Ali Baba" because of our beards. We saw dye pits, bread bakeries, pottery making, cloth weaving and food shops. Arne was pickpocketed, losing four $100 travelers checks - kitty money we had given him to cash the day before. At the rug shop, we ate bread, cheese and oranges we had purchased in the medina. They served us very good mint tea. We left for dinner at a restaurant after 8 PM. I had bread, butter and a cheese omelet which didn't have cheese. My main course was Tangine ..., which was small meat balls on top of a hard fried egg. Dessert was a small fruit salad, mostly apples. Some people had a yogurt dessert, just a Dannon cup! Most were disappointed by the meal. The clientele was all Anglo; we theorized locals were unable to afford the restaurant. (P.S. We had a flat tire when we exited the medina in the afternoon.) When we left the restaurant, Kiwi Martin was out first and locals seated along the sidewalk cafes greeted him with an " 'ay mate."
It rained lightly beginning at 4 AM and continued to sprinkle until about 11. Mark and Arne went to town with our guide to arrange replacement traveler's checks. I found that Arne had left the "T" key in the passport safe under the rear cushion. Mark suggested we depart for Rabat rather than sit around in the rain. We were originally to tour the new city today had it not been raining. We're in Rabat to get three visas - Mali, CAR and Cote D'Ivoire. It had been overcast and drizzly off and on. Here it's breezy, partly cloudy and in the low 50's. It was warm last night due to the cloud cover. So far we've only traveled on paved roads. There are numerous cafes and auto repair shops in the cities along with "auto écoles." Yesterday we also visited the King's palace wehen he visits Fes. Drago provides the TP. Mark also has a book filled with an inventory of the food he pre-bought - this book even has an index! Various police check stops along the highway have just waved us through. There are numerous herds of sheep throughout the countryside. Mark has installed a bulletin board above the cab. The truck even provides heat to the passenger compartment. French is widely spoken and store and highway signs are also in French. We stopped along the road today to buy fresh mint in order to try and make our own mint tea. The British call French toast "eggy bread." Muslims must: 1) Visit Mecca once in their life if they can afford to. 2) Give 2.5% of their salary to the poor. 3) Practice Ramadan. 4) Pray five times a day. 5) Believe in one god and Mohammed is his prophet. I went with Mark and Andy for a 10 minute walk from the Rabat campground to a sidewalk cafe for coffed and to observe Moroccans celebrating Ramadan from 9-10 PM. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere and with a purpose. The streets were narrow and full of auto traffic. Some autos were filled with the entire family. Some young girls were really made up in their Sunday best. The cars have yellow headlights. No one seemed to give us a second look - we were left alone. Great excitement of involvement and belonging. I look forward to going back for mint tea and more watching. (I did in fact return, with Joe, to the cafe the next two evenings just sitting and drinking mint tea while watching the people celebrate Ramadan!) The campground is right at the beach and windy, about 65 degrees. I met a German camper who was walking his dog and talked with him from 11:45 PM to 12:25 AM. Thunderstorms raged from about 1 AM til 5 when I heard the call to prayer. Brief periods of showers, along with hail, during dinner cleanup.
Arne, Joe and I went into town to change money for visas and also visited a McDonalds. Everything tasted exactly as at any McDonalds. I used my French there. I also visited a very modern supermarket. It's located in a mini-mall with other shops and a Pizza Hut next door.
I went with the co-driver Andy today to pickup our passports with our CAR visas. We waited in someone's office near the front of the embassy. The office was nothing special - a desk, two chairs in front of it and two faux-leather easy chairs. There were holes in the walls, dirty old lace curtains and an IGN map of the CAR on the wall. On a door to an adjoining office was a list of names and their specialties. The person whom we met with spoke easy French to us and a tiny bit of English. The person who signed our visas arrived at 11:35 and we left almost an hour later. We used the toilet on the embassy property - but outside the building. It was no different than the hole we have at the campsite. I had expected the embassy to be much better kept than it was.
I toured the medina of Rabat with Mary and Catrina this morning and ferried across the river back to our campsite. The little girl at the campsite unlocked a shower and I was able to take a "warm" (actually, cool) shower.
Up at 6 in order to leave before 7:30 when the road closes for a big prayer congregation near the campground at the beach in Salé for the end of Ramadan today. We spent two hours at the Roman ruins at Volubilis. Storks. On to Meknes and a big celebration in the town square. 60-65 degrees. Five young girls hand around Arne, Joe and myself while we have coffee in the town square. They want their pictures taken. I spent an hour inside the campground pavilion listening to live Moroccan music (electric) and watching Moroccans dance celebrating the end of Ramadan.
We cross the snowy Atlas Mountains on our way to the Meski Oasis. The highest point crossed today was 1907 meters. After dinner at the oasis, the German tourists had arranged for Moroccan drumming and singing. I was listening in the shadows when Achmed (~ 30 yrs) asked me why I didn't go closer to watch. I told him I didn't like the lights, I liked the dark. He said I was like the Berbers. We talked for about half an hour. He told me that his people used indigo to repel mosquitoes in order to avoid malaria. His family lives in Algeria and there is trouble there now with the Tuaregs. Achmed talked about how bad alcohol is - the Germans had quite a bit to drink. Achmed's people smoke a little hash for parties but do not drink. Drinking makes people aggressive and they get headaches. Achmed works at a boutique at the campsite and speaks English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Berber and Tuareg.
Joe and I walked above the campsite to photograph the oasis and casbah across the river. We were wandering when Abdelah joined us. He was about 13 yrs old. He pointed out the school and answered our questions about whether it was OK to enter the Berber village. It is of adobe construction. He eventually took us to his home for mint tea, showed us blankets his mother makes and also showed us his family photo album. I was communicating with him in French and translating for Joe. A great morning. This is why I studied French. Last night Joe and I walked away from the campsite and had a very good view of the stars and the start of a good view of the Milky Way. We saw a shooting star and a satellite cross the sky!
We spent last night and tonight at Todra Gorge. Basically, a steep walled, narrow canyon. I climbed with Arne and Joe to the top of some rocky hills - ~ 1500 feet. Easy grade in cool morning. Very little scrub, the gorge is on the dry side of the Atlas Mountains - desert. Nonetheless, there were goat herds.
We arrive in Marrakech at about 5 this afternoon. Buffet dinner. Very pleasant evening temperature walking around main city square with open air food tables. There are four of us to a room at Hotel Ali. The toilet is right up against the tub which means I have to sit sideways while I have a few visits with diarrhea today. The Jemaa el-Fnaa square is right here with all its food freshly cooked, acrobats and snake charmers. The vendors in Marrakech are supposed to be the rudest and most aggressive. Kiwi Martin and I spend some time hanging out the window of my room looking at a Moroccan woman passing by. There are numerous men selling popcorn or shining shoes along the park across the way. Buses stop frequently, mostly to discharge passengers. Colorful horse-drawn buggies are also numerous with Moroccan as well as Anglo passengers. Both the Hobo and Guerba trucks were at Todra Gorge our last night there.
Ate a couple sweets from pastry shop next door to hotel for lunch. Got some sun on the hotel's terrace. I spent two hours taking photos and watching the goings-on in the square from a café's terrace. As the day ends, the action begins. Musicians, acrobats, snake charmers and watermen. All with their hats out, first to tourists but also to other Moroccans, asking for money. Around 5:30, the food vendors begin to set up shop. A lot of noise and activity. Busloads of tourists flood the café's terrace to watch from above. After the buffet dinner at the hotel, I see a quiz show on television - three contestants, probably in Arabic, an audience and a question about Meknes.
Our first bush camping is south of Agadir. The sky is clear but a half full moon prevents a spectacular display of stars. We're in the desert but not yet Spanish Western Sahara. Good sleep in sleeping bag after the hotel in Marrakesh. Morocco has numerous cafés serving café au lait and mint tea - always with plastic patio furniture outside. The Moroccans are not poor - Raiders and Bulls jackets or sweaters are quite frequent as are mopeds. As we travel further south towards the disputed Spanish Western Sahara, Gendarmerie Royale stops become more frequent. Bread is available either as baguettes or pie-size round loaves.
We bush camp just 30 km north of Laayoune after a rainy lunch and afternoon in the desert along the coast. At one point we have to slow down for camels drinking water from a puddle on the road. Still on a paved, two lane road. We see several trawlers shipwrecked along the coast.
Our bush camp is along the coast about 150 km north of Dakhla which is at the end of a very narrow peninsula hanging into the ocean. Our next campground is just before Dakhla. We're here to join a convoy and pick up a member of the military who will escort us to the border with Mauritania.. There are immigration and customs formalities before leaving Morocco. The moon wil be full in two days but leaving at 6 AM, after the moon sets and before the sun rises, permits a good view of the stars and Milky Way. Dakhla is a new city in the desert of the former Spanish Western Sahara. There is a large military presence befitting the significance of the area and the war with Mauritania. Again, we're still along the coast and very nearly at the Tropic of Cancer. Back in Laayoune, we still see occasional horse-drawn carts. Small, personal satellite dishes and Mercedes Benz's are everywhere in Morocco. We'll leave Morocco tomorrow morning. It's about 85 degrees with a nice breeze. It cools to 60 at night.
We're at the checkpoint, just outside Dakhla, at 10 AM to form the convoy to the Mauritania border. The Moroccan army escorts don't arrive for 30-60 minutes. Then there's a lengthy check of passports, items on board and other immigrations items delay departure until about 2 PM. The convoy consists of several German vehicles, two motorcycles, some French vehicles, a Hobo truck and us, all told 17 vehicles. We stop for the night at a decent, big, flat sandy spot to camp about 15 minutes before the light disappears, around 7:30. We're about 75 km north of Nouadhibou and 18 km from the border. There is a small military presence here. It's a very pleasant, almost warm, temperature. Almost a full moon. Toilet wandering is limited due to the presence of mine fields. Curried vegetable mush with rice for dinner again.
Still in the convoy and with the Moroccan army escort, we continue south through the desert toward Nouadhibou and into "no man's land" between the two countries. The "road" is not paved but sometimes there's a very old single lane piece of pavement. Sand frequently buries the path and we help push the French Peugots or German Mercedes out of the sand. We also help the Hobo truck but must use sand ladders. Once when we stopped to help the other vehicles, we see land mines just 20 feet off the track. We get to the Mauritanian border which is just marked by rusted debris or two thin metal posts along the track. There is some army fortification out of sight below some sand hills. The Mauritanians are black but not Negro. An hour and a quarter elapses between the time we surrendered our passports and we are allowed to cross the border. We continue on for several hours, cross the railroad near the ocean and camp as a group again as we are prevented from continuing on to Nouadhibou by formalities. Immigration and customs will be completed in town which, from a small hill at the campsite, is visible in the distance. The city lights are visible at night. We're still 20 km away.
We arrived in Nouadhibou just before noon on Thursday - now waiting for customs, immigration and carnet-laissez passer (permission to travel through Mauritania). The campsite is a small, walled-in property in town. Friday, today. is a Muslim holiday. Joe, Arne and I walked to the docks and through town this afternoon. On the way in, everything was closed and few people were out due to the midday shutdown. On our way back, we stopped for cokes at a small shop and restaurant with signs in Spanish. Our guide's friend, Jacque, is 15 years old and looking after us at our campsite and helping us find our way in town. Jacque speaks some English. At the campsite, he demonstrated his talent of using a tire as a trampoline to do a somersault for us. At times it can be very windy in the desert areas. Our immigration or customs stops near the border are just shacks or small rooms constructed from the flat rocks and sand of the desert. The "streets" of Nouadhibou are cluttered with the garbage everyone tosses out of their home. Tonight, Andy, Arne and I took a taxi from the area of the campsite to Ahmed's home (our guide through the desert from Nouadhibou to Nouakchatt) for tea and food. Ahmed's wife (somewhat plump, young 20's and teeth missing) elaborately prepared tea by pouring the tea from the small metal pot, in which it was heated, into small glasses. Then the tea is poured from glass to glass, frothing in the process. This is to mix the sugar. The tea is a base tea with mint and sugar. The tea was heated on a gas canister. Later a platter with goat meat and small pasta was brought in. The pasta was very pasty from the starch. We work the food into a wad with our right hand and then eat, but first our hands are washed over a basin while someone pours water from a pitcher. Two friends of Ahmed's were also present. One of them offered us a smoke from his small pipe. It was like cigar tobacco. The room was about 10 feet x 20 feet and lit by two candles. There were two carpets, one at one end and another against the adjacent wall. The room was very sparse with only one table and it held a variety of things on top. They had a small boombox and a box of cassettes. One of Ahmed's friends drove us home - his windshield was very cracked.
