Ethiopia is a magical place. Perhaps it's not ironic that the local pronunciation sounds more like Eto'pia than our drawn out rendition. I loved it from the moment we crossed the border…but I think I loved it even before its dust had settled on my toes. It was the one country I was most excited to visit, so that may have had something to do with it, or perhaps it was our recent brush with death [drama added for emphasis], but whatever the reason, I loved it.
We crossed over at Moyale, a divided town straddling the border with Kenya. We were told that the Ethiopian side was far more metropolitan than the Kenyan side, but to tell you the truth, it just seemed bigger; the streets were just as dusty, the shops just as ramshackle, and the beggars just as keen on getting a buck out of you. But it was Ethiopia and to me, it felt different, so it was different.
Within minutes we were warmly greeted, ushered into a tiny coffee shop across from the border post and served a shot of delightfully sweet, freshly roasted espresso. We couldn’t venture into the country before clearing customs, so an enterprising woman set up shop at the border to serve coffee to all of the travelers who happen to be unfortunate enough to cross the border between 1:00 and 2:00 when everything shuts down for lunch…you can cross, but you can’t come in; you just wait it out drinking buna in no-mans-land. Aside from a 5 year minor occupation by the Italians, Ethiopia was more or less spared colonialism. Fortunately the Italians brought with them espresso. Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown here so it isn’t hard to find a wonderful cup of coffee. And nearly every Ethiopian you meet will be sure to invite you for a cuppa.
Day one was spent chasing parts, tracking wires and repairing the melted cable we ditched along the road in Kenya (I know, I know, we aren’t usually litterbugs, but someone will use it, I guarantee it; it was just to stinky to deal with at the moment. The copper wire will be stripped apart and woven expertly into something majestic, I promise you).
Day two was Christmas day, for us. Ethiopia has their own calendar so their Christmas is still 19 days away so in essence we get two Christmas’ this year…oh, and it is 2003 here! So on our Christmas day we were invited for dinner at Biruk’s house. Biruk came to pick me up early so I could help his wife cook and learn a thing or two about Ethiopian food. Unfortunately for me, I don’t speak Amharic and Samira doesn’t speak English, so we spoke our common language of peeling garlic and chopping carrots. Which worked out just fine.
Dinner was followed by a coffee ceremony that begins with washing fresh green coffee beans in numerous changes of water, roasting them over an open fire and pulverizing them in a wooden mortar with a pesle before feeding the powder into a beautifully ornate clay urn nestled in a bed of hot coals. I’ve never roasted my own coffee before, but apparently Ethiopians do it daily and it is delicious. No thousand dollar Nespresso® apparatus needed.
The following day Biruk guided us into the Omo Valley on a 6 day excursion ‘back to the stone age.’ What we experienced blew our minds. There is so much that I want to say about the Omo Valley but don’t know where to even begin. Each village is unique, the culture, the people, the customs and language often vary from village to village, sometimes divided by nothing more than a river. We were mauled, welcomed, groped, glared at and pretty much everything in between but the overall experience was incredible and one I would have never EVER imagined.
I’ll share a few tales and photos in the next post.
The road leading from Nairobi, Kenya to Moyale, Ethiopia is legendary. In a bad way. For starters it cuts through a rather lawless and sparsely populated swath of semi arid desert. It is potholed, rutted, washed out and pretty much one of the worst stretches of road yet. We have encountered some truly awful stretches where we have had to rely solely on our GPS, turning a little to the right or left when we appear to be veering off course, but this bit of ‘interstate’ stretches on for nearly three brain rattling, mind numbing days. Not only were there human casualties, there were long stretches of tension where one or both of us were totally ‘over it,’ but the car succumbed to the endless rattling as well; we broke both welds connecting our high-lift jack to our bumper, rattled numerous bolts loose, vibrated the caps off of jars and other kitchen casualties, but the real finally was an electrical short that was a miracle shy of catastrophic [read: car fire].
Fortunately I had just given George, our night guard, three books to read; the same three books that had been pressed against the now meted cable that connected our solar panels to our battery. Thank you George, you just might have been an instrumental part of our little miracle.
