Greetings from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe!
Can you believe I've almost been traveling for two and a half months? I can and can't. Anyway, I have been away from email for so long because Malawi is not very well connected, and by the time I got to Livingstone, Zambia, on the other side of the border from Vic Falls, their server was having difficulties. So this is going to be one huge email because there is so much to say and tell and whatnot. Plus, I'm a rambler and digresser even if there isn't much to say.
So, here goes ... On Wednesday, June 28th I met my brother in Lilongwe, Malawi. He was coming from Zambia where he saw the eclipse (he said it was spectacular, and well worth the trip) and I was coming from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (a 27 hour bus ride.) My trip down, all 27 hours of it, was pretty tolerable considering. The biggest annoyance was constantly being stopped by Tanzanian policemen looking for some bribe money. We almost missed the Malawi border crossing being open because they stopped us so frequently. But we made it in time to walk through, and I met a nice Canadian girl there who was heading to Nkhata bay on Lake Malawi, where she is engaged to a local.
So I arrived, did some email, and found out that my bro would be coming to town that night as well. He hitched a ride on this crazy overland truck that was of its own kind. Not the usual kind .... ie. lots of pot smoking partiers/ravers that had been at the Solipse party to watch the eclipse. We headed with them the following day up to Nkhata Bay and hung out there. It's beautiful on Lake Malawi. Very chill, lots of relaxation, cheap food and accommodation, friendly people, etc. But, the scenery, while very wonderful, is not so different than something you might find in the States. But as usual, the dugout canoes in the water, the women in kangas and constant vendors always reminds us where we are :-)
After a day or so, we ended up taking the ferry to a pair of islands in the lake, 10 km from Mozambique. We stayed on Chizumulu for a day and a half and then took a dhow, which was awesome, over to Likoma island. For those of you who don't know what a dhow is, it's a type of sailboat with a Latin sail. Both islands are sparse, few people, extremely relaxing, but with little food. So, while the surroundings were amazingly beautiful and calm, with hammocks and all, whenever we were ordering food from the hostels, they would say, "no, we don't have that ... no, we don't have that", etc., at which point we finally stated in frustration, "So, what DO you have?!" At Likoma, it turned out it was bread and baked beans.
While Malawi was wonderful in many ways, it was the low of my trip because that's how my mood was. Traveling with my brother was in general great, with a few occasional disputes. But due to his tight schedule, we were rushing around and you just can't do that in Africa and still enjoy yourself. As they all say, there is no rush in Africa and they're right. So, when the kids come up to you and say "Give me money" or "Hello" instead of thinking it cute this time, I just wanted them to go away. The "Give me money" thing really got to me after a while. I know that I have so much more than them and would love to give each one of them enough money to help them get food, and school supplies and so much more, but I can't; and to have them state those words, almost like a command, just chafed something inside of me. Of course I have had other people in other countries say the same thing, but for some reason, I had a really low tolerance and patience for it. As a result, I felt bad about my behavior as a tourist - I became rude and easily frustrated which is not deserved.
Jessica aboard a dhow on Lake Malawi.
But now that I have shown you some of the negative aspects of my trip, I should point out that I saw the Malawi National football team play the Zambian B team on their Independence day (two days after ours) where the President attended. Since they wanted no problems there were police and soldiers everywhere. It was super calm but practically no one cheered in fear that the security would get mad. The soccer itself was quite bad - they need some work on their skills of passing and stopping the ball. But it was still cool to be part of that. And I forgot to add that since the president was there in Mzuzu, many of his supporters came from near and far, including a huge group from the islands where we were staying.
On our ferry back (which technically should take 5 hours but takes 12) they began to sing and dance. We saw the grandmas and the moms all singing together. It was so amazing and wonderful because they were doing it for themselves, not for some white tourists in a fancy restaurant. Bob, a guy we met on the dhow ride, helped us get dinner on the boat - the local fare. That was quite an experience as well. We ended up with this incredible mixture of wonderful and horrible - the singing and people were great, but they were all bringing smoked fish to Nkhata Bay which smells sooooooo bad. As long as we stayed in the wind and didn't get too many whiffs, it was all quite enjoyable.
The next day, July 7th, my bro and I headed back to Lilongwe via Mzuzu, which is an hour west of where we were on the Lake. The ride up was spectacular as you're going along the crest of the rift valley wall and looking down. Very impressive. Then Dave wanted to hitch to Lilongwe and I was not too happy about our prospects. As it turned out, we were picked up by a gov't truck with a large hatchback. There were about 10 other people, all Malawian, in the back hanging out. They were very friendly, and made the five hour drive quite enjoyable. They even bought us a pint of the local corn beer, which is quite gross and tastes like yogurt, but not. Dave looked over at me as we watched the sun setting with the mountains in the background and said, "See - you just need to have a little faith."