All the residents of Nouadhibou have TV antennae. The TV's I saw were black and white. We drive through the Sahara today using the sand ladders when necessary. We dig the sand away from in front of each tire and shove the ladder directly under the tire. We see camels, perhaps wild, in the desert. Sand gets everywhere in the truck, through open windows, open roof seats and tracked in by foot. We camp in the shadow of a 50 foot dune (horseshoe) where the ground is like concrete and pegging our tents is very difficult. The desert is IMMENSE, flat and quiet except for the almost incessant wind. Last night was a full moon. I delay my dinner while I'm watching the moon rise through some low clouds. The stars are great before moonrise and the Milky Way is better than it was at Meski Oasis. It's about 85 degrees during the day and 60 at night.
I awake at 5:20 to photograph the sunrise with the dune in the foreground but a heavy fog obscures the sun until 9:30 or 10. At the campsite this morning, we see a small desert mouse burrowing down. At lunch, I see a small sandy-colored lizard with a long, thin tail. During today's drive the desert keeps changing from some dunes and brush to no dunes and small trees to even tuffs of grass as we re-approach the ocean. We stop briefly at a very small, unmarked fishing "village" along the coast. Next day, it's very windy but no early morning fog. We leave early and drive near the coast to the Parc National Banc D'Arquin headquarters. We check out the tides so that we may drive right on the waterline - this is the easiest way to drive this section. We have to wait until 3:30 PM before continuing. While we waited for the tide to go out, I was able to wade in the Atlantic Ocean. It felt nice and even warm. The sand was also nice and fine. A great walk along the shore. At one point as we were driving, we encounter some flocks of common terns on the shore. They fly up into us for photo ops. We also see fishermen in their boats. With about 50 km to go, we leave the beach and, as it gets dark, continue to Nouakchott and camp on the grounds of an African hotel. We covered 20 km while on the beach and the sand was compact enough that we were able to drive up to 45 kph We are here for Zairian visas.
We're camped at Tergit Vacances. The city is very busy. Joe, Michel, Arne and I walked down the beach to the spot where the fisherman bring in their catches. As opposed to Nouadhibou, these boats are made locally and are about 50 feet long. The boats are filled with the small to medium-sized fish. Several people go out a short distance into the ocean with plastic containers about the same size as two milk crates and fill them with fish and run back carrying them on their heads. There are probably 1000 or more people involved on shore and 200 on the boats. When the boats are brought in, some use logs to roll over, while others are just manually wiggled gradually along the sand. We're able to just stand and watch, unbothered. It is very windy here and the surf is also strong. At least the boats have power motors. Kids trail the people bringing the fish ashore to pick up what is dropped. This is the essence of Africa for me - to be among the working Africans and blending in. The same is true in the city - walking from shop to shop among all the African shoppers. The truck is still having trouble clogging fuel filters and I'll have another day here!
While Mark was in town (Nouakchatt) faxing Drago regarding the truck's recurrent problem of not getting fuel, Andy hasseled with Tergit Vacances campsite people re: charges for the correct number of people in the dormitory hut. This went on for about an hour. We finally settle and get into town for one last spending spree for the next three days of food. The Hobo truck is in town having been pulled out of tire-deep sand by the Guerba truck. We take off in the late afternoon and travel on beautiful tarmac. We see beautiful, repetitous sand dunes 10 - 20 feet high along with small villages of small, rectangular sandstone homes.
We bush camp in the desert/Sahel amongst burr-bearing plants. At lunch, at 1:30, it was 101 degrees, cooling to 90 at 9 PM. We saw several groups of camels as we drove today and even photograph a Tuareg walking by with his camel as we had stopped to photograph some wild camels. The terrain and climate have changed today, perhaps transitioning into the Sahel as we go south. There are white sand valleys with small communities in between areas of dunes. Andy is fined $10 for not stopping at a cop's stop sign but stopping where the cop is standing. We see several oasis with palm trees and people living there. Cattle is now present, as well - thorn trees also, of course.
We continue east on very good pavement although, late in the afternoon, sand had blown across the road and begun to form a dune. We had to back up and take a running start to get through. We arrive at customs in Néma in preparation to leave Mauritania but must spend the night being that it's late Friday. Before dark, my impression of the city is gray and colorless. The buildings are rectangular, concrete and like rocks cemented into walls with open roofs, typical of this area. We spend the night at someone's home. There are two rooms for us with carpet on the floor and three long cushions. Outdoors there's a hole in the concrete (an open-air toilet) and a barrel of water for showering/washing with a small pitcher of water for pouring over oneself. There is a camel meeting place in front of the wide open area; an oasis down the street. After dinner, Joe and I disappear into the city. There are street lights but it's very dark. Sand is blowing lightly but enough to diminish visibility. We sit down on a stoop on a dark street for 15-20 minutes and watch people (few) (Tuaregs) walk by in the dark. The dust and infrequent street lights create an awesome ethereal atmosphere. As Joe and I walk back, a kid throws a stone at us, misses but hits a woman lying on her doorstep. She yells continuouly at him even after we leave earshot.
Some of us slept out on the terrace and in the morning were covered a bit by dust. We left Néma during the continuing dust storm. The sun is really obscured. We drive south on a dirt track through a Tuareg refugee area (not too safe at night). We spent three hours with customs and immigration, driving back and forth through Adel Bagrou, Mauritania so that we may cross into Mali in the morning. We camp in the outskirts of town with some independent German travelers as the truck dies once again due to the fuel system. We pair up and take shifts keeping guard over the campsite tonight. My shift was with co-driver Andy from 3:40 AM to 6 AM when it was time to get everyone up and start breakfast. Another hour was spent this morning on exiting Mauritania formalities. During this time, one of the German travelers played Michel's guitar very well, even the Africans were listening.
Another 100+ degree day. As we enter Mali, we start to see horses being ridden. The Malians are much friendlier than the Mauritanians. We are finally in Black Africa. Even the adults wave and smile. We see small round huts with thatched roofs. Before we hit a big town in Mali, we get stuck on a sandy road in a town which obviously doesn't get many outsiders. Some boys and older men help us with the sand ladders. No one asks for "un cadeau." The women are dressed in blue indigo robes and everyone poses for photos. This was very pleasant, too bad it didn't last longer. Soon after, we help push two Africans and their Peugot pickup. The roads in Mali are well graded dirt but corragated in some places, a minimum of potholes. We stopped in Nara to go through customs ( one hour) and immigration (25 minutes). After two weeks we were able to have our first beers. Mauritania, being Muslim, doesn't have alcohol. They also don't allow pocketknives or condoms. We had to hide ours. We bush camp 200 km before Bamako.
We arrived in Bamako just before noon today. It's a big, busy city with many street vendors and shops. One pair of Africans are very aggressively following me and Joe as we try to walk around. They were just trying to get us to their shops. They had Alice and Clare running away from them they were so tenacious. Mango trees were seen just before entering the city - hmm good. It is only 80 degrees but it's humid. One emerges from the shower (warm-hot) already sweating. As we neared the city, the foot and bike traffic increased. I also see several foosball tables. The climate has definitely changed. Many varieties of trees are present and green. I met a nice young boy at the Lebanese Mission where we are staying and in the evening, a 60 year old retired English teacher and another man at the Officers' Mess bar. I borrowed Clare's mosquito net for the evening. There's no way to erect a tent on the concrete floor of the mission. It is hot and humid.
I changed US dollars at the bank today. I'm CFO in charge of the truck's kitty. There's almost a 10% service charge and they don't report the transaction on paper. We're staying at the former Lebanese Mission in the center of town. The humidity has dropped and it's almost bearable. At 3 o'clock in the mission's courtyard, it's 96 degrees in the shade and 117 in the sun. There are little gray lizards as well as orange and blue agama lizards in the courtyard. I bought a mossie net yesterday for 6000 francs and had a good night's sleep - cool - along with the white cloth I bought to lie on. Mali is reported to be the fifth poorest nation in the world. It really isn't evident. The woman who works here has agreed to let us photograph her in the colorful dress she wears to work. Joe, Arne and I had a burger for lunch at the Patisserie. This morning we stopped at a shop for a coke. I thought the vendor said cinq cent but when I gave him 500, he returned 350 because it was only cent cinquante. Honesty!
I walked to the National Museum in Bamako with Michel. It's closed for renovation but one exhibit opened yesterday. It is about a region of Mali from Timbuktu to Gao - a dry area with irregular rainfall. There were photos, artifacts and a couple of charts. Everything was accompanied by text in French. No admission fee. On our return to the campsite, Michel and I walked about three-quarters of a mile when I noticed the stadium and that we hadn't passed it on the way to the museum. We turned around and were able to find soft drinks and pommes-frites along the roadside. Michel also had one of the power coffees - coffee with a lot of sweetened condensed milk. Joe and I had gone to dinner with Mary and Catrina so Catrina wouldn't have to be hassled by George (the operator of the Lebanese Mission) at his Lebanese restaurant as she was last night. When we finally found Bozo's bar, the worker used a dim flashlight to search for menus which were really scarce. The Phoenicia Patisserie was nearby and we ended up eating dinner there. They had steaks and I had a 50-50 anchovy pizza. Our waiter was nice and got a few laughs from us trying to handle French all at once. Many mopeds in Bamako as well as cars. Edwina and I had picked up a young English speaking boy where we bought mossie nets to guide us through our cook group purchases. He was good and took us to the main covered market where fruits and veggies are sold. We dropped Edwina off and went for bread. He helped us carry things back and I gave him 500 CFA. After dinner, Alice, Mary, Catrina and I went to the Phoenicia Patisserie for cold drinks and pastry. I tried chocolate cake - it was stale. We had the same waiter as last night and he asked where the big guy (Joe) was. I said he was at the bar. Later the whole crew showed up. While only four of us were there, one of the staff tuned the television to CNN in English. I noticed there was trouble in Burundi and we were headed there eventually. Once he noticed we weren't watching, he changed it back to whatever channel it had been on. The crew then left for beer at a hotel restaurant. Catrina had some mixed drink and tried to pour it into an artificial flower vase but it leaked onto the table cloth. Mary and I were crying we laughed so hard.
We bush-camped about 2 1/2 hours from Djenné where we need somehow to cross the Niger River. The road has been paved but there are speed bumps at the entrance to every village which seems to be quite frequent. In Bamako, there are people along the street selling diesel out of 55 gallon drums, sometimes just into glass liter-sized bottles. We have always cooked with gas until tonight. We were unable to get refills due to incompatible fittings. Joe and Catrina made good chili tonight over a wood fire. We will have to buy charcoal at some point. Last night while sitting outside at the hotel restaurant, a kid stood near me repeating "Monsieur cadeau," as always. Bambo was the kid I met initially at the Lebanese Mission. He was very nice and showed up to help me (yesterday) find the post office. I had been there the day before. I gave him a pen and he was happy - as was I. The stalls in Bamako and in the rural villages sell pretty much the same things, repetitively. In Bamako, there are watches, soap, shoes, T-shirts, cloth, hardware, etc. Hopefully we'll shop in smaller villages and maybe have less aggressive people trying to get us to their shop. Andy has expressed interest in my down jacket, likes my loose, comfy tropical-weight pants and also likes my hat. Various overlanders have loose fitting shorts and pants (to protect against mossies) made from cloth in Bamako.
We toured Djenné and its famous mosque today. Our guide, who spoke some English, was John Travolta. We were allowed photos practically anywhere we wanted, even shots from terraces and of people. After the tour, we had lunch at the only restaurant - chicken, pommes frites and omelettes. It took 1 hour 40 minutes to receive our orders. At 4:30 PM, seven of us left on a 40 km piroque trip on the Niger River. The river was often 200 feet wide with tiny grassy islands. It really is only about two feet deep and very calm. There are classic views of small villages along the banks. We are often stuck on sandbars where we get out and push the piroque free. At one spot, five 13 year old topless girls help get us free. We stop around 7 PM, after dark and eat barley-like rice. That's it. We can feel the heat rising off the river (while we're still on it.) We can't hang our mossie nets from the trees on the shore because we are warned of snakes in the trees. There are few stars visible, none at the horizon, due to the humidity. We hear drums and singing from way across the river after we camp. We prop our mossie nets up with water bottles to have some breathing space at our heads. Otherwise, I sleep with my clothes on, it's hot. Our boat people are John Travolta poling in the rear, a 15 year old in front and an old man in the middle of the piroque bailing out the leak. They talk continually. Otherwise it was very quiet. We see many birds. Our river trip ends, we meet the rest of the group and we camp in Mopti tonight. We stopped at a big market in Somadougou on the way to Mopti and were able to take photos.
