Friday, August 25, 2006

Life on the Beach

This is an updated post, so if you read it once, there's a good chance this is different.

Hi everyone,

Well, this is my last post while I am on my trip. I'll update it with photos later and let you all know when they are posted. For now, here's an update.

I'm on the hot, sunny beach in Kendwa, Zanzibar. I've never taken a beach holiday, and this has all the fixings: turqouise sea, sand in every crevice, tropical drinks, massive amounts of sunblock, and gorgeous weather.

So, here's what's been happening:

Day 12: travel from Arusha to Marangu, near the base of Kilimanjaro
Day 13: cultural tour through Marangu villages and agricultural areas
Day 14: travel from Marangu to Leshoto
Day 15: travel from Leshoto to Dar Es Salaam
Day 16: travel to Stone Town, Zanzibar
Day 17: travel from Stone Town to Kendwa Rocks, taking a Spice Tour on the way
Day 18: beach and first attempt at snorkeling
Day 19: full day snorkel adventure

Well, here I am on Day 19 of my overland trip. The past week has been fantastic. Our group is now down to four people, as Lynda and Rachel went back to the UK. The four of us and our three crew (how backwards is this!) enjoyed a good two days basking in the peak of Kili, when she decided to show her face. I didn't hike to base camp, but I took a cultural tour, which was just as exciting.

The cultural tour gave us a view of Chagga traditional/modern life. Our guide first took us through the forest, where they grow coffee, sweet bananas, plantains, and herbs. We walked through both traditional and modern houses, which were quite small and a bit caustrophobic. They keep their cow inside and locked up so they don't tramp through the coffee trees. I touched the soft skin of the cow's head, and I felt so sad. A vegan moment.

Our cultural tour then went through the market and then down to the waterfall. We took two local taxis, and I was amazed by how many people they cram into one minivan. This is an African thing, as I've seen people crammed in these vans in every country I've visited. That being said, I felt once again underdressed with the women in beautiful patterned dresses and hats.

Zanzibar is treating me well (i.e. no sunburn yet). When I wrote the parenthesis yesterday, I didn't realize the bit of a burn I received yesterday. Oops.

The first day in zanzibar we spent in Stone town. An interesting city full of different influences: Christian, Muslim, Indian. We tried to eat at the Freddy Mercury Restaurant, but they didn't have any food ready (lunch/dinner lull), so we ate at a gorgeous Indian restaurant. Then we watched the sun set from a hotel bar, just as a dhou (local wooden sailboat) passed in front of the sunset. thank you for the postcard, zanzibar!

Wednesday we went on a spice tour, which involved smelling and tasting zanzibar spices. Zanzibar made its name from two things: the slave trade and spices. First, we took a tour of the slave trade places and then up to spice country. we sat in one of the rooms where 75 women and children were kept for three days without food and water. An eerie experience.

then spices: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, tumeric, lemongrass, vanilla. I'm sure there are others I can't remember.

then the beach: I went snorkeling yesterday, which wasn't so good (seasickand lots of jellysfish-the nonstinging variety), but today I took my seasick pills, and it was fantastic! The fish were bright and plentiful, and once I got the hang of breathing calmly, I was in the ocean for two hours. we saw so many fish, whose names I don't know. I do know we saw clown fish, zebra fish, cucumber fish, and lots of multi-colored ones (Kerry, don't tell Craig about my ignorance!). The coral proved my favorite thing. the colors. wow. I wish I had pictures.

Okay, time's running out. I'll talk to you all soon (scheduled to come home Thursday, the 31st, unless my flight can be changed to give me a few extra days on a stopover).

Lots of love,


Friday, August 18, 2006

Kisii to Arusha, Tanzania

Hello everyone,

This blog might be a bit smaller than the others. At the end of my trip when I get home, I will post my photos. It's just easier and safer to not carry my camera around town. So, for now, words...