So, he was right; until the next day when we realized that his fanny pack which was attached to his backpack had been opened and his wallet (with his three credit cards), his walkman, his new leatherman tool and a tape were gone. It really, really sucked, and tainted the whole experience and our attitude towards the people. It had been such a wonderful exchange and then we felt like we had been stabbed in the back. Plus, we were to have a long bus ride the next day, and a walkman was needed and we were going to get money out so Dave could give me cash. Now I was his only money source really. But while this sucked and made us feel negative towards people, we were lucky that neither of us were hurt. Dave did have me to get him some dough, and with time, the negative feelings would diminish.
So we happily left Malawi (which some do feel is one of the nicest places and probably is if we were not rushing around and had not had the theft problem) and headed to Livingstone, Zambia. We crossed Zambia in one day, doing two 6.5 hour bus rides, stopping in the capital Lusaka to switch buses. Now on the second coach, there was a movie to be shown. It was a Nigerian film - they're horrible and hilarious. If you're not a fan of South American tele-novelas, then these would be even worse for you. There's always a guy who owns a Mercedes, a witch doctor, a car crash and talk of tribes and what not. We saw another one in Nkhata Bay while eating the local cuisine. The sound quality was horrible and the acting even better. But it's quite funny to watch and a bit of a lesson about African culture and values. The movie in the bus was about a man named Michael: Mike's mom is not too happy that he is engaged to marry a woman from another tribe. She gets so mad she visits the local witch doctor (did I mention Michael drives a Mercedes?) and asks the doctor to cast some spell on the wife to be. Then we skip into the future as Michael is killed in a car accident, and his wife and sons are kicked out of their house by Michael's brother and mother. Such drama!
So, we arrived to Livingstone at 11 PM and had no place to stay. We were befriended by a local named Emmanuel, who was hoping that his friend would be arriving on our bus but didn't come. He walked us to the hostel we were hoping to stay in, where we found out there was no room. He then took us to three other places, also full. A guard at one of the places offered us the floor in the lobby, but Emmanuel would not have it. So he brought us to his place and let us stay there in his bed, while he went to another place and slept there. Quite a contrast to our experience in Malawi. Such kindness and trust in us. It was a great start to our time in Livingstone.
Jessica and friend at Victoria Falls.
The next day we slept late, relaxed, saw the town, got money for Dave, a plane ticket for him on the 15th to Zanzibar, and then went to see Victoria Fall at sunset. It was amazing! The power of the water is so strong that you feel the mist from far away. On our way to see the falls, which are 10 km from the town, we had to stop because there were 6 elephants crossing the road. You have to love Africa. The next day we slept late again and went back to see the falls (but you can enter a certain way to get really really close). We were drenched in the end, but thoroughly amazed. It's huge and loud and the rainbows created by the mist are awesome. It was well worth the rush to make sure Dave got over there and saw them. Plus, now that we were stopped for five days, we could relax and we got along really well.
The next day we went rafting on the Zambezi. Mind you, a month and a half ago I had said that I didn't think I would do rafting again since the Nile had really taken a lot out of me. But I felt like I should do it, and since the water level is too high right now, the rapids are not as big as they will be in about a month. So I went, kind of dragging myself and succumbing to my fear. There were six of us in the boat and our guide, Doc, is the head manager of all the guides. He was nice but serious and I was freaked as hell. My friend Chad, who had lived in Zim for two years told me about the hike down and up the canyon to the river. That's the hardest part - you just hope you make it down without spraining or twisting a limb.
Anyway, I was near tears by the time we got on the boat, not knowing ahead of time that there would not be a row boat around if I wanted to pass one of the rapids safely, and I just wanted to get out and away. But Doc was pretty firm and saw the victim in me and played on it, knowing that really if I got tossed out, I would regain my confidence and lose the fear. I mean, the life jackets work wonders and he knew what he was doing. I fell out twice, and the second time all of us fell out. But we fell out holding on and it was actually quite fun. Doc then welcomed us to the Zambezi swim team. The rapid was named the Terminator which follows such names as "The Three Ugly Sisters", "Mother******", "Oblivion", and "Overland Truck Eater". I just wished he wouldn't say the names of the rapids ahead of time. Anyway, I did conquer my fear, or at least had a good time after a while. I came to the conclusion that 3 and 4 grade rapids are cool, but the grade fives are just not for me. Right now there are only 3s and 4s but next month the 5s appear.