Edwina and I had to buy food in Mopti. The market is in the old section of town. We bought some vegetables and a young boy sold us a plastic sack for 10 CFA. I only had a 50 CFA piece so we kept him as a guide and French/native language translator. He also helped us find fruit and we bought more sacks. I gave him 100 CFA and a pen. It was hazy today. I was able to photograph the fish port. Every day in Mali has been around 100 degrees in the shade and somewhat humid. I'm drinking four liters of water each day.
It's on to the Dogon villages of Teli and Endé today via horse and cart - four people each on a flat-bed, horse-drawn cart. We set out around 6 AM in order to do our 3 km hike while it's still somewhat cool. We arrive at the first village around 11 after a hike in 90 degree weather. Lunch was rice with a vegetable gravy/sauce. We sit around the very hospitable chief's compound until 4 PM. It's cooled off a bit and we hike up to the former Dogon cliff houses. They're very small and inconvenient. Before we left, we were given African couscous made from millet and goat's milk. It's somewhat sweet and like Cream of Wheat. We were also offered millet beer. It's very warm and served in a gourd. It doesn't taste great. It tastes like a gourd. Dinner is macaroni and a freshly slaughtered kid (goat). I bought a statue here. I claim I smell millet beer when I lay down to sleep. I intended to sleep outside on a straw mat but it begins to drizzle and I move inside and sleep on the floor just inside the door. At 3:30 AM Mary, Catrina and Alice have come in from under their shelter as it begins to rain heavily and their shelter leaks. The people are very friendly. As elsewhere, it is always "Ca va?" These people as well as the Niger River people have an elaborate greeting ritual when they meet while traveling. As elsewhere there is the usual barnyard noise - especially donkeys. (Remember the camel at the Dakhla campground.)
We hike another 3 km in the morning to the Dogon village of Endé where I just spend time within the village while most others go up to cliff houses. I get lost and ask some kids where my home is and they take me there. The Dogon cliffs are on the Bandiagara Escarpment. On our way back from the Dogon villages to our truck, the two horse-drawn carts race the last bit. We and the cart drivers had a fun time racing. Castel beer is the beer of Mali. Mali street coffee includes three tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk.
Entering Cote D'Ivoire only took 40 minutes. At lunch, we find two eggs have hatched. They were purchased two days ago and packed into the truck with 100 degree heat outside. The homes in Cote D'Ivoire occasionally have corrugated tin roofs. The homes are better constructed than those in Mali. The walls are more square and "brick" construction is neater and squarer. As we approach the park entrance - Comoé - it begins to thunderstorm. We spend the night at the Comoé Safari Lodge at Kafolo. Even the adults are smiling and waving as we drive down the dirt road to the park entrance.
The seven hour drive around the perimeter of the park (due to washed-out bridges in the park) is on poor roads and very little game is seen. Some bushbuck, baboons, monkeys and very large black birds with white tipped wings. The park has a lot of tree cover as the country is wetter. In the afternoon, we return to the safari lodge to swim in their pool (warm water) and have a pleasant time. There are several very pleasant young children who I pick green mangoes for. I give them the balloons which decorate the inside of the truck for Arne's birthday. The eldest is an 8-9 year old girl. Several kids actually say merci and even merci beaucoup. As we pack up the sleeping gear and stools, they help and even fold the ground cloths. They are very pleasant. Catrina rewards them with candy and they merci again. They are extremely nice. The eldest girl even carries the trash bin on her head a short distance and dumps it. This is an immensely rewarding payback for the time I spent learning French.
Today is a travel day. We will be visiting the basilica in Yamoussoukro tomorrow. We have a short stop in Ferkessédougou again to shop at a supermarket and another short stop at Bouke to shop also. It's a bigger city with a very large African market. We see cities similarly laid out as a town back home - streets with permanent, advanced homes - not huts. We camp before Yamoussoukro on top of some hill which is a formerly paved area. Bush camps are difficult as big trees and much vegetation is prevalent as we approach the rainforest. The half moon is very bright, many frogs croaking, lightning bugs, etc. It has cooled off significantly tonight. It's 79 degrees. It is very easy to bump your shins or get scratched somewhere while in Africa and it seems as if things heal slower although my knee healed quickly after I bumped it earlier on the truck's entrance. Two smells come to mind in Africa - 1) charcoal fires and 2) African body odor although I haven't noticed the latter so much especially considering all the contact with people in markets, etc.
A few lightning bugs at bush camp last night just outside of Yamoussoukro. Last night, as well as the night in Teli (Dogon village), there was non-stop sheet lightning in the distance. Standard attire for the heat in Mali and thus far has been shorts and sandals only. We visited the amazing basilica in Yamoussoukro this morning. It has a very large garden and many large stained glass windows. Very impressive! There's even an elevator which goes almost to the top of the structure. There's a six lane super highway complete with cloverleaf on and off ramps leading to the basilica, presumably from Abidjan. Yamoussoukro is the new capital city. Abidjan is a big city with skyscrapers. There are fewer street vendors there although they are still present. It rains a bit at 3 AM, heavy at times. Fortunately, I had pursued the acquisition of ridge pole spacers and Joe thought to use the air hose which we lost the spring to while campingin Bamako. We made these the night before and had them on our tents. We also had our mallets and rainflys in our tents and were thus able to avoid waiting for the truck to open, etc. before we could begin to put our tents up. I was sleeping in my underwear and they were soaked when I was through. My feet and hands were covered with sand I hadn't taken a shower when we arrived because I was cooking, so I showered in my underwear at 3 AM. Our camp is just across the street from the beach and our tents are pitched in sand.
I mailed two postcards today and met Joe and Michel in the air-conditioned reading room of the Canadian embassy. We ate more shawarmas at the Lebanese restaurant at 10:30 and then went for ice cream. Walked to a gaudy cathedral and then twice as far to a market. Back to the Lebanese restaurant for lunch at 1:30. It was very warm and humid today - sweating big time even last night was bad, but a great day nonetheless. Took a taxi back to the campsite. It was nice to be in a car seat. A thunderstorm started after 11 PM. I was soon in my tent and addressing postcards not yet ready to sleep due to the thunder. There were two exceptionally close and loud lightning flashes and thunderclaps. I thought there was a small spark between my foot and one of the tent poles. I awoke to see an Africa Explored tent completely down in front of my tent. Clare's tent was also down and a lake was inside it. Other tents were in bad shape. I took a photo. Went into town, Le Plateau, and ate shawarmas at the Lebanese restaurant for the third day in a row. Also had "ice cream" at the ice cream parlor. There's a very good supermarket in the Trade Center where the Canadian embassy is located. Down the street was a very good, European-type department store with pool supplies, hardware, kitchen utensils, etc., etc. There's even an escalator to the second floor. I noticed in the newspaper from April 1 in the Canadian embassy that the Dow Jones Industrial average was just under 4200 and it was probably 3800-3900 before I left.
We crossed from Cote d'Ivoire into English-speaking Ghana today. The road is still paved (two lanes). Although it is an English speaking country, some village people at Busua are barely understandable. Our vaccination records are required for the first time on this trip. A group currency declaration is also required. We are staying on the beach at Busua for 2 nights/1 day. We went for a swim when we arrived. The water is very comfortable and there is an afternoon breeze. It feels cool even though the sun is very hot. Changing money produces a stack of bills for the kitty, especially when I ask for small notes. On the way in off the main highway, I noticed long and wide two-story apartment buildings with balconies reminding me of a style somewhere in the states which I'd seen on television. There are many banana and coconut trees being grown for fruit. The moon is full and nice when sitting out late. Of course, it is dark relatively early at 4 degrees north latitude. I was sitting out on the beach with only Kiwi Martin after everyone else had turned in. It is here that Joe is incapacitated when he hurts his back just bending over to move a bench seat. I help care for him as he lies still on his back beneath the truck for shade. I give him an empty peanut butter jar to piss in.
We go swimming several times today. We're at a new resort with Spanish tile roofs to our left. There's a small island about one-half to one mile offshore. We play a little soccer with locals and then swim with some small kids. Fresh fruit juice, bananas, coconuts, pineapple, etc. are offered for sale. I order a custom longsleeve shirt, orange juice and eggs and pancakes for breakfast. I also get lobster ordered for dinner. The villagers are especially looking for food to eat. They don't appear to be very well off.
We toured Elmina Castle today. It's a former Portuguese fort and British slaving facility. Tonight we're at Biriwa Beach near Cape Coast, Ghana.
It's Easter Monday today. We're camped at Coco Beach Resort, Accra, Ghana. Jewel Ackah and the Butterflies band is playing to a large crowd of dancing, middle class 20-somethings. The Africans are all dressed up. It's loud electric music with an MC whose English is an interesting African English. Joe joins in the dancing after a while. I enjoy the band and people watching. Joe is kissed on the lips and fondled by a dolled-up African hooker who'd been flirting with him for over an hour. The nearby public beaches are jammed with Africans in and out of the water. The parking lot is full due to Jewel's appearance.
We drive into Accra today. It's busy but not like Bamako or Abidjan. It's smaller than them. Our first call is the post office for Post Restante. I receive a poem from Chris which is about me and Africa. Joe and I go to a second floor balcony on a round building and have beer for less than 50 cents at 9:45 in the morning. I mailed a couple birthday cards and a wedding card to Bruce and Ellen.
It's quite breezy and cool on the beach. Our clothes, in the coastal areas, feel quite slimy hopefully due to the salt air and not our perspiration. The sun is very strong. Joe's back is still very weak. Alice's leg is swollen on the calf due to infection from when she fell in the hole at Comeoé Safari Lodge.
We have a late start leaving Accra due to Edwina's new passport efforts and Alice's doctor's appointment. Our Togo visas are for tomorrow. So tonight we are at Cape St. Paul under a lighthouse on the beach. Almost the entire village shows up to watch us prepare our dinner. While I cut onions for the Martins, the ladies and others form a deep line a few feet away to watch. Later I stand behind the Africans and get involved in conversation with some boys who are less than 15 years old. They help me set up my tent and voluntarily tell me it's too cool and no stars are visible hence rain tonight. And it rained starting at 3 AM. It was still drizzling at 7 AM when we should have had breakfast, so we just packed up and left. I'd guess 200 villagers were watching us prepare dinner last night. There are numerous references to God, etc. in Ghanaian roadside businesses and bumperstickers. As usual, there are numerous hairdressing/beauty salons. They were also prevalent in other countries visited thus far.
We stopped for breakfast along the road before leaving Ghana. But when we exit Ghana and enter Togo, it's pouring rain. I need to shop for food in Lomé so we stop at a great supermarket. We also walk across the street to buy veggies and fruit from a plump lady with a loud voice. She out shouts all the other ladies selling their wares on the street. She also spoke good English. We were pestered by a lady begging us to buy mangoes. I bought my Togo t-shirt from someone who came up to me while I was buying fruit. It's a nice shirt and unique. It has patches of someone's art sewn onto it. We also spent 30 minutes at the Voodoo Market in Lomé today. They have skulls and claws from various animals displayed outside. Joe and I went inside one of the booths and were shown various charms. I bought a necklace for good luck. It has two cowrie shells and a small leather compartment with 41 herbs. Lomé seems modern and resort-like and would be worth a couple days more time visiting but we leave after only four hours.
We enter Benin buying our visas at the border and set up camp along the beach at the Auberge de Grand Popo having set our clocks ahead one hour.
The same privately operated truck of overlanders that we saw at the Coco Beach Resort in Accra is here too. Greg is the friendly British leader. We play a game of chess to a draw. They're playing music which I enjoy. Both trucks have purchased pigs. They barbecue theirs using their sand ladders and a metal rod as a spit. We cut ours into pieces and wrap aluminum foil around them and then put them on the barbecue. Some of the guys went on a short, minimal boat trip on a nearby lagoon past some small villages. The stars are nice tonight. The Milky Way is visible.
Joe and I walk down the road into the town of Grand Popo. We hear choirs singing in their churches along the way - nice. There's a good photo opportunity at the cemetery and at the medical facility. Two men we meet as we're walking ask about the truck's destination and the nationalities of the passengers. One is very surprised to learn that everyone is single and that Joe, who is divorced, has no children. Alice leaves for hospital and Seamus has dysentery - vomiting and diarrhea.