Here's where I've been since last time:

Day 8: drive from Kisii, Kenya across the border to Lamadi, Tanzania on Lake Victoria.
Day 9: enter the Serengeti on the west side and drive through to Seronera campsite in park.
Day 10: game drive through Serengeti, visit Olduvai Gorge Museum, camp just outside Ngorongoro Crater
Day 11: game drive through Ngorongoro Crater, then drive through to Maserani Snake Park.
Day 12: drive from Maserani to Arusha and then on to Kilimanjaro tonight!

Animal Totals:

1 leopard
no more cheetahs or rhinos...
36 lions (3 cubs in the Crater)
15 elephants or so
and hundreds/thousands of all the rest!!!

Okay, any minute now the truck is leaving, so what can I tell you but fabulous things!

The Serengeti kept our animal tracking eyes busy. We finally saw a leopard (along with 6 other trucks) and watched it cross the plains, under a truck, and up a tree. I can't tell you how many pictures I took, but not as many as the lions. The landscape of the Serengeti appealed to me--long rolling hills of green-gold grass.

The number of lions we've seen has become quite ridiculous, really! 36. The Ngorongoro Crater proved the most fruitful, as we saw three cubs. It was a bit of an entertaining circus. There were about 14 jeep/land rovers watching about 8 adult lions, then the 3 cubs get up and decide to go explore, so they park themselves under one of the trucks. Then the dad and mom get up and decide to eye all the trucks and get closer to their cubs, parking themselve right next to the tires. When they finally decided to move, they came over to our truck and laid down right on our wheels. Just looking down at them was inspiring and intimidating. The cubs soften your heart, but the adults make you take cover.

When we slept in the Serengeti, there were no fences. Just us and nature. Actually, there were lots of people in the campground, maybe 60-100, and quite a few trucks. Yet, we were told to go to the bathroom in groups at all times, as lions do come to the campsite. Needless to say, we didn't get out of our tents in the middle of the night. When I woke up at 5am, I could hear the lions roaring and tracing the camp, and the hyenas crying. What a cool feeling, if not a bit scary. No worries, it was all safe!

Now we are in Arusha, heading towards Kilimanjaro. The truck just pulled up, so I am off. Sorry so short this time. Just now that the pics are fabulous!

See you all soon!



Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hello and Goodbye Kenya

Hello! It's been difficult to find internet, but here I am on Day 7 of my overland safari, blogging away in East Africa. Take out your maps or google a map of kenya and see where I am and have been! I have a sticky keyboard, so ignore the errors ;)

There are three crew (Eugene, Moses, and Paul) and six of us: Helen, James, Ed, Linda, Rachel, and myself. Two Aussies, one Yank, Three Brits. We have a huge truck all to ourselves (it seats 18), and her name is Daffy. She has taken us on some pretty crazy roads on this trip, but she is reliable. paul, our driver, has to stand up to push the clutch--it's that heavy. lucky, he's a strong guy and fabulous driver.

here is where we have been:

Day 1: drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha
Day 2: Lake Naivasha and Crater Lake
Day 3: drive from Lake Naivasha to Lake Nakuru National Park
Day 4: Lake Nakuru game drives and drive to Njobo
Day 5: drive from Njobo to Masia mara Game Reserve
Day 6: game drives all day in Masia mara, stay in Narok
Day 7: drive from Narok to Kisii

here is the animal count:

1 cheetah (in the mara. wow! what a rare sighta, and a postcard, too!)
16 lions (2 full maned males, the rest female; oye were we close!)
white rhino (at least 20)
black rhino (just the one)
wildebeast (thousands in the mara)
wildebeast (thousands in the mara due to the Great migration from the Serengeti)
vultures eating a wildebeast carcass
birds, birds, birds

now for some fun details:

In Lake Naivasha we went to Elsamere, the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame. They rehabilitated lions and released them into the wild. I haven't seen the famous movie based on her book of the same name, but I plan to rent and read when I come home. A remarkable story. They were both killed by poachers.

We also went to Crater lake on a boat ride then a game walk. What an amazing experience to walk in the wild and see giraffes, zebras, and elands. No predators, so we were safe. We also saw a large group of flamingos as well.