Did I mention that Livingstone and Vic Falls have become the place to spend loads of cash on wild and daring activities, like rafting, bungie jumping (111 meters from a bridge over the gorge looking at the falls), river boarding, helicopter and microlight rides over the falls and so much more fun stuff. I was going to do the bungie again with Dave but I was adrenalined out, so Dave went solo the next day. He was on a high and it was great to watch but I had no desire. I went five years ago at Squaw and I still get a rush when I think about it. Maybe another time (sorry mom.) The night of the bungie jump we went on a booze cruise (yes, that's what they're called), and met some really nice people. We also watched the hippos and crocs and elephants and zebra along the river, while getting a bit drunk. Not a bad way to spend a few hours. We met a really nice Zambian couple from Lusaka and we went out with them later to a club. It was lots of fun. We also bumped into Doc, our river guide, there.
Now this is where I tell a small anecdote about what a small world we live in: I had asked Doc while on the river if he knew any women guides from California, since my father had bought his car about 7 years ago from a woman who was heading to the Zambezi to be a guide. I didn't remember what her name was, but I figured there wouldn't be too many women guides from the Bay Area working over there. Anyway, Doc never answered my question then, but that night at the club, my bro asked again and the first name Doc said was......Jenny Gold! Well, for most of you, that name means nothing. However, although not the woman who sold my dad the car, Jenny Gold was one of my first babysitters. Her younger sister Julie was also my babysitter and a student of my mom, so it was quite a surprise to hear her name. I knew that she had been a river guide for many years, but I thought it was just in Chile. As it turned out, Doc knew Jenny because she was the one who trained him to be a guide. So nine years later, here come along two people from Jenny's home town, and we meet the guide she trained who in turn was our guide. It was a cool moment.
We stayed out late dancing and then woke up kind of late too. Dave was leaving that day, the 14th, which was only about three days ago, and so it was hard to say goodbye. We traveled pretty well together. Everyone thought we were husband and wife which we quickly told them we were not. We would be divorced if that were the case. Plus, traveling with family gives you more freedom to be yourself in some ways and I'm really glad that we traveled together, if it was only for a few weeks. Now Dave is enjoying his last couple days in Zanzibar while I'm here in Zimbabwe.
I arrived at Vic Falls in the afternoon and was a bit down in the dumps after saying goodbye. Now I was really back to traveling alone, and had no energy to go out and meet people. But as luck would have it, that evening I met a really nice American girl from Seattle named Amy, who is working in Durban, S. Africa. We went out with some of the locals until 3 AM. It was strange going out where we did because it's this big casino hotel where you feel more like you're in Las Vegas than Africa. I have not been around this much fancy stuff and whites for a long time. It's mini culture shock in a way. But it was fun dancing and just getting out. Amy and I had planned to take a run the next day but that was scratched.
Instead we headed to the river to sunbathe with George and Eddy, two local guys that Amy had met. It's kind of nice hanging with them because they protect you a bit from all the street touts trying to get you to change money or go on a safari or buy something. Amy and I have started to try and act the same way back saying "Hey, I have some necklaces, I'll give you a good price...no, you don't want this, well, why not a safari?... no don't listen to her, I can give you a better deal." Anyway, they laugh and then we head on. Life is relaxed here and I don't move around more than a few blocks. It's a nice place to just get my bearings.
Today Amy and I did run; along the Zambezi, passing 30 baboons about an arms length away and some impala. We had to double back after 30 minutes not because we wanted to but because we spotted an elephant (which we were told was part of a group of 6), and you just don't want to mess with them. It was fun and good to get some exercise. I hope to train for another marathon when I get back just so I can get back in shape. The only way that I have not gained too much weight here is because I keep getting small intestinal bugs. Not fun, but I figure the States are so overly hygienic, that when Americans travel they get sick faster since there are so many more bacteria out there that they're not used to.
So I think I've included everything. I'm back to feeling pretty good and positive towards my trip. I'm heading to see a bit of Zimbabwe (which is fine right now) and then either by overland or bus, I'll get to Nambia to see the dunes...and then to Cape Town and up the coast slowly until I hit Johannesburg. I have two months left on the 18th and I feel I have so much to see and not enough time. There are moments when I contemplate elongating my trip, but we'll see.
I hope you're all well and have made it all the way to this sentence without too much trouble. My typing and grammar get bad the faster I try and say everything.