A Travellerspoint blog

Watching the Sunset in the Serengeti

A 5-day safari in Tanzania with 2 Swedish girls and a Brazilian

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Written: July 15, 2007

As I'm writing this, I'm watching the red sunset over the yellowed and dry plains of the Serengeti's savannah. It had been a few days since I've written and left Uganda. After arriving in Kilimanjaro in the late afternoon, I took the complementary bus to Arusha. It's remarkable how different the countryside of Tanzania is to that of Uganda. While Uganda was lush and green, Tanzania's is yellow and dry and sometimes mountainous. Arriving in Arusha in the evening was an experience. As I got off the bus, flycatchers, touts and other disreputable types were trying to sell safaris and other things. I then found the hotel booked for me only to leave in disgust at the quote of $85 USD/night.

After walking around for an hour, I found the Centre House Hostel, a place ran by the Arusha Catholic Diocese for $8 USD/day including breakfast (w/ eggs!).

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Day 2: I started my search by going to the tourist board office where I found Andrew from Shidolya tours. I went back to his office at the AICC (where UN Rwanda tribunal was taking place I checked it out for a bit) got some info. It was also there that I met the 2 Swedish girls (Ida and Maja) who would go on the same safari with me. After walking around for most of the day comparing packages and prices, we agreed on a 5-day safari that includes Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire with the Kilimanjaro Crown Bird Tours. Taking out money was a big hassle due to the 400 000 TSh limit. I ended the day buying a ticket at the Dar Express office for the morning after getting back to Arusha with the hope of catching the last ferry to Zanzibar.

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Day 3: After making sure my planned itinerary changes were okay with my travel agent, Jennifer, I met up with the girls for the safari. I then found out that they had been attacked on Sokoine Rd. at 6:45 p.m. just 15 minutes after I had passed through to buy my Dar Express ticket! They had been jumped by 10 people and during the process, they were yelling and screaming but no one came to help them. The thieves even used weapons to hit the girls and Maja even saw one of them raise a machete against Ida before she kicked him in the back. The girls lost a lot of money, camera, passports and credit cards. They were however fortunate to come away with only scrapes and bruises but the most serious consequence was shock.

There was more bad news for the girls as Maja didn't get the 400G TSh she was supposed to from the ATM prompting me to make the joke, "Even the banks are stealing from you!"

Though the girls were tense from the incident of the previous day, it wasn't long before all of us and Erico (Brazilian lawyer studying Biology) were enjoying the amazing sights in the Lake Manyara National Park. We saw elephants, giraffes, baboons, flamingos, hippos, warthogs, dik-diks and many more.

Today, after an early drive throug the Ngorongoro Conservation area we arrived at the Serengeti where we saw liones, leopard, wartebeasts, gazelles and zebras. Then watched the sunset and we have an early game drive in the famous Serengeti tomorrow morning!

Posted by NomadicOne 07:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

How to Reduce Extortion Fees, for Dummies.

My exit from Kampala, Uganda

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Written: July 12, 2007

While our maniac of a driver disagreed, I thought paying 10 000 USh ($6.50 USD) was pretty good for taking out a boda-boda driver. Minutes earlier while stopped beside the Standard Charter bank, I opened the door by 10cm without checking. I didn't check because I was right beside the sidewalk but that didn't stop me from clipping a reckless boda-boda driver. Of course, I got out immediately to check that he hadn't been hurt too badly and that there wasn't too much damage.I was relieved to see he only had some minor scrapes and cuts and that the boda-boda was pretty much fine. This was especially important since our driver ran over his front wheels when he was down in order to unblock traffic. I asked if he was okay and took out my first aid kit. I gave him anti-septic and bandages. It took 3 minutes before the expected "demand" came.

"I need hospital", he said.
I chuckled a bit. Some minor cuts and a scrape, plus it was his own recklessness that caused the accident. Our driver came over and started talking to him in Ugandan dismissively. Meanwhile, the injured boda driver was motioning at his slightly scraped arm.
This was when Thomas asked, "Do you have 5000 USh?"
That's $5 USD, pocketchange I thought. I handed it to him but it wasn't enough to satisfy him though 10 000 USh was. Though I'm sure we could've stayed and dismissed his claims, $6.50 USD okay to pay and less hassle since I had to get to the airport to catch a flight to Kilimanjaro.