Then, we went for our first game drives in lake Nakuru National Park, where we saw so many white rhinos. I've seen many black rhino in South Africa, but i've never seen a white rhino. We also saw 11 elephants in one day, one fully maned male, one young male, and 9 females. Gorgeous. There they were lounging in a tree and some basking in the sun. Paul manoevered our beast to get close. Because we are so high up in the truck, we were looking eye to eye with them. An amazing experience as I've never seen lions.

Lake Nakuru is a beautiful park, and if it wasn't for the ants in our tents at 2am, we would have probably slept well in the wild, surrounded by the possibility of animals in our campsite. Four of the six of us slept in the truck!

We stayed in a lovely "posh" campsite called Kembu, just outside Njolo. Posh=bar, hot showers, no ants, and a longdrop toilet with fancy woodwork! We all soaked up this campsite. i also took a walk through the farm where they have horses, cows, and a women's knitting coop.

Then, the big day. The drive into the Masai Mara. Such a pivotal experience to be in a park that i have always wanted to visit. You see it on the Discovery Channel, travel magazines, and photography books. To be here in person was glorious. After a long 12 hour drive, we drove into the mara as the sun set, and if we weren't running late, we would have been able to see a lion kill; they were already stalking when we saw them. Four masai were waiting at our campsite and helped us set up. They then sang us a welcome song and sat around the campsite with us. Wrapped in their red blankets, they are regal. Then you hear them sing, and it's music. Then you see their wristwatches and one pulls out a cellphone! Modern civilization is hard to abate! They were sitting at our campfire at night and were there again when I woke up in the morning.

Yesterday, we did a game drive from sunrise to sunset. The wildebeast are abundant, having just crossed the river to get to the grass in the mara. Thousands of them walking in lines and standing in herds. We saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, impalas, hartebeasts, elephants, and a few lazing lions. Then, we saw the cheetah. Sitting on a rock, perched. Paul saw her from at least 400m away and charged Daffy over to her. it was a rare gift to see this pregnant cheetah in the wild. At the end of the day, we visited a masai village and were able to ask questions and see their huts. A bit touristy but worthwhile just the same.

Even though our visit to the mara was short, 24 hours, it was fabulous. The rolling hills of grass, the blue sky, the herds of animals, the acacia trees. I've been to the mara. This time next week, i can see i've been to the Serengeti. Does it get better than this?

Today, on Day 7, we ar in kisii, a town in the western part of kenya. On our way we stopped and had some local food in a small restaurant, where I had yummy vegan beans and spices. Tomorrow we cross into Tanzania, where we will go to lake Victoria and then the Serengeti.

I am thoroughly enjoying myself, and my safari mates are fantastic. The crew are doing so much to make our visit extraordinary. moses, the guide, tells us what's happening and when, giving us history and info. Eugene, our cook, slaves over the fire in the mornings and evenings to feed us well. i'm eating well and educating everyone on what this vegan thing is. Soymilk greets me every morning! We eat lunch on the truck most days, and i have my reliable jar of peanut butter on hand. Today i was even able to buy individual soymilks to drink on the truck. yeah! Huzzah!

So, I shall love you and leave you once again. A warm dinner is awaiting me at the campsite.

Talk to you soon.
Moe/Maureen/Msungu (white woman; what the children shout at us when we pass!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nairobi, Kenya

Hello everyone,

I am in my first new African country in six years (Zimbabwe being the last in 2000). I'll add Kenya and Tanzania on this trip, making my African total 6 countries (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania). Oh, I love adding countries to my passport!

Nairobi has been good to me so far. I'm staying at the Heron Hotel in Nairobi, quite a splurge, as I'm used to backpackers, but my safari leaves from here. Less carting of bags makes Moe a happy chic. I bought so many books that I had to send one bag to Johannesburg with friends so that I can retrieve it at the end of the trip. Oops :)

Yesterday I walked into the Nairobi city centre to see what was on and about. What a refreshing and humbling experience to know you are the minority and stick out quite easily. Me and my flaming red hair. I think everyone should have this experience because it puts your life into perspective. Many of you experience this daily, and I know it's not easy. It's one of the reasons why I like Africa; I have to step out of my comfort zone. It's good for the soul, and it's darn good for poetry.

