Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Home safe and sound

I spent the last days in Cape Town looking at various colonies of animals.

There was;

  • The seal colony

    Packed with genuine un-clubbed seals

  • The penguin colony

    Wearing their nice little tuxedos as all good penguins should

  • and of course the township of black people.

The township tour was very interesting. I felt perfectly safe walking through the so called "no go" areas. They were very keen for the tour not to appear like a game drive, where people would drive through and take snapshots of the locals from their windows. So unfortunately all I got were shots of these buildings.

Apartheid may be over but these people still live in the same shitty cramped houses. Though a few of them are richer now. I drove past a shanty town and peered in the doors to see DVD players and plasma screen TVs.

This was Cape Town. Apparently in Jo'burg there was a shoot out in an area where the tour goes. I wouldn't have done the same tour in Jo'burg.

We also saw a whale on the first tour. I could tell it was a whale because someone said, "hey look over there it's a whale". At first I thought it was a rock, but a small spray of water confirmed it was a whale. It's great to capture them on film in the wild. Check out this photo, wow hey, I should work for National Geographic.

I then endured a flight to Perth for 9.5 hours then endured Perth itself for 8 hours. It's a funny old town Perth, during the day I struggled to keep awake. By night time I feared for my life. I just thank my lucky stars I didn't look at Ben Cousins, or some other local hooligan, the wrong way.

Overall the tour was a lot of fun. I saw lots of interesting places, people and animals. I guess my only regret is that I never found out if Mark Philipoussis found true love with a kitten or a cougar.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cape Town is cold

The main thing we did in Botswana was check out the Okavango Delta. It's a pretty standard trip for people on the overland trucks. You meet up with some local people who take you out into the wilderness on their mokoros (a very shallow canoe). It wasn't until I was safely back on the truck that someone informed me a tourist had been taken from their mokoro by a crocodile.

We got to the site and set up camp. It's not like other campsites since it's in the wilderness. We didn't have showers, toilets or anything. But the locals were kind enough to dig us a hole.

The first afternoon we were taken on a 1.5 hour game walk. Our guide was Mots, (or Mops or Mox). He looked the part of the traditional tracker in his shoes and designer jeans from timberland. But he was very knowledgeable
about animal shit. Which was just as well because that's all we saw. We saw Elephant, Hippo, Zebra, and Giraffe shit. We were very amused that he used the term "shit" rather than the less colourful term "droppings".

He also taught us a bit about the various plants and what they are used for. At one point he told us the poison something was used to cure the something. We asked are you sure? Turns out you use the roots, the leaves are poisonous. A bit later on he told us another plant that was nice to taste. So I stuck a leaf in my mouth. It was then he told us you use the roots, not the leaves. I should have known.

We were following
his stories fairly well up until when he told us about the plants used to cure babies. When the shadow of the eagle is cast on the baby you need to give them the plant to stop it from getting sick. It was then we thought, how much of the other stuff he's told us is also bullshit.

The next day we got up early to do a 4 hour game walk. It was different to the previous walk because this time we saw some Hyena shit as well. At one point we saw what was either a red back deer, or a rock. My bet was on rock until it jumped up and ran away.

Mots was very apologetic that there wasn't much game around. But if they aren't around there's not much he can do about it. At one point he suggested maybe the lions had scared them off to another section of the park. So I asked, "So what you are saying is there's a pack of hungry lions roaming around and we're the only edible thing for miles." He just laughed.... and nodded.

That night the locals put on a song and dance show. They were a bit embarrassed and were slow to get going. But it soon became apparent that they were great natural singers. Their dancing however reminded me of the Werrimull School dance of 1989. Lots of small shuffles to the left and then shuffles to the righ
t in equal number.

It was then of course our turn to give a song. The group dynamics had changed considerably since Rachel's 21st and so the song of choice was some Beatles number that I didn't even know the words too, and some Barry Manilow (well maybe not Barry but you get the picture). So I volunteered "Pump up the Jam" which I did a solo acapella version of.

We then jumped back on the truck and headed to South Africa. At the border it took a huge amount of self control not to hold up my passport and say "Duplamatic Ummunitee". But I did manage to not say it and got through without any incident.