Glenn, following the noxious cloud of smoke, quickly sorted out the issue, clipped all of the offending wires and within minutes we were happily bumping down the road windows open breathing in dust and the smell of burnt plastic. Of course, we faced some serious repairs as soon as we reached Moyale, but given the alternate outcome, we were happier spending a day or two tracking down wire, fuses and any other necessary tidbits than we would have been replacing melted plastic Toyota parts.
We are well into our second week in Nairobi and have managed to find all four of our parcels. After days of driving around, calling and more or less meeting every single employee in Nairobi's Central Post Office we are in possession of three of the four. The Christmas present is still incarcerated at the customs office by the Kenyan Revenue Authority with a bail higher than we’re willing to pay. Despite my three page plea to the Senior Assistant Commissioner of the Kenyan Revenue Authority (yes, that is his complete title and I was told to write it all out lest my letter be tossed in the trash) I was unable to reduce the tax on our Christmas present. I gave him two options: he could reduce the tax and get some revenue out of us, or stick to the original assessment and get nothing. If he opts for the latter I asked that he kindly donates it to someone in need (likely his wife, but that is another story). I didn’t get a response. After ten days of appeals, it doesn’t look like we’ll be dragging our Christmas pancakes through puddles of pure Vermont maple syrup this year…back to treacle. Sorry Louise and thank you for thinking of us; it really, REALLY is the thought that counts.
Despite our mail snafus we have thoroughly enjoyed Nairobi, a pleasant surprise given its reputation. We did indeed go back for a second round of giraffe kisses (love those guys), found a few tasty little restaurants and have met wonderful people from all over the world. Last night we all got together for a BBQ. There is the cutest Swedish family who have driven down from Stockholm with their two 5 year old daughters, an Irish couple, a father and son duo from South Africa whose only directive is to drive north, a darling young couple from England, a French couple who are exploring Africa as their last continent on their 5 year world tour, a couple German motorcyclists who’ve spent years driving around the world and us. We’ve heard that we’ll be joined tonight by two twenty something Aussies who are circumnavigating the globe on quads in a race to break a world record! So you can image the scene here at Jungle Junction. Being ‘trapped’ in a city with excellent company is not so bad after all.
With Christmas one week away, we are heading north. We want to spend Christmas in Ethiopia. This year we will be giving rice; the opportunity to share food with those in need is truly the greatest of gifts. If I don’t write between now and then, I wish you the very merriest of Christmas’. May you radiate all of your love and goodness outward blessing those in need. You’ve made my life so much brighter by being a part of it, so keep on shining!
We have had an eventful week in Nairobi. We rolled into Jungle Junction last Wednesday. We planned on picking up a few packages that were ‘waiting’ here for us before heading north. Despite having two of the four packages sent and ‘signed for’ several months ago, they still haven’t arrived. Now this isn’t a big deal, this is Africa where - to quote Glenn - “EVERYTHING IS A *bleep* HASSLE! After eight days of phone calls, internet tracking searches, more calls and questions, we have located our loot.
Apparently the replacement power cord for my Kindle is in transit to JJ as I type. Our WaterStick® water filters have completed their second transatlantic flight to Africa, this time sitting in the Kenyan Post Office for a couple months growing mushrooms in the back room. Why they weren't delivered to the addressee is another question and one I haven’t the answer to. After several calls to the Postmaster I believe they are en route to the post office nearest to us, but I’m not sure. When I asked him to confirm the address on the box before he sent it over, he told me that it was too late, “the package had already been sent.” So let’s hope that whatever is in the ‘big box’ is at least as good as pure drinking water for the next few months.
And then there is what we've begun calling the million dollar Christmas presents, a parcel of thoughtfully gathered goodies express mailed 2 day air to us by Louise so that we wouldn’t have to wait around in Nairobi. These little treats - that we are sooo looking forward to - are being held hostage for $200USD ransom at the customs office at Nairobi International Airport. Not kidding you. The customs officers actually believe that some pancake syrup, a couple tubes of toothpaste, some lip balm, lotion and a couple t shirts should be taxed 14,000 Kenyan Shillings! I have Earnest at DHL working on it for me, but it looks like I will have to take a $25.00 cab ride to the Airport (we leave city driving to the pros) with a box cutter and some finely honed negotiation skills to see what we can work out.