Humourously, Thomas told me that a man once swerved his truck to avoid hitting a reckless boda-boda, injuring himself badly in the course of the action. The policeman later told him he shoudl've hit the reckless driver instead of going through so much pain!

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Yesterday, Thomas, the driver and I got back from Mbarra where we had spent the night at his aunt's house. The car ride was very scenic and I got some great shots in the safari-like scenery and another video of me walking left to right of the frame. I look forward to stitching all the walking scenes together.

Of course, when we pulled over, thjere was a man beside the road holding up a live chicken and trying to sell it to us. By the time Thomas and I finished taking photos, the chicken was sitting in the trunk and had laid an egg! By the time we got to Kampala, we had 4 giant chains of plantains (to make matoke), guava, mangos, tomatoes, 3 bags of freshly cleaved pork and a disgruntled chicken.

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Now, as I sit in the shuttle provided by Air Tanzania between Kilimanjaro Airport to Arusha, I admire the beautiful land and mountains of Tanzania.

some children notice me looking out and wave while yelling, "Jambo!"
I smile and wave back.
Sijambo Tanzania!

Posted by NomadicOne 09:27 Archived in Uganda Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

TIA - This Is Africa

What have I gotten myself into?

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Written July 10, 2007

There are many times during my trip when I've thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" Other times, I've thought, "What am I gonna do next?" or, "I hope I come out of this alive."
Sitting in the backseat with my left hand firmly clenching the handlebar, bare white knuckles showing, I was definitely dealing with the latter question.

Speeding down the highway(if you call the only 2 lanes of road with bicycles, motorcycles, matatus, buses and cattle) at speeds of 120 km/hr, one felt as safe as being in a tin can traveling at Warp 6. To make matters worse, the driver was honking at any living thing close to the road the whole time to let others know of our (speeding) approach. Instead of taking evasive actions when head-on collisions seems certain, this maniac of a driver simply flashes the headlights and both speeding cars subtly avoid each other. This was the pattern of my 7 hr ride to Kibale/Lake Bunyoni and back to Kampala.

The voyage to the lake was a beautiful one with incredible scenery ranging from savannas, plantations, rural life and luscious mountains with side cultivations. The area is described as the Switzerland/New Zealand of Africa, the Mother of Pearl. I can understand why.
We took a boat ride to the Bushuro island and around the 900m deep Lake Bunyoni. There was even an island, pointed out by our guide, where pregnant women were left on if they weren't married.

After getting some hassles at the Ugandan/Rwanda border, I reconsidered the benefits of going to Kigali for 2 days rather than going to Tanzania early. While I really wanted to see for myself how much it has recovered from the genocide, I believed it was more important to make my time in Tanzania as valuable as possible rather than splitting it with Rwanda.

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I'm sorry it took so long to write a post. There are no excuses and a lot to cover. After arriving in Entebbe and transferring to Kampala, Thomas and I spent the first full day walking about the city. We went to the market with Grace and each bought a khacki cargo shirt for $5 USD. The place was amazingly cramped with extremely narrow paths(sometimes leading to dead-ends). Salespeople were also always calling you or taking your harm and hand. It felt a lot like navigating a dungeon. In terms of my impression of an African city; populous, somewhat dirty and organized chaos, thrifty. The hundreds of white matatus(minibuses crammed to the full) at the taxi park was a sign to behold and the bodas-bodas make walking dangerous.

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Day 2: Visited the Bahai temple in Kampala (only one in Africa and each continent!) with 9 doors and a great choral ensemble. After the service, I decided to stay and attend the discussion on Bahai marriages (also because my ride were) and it was real interesting to see their views and process. Had a great lunch at Thomas' Jaja's place and loved Ugandan coffee (like Ugandan tea, made with half hot water, half milk, boiled, then tea/coffee added with optional spices/cinnamon). The typical Ugandan meal is composed of generous portions of matoke (plantains like mashed potatoes), beans, meat (chicken, goat, pork), passionfruit juice, chapoti (naan-like bread). Thomas and I also visited the decrepit Ugandan Museum. We had roasted meats with Grace in the evening (yum, roasted pork and goat!) as well as some Ugandan sodas called Stoney (ginger pop) and Marinda (cough-syrup taste).