We take a piroque trip to the stilt village of Ganvié today. The homes are built on stilts in a lake. Nearby the people farm fish by owning a certain area of the lake and placing vegetation there to drop drop leaves and feed and attract fish. The piroques leaked as has been the case throughout the journey thus far. It was a long, hard-sitting 8 kms, with two paddlers, to the village. There was a market, floating in piroques. We stopped and got off at a gift shop. As we rowed around kids would appear out of homes and on little mounds, waving and yelling. As we continued, one group's noise would dissipate and another's would begin. Just like Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. It is relatively cool with a slight breeze and overcast. As we row back through the village to return to Cotonou for lunch, very few of the local women are smiling. Joe and I find another Lebanese restaurant and eat shawarmas. I had seen a sign for Thai food but we saw this restaurant first. Mary is with Alice who is to fly home to get treatment at the Tropical Diseases Hospital. We spend the night in a campsite in Cotonou. There are two young girls who live there and are very curious about where we come from and our travel plans. They are very friendly. Seamus is helping with the French translation as we point out everything on the world map on the wall in their bar. "La Sante Avant Tout."
Breakfast in Ghana, lunch in Togo and dinner in Benin!
Before we exit Benin, we buy diesel with our CFA's. There are numerous butterflies as we wait to enter Nigeria which takes 1 3/4 hours. We encounter about a dozen roadblocks as we drive to Abeokuta. Some roadblocks are just 30 feet from one another. At one point there are four in one-quarter mile. As we progress away from the border, the people just want to chat about us, etc. There is lush vegetation along the way. The road is bad at times - dirt, sometimes paved as we approach the city. The passenger door is now locked on the inside to prevent intruders, even as we drive. We spend the night camped at the Gate Way Hotel at no cost. There are toilets in the lobby. It's a very big, nice hotel with a Chinese restaurant and numerous shops. There's a Dumpster in the lobby to catch water from a leaking pipe in the ceiling.
We drive through the major city of Ibadan today. Its population is about 2,000,000. From an overlook, we see many homes with rusted corrugated roofs. As we drive through, there are many shops near the road and many people smile and wave. One woman offers her daughter to Kiwi Martin and myself, probably to marry. She is old enough. The cars in Nigeria tend to be older than what we've seen elsewhere. No BMW's or Mercedes, but Peugeots. It's a hassle to find our way out of the city and onto the highway. We leave pavement and take a small dirt road and just drive onto the highway - no on-ramp. The gas stations are numerous, set far back from the road and with huge paved areas - probably for all the trucks on the highways. I see ping pong, taking the place of foosball, being played outoors at three separate locations as we continue on our way. Sign seen along the way: "Don't Urinate Here - Interdit d'Uriner Ici - Defense de Pisser" Fumes from trucks on the highway make me nauseous. The homes generally have corrugated tin roofs and are of either adobe or concrete construction, rectangular and regular. Bush camp tonight with another full-sky lightning display and threatening weather. No rain tonight but it's very hot and drier than the humid coast. The earth is retaining massive heat. It's probably in the mid 90's during the day. We're en route to Kano. Tonight is the last night of the first leg of the trip. Ten weeks down, twenty to go.
The northern part of Nigeria is drier and hotter. We're in the Sahel. The trees are thinner and less abundant. The villages are now huts or mud brick adobe. Overall, there's less vegetation. We started on the road at 6 AM in order to reach Kano before nightfall. Our earliest start yet, equal to our start to reach the Dogon villages. We arrive at the Kano State Tourist Camp.
We visited the bar at the Central Hotel last night. It's a popular spot for very good looking black whores. Joe and the two Martins drink quite a bit and I have a good time with them. I might have even danced to the live band. Today is a lazy day at the campsite and we meet the new passengers.
- Liz - waitress and cleaner, English, 39 yrs.
- Charlotte - student, English, 19 yrs.
- Simone - legal secretary, Australian, 26 yrs.
- Nigel - courier, Australian, 27 yrs.
- Mark - manager (ISO 9000 QA consultant), English, 32 yrs.
- Andy - sales manager - Dell computer networks, English, 27 yrs.
- Helen - sales manager - Dell computer networks, English, 29 yrs.
- Tim - bookstore partner with parents, English, 33 yrs.
- Hakeem - accountant, English, 26 yrs.
- Ann - violinist, English, 31 yrs.
- Kate - secretary, English, 38 yrs.
Nigel and Simone are traveling together and Andy and Helen are as well. Michel is the only one of the original twelve passengers to leave. He's skipping the 10 week segment with the drive through Zaire and flying to Nairobi and joining another overland truck.
Lunch is just outside the camp at the Canteen. It consists of beans, spaghetti and fried plantains. It's a dry heat in Kano and it cools off somewhat after sunset. I'm very comfortable. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and a fundamentalist demonstration is planned for today to protest the deterioration of life in Nigeria. Dinner is with Joe, Michel, Martin W. and Arne at the Lebanon Club. We have a good variety of food which the waiter chooses for us after we tell him that we have only so much to spend. We tried finding the club using Hakeem's directions but we ended up walking in the wrong direction. We hail a taxi and get all five of us there for a very reasonable price. Tomorrow morning, from 6 AM until about 10, is sanitation day. The last Saturday of the month is when everyone cleans their home and is not allowed outside. If they are caught driving their vehicle, then it is used to haul trash.
Our tour of Kano today includes the dye pits (indigo and tie-dye), a museum, a mosque, a view point (where I fell - camera wasn't hurt), a market and an ice cream parlor. The tie-dye is quite laborius. The women actually tie the cloth, with twine, into balls of cloth in order to prevent areas from being dyed. The market in the old city is very dirty without outstanding selections. Nowhere near the quality of the medina in Fes. What I saw of Kano is extremely dirty and unattractive. Not a city to revisit? Dinner was at the Lebanon club again.
Joe and I went to the Kano airport to meet Mary's flight from Lagos. She had left Alice in the hospital and flew to rejoin us in Kano. We left the campground at 10 AM, the flight landed at 12:30 (we thought it was due at 11 AM, but it left Lagos at 11). We waited until 1:30 and then gave Mary's name and a description to a car driver. He waited until she finally arrived at 6:30 PM. Michel, Joe and I had a very good meal at the Indian restaurant across the street from the campground. The owner came by after dinner and we, having spent all our money on dinner, were treated to a free dessert.
We bush camp tonight but we spent two hours along the road this afternoon with immigration people because Liz, Charlotte, Hakeem and Ann's passports are in Lagos with Andy getting Cameroon or CAR visas. They ended up paying $50 each instead of jail time and a $1000 fine.
En route to Yankari National Park today. Another immigration hassle for the above four. And then at the entrance to the park, more immigration hassle and payoffs. At the park, we arrange for rooms. I, in charge of the kitty, hassle for rooms with functional air conditioning. Michele, Joe and I end up with a room where only the fan works and it's hotter inside than outside. We find it more comfortable to just set up our tents and sleep in them. It was a major disappointment to end up without a room but the tents are very good. We go on a game drive for two hours beginning at 3:30.
This morning's game drive begins at 7:30 AM. Yesterday and today we saw the large ground hornbill, gray-headed kingfisher, saddlebilled stork, ibis, West African river eagle, waterbuck, warthog, monitor lizard, baboons, tantalus monkey and numerous elephants sometimes in a herd. We spent the afternoon swimming in the natural hot spring, Wikki Warm Spring, which runs through a nearby gorge in the park. There are trees, ferns, etc. right along the banks. The current is fast enough to make it difficult to make our way back upstream.
Wikki Warm Spring in Yankari National Park again today meant just sitting in the water and playing with the current trying to stay away from the concrete area of the stream. There are very nice ferns and water lilies in the stream. Some Africans come to the spring and wash clothes while their children swim. Everyone is friendly saying "hello" and "How are you?" Even the people in reception. One chap started talking to me in Hausa, while I was paying for the next day of rooms. I was lost. Another chap standing next to me explained what was happening. They thought I should speak Hausa because I was here in Nigeria. When I relayed the story to other truck passengers they said I was dark-skinned (i.e. tanned) but maybe not that dark.
We awake at 4:30 AM in order to leave Nigeria today. During the afternoon, we're stopped by one of the immigration posts. They inspect our passports, immunization records and then take our cameras and claim we don't have permits. We are individually questioned regarding profession and where in Nigeria we took photos. All our photos were taken in Yankari N.P. Two and one-half hours later Mark pays $20 and we're free. We continue on our way and camp just 400 meters beyond where we exited. It took two hours to complete the formalities of exiting - 9:30 to 11:30 PM. A quick dinner of fried egg sandwiches and we're in our sleeping bags at 1:30 AM. A 21 hour day but we're happy to not be in Nigeria any longer.
The road to exit Nigeria was an especially bad dirt road with ruts and rocks. It was so bad I thought it couldn't possibly be the correct road. We enter Cameroon in the early morning. We're to spend the night in Roumsiki. Roumsiki is a nice village amongst volcanic plugs. Our guide, Julius Caesar, takes us on a short tour to the sorcerer. I'm thinking Roumsiki is a nice enough place to one day want to return by myself. The sorcerer answered our questions concerning the future. I asked if I was going to live in Zimbabwe but he only said I would have a safe journey to Zimbabwe. At some point we saw a 3 or 4 year old boy wearing a "Harley Fucking Davidson" t-shirt.
The homes which have tin roofs do not have rusted roofs. Cameroon thus far has been a welcome change of scenery from our previous 10+ weeks in Africa. There are odd, irregular mountains or outcroppings especially scenic in the Roumsiki area. We went on a hike down into the valley at 7 AM with Julius Caesar. I bought a tamarind carving of a woman, with a child, pounding millet. About six boys from Roumsiki followed us down. While watching the carver demonstrate his technique, my ear wiggling and arm over-the-head tricks were a big hit even with the adults. Joe claimed they would now carve one of the volcanic plugs in my image. Mary took a photo of me, for me, with the mountains and huts in the background while I'm holding my new statue. It gets very hot in the village during the day, probably 100 degrees but dry. There was rain yesterday for a few minutes as we were returning from the tour. Today as we're traveling to Garoua, a big downpour rushes in through the window next to me on the truck.
Along the road to Bénoué National Park, we see beautiful, large Nubian giraffes. Their patches have straight edges. We also spotted cob, waterbuck and duiker. At 6 AM the next morning Joe, Tim, Simone, Martin W., Nigel and I depart with a guide and guard on a
3 1/2 hour walking safari. We see waterbuck, cob, baboon, abyssinian roller and a hippo pool from on top of a hill. It's very nice to get out and walk looking for game. Before lunch, the Kiwi and I have a warm beer at the home of a local woman who operates a bar in her small courtyard. She has three young children and Martin gives them each a piece of candy. Several men come by as we sit and drink our beers.
Very nice scenery continues in Cameroon as well as friendly waves from the locals, even from the adults. One woman actually tosses a ripe mango to the truck. Joe comments on how the scenery reminds him of California - green, rolling hills and mountains. Even the town of Ngouandéré seems to be prosperous as the people are generally wearing shoes and untattered clothes. The men from whom we buy bread even speak decent English. We arrive early at Chutes de Tello and bush camp. We're early enough for a hike across the river via an amazing foot bridge constructed of fairly thin (1 - 4 inch diameter) tree trunks. About one-third of the bridge has a vine acting as a handrail. It is nice and cool in the evening, about 60 degrees. Hakeem and Simone (and I) prepare a sweet and sour stew with rice. We bought the meat from a kabob vendor and Hakeem fried small pieces of it for the first non-chewy meat in recent memory. The peppers we bought are actually chilis and the meal is a bit warm but very well received. After dinner, Ann practices her violin to the accompanying roar of the falls, insect and other noises of the night and a small audience. I am writing this entry into my journal by the light of the full moon and firefly light. I walked off down the track which we arrived on and can see across the canyon through which the river runs after the falls. There are random trees and shrubs creating an outstanding scene. I'm unfortunately brooding over the impending halfway point of my journey.
We're traveling today to Garoua-Boulai and then crossing into the CAR tomorrow. We spend the night at a mission near a disco which plays loud music until 3 AM. This is my second night in a row of poor sleep, but it's not due to hot weather because it's cool. I wake up numerous times during the night. As we drive through the mountainous countryside, I observe that African men are generally just sitting around talking or sleeping, not doing anything. The trees are occasionally close enough to brush along the truck and when they do the debris that falls through the windows carries bugs as well. As we proceed south, the vegetation is getting thicker and taller indicative of the rainforest. Some fences in Cameroon are actually mat-like vowen straw. We also notice 12 inch tall, 8 inch diameter termite mounds with hats like mushrooms. Steve plays with one and determines that ants live inside. But they could be termite mounds where the hat protects it from the rain. As we drive the dirt road to Garoua-Boulai, there are numerous small compounds of homes (huts) with many waving, friendly people, children and adults. There is definitely a Muslim influence in dress and caps for the men. For quite some time my leg and arm hair has been bleached by the sun. After we arrive at the mission, I walk out towards a bar down the street and meet Ann coming from the store with a chocolate bar. We walk down the street and see the others. I meet an American missionary who lived here in Garoua-Boulai for eight years and now lives 80 km east in CAR. Two of his African friends are drinking with him. They say they are policemen and are very friendly and speak English explaining that like Canada, Cameroon is bilingual. Very nice, but now Ibraham wants to buy me a beer. He is a friend (?) of the cops. I order a Spanish red wine which is not great, too dry. I just noticed I had been entering the date as April but it is really May. Time no longer has meaning! Andy has false doctor's stamps for cholera certificates. Bush camp tonight.