Now we have certainly been in Africa long enough to learn how to graciously accept these little setbacks; TIA (this is Africa) is a saying that we hear often. So whatever happens, happens. Besides, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, has been watching over us the entire trip, so who are we to second guess him now? To us, this is the Universe sending a message, and when the Universe speaks, we listen. There is some sketchy stuff going on in Sudan right now, so maybe being delayed in Kenya another week is all part of the plan.
Speaking of Sudan, yesterday we were denied our first visa (gulp). We were told by other travelers that you can obtain Sudanese visas in Nairobi. Well, apparently you can, as long as you’re NOT American (Glenn says they are jealous of our freedoms). We stood there with our applications in duplicate (yes, you actually have to fill out two with such tidbits like your religion, mothers name and blood type) looking a bit dumbfounded as the lady told us that Americans cannot enter Sudan. Nope, not possible, bye…then she refused to look at us, let alone talk to us and the plate glass barrier between us was a little hard to overcome. No explanation, nothing. We were dismissed. I think I whimpered, but… she was too distracted texting her friends to interpret my plea. We were caught off guard because there is no such restriction on either the American or the Sudanese websites and frankly, up until now we really haven’t come across a rude African.
Humm. There must be a way. We had just met an American girl who drove through Sudan a month or so ago; it is possible, it's just a matter of figuring out the logistics.
We are determined to get through Sudan. Going around Africa’s second largest country would mean crossing back through Kenya and Tanzania, Going through the Democratic Republic of Congo (ya, no), Chad and Libya… opps, as Americans we can’t get into Libya either (can’t say I blame them given our history of ‘foreign policy’), so we’d have to skirt Libya going through Niger, Algeria and finally into Tunisia before getting on a ferry back to Egypt. Or we could go through Kenya, in to Djibouti, load the cruiser onto a cargo ship sail up the Red Sea around Sudan then on to Egypt…a better of the two options for sure, but we’ve heard wonderful things about The Sudan and we really, really want to see it.
So we head over to the American Embassy for travelers assistance. Well, if you’re an overtaxed American citizen apparently you can’t visit your own embassy without an appointment. So we spent an hour trying to make an appointment via cell phone while loitering just outside the enormous gate - which surrounds an even bigger embassy complex - and were told that we cannot make an appointment because there is no one at the embassy who can assist us. Bu bye. We are AMERICAN CITIZENS WHO NEED HELP! Isn’t that what embassies are for? Can you guys at least let us past your AK 47 toting pit bulls so we can ask someone to call the Sudanese embassy and see what's up?!? You're kidding right? Nope. You can't come in. We can't help. Go away citizen.
Meanwhile, as I was wrapping up the 10th of my 12 phone calls to the embassy, Glenn was circling the complex in search of anyone who might be able to get us past the guards. As it just so happens, in a city of 3 million people, Glenn winds up talking to the brother of the woman who denied our applications at the Sudanese embassy just moments before (see what I mean about St. Christopher)! So of course, this is Africa and anything is possible, Glenn tells the brother that we will do, “whatever it takes” to get our visas. Mohammad rings his sister and they chat. He is speaking Swahili tinged with English all we can make out is: Americans, do whatever it takes, visas, Sudan. He is quite for a bit, apparently she talks after all, then hangs up the phone. He confirms that there is nothing she can do.
We return to the Jungle Junction and Glenn takes up the task of getting visas for Sudan. He makes a few calls, talks to a few fellow travelers and consults Chris, the owner of JJ and get’s us sorted the following day. Whew. Apparently, Midhat, our newly hired Sudanese fixer, can ‘arrange’ for our visas to be sent to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia upon our arrival. Yeah Glenn. Yeah Midhat! Now we’ll see what really happens in Addis.
So today we’re hanging out in Nairobbery, contemplating a second visit to the giraffe orphanage while tracking down packages and surfing the web. Thank goodness for Internet. Hopefully our packages will arrive today or tomorrow and we’ll be spared any further Afrihassles...at least for the week. I am ready to hit the open road. We are itching to see Ethiopia.
Big love to you guys. Thank you so much for following along, you make sharing the adventure a delight. Please keep the messages coming, we love reading your letters/comments.