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Day 3: Went to Jinja to see the Bajagali falls and the source of the Nile river with Grace and Thomas and our crazy driver. I considered paying someone to perform a Bujagali swim (go over the rapids/falls with nothing but a Jerry can) but decided I didn't like paying someone to risk their life.

Finally, today started with a 6am departure to Kibale passing the equator. Thomas commented that since the car we were in had government plates and since I was sitting in the back while he and the driver were in front, I looked like a Chinese diplomat. I'm sure my dour and humourless expression (due to the maniac driving) contributed to looking like a mainlander.

Other humourous instances include all the slogans on the matatus (minibus) such as:

    "In Shaalah" - By God's Will
    "Jesus is Lord"
    "I (heart) Samona" (Samona is a skin care product)
    "Jesus Saves" - (Hope he doesn't need to in order to ride the matatu)
    "Never Give Up" - (Until there's a crash of course)
    "Bulletproof" - (More metaphorical I believe)
    "Essy" - (Hahaha)
    "Timekeeper" - (haha prob not very safe then)

Other things I found hilarious:
- Whenever we approach an unofficial rest stop/drive thru, 10-15 people will shove produce or other snacks in your face ranging from roasted plantains, cauliflower, nuts to grilled meats, live chickens/fishes.
-The Ugandan saying, "Only the drunks drive straight" due to the ridiculous amount of potholes on every street
-"Kamwocha", a district of Kampala, literally translated as "It Burns"
-A Kampala school motto is: "Strive Regardless". When there was a newspaper article about a man stalking a woman as his love interest, she was quoted as saying, "He must've been from that school since he kept trying and I kept saying 'No'"

That's all for now.
Until next time!

Posted by NomadicOne 21:27 Archived in Uganda Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

First Class of No Class?

A series of unfortunate-turn-good events

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Written: July 6, 2007

Okay.

So it wasn't quite first class. However, the glasses of (free and good) red wine and (real, not Bambino or El Presidente) champagne, the brunch (consisting of fresh fruits, fillet of beef, rhubarb tarts and Godiva chocolates) and the fully reclinable seats with so-much-legroom-I-can't-touch-the-seat-before-me all contributed to a pretty good flight. Of course, this was the reward for a day of delay in Dubai.

After spending half a day with Catherine and her family in London, I had been really worried about whether I would reach Gatwick airport on time. The tube traffic at Knightsbridge had been held up due to high traffic and the roads weren't great either. However, luck was on my side as I somehow caught a bus straight to Victoria Train Station and took the Gatwick Express arriving 1 hour before takeoff (or so I thought). Check-in was somewhat problematic since I didn't have an onward ticket out of Uganda as required. I intended to overland from Uganda to Tanzania through Kenya, flying out from Dar es Salaam. The manager at Emirates was nice enough to "reserve" a "ticket" from Entebbe to Dar es Salaam to show Ugandan passport control.

There was some minor delay at the gate and then we got on to the plane. Take-off was scheduled for 9:08 p.m. but that didn't happen until 2 hours later. While everyone was on board, a passenger developed a medical emergency and she and her family had to get off. All the baggages of the plane had to be taken out in order to find the luggages of that family. A carry-on security check then had to be performed in order to make sure nothing was left behind. The delay pushed our landing time 2 hours later, preventing myself and other passengers from making their connection flights.

While the delay wasn't the worst thing to happen to me, I felt horrible since I only had 4 hours to warn my friend Thomas not to pick me up in Entebbe. As soon as I got to the complementary hotel provided by Emirates, I tried to dial the cell phone number provided to no avail. I then proceeded to walk around in the 44C heat with my black long sleeve shirt (London was 18C) searching for internet that didn't cost $1/minute. In the end, I found a place that charged $5 for 15 minutes and proceeded to fire off an email to Thomas as fast as possible, hoping he would check before he left.

While the delay did set me back I think, in the end, it was exactly what I needed. I took a long afternoon nap, took a bath, watched a decent movie for a change (Remember the Titans) and got a pint of Guinness. Of course, like the other delayed passengers, my backpack wasn't sent to the hotel as I made them promise me 3 times. This caused some confusion and required a personal trip to the airport baggage services. (*One positive note: While searching for baggage services, I found free internet in the Emirates First/Business Class section. A saving of $5 per 15 minutes!)