Central African Republic
We exited Cameroon early this morning. We are nearing the rainforest but really won't see much of it until after Bangui. At first, there are numerous tall (50-100 feet) trees, some with massive trunks and a lot of undergrowth, some of which is pink and yellow lantana. There are many small groupings of homes along the road. They're made from big rectangular mud bricks. The homes are rectangular and generally have white painted spots on the walls facing the road. Right away it's noticed that some of the people aren't pleased with our presence but most wave. The majority of the road is red dirt, well graded initially. The World Bank funds them and insists that they not be driven on for x hours after rain. There must be three hours of sunshine before trucks may pass. The rain barriers are just wood poles across the road and we are fortunate enough to hit the tarmac outside Bangui just before it rains. (Oops, this happens tomorrow.) We bush camp in a gravel pit used for roadwork. A local sees us pull in and watches us. He is accompanied by his seven year old nephew. Valentin Pari is deaf and mute but he and I are able to converse in writing in French. His spelling and grammar is flawless. Andy asks me to ask him if it's dangerous here and if there are any thieves. Andy suggests I ask him to act as our guardian through the night as we realize he is a good person. He agrees. He wasn't wearing a shirt and asks for one. Kiwi Martin gives him an old tattered t-shirt, perfect for Africa. We serve him and his nephew dinner (meat and rice with vegetables). I give his nephew two pens and we agree he will receive something in the morning for watching our campsite. I sleep very well for the first night in the last three. I notice that he acually patrols the campsite with my flashlight during the night.
Valentin has to leave at 6:30 AM in order to work in the fields. We had gotten up at 5:30. We feed him and his nephew breakfast - cereal and bread with jelly. Andy2, Hakeem and Tim had tried a tiny bit of conversation with him last night. I give him 2000 CFA from the kitty (Andy's suggestion when I ask what he has to give). Edwina offers two cigarettes, I get several pens from Charlotte and I see Hakeem give him another shirt. Kiwi Martin had given the nephew his bamboo roll mat to sleep on. Several people had independently given them bread this morning. He waves good-bye to everyone and immediately other local boys arrive and watch us pack up. I'm elated by the experience but depressed about only 18 weeks remaining on my journey. I do, however, have several pages of our written conversations as a souvenir. There is one great shot of straight red dirt road leading through heavy green vegetation. Mark has been repeatedly fined (three times) 8000 CFA at police stops, yesterday and today, for not wearing his seat belt while driving. We bush camp one km before the Falls at Boali. The road has a three foot deep hole we can't traverse and make it to the hotel grounds at the Falls.
Women in the CAR have, at times, thinner ever paler faces, almost Islamic and maybe even painted make-up. Street food can be delivered in big green leaves. Early this morning we walk down to Baoli Falls. When I say "bonjour", some locals reply with "merci." The falls are about 50 feet tall but spread out over 100-200 yards. Some boys show us routes through the eight foot tall grass down to the river and some rocks on which I walk out into the river for photos. One boy tells me there are crocodiles on the river. As we walk down from the campsite to the falls, we pass a village and hear the church choir. It's just like a movie. There were two French army people, in camouflage, sightseeing at the falls. There is still a French presence in the CAR and apparently the troops which went into Rwanda came from Bossembélé where we had stopped for food and water. On my way back to the campsite, my entourage consists of two 7 year olds and an 18 year old. I've been asked a couple times for "un journal," rather than "un cadeau." Some women also have their hair done into little braids (numerous) which stick out a couple inches. We overnight at the Auberge for Peace Corps volunteers in Bangui.
I went to the Post Restante and paid 225 CFA to pick up a letter. It's a hot day but even hotter and humid tonight with cloud cover. I talked last night and today with some women Peace Corps volunteers. There's a three month training period with other volunteers prior to a two year tour. They are paid $300 a month from which they must meet all living expenses - food, housing, sentinels, etc. Sentinels are to protect their home from being robbed. One girl has to have a sentinel even during the day in Bouar. The volunteers seem to be just out of college and those here are mostly women, although they say there's a 50/50 mix. This auberge is run by a Canadian couple, the husband works at the U.S. embassy, I believe in a maintenance capacity. There are at least three dorm rooms with bunks for four people each, two full baths for them in addition to three more showers and two toilets for overlanders like us. The auberge provides a full kitchen and TV/VCR plus many paperback books. There's also a screened porch and very nice garden. One of the volunteers teaches first aid. Even they are harassed for "cadeaux." They're allowed seven weeks off during the two year committment but not during their first or last three months. Health care is taken care of. They're employees of the State Department. If they quit mid-term, they must leave the country within three days. The volunteers have an unstructured (free) agenda. It's very strange to be amongst so many American voices (seven) and watching American television and movies after so long without either. It is here that Joe meets Louis Sarno, the American who is married to a pygmy woman and lives with them as well.
We bush camp in another gravel pit this evening, about 20 km before Grimari, CAR. Somewhat wispy clouds, moon rising through them. It's a bright moon. Stars are out as well. It's about 70 degrees, very comfortable but humid. My tent is about 50-75 feet from the truck but sitll in the dark before moonrise. It's very ethereal in the dark with the wispy clouds appearing as planet rings or parts of a galaxy. The people outside the city are friendly and waving. They sometimes say "merci" after greeting them. Still many homes in small strip villages along the road. Gravel improved roads of red soil/pebbles. When we were still in Bangui, we learned of the ebola outbreak in Kikwit, east of Kinshasa. That's about 700 km away.
Another bush camp tonight, 20 km before Kongbo, in a field of grassy tufts with rocks on a road off of the main road. A wet field and some mud necessitate parking the truck on the road overnight. Lots of bumps under the tent but it's still soft enough to sleep well. A few of us wander down the road and sit in the dark looking at the dark sky, stars and clouds and listening to all the crickets and other sounds of the night. They make me laugh and cry while talking about big Mark.
While we wait at our first rain barrier, I'm out of the truck with my camera. One boy comes to me and then others who are curious about the camera and its long lens. I let many of them look at one another through the 200 mm lens. They want me to take photos and say it's ok to photograph the women working in the field. Back on the truck, I ride up top, in front, and see a large bush buck with large horns just along the road. Lots of red road and green scenery. The CAR is somewhat hilly but it's not very evident nearby. People flash the "V" sign as we pass and wave. This is the heart of Africa. Very little traffic, small strip villages, heavy vegetation, people hunting with spears and bows and arrows. Lunch is at Kembé Falls. There are two falls spearated by a rocky bit. The falls are about 30-50 feet high. The one on the right drops in about six steps of equal size. The other is more of a chute. The river prior to the falls is wide and very scenic. It appears peaceful but is strong and capable of sucking people down the falls. We wash ourselves and do laundry in the river to the right of the falls. A beautiful African woman and two kids are doing laundry as well. Two African men paddle up in their dug out pirogues. Southern CAR is known for its butterfly varieties. There are several here and I am able to photograph them from 1.85 feet away while they enjoy a particular spot just off the river. There is also a four inch green millipede with some yellow legs which appear to accordian along as it walks. We stop to shop at a town which isn't on the map. The kids are afraid to shake hands or even touch me, especially a young (about 11 years old) girl with plaited hair, a dress and a thin, Arabic (Muslim) black face. We camp tonight at an American mission and cross into Zaire tomorrow.
The truck ferried across the Ubangi River which is about 300 meters across. I hired a pirogue for 100 CFA for a scenic crossing. The river is peaceful with nice green shores. The truck has trouble leaving the ferry because its rear wheel drive pushes the ferry back into the river as the truck pulls forward onto the shore. One and one-half hours later, after using mud ladders, the truck is ashore and we begin Zairian immigration. We spend the night camped outside the immigration office. It takes nearly six hours spread over the two days to enter Zaire.
After entering the country, we're only able to travel 13 kms due to the poor road conditions. The forest is so thick that we camp right on the mud road (which smells like shit). Mark had warned us about this possibility and also that it wouldn't be a problem due to the non-existence of any other vehicle traffic. Mark put chains on the outside rear tires before taking off today. During the early morning hours there is local bicycle traffic. Many people use bicycles to carry goods home or to market. During the day we pass some massive stands of bamboo, probably four inches in diameter. In later days, it's necessary to saw or macheté it in order to pass on the road. There is our first log bridge, of which we must walk across in order to lighten the load and prevent possible injury. There are still a lot of butterflies and now praying manti of all sizes.
It's humid but not extremely hot. Evenings are cool enough to cover up with my sheet. We travel another 33 kms. The roads are not good!! Steve and Andy II start trading empty cans and beer bottles for pineapples, eggs, bananas and later some antelope meat. This is the day I feel really ill, diarrhea during the night.
Very, very ill. I start taking Flagyl (metronidazole) thanks to Mark, our driver. We see large, black army ants march in a six foot column 3-4 inches across. Two duikers are purchased for dinner at the Baptist (American) Mission in Monga. Still quite ill.
I start feeling better today. We only progress another 23 kms. At times it's necessary to bail water out of holes in the road before proceeding. We get bitten by insects other than mossies. Still more log bridges even necessary to spend a great deal of time shoring one up. We have a river to ferry across and there are numerous black millipedes afterwards.
Mark II deals with kids to gather firewood for empty tin cans. I continue to heal especially after lunch although I still have no strength. I lost a fair amount of weight. The sweat which remains in the clothes has a lingering sickening sweet smell. Mark wades through muddy waterholes in the roadway checking for sludge at the bottom and the ability to get through without bailing the water and mud and using sand ladders. We traveled another 25 kms today and camp at a school. The truck has tilted severely at times going through mud and uneven roadsides.
Cool in the shade, maybe 80 degrees. The overcast today keeps it cool; rain at dinner and during tent setup. Many small villages along the road. Each is very clean, some have hedges or flowers. A very large spider is found on the inside roof of the cab, perhaps a body of 1.75 inches. Many big stands of large and tall (50-60 feet) bamboo clumps, sometimes forests. We camp at one such forest and use the bamboo canopy for a rain shelter. Four and one-quarter hours of driving today, covering 31 kms. Just over five hours preparing mud holes, cutting overhanging bamboo, etc.
Bush camped with two British guys in a Land Rover under a small bamboo grove. I had a very flat spot close to some homes. The guys in the Land Rover delayed us quite a bit as a log broke in half while they were crossing a log bridge. We traveled 25 kms today even though the road has dramatically improved. The candy I bought in Bangassou with my left over CFA is very good. Ann was very sick with high fever but responds overnight to malaria treatment. Andy caught a six inch long baby snake. We fill jerry cans with river water and then fill the water tank from the jerry cans. It's somewhat brown. The number of log bridges increases. The Africans who gather to watch us at dinner appear to be very desperate to sell or trade even just one egg. One guy must have a pound of marijuana and is willing to sell it for less than $10. I am even stronger after today's lunch - nearly normal again. I take Joe and Arne out to lurk before dinner. I see a person coming down the road and try to quiet Arne and Joe and move Arne out of the middle of the road and into more darkness. The person gets to within eight feet of Joe, Joe says "boo." The African jumps and is frightened and runs back to the crowd watching us prepare dinner. A very successful return to lurking! Clothes go through a cycle of still almost moist in the morning, dry out during the heat of late morning/early afternoon and get sweaty again as it heats up. The cycle repeats.
In Ndu, at the CAR/Zaire border, I had broken a thong in the mud. When I gave it to a hesitant girl, she immediately disappeared and sold the pair before I realized it. The same is similar with cigarettes, whereby everyone asks for cigarettes because they can be sold or traded. We arrive very quickly at the Catholic Mission in Bondo. We slip into the miniscule town - four groups of like four shops each. A Hobo truck also pulls in. We haven't seen them since Coco Beach in Accra, Ghana. It rained for an hour today. Today was a day off after seven days of travel through Zaire. I am very appreciative. Zaire, thus far, has given us the opportunity to come closer to, if not actually spend time with, the people. Even so, last night the people appeared more desperate, more submissive and simple-minded. There were some tremendous logs at the mill on the grounds of the very large mission.