A week in Nairobi is enough time to discover the campground chameleon, visit the elephant orphanage, the giraffe orphanage and an animal prison (by accident. It was called an orphanage, but was nothing more than a zoo). Here are the photos of our week.
I am prone to brood on occasion and yesterday I had given in without so much as an iota of resistance, I was just circling the drain. No, nothing happened per se, but I could not seem to shake feeling lonely and disconnected. Just then I received an email from my friend Michelle. She was saying that sometimes you get bogged down by the little things. What you need in such a situation is someone with whom you can really chew through an issue with to get down to the gristle of the matter. She is spot on. I have been missing my girlfriends terribly and it was starting to get to me. You know how guys tend to offer up simplified remedies that seem like a logical ‘fix’ but they rarely allow you to ‘get to the gristle.’ I was feeling a bit depleted. I miss my ladies and nothing recharges my batteries like a good dose of girl time. Glenn is a lot of things to me, but he isn’t a girlfriend.
So this morning I woke early enough to give myself a good talking to before Glenn got up. New day, new attitude, was my mantra. I walked down to the lake where I had intermittent cell service, opened up Facebook and the first message on my home page was from Charles Draghi. It read:
Four weary, cold, hungry travelers spent over three hours driving to our restaurant from Maine this evening. We're closed for business on Monday nights. But I turned on the ovens, fired up some pans, and gave them four courses of Christmas cheer. I had more fun tonight than I have in some time. Man, I love what we do!Top of Form
Now talk about generosity of heart, Chuck, is the chef owner of one of my favorite restaurants. To those of you traveling through Boston, check out Erbaluce near the theatre district; I can guarantee it will be one of the tastiest meals you’ll ever eat. Chuck, you made my morning. I am honored to call you a friend.
Then, I opened my email and read a letter from Jessica, my sister-in-law (I really don’t like that term, it sounds so stiff. She is more like a sister so that is how I think of her). Jess graciously went above and beyond helping us get Christmas presents out to our nephews on time. I am indebted.
And if that wasn’t enough heart-warming generosity for one morning, my other sister, Darcy (same sentiment as above, different sister), calls her sister in DC to help procure our visas which have been collecting dust on the desk of an overworked and under enthusiastic agent in the Ethiopian Embassy for a week now (despite their next day turn around claim), rendering us stationary and waiting it out in Kenya for an extra couple of weeks. Her sister in Washington made a couple calls and within minutes, we were receiving emails from DC saying that a guy is heading over to the Ethiopian Embassy (thank you O. H.) to “see what he can do.” It is a little nerve wracking to post your passports half way around the world with 4+ countries left on your itinerary, so you can imagine our relief when we learned that not only had the visas been acquired, but our passports were being posted directly from Washington DC back to us in Nairobi! B. M. S. you are the best; we are indebted to you. Thank you for helping us out, your generosity is so appreciated. Three cheers for you and your DC team! You’ve been instrumental in our continuing north and we can’t thank you enough.
So here you have it, just when I was beginning to wallow around in sadness, generosity, love and kindness dried up the muddy bog in my head.
These three examples are just a fraction of the love that has helped sustain us on our long journey. There are so many of you who have joyfully taken up the responsibilities we left behind. Michelle and Trent, I can hardly wait to see your beautiful, shining faces and soak in your love. Thank you for taking care of our house and running our cars, and charging batteries and everything else… and Trent, thank you so much for fixing the dishwasher. Holy smokes, what a blessing you have been and we haven’t even met yet. You love one of the most incredible women I know, for that I already love you and I so look forward to the day I get to thank you in person. Jeff and Lisa, thank you for sorting through the endless supply of campaign fliers and junk mail, turning off the water so our pipes don’t freeze and jumping to our rescue at a moment’s notice. Wow. You’re always there to help, we so appreciate you.
My girlfriend Mendy is responsible for keeping my garden alive, paying the bills I forgot about (oops) and keeping me abreast with pictures of the kiddos and updates from home. Your emails are always cherished. Thank you for blurring the distance between us. And to my dear childhood friend Jenny, you’ve been my recharge for months now. I would have never imagined reconnecting after almost 28 years, in Africa no less, but we did. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your letters, they were much needed. I can’t wait to hug your neck, slug down those bottles we’ve been writing about and meet your darling family. You are a delight.