During my wait in Baggage Services, I also attempted to talk to the attractive Emirates service woman and it went something like this:

Her: Have a seat sir, it could take a while.
Me: So, what did you do to get stuck in this position down here?

<If she laughs, proceed to Page 4>
<If she ignores you, proceed to Page 9 - The End>

Inevitably my lack of time and money contributed to a short story.

While I showed unwanted interest in the hot Emirates lady, I would be on the receiving end later at the pub. Satisfied that I hadn't spent much money at all in Dubai for 1 day, I decided I needed a Guinness. The pub a few steps away from my room would provided just that as well as an assortment of older couples, bored businessmen and young Asian girls. As I walked into the pub, I felt the attention of the latter group; 5-6 girls of SE Asia origins hanging around in the corner. I ordered my Guinness and leaned back on the bar to watch Wimbledon highlights. I noticed in the corner of my eye that they were still eying me (understandably, I am a rare specimen in this part of the world, nonetheless an Asian Canadian!) One of them approached me, young, about my age, nothing extraordinary.

She asked, "By yourself? Want some company?"
Not sure where the conversation was going, I decided going with a questionable response, "Is it going to cost me anything?"
"Just a little", she replied.
I replied, "Sorry, just a poor student stuck in this city, I don't have any money to buy you drinks." I'll never be a sucker for that I thought as she walked back to her friends.

Moments later, I heard the bartender telling a waitress to shoo the group of non-drinking girls away and tell them to come back later. as the waitress told the girls, one of them left and the old guy next to me quickly rushed out. A minute later, the two of them came back to the bar together and that's when it slammed into me.

The girls were escorts!!!

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I am writing this now in Nairobi, Kenya, transiting to Entebbe, Uganda. I'm not sure if I'll be visiting Nairobi or Kenya anymore since even locals say it is dangerous. I'll look more into it and make a decision in Uganda.

Salam Maleku!

Posted by NomadicOne 09:20 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Anti-Jerusalem Syndrome and International Refugee Camps

Me and the stupid things I do

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Written: July 3, 2007

Jerusalem Syndrome can be defined as the process of fanatical attachment to the city due to it's religious sacredness. Many faithfuls fall under the syndrome and spend all of their money remaining in the Holy City. This is also the disease Steve (Aussie from Sydney) and I made fun of Chris (American from Chicago) for. However, by my 2nd day in Jerusalem, I was starting to develop anti-Jerusalem syndrome. I found the city too radically religious and cramped, causing minor claustrophobia.

Jerusalem_026.jpg

The journey between Jerusalem and my flight required 8 major security checkpoints varying from metal detectors and X-ray, 2 minutes of questions regarding where and what was I doing in Israel to the full search and swabbing of everything in my backpack and daypack. After all that was completed, I got on my flight for London!

This is where things start turning for the worst.
London Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 had been evacuated on that due to a suspicious package and all flights had been canceled. Passengers on planes at the terminal were not allowed to get off. By the time we got in line for the passport control (8 pm), some had been waiting since 1 pm. It took me 3 hours to actually get to passport control by which point I had witnessed 2 fights, seen a woman pass out and attempted to hit on a Vancouver girl going to Ghana.

Once out of the arrival area, I found myself in a place similar to an international refugee camp. There were no buses, shuttles or underground trains running and there were no rooms left. Airport staff were handing out mats, blankets, juices and sandwiches to the stranded passengers. (The funny thing is, I intended to sleep in Terminal 4 that night, just didn't expect the other 5000 people!)

Since I was meeting Catherine and her family at 11 am in Terminal 3, I decided to walk over from Terminal 4 instead of waiting for the shuttled at 6 am. I mean, "How far could it be?"
This is where things get much worse for me.

1:30 AM - Leave Terminal 4, follow the signs towards Terminal 3
1:50 AM - This is great! Making good pace, nice view, fresh air.
2:10 AM - Should be just around the corner, shouldn't take much longer.
2:40 AM - Where am I?
3:00 AM - Where the FUCK am I?
3:20 AM - (Police pulls up to me, "You can't walk to T3, there's a tunnel, you should take a taxi.")
3:40 AM - (Get to a checkpoint with 3 police officers, one of them stops a bus and puts me on it for free)
4:00 AM - Arrive at Terminal 3, puts mat down in arrival area, pass out.

Back in London again.

Posted by NomadicOne 08:36 Archived in Israel Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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