As we're leaving town, I have my third brush with honesty. (The first was when I bought a soda in Bamako. I don't recall the second.) I bought some street meat, liver or organs, with a 5000 Zaire note. But I misunderstood the French again. The meat cost only 2000 Zaire. The vendor gave me my change and I gave him 500 as a reward for his honesty. I made a similar mistake in Bamako. Earlier while we were filling up with water at the mission, I photographed the most exciting shot of the trip. With haze and overcast in the distance, I was at the top of the rainforest and about five distinct levels of depth were presented by the forest growth. At times, only bamboo seems to be present. Our lunch stop provides an opportunity to photograph a deserted narrow-gauge railroad. The road has taken a turn for the worse. There are bog holes, filled with mud and water, which swallow the truck. The bog holes are created by other trucks spraying the road's mud out the side as they pass through. We've probably progressed 25 kms from Bondo and have a nice flat, open almost abandoned, clearing and village to camp at. The stars are the best since the desert. This is a 360 degree display with the massive size of the clearing in the forest. Our campsite is just inside the rainforest according to my Michelin map.
Several people wanted to sell crossbows along the way this morning. A local demonstrated his crossbow by shooting an arrow into a tree during morning flapping. I've also noticed this morning that I've adjusted to the truck being at full capacity compared to only half full of passengers during the first ten weeks. Parts of the road appeared to be more a large rain gully than a road. We crossed a former colonial railroad bridge about midday today. It was a very tedious process of moving stronger logs from the far end of the bridge to the beginning so that we may cross. There weren't enough logs to create a full roadway. We were able to cross in just three leaps. The bridge spans a river with a decent drop and it is about 100 yards across. It takes us two hours to cross given all the work involved. We also went through a boghole where the truck actually leveled off on the bottom before beginning to exit. It was that long. We arrive at the mission in Likati and kids offer us old Zaire paper money. I acquire some 1,000,000 notes as well as 50,000's which have lowland gorillas on the backside.
Simone, Hakeem and I shop at the Likati market this morning. We're a cook team. We buy some small cherry tomatoes, rice and pancake-like bread. The women use big leaves (about 12 inches long) from the forest to wrap the tomatoes and pancakes and also use the stems to tie the leaves closed. Before we leave the mission, I acquire two former Belgian Congo coins. We traded empty beer bottles and empty tin cans for all the old bills and coins. Another, though easy, old railroad bridge today. The crossing is very quick due to lots of new wood on the bridge. Another long bog hole today from which we had to pull a local truck out before proceeding to empty the hole of sludge.
Today, June 1, marks the midway point of the journey. Here are some of the things commonly sold in the markets of Africa - thongs, clothes, flashlights and soap. The Zairians appear to still be hunter/gatherers - the crossbows are an example of this. There are numerous small graveyards along the road for the last several days. Some have coffin-long concrete markers. Others are outlined by bricks. I'd like to stop and see if some of the better graves are those of colonials. We camp in a village tonight after having driven a stunning 74 kms today. Finally some decent progress.
We've heard bush screamers the last several evenings while bush-camped. They are mammals and scream for about five minutes. I describe it as if someone was being dismembered alive. We are still treated to lightning displays without thunderstorms and continue to be lucky and miss significant rain. The roads yesterday and today are sandy, not muddy. At a log bridge, we see people making palm oil. They cut some red nuts from palm trees and heat them to soften for mashing. Mornings are generally overcast and cool, about 70 degrees. Daytime clears to about 90 degrees. We arrive in Buta at 11 AM. The city's main street has many old colonial, decaying brick or concrete buildings. The main section of roadway is sleepy quiet. Very nice. I wish we could spend more time here especially to absorb the atmosphere and take photos but we have an immigration check. The trouble began when Andy II, Steve, etc. used US dollars to buy cases of beer while an immigration official was present at the bar. The dollars were not on the currency declaration. With us present and on the truck, our day packs are thoroughly searched. Hard currency and Zaire notes are confiscated. Fortunately, I was able to hide my stash under the seat in front of me. Only money was lost. No one's MJ was discovered. We are told to immediately leave town and camp at another village's church 10 kms outside of Buta.
We pulled two African trucks out of the mud today in addition to our own truck at the end of the day. We traveled 46 kms and have only 70 more to go before reaching showers at a Flemish mission. They will be our first showers in two weeks.
We arrived at the mission in Titule run by three Flemish brothers, all with white hair and beards. The mission and property are large just as the others in Zaire as compared to missions in other countries - big, brown brick buildings. We had our first showers since Bangui, CAR! Two major road obstacles this morning - a big rain channel, which we couldn't straddle, meandering through the road for 1/4 mile and multiple rain puddles.
Nothing unusual today. We spent the night near immigration in the old colonial town of Dingila. There's a cotton mill operating here.
The terrain in Zaire appears to be flat even if we're on a plateau of 600-700 meters. The road is very good today and we bush camp just before Poko. We have exited the rainforest and the thick bamboo forests and tall trees have diminished.
Very uneventful day of great progress in the morning but rain between noon and 2 PM slows us down as the road becomes, once again, very slippery mud. And as so often in these conditions, we slip into a rut and sand mat out little by little. The palm trees occasionally have weaver nests. Bush camp tonight in a gravel pit just outside of Isiro.
We drive into Isiro first thing today. Isiro is quite a decent size city with a sealed road, many buildings and functioning commerce - probably the closest thing to a real city that we've encountered in Zaire. Numerous times when we disembark for lunch or to dig the truck out, flying ants or flies of some sort are very irritating. Several women along the journey through Zaire arrange their hair into spikes sometimes four inches long. They stick out from their head in all directions. We fill up on diesel here. The diesel is siphoned into jerry cans from 55 gallon drums and then poured into our tanks. We get water from a church where there is a 27 year old man who is studying English and speaks fairly well. Apparently there are many trucks stuck in bog holes on the route from Isiro to Nia Nia and the Highway Department has closed it in order to clear them. So we must take a secondary route from Isiro to Mambasa and back track a tiny bit to Epulu. This new route is known as the Bamboo Route although we haven't seen any of the big bamboo groves that we had on the main route. This road follows an old, overgrown Belgian Congo narrow gauge railroad. I even saw a highway milepost marker left over from the Belgian Congo days. Evidence of the railroad includes the track, some signs and old rusted telegraph or telephone posts along the track. We traveled 80 kms out of Isiro before bush camping near a village using the "community center" as our campground. At times I've been able to see rolling hills. Grasses 8-9 feet tall are everywhere. There are significantly fewer trees as the map indicates we're out of heavy forest. The road is quite passable, although there are many water puddles which cause us to slow down and even wobble side to side. No stops today for digging the truck out. We probably didn't leave Isiro until 10 AM as we bought diesel and were delayed by the very time consuming, continual quest for beer purchases.
The truck's "dysentery" epidemic continues as it hit Mark a couple days ago. The days can be comfortable in the shade. The sun is strong and annoying during the lunch period when small flies bite or otherwise irritate us. We're well bitten and itchy probably not due to mosquitoes. Evenings are quite chilly - in the lower 60's. The vegetation drips moisture at all times. This morning one of the locals brought fresh honey from the forest, complete with the comb. Unfortunately, my hands were dirty and I didn't sample any. Several homes throughout Zaire have visible attempts to decorate the garden either with flowers, hedges or both. Also because we're really out there, we've seen small cemeteries all with crosses, some enclosed in coffin-shaped concrete. Others lined with bricks and stones piled on top of the grave. All cemeteries are well maintained from overgrowth. People continue to raise ducks, chickens, goats, pigs, corn, maybe even coffee. We entered the rainforest again this afternoon.
An early lunch today is the result of two local trucks stuck in mud ahead of us. The road has taken a turn for the worse. There are a couple mud holes which give the two four-wheel drive transport trucks trouble. We go through easily enough. But right after lunch, an Office Des Routes truck is stuck in an honest, but short, boghole. The two local trucks pull it out backwards and go ahead with us behind and then the Office Des Routes truck is pulled behind, through the boghole. The gear to pull the Office Des Routes truck breaks. It's fixed and pulled through a second hole where the chain breaks again. We leave it there. Earlier the driver wasn't to be found. When we stopped for lunch it happened to be at a home site. As an example of how rarely visitors travel through this area - the two women and two children hid in the bush for an hour until the local trucks stopped there also. We continue to see pygmies and Steve even trades for a quiver, bow and arrows. I buy a small thumb piano. They still hunt with bows and arrows - probably monkeys and maybe small antelope. A couple days ago someone had a chimp on a leash. Today I see a couple monkeys in a tree off in the distance. We also saw baboons running ahead in the road. The trading with the pygmies took place while we were at a bridge getting water and washing ourselves and our clothes in the cold stream. Ann plays her violin for the onlookers. We're here for about an hour. Water is filled into jerry cans and poured into the tank. Only 25 kms progress today. We were delayed at least two hours due to the local trucks and the boghole. We bush camp amongst bamboo trees again with the truck parked on the road.
I think my lethargy has led to too much time on the truck and I'm tired of the total immersion with the group. I need to escape and plan to have the energy to walk tomorrow with my camera and money. Yesterday's boghole had some large black ants which have a reported nasty bite. I've heard Swahili the last couple days but only in greetings. It sounds as if the locals still use Lingala locally although there is a heavy pygmy population. Their faces are oddly different, almost child-like. They have darker eyebrows and lashes, rounder faces and decorate their bodies with a dark ink. We attracted a small audience at lunch. When I went to sit down, one man gestured and said that over next to him was space out of the intense sun. So I went over and sat. We were back several feet from the majority of the African observers and tourists. Our leftover rice and canned vegetable mix was put into empty tin cans. I went for seconds and took a half can back and gave it to the kid with the two guys. There are areas of heavy lantana growing almost eight feet tall. There have been small areas near villages which have been well cut back for local use. It is not excessive. Sometimes corn is growing in the cleared areas. I tried some sugar cane today. The piece was a bamboo-like shoot about two inches in diameter. One tears the bark lengthwise to remove it and expose the sugar cane which is fibrous, similar to celery's fibrousness. One then strips the sugar cane fibers with their teeth as with the bark. The cane, very briefly, releases its water which is subtly sweet. Tonight's sunset was the best by far. A broad area at the horizon was brilliant orange. The cumulus clouds were lit from behind and were yellow and light blue. We were very well received by the Africans and pygmies as we almost stayed at the mission in Nduye but instead continued to just the other side of town for the night at an abandoned homesite. While we were in Nduye and considering whether to stay at the mission, the assembled pygmies would ooh and aah whenever I opened my eyes wide.
A very good day today with virtually no delays. We arrived at Mambasa around 2:30 and rejoined the Route Nationale. The weather remains the same - overcast in the morning, warming up and then cooling by dinnertime. My sleeping bag serves as a blanket again. Full moon tonight. We camp at another abandoned homesite across the road from a lone homesite. Joe, Kiwi Martin and I take a moderate walk down the road before dinner and hear local singing and drums. During dinner a bat flies in circles around the abandoned home. It even misses two guys who stand in its path. Monkeys ran across the road, one by one, yesterday as we were driving. There were six in all. We've covered 107 kms today!
This area is drier than where we've come from. It hasn't rained for several days. The roads are, as a result, in better condition. Yesterday as we drove down the road, a woman carrying a load of bananas on her head dropped them at her home and ran when she saw the truck. Throughout Zaire, people have had three foot high tables or stands along the road selling whatever food they might have - pineapples, plantains, etc. There are reasonably abundant palm trees along with bamboo and banana trees throughout the forest. Back along the Route Nationale, several women carry umbrellas (usually with multi-colored individual sections) for protection from the sun. I've also seen a very small area of cactus - a strange sight in the rainforest. There are some small hills off a bit from the road. Finally some change in the geography. Up until now, the forest has appeared to be flat. When the Africans watch us eat and prepare dinner, I wonder "Who is the show?"