Denise, my chicken savior, not only cared lovingly for my lady-birds - driving across town to do so - but moved them into a newly built Coop Mahal at her house and shepherded a new batch of chicks to boot! Under your watchful eye I have not worried about them one bit, thank you. Wow. I only hope to be able to repay you with a regular supply of homemade bagels, preserves and weed pulling, because I know you are going to have you hands full come summer. I can't wait to see your farm.
Aleeta and Dayl you are the best chicken rustlers I know…sorry about the poison oak.
Jessica, thank you for relaying all of my emails to Nana and Granddad. My Nana hasn’t been feeling well so knowing that my Granddad, Mom, niece Maria and Jess are stopping by and helping out while I am away has been such a comfort. Thank you all for your love and updates from home.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to expressing our gratitude for the love and kindness that we’ve received while here in Africa. Toni and Lee, you guys warmed our hearts, setting the tone for the rest of our trip, thank you. We love you and hope that we’ll be reunited one of these days. Megan, Ryan, Nicholas, Molly, Vince, Wayne, Jennifer, Russell, Georges, Chris, Lyn, Stan, The Frenchies, Craig, Nelson, Sophia, Greer we are so glad to have met each one of you. Not to mention the countless Africans from South Africa on up through Kenya, who have made us laugh, think and question our way of being in this world. You have had a tremendous impact on us, changing how we’ve approached this beautiful continent and I can’t imagine a more varied and colorful experience. Thank you. We’ve heeded your advice and you’ve pretty much dictated our entire path. We’ve felt your love and hospitality every step of the way…thank you.
And to our Aussies, the two devilishly handsome young men who made our year, we love you. We had so much fun with you and we can’t wait to continue the adventure, summer 2012: Burning Man!?! Our door is always open for you and we better get invites to your weddings. I know, I know, I am jumping the gun, especially for Steve-o (given you are single and all...ladies!?!), but I am just saying that we don’t want the distance between us to matter anymore than a plane ride. Besides, we give good wedding presents.
And for the many, many kind letters, comments and messages from home. You know who you are but special thanks to: C. J., C. W., K. W., D. P., M. M., M. G., L. P., D. P., D. L., J. C., C. C., J. C., S. B., S.T., M. J., S. W., L. D., A. C., G. W., J. H., M. M., E. E., N. E., J. DM., R MG. and J. G. you’ve really touched our hearts. Your enthusiasm for following along on our journey has made all of the failed internet connections, uploads and technological mishaps somehow worthwhile.
Louise and Bill, you’re always up for a challenge. We certainly put you to the test more than once but we really appreciate you jumping to our rescue immediately after arriving home from a cross Americas flight. We appreciate you so much. And thank you for sending our favorite toothpaste all the way around the world (among other Christmas goodies). I couldn’t imagine being married into a better family.
And to my Mom, thank you for your candid letters, you have no idea how much that means to me...you give me hope. I am excited to spend time with you and Dad when we return. Thanks for all of the photos, emails and checking in on our little casa. We really appreciate it.
So my sadness, loneliness, longing, whatever you want to call it was quickly usurped with a good dose of love, unexpected generosity and goodness. I am extremely grateful for each one of you and don’t want you for a minute to think I have forgotten all that you do for us. You fill our hearts with love.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
If you want to see what 1.5 million flamingos look like click here. Here is another album of Lake Bogoria and surroundings.
Glenn and I have a grading system for Africa based on ease of travel, amenities and the friendliness of the locals. South Africa earned preschool status while Namibia garnered a kindergarten rating. We figured Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to be somewhere around a PhD. and Masters respectively…just to give you an idea of scale. South Africa is set up for travelers, it boasts restaurants and hotels a plenty, the BazzBus will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go along the southern coast and the ability to communicate (given you speak English) with all but the most hard core Afrikaners and a few rural Zululanders is a definite plus. Easy. A novice traveler could do it.
The further north we drive, the more advanced our education becomes (literally and figuratively). Mozambique is a gorgeous country - on the cusp of a growing tourist industry (thwarted by a long standing civil war, but it’s safe for the time being) - but the reserve of the people, lack of infrastructure in the north and our inability to speak Portuguese earned it a fifth grade rating despite the ease of travel along the southern beaches.