There isn't much to see in terms of the usual tourist haunts, as the museum is closed for renovations, but I enjoyed looking into shops and people watching. It was a quick walk about, but an interesting one. Many people were heading to Saturday church services and were dressed quite smartly. I looked shabby in my gym shoes and jeans!

Today was the big tour day to the Sheldrick Orphanage, Giraffe Park, Karen Blixen Museum, and bead centre. What a fabulous day. The Sheldrick Orphanage ( rescues orphaned baby elephants and black rhino, rehabilitates and cares for them, then reintroduces them into the wild. What a fantastic experience. From 11am-noon every day, you can come to the orphanage and see the seven current elephant orphans (the black rhino orphan didn't choose to show up today as he's weaning himself into the wild of the adjoining Nairobi National Park--a rhino protection park). They come in with their caretakers, drink their three bottles of milk, and socialize with each other and people.

The elephants are all younger than two years old (they are released around two years), and they take your breath away. What fun, smart, playful creatures. We were able to touch their rough, hairy skin and watch them play for a good hour. Everyone was reassured that interaction with the elephants does not hurt them when they are released into the wild. This is a fantastic place, and if you want a good gift, you can sponsor an elephant. Daphne Sheldrick has been running this place for 50 years, and it is a unique experience.

Then, we were off to the giraffe park, an entirely different experience. The giraffe park is a breeding ground for giraffes that are endangered and then released into the wild. This had a bit of a zoo feel, as the giraffes that you see are not released into the wild. These female giraffes are the breeders, poor things! They do have many acres to roam, so they lead a pretty good life, I think. I didn't ask them, though. You can feed the giraffes from a balcony, and what fun to have the food pellets swiffed out of your hand by that amazingly long tongue.

Our guide, Ken, who everyone knows, took us on a walk in the nature park to find the macho male, Jock, who is kept apart from the females until it's time and one female is sent to join him. As we walked through thick bush, Ken kept his ears peeled. Then, suddenly, there was the female--Jock's current lady love. She dove right into the food Ken brought, greedy little thing. Standing there, you know you are mortal. She was ten feet away, and I could have fit under her stomach while standing.

Then Jock showed up and the two giraffes started to compete a bit for the food. Nothing dramatic and violent but greedy! Suddenly there's six of us humans in a narrow path with two giraffes starting to move quite quickly towards us. They weren't coming after us, but it certainly didn't feel like it at that point! As I was jumping around in the bush, I couldn't help the nervous laughter. It's not everyday that you vie for space with two adult giraffes. I have the grass and mud stains to prove it! Eventually, the food ran out and the giraffes were no longer interested. Off they went to graze the natural stuff off the tree tops and left us all to laugh at our speeding pulses!

The Karen Blixen Museum may not have been as intense, but I love going on literary/film pilgrimages. I expected the area to be built up, but while her farm was sold into plots, it still maintains a wild feel. Her yard is large and surrounded by woods, the Ngong hills still visible from her back porch. The Museum has most of her original furniture, and the rest of the furniture was used in the movie. Even the clothes Meryl Streep and Robert Redford wore were lazily draped on the furniture. The house is beautiful, and I had my book stamped to prove I was there. I finished Out of Africa last night, so the stories and images were fresh in my mind. Lovely. I only wish I had time to perch on a bench and write.

Then, the last stop was the bead center, where even on a Sunday, a hundred women were in there working on the beads and pottery. Once again, I restrained myself. No room, no chance of it staying intact for three weeks on hectic bumpy roads!

So, what a day! Fantastic. I met a few interesting people and felt envious that they were going places I wasn't going (Uganda, Rwanda). Yet, there's always next time! I leave on my safari tomorrow, and I've already met the head guide who asked me all sorts of "vegan" questions. Our group is small, only six (usually they are 20-25), so it will be quite a personl tour. I expect we will all know each other very well by the time Aug. 26 comes around.

So, I sign off for now. I hope to be able to sign on during my safari for a quick update. At some point I'll put pics on here. It's a slow internet connection here, so I'll be broke before they all download! For now, here are my words. Stay well, healthy, and happy.



Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Township Tour

August 3, 2006

My last day in Cape Town. I will stay in Jo’Burg for a few days after my safari, but this is really my farewell to South Africa in a sense. I am coming back to South Africa (Jo’Burg) for a few days to decompress before heading home. I think I’d suffer from culture shock if I boarded my plane straight to Chicago from Tanzania! Oh, Lordy. The nice thing is that my safari ends with three days on the beach at Zanzibar, so that will prove a perfect end.

Today I went on a township tour with ten other foreigners picked up at hotels and hostels across Cape Town. A mixed group of ages and countries, and we were an interactive, questioning bunch.

Throughout my trip so far, I have seen the economic differences in South Africa, but I haven’t written about them much—if at all—on this blog. You cannot come to South Africa and miss this reality. It’s everywhere. From the street kids in Grahamstown to the people lingering on corners. Published figures put unemployment at 40%, but our tour guide today said that the numbers are probably higher.

We started our tour at the District 6 Museum. Starting in 1966, the entire community was torn down and declared a white area. District 6 is still mostly a vacant area in Cape Town, but this museum documents the community with stunning exhibits. For example, there’s a big map on the floor where old members of the community came to write down where they used to live. The old street signs are preserved and hanging in the museum. It’s a museum for tourists and the community, and I think many people come here to help them remember their past.

After the museum, the true experience began. We spent most of our morning in Langa, a township community that originated around 1901. We first went to the community center and met local artists making pottery, sand paintings, jewelry, and other crafts. Such friendly, empowered people. I met a guy who does sand and chalk “paintings,” and he has been an artist for eleven years. If I had any room in my luggage, which I don’t (don’t laugh), I’d have bought something.

Then we went further into the township to experience the four different economic lifestyles from the Hollywood of Langa (“normal/humble” 3 bedroom family houses in the US) to the shacks on the edge.

Our first stop was a shock to the system. Our guide pulled right up to an outdoor food stand. I don’t even know if it’s a stand, or more of an outdoor cooking station. Twenty sheep heads sat on a plank in the morning sun and waited to be boiled. I really tried to be a brave vegan. I did. I stood there breathing through my nose and trying not to go woozy when the woman was using the hot knife to shave the head. When another woman and two guys from my group stepped away, I sighed with relief and joined them. The smell is still in my nose hours later. It’s a delicacy for this community, but I had a hard time. It was worse than sitting next to someone eating a lobster. Oh, not a Maureen-friendly experience.

After this, we wandered down the road, half of us feeling queasy, to a Shebeen, an informal bar. We sat around a little fire with ten local men (currently unemployed) and the two women running the Shebeen. A fresh jug of homebrew was passed around to us, and it was a sour cider beer. The men then drank after us, but the women did not. As owners, they are not allowed to drink, but they kept everyone comfortable. Our guide is from Langa, and they all know him. They were friendly and welcoming to all of us.

We then went to the new houses being built in Langa. A gorgeous little boy came up to me and hugged my leg, then proceeded to push me away! Children are gorgeous and fun everywhere, aren’t they? We walked into a few different homes—two and three room houses (a lounge, one bedroom, and a tiny bathroom for one family). Here, the local community was involved in building these houses; 80% of the construction workers must come from the local community.

We talked to one woman who has lived in the same room for 15 years. When I say room, I mean room. 11 people live in this one room. Yet, this room was full of life and color. She radiated happiness and cheer. I bet if you went into the biggest house in Johannesburg, you would not find the same cheer that was on her face.

Our last stop was at a traditional healer. Snake, crocodile, and springbok skins hung from the ceilings. Herbs and dried plants were piled high. I later asked the guide how community workers working with HIV education interacted with the traditional healers. It seems to be a delicate balance. You may not know that South Africa is suffering from conflicting messages about HIV. Urban myths about getting rid of HIV spread fast (take a shower, sleep with a young girl, go to a healer to appease your ancestors, etc.), and there are heavy advertising campaigns that try to combat this. In fact, as we left that same street, I saw two large billboards about HIV that urged people to be proactive and smart: “HIV loves to sleep around” and “HIV: Know the Facts.”