After stopping at an American mission for water, Kiwi Martin, Hakeem and I start walking ahead of the truck. Coming in our direction are about 15 short women carrying loads of leaves and charcoal using the typical band across the forehead and load in back. They were singing, fairly repetitiously, and continued as we passed. Some of the homes start to have shake roofs. The homes continue to be either rectangular or circular with palm tree leaf roofs. The walls are made from the mud soil. There is a log frame visible through the eroding mud walls. We drive down to the Loya River to camp and depart for an overnight in a pygmy village. I rush down, skipping lunch, to wash my clothes from two weeks ago. They had begun to smell like ammonia but turned out fine. Clothes do actually dry in the rainforest. The sun is very strong after the morning clouds burn off. The weather is much better than I expected - lower humidity and cool at night. Joe and I are the first to depart. We take a short two-man pirogue trip to a short hike leading up to a small pygmy village. (That is, a small village not small pygmy. That would be redundant. 😉) There are about nine families living in the "village." The tallest man comes up to my shoulder; another to the middle of my triceps. The huts are really tiny with short entrances, of course. The hut I looked in had a small bed off to the right made from local forest products. Of course, the huts are as well. The center of the hut was clear and the left side was dark but might have had something in there. I just couldn't see. The men are short and thin but perfectly proportioned. Their legs are fairly thin. Before dinner Mary comes up to me and says I may want to join other members of our group who are seated with the pygmies and are smoking a mysterious substance in a bamboo waterpipe. I come over and join the circle. I share all of my mysterious substance with the pygmy man seated next to me. (Women are also present.) He takes his normal hit and has a coughing fit and gives me the thumbs up. (They were smoking first thing in the next morning too.) Dinner was prepared by our African guide. It's a big wad of some very sticky millet mash. I believe only Joe and I finish it. For that matter, we're the only ones to take more than a mouthful. After dinner, the pygmies put on a show of drumming, dancing, singing and blowing melodies through their homemade bamboo whistles. Everything was additionally special because the moon was full. The downside is the commercialization (selling souvenirs) by the Africans, not the pygmies who are the ones who should benefit. I sleep out under the stars on my Thermarest and sleeping bag. Some women continue singing until at least 11 PM. The pygmies are awake early.
Our travel to Beni is fairly easy due to the reasonable road. Beni is very close to the Virunga Mountains. The city has many shops and there were certainly lots of homes along the road before entering the city. We camp on an estate which has a massive lawn and garden. The home is an old colonial, brick house. There appear to be some well-to-do locals in town. The forest has diminished. Beni is nice and small, i.e. quiet. A nice place to spend time on your own. There's one main drag with little truck and motorbike traffic. A few new cars and bicycles too.
Two cook groups are now able to shop in the market this morning for the first time in a long time. We bought potatoes, carrots, bread, meat, onions and tomatoes. We then head up into the Virunga Mountains. There are people nearly everywhere. Coming into Beni last night was a bit of culture shock after so many weeks in the forest. Fortunately, the city was small and quiet. I spoke briefly with three young men as I walked down to the market. More signs appear in English and some of the people speak it as well. It begins to rain heavily around 11 or 11:30 and lasts for 30 minutes. The rain really causes quite a flow of water along the side of the road. We camp early right on the equator. Photos are taken, including a group shot. I go towards a stream to fill a jerry can but Susan, who owns the property, takes it from me and fills it and then proceeds to carry it up the small hill to our truck. She refuses a cadeau and my offer to carry the water. She uses the customary cloth around her forehead to help support the jerry can against her back. The town of Musienene is on the equator.
We continue through the mountains today. The temperature must have dropped down into the 50's last night. I actually slept inside my sleeping bag, wore my silk long underwear and my down jacket. All this on the equator! Granted, we're at about 2100 meters elevation. For a brief time, there were pine trees when we entered the mountains. But eucalyptus are everywhere. I again stood with the Africans who were watching us prepare dinner last night. Three of them spoke some English and we talked for about 30 minutes. I ended up giving one of them my French/English - English/French dictionary as I would only need it for at most one more week. Africans generally smile as they wave. I had tended to just wave but am now trying to smile as well. We camped tonight at Hotel Itala just before entering Virunga National Park. We've ordered steak and fries for two people for only $5. The view across is directly of homes (huts) on a hillside - very nice! The Kiwi and I walked a kilometer down the mountain road in the dark - quite nice.
We transit Virunga National Park. There are some bushes and tall, brown savanna grasses. We see warthogs, a small herd of six elephants, buffalo, hippo, baboon, impala and various birds. At one point outside the park, and in a village, we have to stop the truck while a duck and six ducklings cross the road in front of us. Africans like to exchange addresses in order to communicate for some odd reason. (The truth is they hope you'll send money.) We spend the night at Gorilla Camp Djomba which is eerily near the camp I was at in the same spot in 1990. It's a strange, heavy déja-vu feeling.
We start our steep hike up a hill to the Virunga National Park office at 6 AM. We're on our way to visit the mountain gorillas at a cost of $125 per person. I choose to visit Marcel who is close and should have 23 gorillas in his group. It should take 1 1/2 hours to find him. Oscar, who has 12 in his group, we're told will take 2 1/2 hours to find but it turned out that it took 4 1/2 hours. I want to go to the largest group in order to improve my chances. It turns out that I do have a better sighting than I did in 1990. We don't have to balance on a steep slope while taking pictures. The gorillas are in a small area free of undergrowth so that we can spread out for our photos. I'm generally 12 - 20 feet away from my subjects. We search for the silverback and stay with him. There are a couple of children and four adults in the immediate photo area. These gorillas are a little more active than my previous visit. I am very happy that I can take close, clear photos but must push the film to 800 and 1600 ASA. There's a little occasional grunting and one instance of a young gorilla "chest cupping" sound. I am impressed by the size of their hands and try to capture them on film. This particular group is very close to the fields of the Africans' hillside plantings. It seems as if we just step out of the forest and into the fields. On the short hike back we see six forest buffalo. I had put on clean underwear, socks, long-sleeve shirt and pants for the visit. There are many opportunities to acquire the old 50,000 Zaire gorilla notes. Last night I had inquired of the local crowd, which had gathered at the campsite, for old Belgian Congo money and an old 5,000,000 Zaire note. I was given the name of Emmanuel and the price for a 5M note in good condition. Emmanuel, I was told, could be found at the park office. After the hike, he was there and all the info was correct. Someone had paintings and carvings for sale at the campsite. The paintings were of African scenes and gorillas on old flour sacks but they were too good and clean for me to purchase. We have a pig for dinner and it's cooked by the locals on a homemade spit at our campsite. The campsite is very close to where I camped in 1990. The old campsite is now the site of a primary school. I recognize the contoured hillside on the right and there are only brief foggy views of the volcanic peaks on the left. The scenery and atmosphere here are special. The sun can be intense in the afternoon but evenings are cool and just before the rain (3:30-5:30) it cools off considerably. First thing in the morning it's about 60 degrees. People live right where we are camped. There are small black biting ants both at the campsite and while viewing the gorillas. They're only a minor occasional irritance. The hike to the gorillas includes macheting through heavy jungle growth with an occasional big leafy plant whose edges have a sharp thorn-like structure. The people are growing maize and potatoes. I also notice a spider plant behind the home at the campsite. It's growing from the ground, not hanging. The kids are being taught English, not French as they were when I was here in 1990. They are also heavy into Swahili now. While I'm sitting in a rotunda, out of the sun, working on the kitty, a young boy asks if he can use the calculator. He appears to know what he's doing. I went back to the truck to get a Bic to give to him. He said "thank you very much" twice and shook my hand. When he said it didn't work, I replaced it and he thanked me again. He was a great person to receive the gift. His name is Philip.
We depart Zaire and enter Uganda today and set our clocks ahead one hour. As a result of inquiring about old Belgian Congo bills and coins at the gorilla campsite yesterday, an older man appeared with a 1926 coin in very good condition this morning before our departure. I bought it. He asked for the typical $10 but I said it was too much (through a translator) and he then asked for $5 which I borrowed from Ann. I really liked the cool temperature and general atmosphere at the gorilla campsite, especially the scenery with the volcanoes in the distance. The drive in Uganda is scenic with views of lush green hills as we climb in the mountains. The hills are heavily cultivated with banana trees, sorghum (used for wine and looks like corn plants), etc. Cattle with big horns are also becoming more abundant. The first women we see are wearing bright green and orange clothes. We stop to shop for lunch in Kisoro where there is also a big market for cloth but I don't find anything I want. We see many white trucks on the mountain road from the UN and World Food Program destined for Goma and the Rwandan refugees. The rear axle has three sets of two tires each on each side plus two double sets on the front of the container. After a lengthy delay due to fuel pump problems, we arrive at the shores of Lake Bunyonyi at the site of a derelict hotel. We are surrounded by more of the lush green hills. There are pied crows, pied kingfishers, a crowned eagle and maybe a white-necked raven. The homes in Uganda are much better constructed. They are very rectangular with substantial concrete walls and corrugated tin roofs. We have to set up our tents in heavy rain and it's so late we only eat soup for dinner.
It rained all night but stopped just before breakfast. Today's high temperature is about 75 and again cooler at night. It's very comfortable. Kabale is a quiet, non-touristy little city with a good food market and some small shops. Many clothing shops and tailors out front with old sewing machines. Martin W. and I have some donuts, coffee, etc. at a small snack shop and are served by a pretty and very polite and quiet young woman. I gave her the raw peanuts I had bought because they need cooking and I don't like them raw. This afternoon Edwina, Clare and I take a two hour pirogue ride on the lake. There are numerous islands and it is very restful. The pirogue doesn't leak! Our seats are bundles of tall grass and are initially quite soft. Near one end of the lake we visit a small gift shop for a rehab center and I buy a cardboard and cloth figure of a woman along with a doll of a woman. The people thus far have been very friendly and speak English. Leaving the rehab gift shop at the top of a hill, we pass a secondary school as it is letting out. Another Drago truck arrived this evening. It had just left Nairobi two weeks ago and is headed north to the UK following the route we've taken. The two drivers are long-haired, tall and thin.
We shopped in the market in Kabale on our way out of town. It's our first English-speaking shopping in a long time. The pygmies carried coals from their fires in their hands, very delicately though. Thus far there have always been clouds in the sky close to but not overcast. We camp on an out-of-the-way cliff in Kichwamba overlooking the plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park with Lake Edward on the left and Lake George on the right. The view is great although hazy. At night we can see lights on the near and far sides of Lake Edward. Head and tail lights are visible from the road on the near right.
We arrive at Kabatoro Gate of Queen Elizabeth National Park early this morning. I bought a Ugandan map and colorful batik of women, again, at the gift shop. On our way into the park, we see waterbuck, kob, elephants, warthog, baboon and many birds. I have a shower at lunch. My first since the mission two weeks ago in Zaire. The temperature is ideal, about 72 degrees. From 3 until 5 PM, we take a $10 big boat ride on the Kazinga Channel between Lake Edward and Lake George. There are many different birds, many hippo and buffalo. Warthogs are at the campsite, buffalo are down the slope to the channel and I can hear hippo noises. The campsite overlooks the channel which is about 100 yards away. Smorgasbord at the lodge tonight and a chimpanzee cruise tomorrow. Mweya Lodge. Fish eagle, pink-backed pelican, yellow-billed stork, pied kingfisher, goliath heron, white pelican, white-necked cormorant, great white egret, yellow-billed egret, hamerkop, gray heron, hadada ibis, spoonbill, marabou stork, Egyptian goose, black crake, spur-winged plover, three-banded plover, black-winged stilt, spotted stone curlew, jacana, skimmer, gray-headed gull, malachite kingfisher, pygmy kingfisher, half-collared kingfisher, Ruppell's long-tailed starling. We hear hippos nearby all during the night and there are warthogs on the periphery of the campsite.
Nice motorboat ride to the Lake Edward Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Isunga Lodge today. The chimps are viewed from a floating platform about 50 feet away. We are there for 90 minutes. The chimps are at the edge of the island for their morning feeding. They were brought to the island as orphans from the zoo in Kampala. Last night I also heard elephants trumpet twice on the other side of the lake. The park is fairly dry with lots of cactus trees and savanna-type grass. It is in the western Rift Valley and not the Ruwenzori Mountains as I had thought. The campsite is in a good location with a view at Mweya Lodge and very nice. Last night our $10 buffet dinner included beef, chicken, breaded tilapia and a vegetable curry. Driving through the country, there are numerous banana tree groves and even a tea plantation. Tea plants are at most 18 - 24 inches tall and bushy. We have lunch right on the equator then turn around and head south. We camp at the Sabena Club with a bar and weekend disco in Mbarara. It's loud and they're playing American black-type music, not rap. The Ugandans have the best clothing, i.e. not rags. They appear to be enjoying the highest overall living standard of anywhere we've visited. Many things besides food and toothpaste and soap are available, like mattresses and plumbing supplies. Their homes are also better built.
Slept in today until breakfast at 8 AM. I spent 1 1/2 hours shopping in the small city center of Mbarara in order to spend all my Ugandan shillings. Like all African cities, the sidewalks are broken and the pavement dusty and uneven with no traffic control. Abidjan was an exception. After only a few hours, we arrive for the night at a farm several kilometers before Sanje. High school age boys and girls are playing volleyball on the grass 200 yards away. The young boys and girls gathered around Simone are very cute. The people have rounder, fuller faces. The women are fuller, heavier here than elsewhere. The Milky Way stretches across one-fourth of the sky and is the brightest we've seen. A very nice place.