The further north we go, the more challenging the exams. Now we are advancing to high school. It has been a quick transition in only 10 months, but we’re ready for it, or at least we thought we were ready for it. We received our first real life test a couple of days ago as we were heading north toward Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya. After 6 ½ hours of bumping slowly down a badly pitted and pocked dirt road we came across another traveler heading to Maralal, the halfway point between where we started and the lake. The driver of the other car pulled up alongside of us and asked if we were ok. Did I say we were driving slowly? We were driving very, very slowly. He told us that we might want to pick up the pace a bit in order to make it to camp before dark. “You don’t want to be driving in these parts after dark…” he continued talking but all we heard were: shiftas, bandits and AK 47s. A Shifta is a displaced Somali pirate for lack of a better description.
A quick google search of Shifta + Lake Turkana revealed this little tidbit. According to Frommer's Guide, northwestern Kenya is:
"Remote, untamed, untamable -- the heat-drenched deserts that stretch north toward the Ethiopian border are rough and inhospitable. The roads north of dusty Maralal and Archer's Post -- considered by most to be Kenya's final frontiers -- represent instability, danger, and unpredictable trouble. Whether it's the shifta bandits; the harsh, sudden climate; or the savage pitted roads, this is a part of the world not to be taken lightly. Nor is it necessarily the Kenya of postcards and tourist brochures. Despite its patches of magnificence -- well-watered oases, densely vegetated wildlife preserves, and the immense green-tinged shock of water that is Lake Turkana -- Kenyans themselves remain immensely wary of this far-flung zone. Although the goal is often to reach Turkana, the world's largest desert lake -- splendidly isolated and surrounded by volcanic hills, lava flows, fierce winds, and a formidable mix of hardy tribespeople -- there's plenty of interest along the way, particularly for anyone searching for an alternative look at paradise. Here, in the deserts, topographical contrasts are all the more striking, and images of human survival will burn deeply into your memory. The going can be extremely tough, but there's adventure to be had along the way; which is why the north is a popular overland safari circuit favored by rough 'n' ready backpackers."
Within a minute we had flipped the car around and were speeding back to where we had just been. Fast. It was scary. We didn’t do our research. Despite feeling rather travel savvy at this point, we are still in high school; we think we know everything but we don’t.
Writing you from the safety of Thompson’s Falls Lodge,
Living in a tiny space is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Being organized helps, being patient helps but being tolerant is vital. Once you’ve mastered those three you’re golden. I posses none of these qualities. No, that isn’t totally true; I possess them individually, on occasion, but seldom at the same time.
I’ve learned to be more organized. If you also struggle with this handy skill, you might want to try living in a ridiculously small space. Downsizing is a remarkable teacher. As for patients, I either have them in droves or none at all, depending upon the situation. If we’re talking injured animal, droves. If you’re talking incompetent egomaniac, none. Underdog, I have all the time in the world. Bully, none. You get the picture. And tolerance, the ability to just let go and carry on, yeah, this is probably my strongest suit (of the three) but it is still apt to fizzle out every now and again.
Fortunately, I am in love with our little home and love is the magic blindfold. When you’re in love things are rosier, experiences are more vibrant and the little things seem to somehow matter less. Much less. This little traveling casa of ours has enabled us to see the entire eastern portion of a very large continent. How could you not love that!? Along our journey our little home has provided us with: enough solar power to keep our batteries charged allowing us to roam long and far without the need to plug in, a kitchen when we are hungry, a bedroom when we are tired and the options to choose where we’ll call home each and every day. We’ve been able to hoard trinkets like you can’t believe, speed away from charging elephants and tuck into safety when those strange night noises get a little too scary. We’ve had ice cold beer and sometimes beer ice when a wily bottle slips unnoticed past my layer of frozen mozzarella and Parmesana. This car has been our little rolling refuge, what is not to love?
Of course we could bring her home with us – this model of cruiser isn’t imported into the USA and it wouldn’t be a big deal to ship her back to the Northwest - but that option seems selfish. We can’t take an African out of Africa and expect it to thrive. This car needs to be free, needs vast open savannas to roam and wildlife to harass. It needs a new family to love and shelter. It needs you to fly into Cairo and take her back home to Cape Town or wherever you fancy.