It was a day full of contrasts. As I sit here typing this hours later, I am so grateful for this experience. It’s been years since I visited a township, and it reminded me that I love this country for its contrasts—its artists, its children, its community workers, its unemployed. They all tell South Africa’s story—then and now.

I am off to Nairobi tomorrow and a weekend of touring the city. I am hoping to see Karen Blixen’s home (Isak Dineson), and I’ve already bought a copy of Out of Africa. So, go rent the movie and think of me wandering those grounds, as the movie was filmed there. Better yet, go rent some South African movies, like Tsotsi and Yesterday, and reeducate yourself on South Africa.

So, I shall love and leave you. Stay well and remember we all have our own stories to tell. Tell yours.



Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Vegan in Cape Town

Hello everyone!

I'm fully 32 now and loving it. The weekend in Franschhoek was fabulous. Good wine, beautiful countryside, and good company. I didn't get to go horseback riding. Again. I'm cursed.

I'm at an internet cafe in CT, as the sun begins to set. I hoped to attach pictures today, but this computer won't take my flash drive and the other ones won't take my camera. So tough luck.

I experienced one of the highlights of my trip yesterday. I passed a health store with a big sign: "Tofu sold here." It's the little things that make a trip good :).

Forget people, culture, landscape. It's food that really matters! The vegan options in South Africa, like the US, have improved over the past eight years. I do admit to having to eat quite a few meals of salad and fries (chips). Tofu is the most difficult thing to find in South Africa. However, find it I did. I can't tell you how good that tofu sandwich tasted today. I could go on and on and on and on about how good it was. And I have more in the fridge...

Okay, on to other things that won't cause you all to roll your eyes at me...

I've been seeing museums in Cape Town that I didn't see on my last few visits over the years. As I blogged last week, I went to the National Gallery to see some Pre-Raphaelites. There were three. The South African National Gallery is one of the most interesting art galleries I have ever visited. There was one room devoted to European and British art. You know, the usual: portraits, paintings of Jesus, Jesus and Mary, landscapes with a classical tint, a few bronzes, etc. It's everything you've seen everywhere else. Yet, the other four rooms offered fantastic collages of South African paintings, sculpture, modern art, and photography. There was one room full of large photographs of important women to South Africa. Lovely. The most aggravating thing was not being able to buy postcards of things I liked in the museum store. I love these. The best souvenirs for my scrapbook!

Yesterday, I went to The Slave Lodge. An interesting, sad museum. It reminded me of South Africa's early history and how that history haunts South Africa still today. The US isn't much different, I think. Horrible tales of suffering and cruelty. A few years ago, South Africa gave a few posthumous medals to some of these early slaves in recognition of what they gave this country. Some of them were the ancestors of important history makers.

Today I went to the Castle of Good Hope. Another interesting experience. With Table Mountain covered in thick cloud, the castle felt like a castle should: wet and dreary. I did feel strange seeing a castle in South Africa. In March I toured castles in North Wales, and there castles fit. Here it seems a strange part of the tourist agenda. Like the National Gallery, this had eclectic displays. First, there is the standard military museum, dominated by uniforms of the Cape Town Highlanders (kilts, of course) and other British based military groups. Then, there is the museum with old furniture of the 17th and 18th century-mostly Dutch and British. Then, a gallery with interesting paintings by artists depicting maritime and landscape scenes. Last but not least, there was an exhibition on basket weaving in Southern Africa. Eclectic.

The castle guide monitoring the basket room said that I took longer than anybody to go through the small exhibit. Those of you who have been through a museum with me are probably chuckling. I compulsively read all the plaques in museums. You never know what important information you'll learn. The baskets were gorgeous, and I couldn't resist finding out all the details of how and when and where they were made.

Then, in typical Maureen fashion, I went to the cafe and had a cup of tea. I can't visit a castle and NOT go to the tea room. I mean, really.

Tomorrow, I will hopefully go on a township tour. Then, Thursday I am packing up my box of stuff that I can't bring on the safari and doing something with it. Friday, Kenya.

I hope you are all well. Hugs and love,