Sunrise, at 6:30, is a big rose-colored sun seen through the trees of a banana tree field. The children tend to be barefoot. They still (out here in the country) collect empty cans, bottles and jars but only once, several days ago at Lake Bunyonyi, did we hear "give me ...." Homes can be quite modern in exterior appearance. Jerry's (whose farm we stayed at last night) home doesn't have electricity (big power lines run through the property, though) but appears quite modern inside and outside. Inside is a big dining room table and chairs, pictures above a sofa and maybe even bookcases. The road to the border is a classic red dirt road - wide with greenery alongside. Some foot and bicycle traffic but quite calm. The border is not busy at all but well marked offices for immigration and customs. Although the offices are still in inconsequential shacks or buildings. There is a restaurant, bar and hotel. The road block, as always, is just a thin pole of bamboo or timber. As we continue to travel, I see several different birds, some are very colorful. There are small hills and tall grass. Bermuda grass is prevalent at the shorter grass areas like our campsite, for example. Tanzania has clearer skies than Uganda. The roads are dry and dusty. It's not too hot during the day, about 80 degrees, and cools off to about 60 at night. We camp at the Lake Hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in Bukoba.
I went walking with Joe in the city center today. There is a monstrosity of a church and an ugly, plain apartment building which I wish to photograph tomorrow. Beginning in Zaire, I start to see older people, old enough to have gray hair. As in Bamako and elsewhere, there is cloth for sale and many tailors with old sewing machines. Here and in Kabale, Uganda, new bicycles are for sale. The people are not wearing rags, but shoes and some women are even wearing new kangas. I went to at least a dozen shops looking for an African design and bright colors on a kanga but no luck. Many different shops have East Asian (Indian or Pakistani) shopkeepers. Bukoba is a small city with enough traffic that one needs to be careful but it's still small enough to walk around quickly. There are some 1957-1960 era two story buildings and similar concrete buildings and a good market with mounds of flour and rice. Joe and I run into Mary at noon. She's with an African woman, maybe in her mid-40's, who is queen of her village which is on the hill or escarpment nearby. Apollonia invites us to her home for a lunch of cooked green bananas (matoke), smelt and fish. Her home is in Dar Es Salaam but we eat at her grandmother's which is next door to the beer distributor. Her nephew works in Dar for the beer distributor. His father had been ambassador to Ethiopia and then the UN. He was educated in England and then went to Penn State. His English is that of an American. Must be a result of living in New York when his father was with the UN. Apollonia's house is concrete with a sitting room up front with vinyl-like sofas and chairs. There are Christian and Muslim decorations. Down the hall are bedrooms and at the end is a dining table and then the kitchen. There is a bathroom with a flush toilet too. We wander down main street and then to her sister's for more tilapia and passion fruit juice. Apollonia is a traditional herbalist healer and is trying to preserve traditional African women's ways. While she is still a modern thinker and relatively educated. Her grandfather came by and played a musical string instrument which Joe took off the wall. It was a very good afternoon with Africa! Loads of lakeflies at the campsite.
I walked into Bukoba and took photos of an apartment building and the abominable church. I also shot a street scene and two shoeshine guys. They were very friendly even though they didn't speak English. The ferry for Mwanza leaves at 8 PM but we're there by 4:30. Just before leaving, the drinking Aussies and Kiwis from a Bukima truck show up on the top deck where we were sleeping on the floor. It is very windy but not cold. There are numerous lights on the lake from fishermen. We arrive at 8 AM in Mwanza and I have to shop for food for today. Then it's on to the Serengeti by 2:30 and a long drive to the lodge and then to the campsite. We see white-headed buffalo weaver, giraffe, wildebeest, vervet monkey, baboon, buffalo, impala and topi. We camp at official Serengeti campsites and hear a lion roaring during dinner and again when we awake at 5 AM.
Our drive in the Serengeti continues. Giraffe, impala, Grant's gazelle, Thompson's gazelle, ostrich, superb starling, hyena, kori bustard. The highlight was watching vultures at a wildebeest kill. We were right at the site and they were sticking their heads into the wildebeest's head. We drive and camp on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater where it's 60 degrees. Before dinner, but after dark, in the headlights of a Land Rover coming into the Simba campsite, I saw the silhouette of a female lion walk into the foot high grass right along the side of our campsite.
Breakfast is at 6 AM for a 7:30 departure into the crater. It's cold enough for my fingers to become very cold when removing the tent pegs. We could be at 8000 feet elevation. I'm glad I had my down jacket last night. We have a really fast, breakneck ride, compared to the Drago truck, in a Land Rover with a pop-top, down into the crater. Joe, Ann, Nigel, Simone and I are in our five man safari vehicle. It's a good day. We get close-ups of zebra, elephant, rhino, lion, hartebeest, Grant's gazelle, etc. The highlight was the flocks of sacred ibis and/or cattle egret flying in front of a hippo pool. In addition to the above, I saw golden jackal, glossy ibis, gray heron, black-backed jackal, ostrich, kori bustard, crowned crane, maribou stork, flamingo, Egyptian goose and Cape buffalo. We arrive at the campsite, Safari Junction, in Karatu before 4 PM. It will be warmer tonight. At the bar, some local young musicians are practicing and recording for their own playback. Very pleasant sounds and singing.
We drive through this part of Tanzania which is home to the Maasai and also a lot of agriculture - corn mostly, but some coffee near Arusha. We stop at Mosquito River (Mto Wa Mbu) for souvenir shopping at several shops with wood carvings, etc. I bought a Maasai necklace, batik and tree of life. The tree is brilliant because it also includes a Maasai warrior at the top. We continued on into Arusha. Arusha is as I remember it from just five years ago. Breakfast is at a grill across from the Telecommunciations building. The hotel and bank at the roundabout, the grocer's and Chinese restaurant are familiar. I went off with Joe and Mary to shop for souvenirs. Mary was offering me advice on batiks. We eventually ended up in a corner shop which has higher quality items - batiks and carvings. It even had books of which I bought "Tropical Plant Guide," "Reptiles, Snakes of Southern Africa." In the window was a strikingly realistic batik of two leopards in a tree with a giraffe leaning into the scene. At the bottom are wildebeest silhouetted. Searching the stacks, I found a great Maasai warrior and in another window was a Maasai woman bent over working. I bought them. They're all by the same artist, who according to the Indian woman "owner," used dyes from roots of plants and the colors were guaranteed not to fade as the others do. Joe, Mary and I walked three kms to the Masai Camp along the road in front of the New Arusha Hotel. It has good, cheap postcards and stamps and a well stocked gift shop, money changing and a post box. The campsite has hot showers, (though in late morning there wasn't any for me), a bar and restaurant. I had a cheeseburger and a salami pizza for dinner courtesy of the truck's bar's profit. This is a well equipped campsite!
A late breakfast today followed by some truck cleaning. We empty our overhead bins and remove everything including our packs for a thorough truck cleaning. We repack in anticipation of our arrival in Nairobi and the end of this segment. Two black dogs, mother and son, roll around and play while several of us, who didn't go into Arusha for diesel, hang about. Mt. Meru is visible behind us by noontime and at lunch. We're en route to the Kenyan border. Mark stops to share the view - behind us is Mt. Meru and to the right, with the slope barely visible through the haze, is Kilimanjaro. Ahead is Mount Longido, just south of the border. Driving is through dry, dusty scrub areas. Later we see eleven giraffe in one herd and soon after we see another 25 spread out individually but together in the same immediate vicinity. We bushcamp 25 kms south of the border and have two Maasai warriors and two children walk through the campsite before dinner. Then while waiting for dessert (pudding as the British call it) another seven or eight Maasai warriors with big spears come for a short visit. We can't communicate and they move on. They're very nice authentic Maasai with big earlobes, beads, spears, cloth, etc.
It's a nice drive to Nairobi through Maasai country where we saw many non-touristy Maasai tending cattle, etc. We drove straight to the airport to exchange money and eat at the arrivals cafeteria. I had a cheeseburger and fries with passion fruit juice. The Sirona Hotel on Museum Hill was full so with the help of Michael, a friend of Mark's, shuttling people around Joe and I ended up at the Hotel Embassy downtown directly across from the city market. The two Indian brothers who own the hotel have been very helpful regarding a safe deposit box, shipping souvenirs home and just things in general. The room has two comfortable single beds with thin pillows, toilet, sink, shower, etc. for only 1000 Kenyan shillings. I slept well and even dreamed. Our farewell group dinner is slightly out of town at the posh touristy Carnivore restaurant. We are served ostrich, zebra, hartebeest, crocodile, beef, BBQ chicken, lamb and pork sausage. The game is cooked/served on Maasai spear blades. The crocodile was a couple vertebrae and fatty. The others seemed like beef, served rare.
I retrieved a handful of letters from Post Restante today. My family wrote about the ebola in Zaire and that I always mention that I'm healthy. It's difficult to phone overseas; there aren't any private phone shops. I went to get a Tanzanian visa for the next segment of my journey and then walked around Nairobi with Joe. He bought two masks. After a good fried fish lunch, we find that the Maasai market has moved close to the Norfolk Hotel. I remembered the Maasai market from my first trip to Africa which was to Kenya with UCLA in 1980. I bought a nicer, bigger Maasai necklace, a bust of a Maasai woman, elephant bookends and a small tree of life. We then walk a short distance to the elegant and posh Norfolk Hotel for a beer on the Lord Delamere patio.
It's back to the Tanzanian embassy to pick up my passport with my visa.
I dropped off my souvenir statues at the truck at the Sirona Hotel and walked back via the Maasai market. I meandered from a shoe store to a book store. It was a pleasant morning in that I was alone and could more easily be overlooked by the locals. Ann said something very complimentary to me yesterday. She said I was more African than anyone else on the truck. This was after I said something about the African way of doing one thing at a time. The people are very polite and somewhat quiet and reserved in the shops and hotel when you are being served. When I said "excuse me" in order to pass someone who was mopping the hotel floor, he replied "You are excused." Nairobi has grown tremendously in 15 years. There are so many skyscrapers that you cannot use a particular landmark as a bearing because something is always blocking it from sight. The city has many souvenir shops, some with very expensive wood carvings. It is a wealthy city in that there are many people in suit and tie and a lot of traffic (without signals). As in any city or village, you are able to buy individual crackers, pieces of candy or even individual cigarettes owing to the fact that people can only afford one at a time. (Seems contradictory to the comment just before about it being a wealthy city.) Just on the outskirts, there are little piles of trash which are burning and giving off the familiar smell of a "Tuareg campfire." Africans believe marriage at a reasonably young age is a given, as are children. I have also seen a half dozen or so albinos as we have traveled overland. We had a good meal at La Scala tonight with Nigel, Simone and Ann. Joe leaves early tomorrow for Cairo. I ate spaghetti bolognese. Afterwards we walked to their hotel and drank next door. Liz, Kate, Charlotte and Kiwi Martin were also there. Others had left for Mombasa as we have a full week's layover in Nairobi before the next segment.
The high temperature is in the low 70's with an overnight low of 55 degrees. The mornings are overcast giving way to partly sunny skies. There are numerous private security guards, day and night, in front of shops and banks. I see police and soldiers walking together in two's, armed with rifles, walking throughout the city. Early on the hotel owners and staff got to know and recognize me and Joe. Kermit has been our waiter every day at the hotel restaurant. I've been drinking instant Kenyan coffee every day at breakfast. It is quite good. The banks have machines through which US dollars are fed and scanned to verify their authenticity. I finally found an exceptional ebony set of elephant bookends for myself. Most of the shops are owned by Indians. Dinner tonight is at the Dove Cage bar and restaurant next to the Hotel Terminal just a few minutes away. Ann, Liz, Kate, Nigel, Simone and Charlotte are staying here but I'm meeting Kiwi Martin and Andy Hanage. At lunch, Martin forgot to give me the phone numbers of people in London who could help me contact him when I arrive there on my way home. He leaves on Saturday. I had a so-so fried tilapia dinner with Mark. Everyone else is just drinking. Andy had run into the Hobo co-driver earlier. Their truck had fallen off a bridge in Zaire and he had gone for help in a Land Rover but crashed into a tree and broken ribs and punctured a lung. Andy's two friends had left the truck but haven't been heard from since.
After dropping off a box containing my bookends, etc. and luggage at the truck, I hang in my room to avoid spending any more money. I have a 1 1/2 hour morning nap and then a reasonable lunch at the Curry Pot. I read about 100 pages in a novel and later spend a lot of time remembering what I've done thus far on the journey. A bit of reflection before I get home and really get into it.
I meet the new people for the third segment of the journey today at the 680 Hotel in Nairobi.