Go ahead, quite your job, take your kids out of school and sign them up for an education they'll never forget; come explore Africa. It really isn’t that hard. Everything is included, even the cloths off our backs (given you want them). And if anything should go wrong, there is always ice in the freezer and a chilled bottle of Amarula to ease you along.
PS: If you are interested in Tiny Space Living check out our friend’s blog at www.sprinterlife.com. Tree and Stevie make life on the road look goooood. Their epic journey is taking them through the Americas over the course of two+ years? Be inspired.
If you’re still not convinced that you need to do this you can take a peek at our Aussies experience through Africa at www.findingemo.org but be warned, you may experience a radical perspective shift in the process.
People are funny. On one end of the spectrum are those that romanticize the notion of other cultures or societies, as utopian or ideal, on the other end are the apathetic who remain disengaged or removed from cultures different from their own, unable to see our common humanness. I’ve experienced the entire scale in 9 days.
A little over a week ago Glenn and I took a speedboat an hour and a half off of mainland Tanzania to the exotic island of Zanzibar, an idyllic tropical paradise with powder white beaches and warm turquoise water. Glenn is calling it ‘the vacation from the vacation’. After four days in bustling Stone Town - an ancient hub for traders and sellers for close to 1,000 years - we headed north to the tip of the island for a little peace and quiet. Violating one of our vacation creeds (no big fancy American hotels) we checked into the Hilton on a lead from a friend.
I had come down with a cold so the idea of bunkering down in a nice room with a cozy bed and AC overshadowed my discomfort of the ubiquitous ‘vacation resort’; you know the kind, the towering sea of luxury isolated in every way from its surroundings. Aside from the incredibly comfortable bed - covered in crisp white cotton, a fluffy duvet and down pillows - the Hilton is not my kind of place, but it did afford an interesting opportunity to observe people on vacation in Africa. Up until now we have really only come across tourists en mass in the large game parks and at the airports. We’ve seen lots of travelers, but those aren’t tourists, these are two distinct breeds. The Double Tree has tourists.
Sometimes it is embarrassing to belong to my race. Here I go romanticizing the natives, sliding back toward the former side of the scale while at the same time feeling apathy for my own. Yesterday we witnessed several Hiltonites towering a couple feet above the beach craning over the edge of a retaining wall that separates the Hilton beach from the public beach tossing candy down to the local children below, cracking up as the children fought one another for the treats. They didn’t leave the compound. They just stood there watching the kids clamor over one another laughing until all of the candy had been scooped up; but apparently that wasn’t enough. They returned a few minutes later with 6 bottles of coke to be distributed among 25 or so children. All the while they stood perched safely out of reach of the local children as the kids fought to chug the most coke before someone older, bigger ripped it from their hands. The tourists laughed and went back to their chase lounges. I cringed from mine.
Glenn and I decided to stick to our creed. Just by staying here we are supporting this kind of scene. Your dollar is your vote, use it wisely. Travel responsibly.
If you’ve been following our journey shoot us a line. We LOVE messages from home; it makes the distance between us feel smaller.
I have a built in circadian rhythm for Thanksgiving. I’ve read countless recipes, I’ve gone over to-do lists, read helpful hints and gravy recipes. I haven’t ordered a turkey or gone into Portland for cheese. I didn’t stock up on fresh Oregon Coast cranberries and Columbia Valley wines. I won’t have to ask forgiveness for killing a beautiful creature or feel the remorse for having been responsible for its death. I won’t be making WAY too much stuffing, but I will be thinking of you.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I plan weeks in advance. I actually spend more time planning that one meal every year than I did this entire trip (which is why I arrived with only 1 pair of jeans). I am a feeder, so the concept of a food holiday rooted in gratitude and shared with friends and family is truly a reason to celebrate: giving thanks, the harvest, a prelude to winter, I love it all.
Instead of turkey and cranberries I’ll be cooking pumpkin soup and flatbreads, holding you dear in my heart. I can’t quantify how Africa has changed me, but I certainly know that I am more thankful this year than ever before. YOU make my life sparkle, your friendship and love are truly the most precious of gifts. This year I am grateful for you and wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving.
I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to visit the spice farm today. I have a weird obsession for knowing how things grow; ok, maybe not just knowing but seeing, smelling, picking and tasting. Glenn has a knee-jerk reaction of telling me not to eat whatever new thing I pick off a tree; like a toddler, things go straight into what I call 'the information hole'. I tell him that it is good for my immune system, but I know he is right.
Zanzibar’s varied history is reflected in its modern day culture: Arabs, Indians and East Africans populate the islands and their food reflects the various elements of each. I wish I could say that is a good thing, but we are still in Africa and your chances of finding really deliciously prepared food are as about as likely as a one-eyed chicken finding a grain of corn, it happens - now and again - but don’t count on it. How can this be? There are beautiful abundant crops in much of Africa. Did the Colonists muck it up? There are plenty of poor countries with delicious cuisine so it can’t be poverty related. Were there too many food cultures competing at once and the outcome compromised? I don’t have an answer but I suspect that there just weren’t enough Indians in the original group of explorers. Indians, in my book, are the food saviors of the world.
We haven’t given up hope on finding good food so the search must go on. It is a struggle at times, but we’re committed. We’ll let you know how it goes.
I can honestly say that the Aussies made us do it; but then again, I did tote Diamox all the way from Hood River…just in case. Back country skiing aside, Glenn and I have never really climbed a mountain. Why we chose the world’s largest free standing mountain will remain a mystery. But we made it Without incident. Well, it most likely claimed Glenn’s big toenail and gave me a few blisters, but a few battle wounds are par for the course; the descent was way harder than the ascent and where the damage occurred. We chose the Machame route to the top because it is the most scenic, and scenic it was. The views were incredible. The glaciers that once looked so far away were so close. It felt like you were standing at the top of the world. We started the ascent at midnight on the fifth day so that we could reach the summit by sunrise. Despite leaving an hour after the earliest climbers GP and I powered up and were the first to the top; well, that was until Mark (our Aussie buddy) sprinted the last 50 feet to claim the victory for Australia. Had Glenn and I known he was going for the win, we would have both sprinted after him - sucking in a whopping 100-120 breaths a minute - to claim the rightful win for Team America. But we let him go by as we were engaged holding hands with our porter for the last 1/4 mile, a little too delirious to notice his Stephen Bradbury move. He actually confessed over dinner that they had been plotting the victory for months...and we though he was so sweet.
We loved it and didn't really feel the effects of the altitude until our descent. The top is 19,298 feet (higher than Mt. Everest base camp), so we were definitely sucking air. The headache set in on the descent. I don't know how much of it was the altitude and how much of it was the bottle of Solms-Delta Cape Jazz Syraz bubbly we chugged at 5:40am to celebrate our victory.
We took a day and a half to decent and are now in Moshi, Tanzania. Glenn and I are going to Ngorangoro Crater and another game park with the Australians before we part again for good :( We are heading south to Zanzibar and they are heading north on a pretty tight schedule. We better see you two back in The Hood soon!
We are having a blast and totally in the swing of vacation. Enjoy your winter and we'll be home in a few months.
We love your comments and emails, so keep them coming.
"So, why Africa?" is a question we hear often. Well, why not Africa?
Glenn and I met in 2000 and set out on our first adventure together in 2002, I guess you could say that we learned a lot and decided that together we have more fun than we do alone.
I am truly a wanderer by nature, but traveling for the sake of traveling isn't what propels us. I am sure Glenn has his own reasons for wanting to explore the world, but my reasons are simple: I LOVE new experiences. Yes, I can, and do, have them at home, but at home things are predictable. In any given situation, I usually know what to expect, I understand the social scripts of my homeland and have a certain sense of 'knowing' a particular experience or outcome; but when I travel, I am not the one knowing, everything is so new, so unknowable. The social scripts that a particular group of people abide by are learned over a lifetime, not in one visit. So there is a sense of mystery, vulnerability and curiosity that accompanies even the most simple tasks, when you are a visitor. I love this. Travel reminds me that I am one tiny little (albeit sparkly) thread in this big tapestry called life...Glenn agrees.