Once inside South Africa we stayed at a campsite that still felt like it had aparteid. The white guys bar had a bunch of angry looking Afrikaner farmers. Just across the road was a run down shack with no roof that had people singing dancing and heaps of music. I wanted to go hang out with the blacks but I didn't have any Rand yet and I was very tired.

That night it rained and thundered and lighteninged and my stuff inside my tent got wet. But it was the last night of camping THAT I WILL EVER HAVE TO DO IN MY LIFE. So it was ok.

I'm now in Cape Town. I was told it's a lot like Melbourne and that's true. So far it's been very cold, wet and raining and also quite sunny, and that's just this morning. Only 5 days to go and I'm back in sunny Cairns.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Mugabe Sux!!

I'm now out of Zimbabwe so it's safe for me to say that "Mugabe Sux!!"

My last update was from Dar Es Salam in Tanzania. Well a lot has happened since then. Claire and Ken have become so close that they have become known as Clen. But I am no longer sharing a tent with Bjoern, I managed to get my own. So it's not all bad.

We drove for many miles for several days in the truck and turned up at Kande Beach on Lake Malawi in Malawi. We went on a village tour to see how the poor Malawegians were getting on. The highlight of the tour was the local school where we were the main distraction. Then the head teacher hit us up for some donations. It seemed stupid to pay all these middle men at World Vision or wherever when you can pay straight to the source. So I gave $50 USD to pay for the education of an orphan. Though it may go towards helping the head teacher buy a new car.

Some of the group decided to head out on a boat with the locals to do a spot of fishing at a nearby Island. I wasn't up for that but decided to go for a swim. I said to Tom, from the young English couple, that I was thinking of swimming to the Island. He said OK, and off we went. It was when we were about half way there that we realised it was quite a long way. But like Ethan Hawke in Gattaca, "I never saved any for the swim back", and we pushed on. Luckily the fishing boat was still at the Island and we got a ride back. The locals estimate it was a 600m swim but it seemed a lot longer than that to me.

In Malawi I bought a whole bunch of wooden stuff, including these quite big Malawi chairs. I had a local from the village called Fred Flintstone who was helping me to part with my money. People love these chairs until they find out how much they are to post. But more on that later.

Following Kande Beach we were 4 days on the road. Usually getting up around 5 or 6am and getting into camp at about 5pm. Most of the time I spent playing cards, or the game "500" to be precise. After 10 hours straight Clen, Tom and I had gone slightly mad. So much so that I went open misere on more than one occassion (ask a 500 player if you don't know what that means).

Finally we lobbed into Zambia and the town of Livingstone. Named after the goofy English explorer that got himself lost. A good bonding experience and almost compulsory for these truck trips is the booze cruise. First we go to a little village that has lots of goofy clothes and buy each other fancy dress outfits. You don't know who's got you and how mean they are going to be. Well they were particularly mean to me. I had to wear a leopard skin g-string and a red lace negligee. For my sake and everyone else's I chose to wear my boxers underneath. The booze cruise had all you can drink beer and spirits and true to form I drank so much I passed out. Not such a great idea when the owner of the campsite is named Grubby and he decides to take photos of your testicles. But it was a good night for the crew as both the Zimbabwean group leader and the alcoholic truck driver (pictured to the left) both picked up a member of the group.

After a day of recovery we went White Water rafting down the Zambezi river. I was fine on the grade 5 rapids, but on a grade 2 rapid I lost my balance and fell out, much to everyone's amusement. I even had time to say, "uh oh here I go!"

While in Livingstone I thought I'd check out how much it would cost me to get my wooden stuff back home. Well the DHL wanted $600 USD, Fed-Ex wanted about $350 and the post office wanted $170. I'll hang out until Zimbabwe I thought.

We then crossed the border into Vic Falls on the Zimbabwean side. They are really struggling and even in this very touristy part of Zim the supermarket had virtually nothing. All I could find was a tin of grapefruit slices and a pack of cards with Asian girls in Bikinis. So I both one of each.

The Zimbabwean economy is so screwed that $1 USD is worth $30,000 Zim dollars. But that's if you use the bank. On the black market it's $300,000 Zim dollars. So of course I chose the black. Which was great at the post office. It's about the only place that must use the proper rate and I posted my stuff for $20USD. I was so excited I tipped the posties. Now let's hope it makes it home.

Most of the group was breaking up and going their separate ways in Vic Falls. So we had a farewell dinner and a few drinks. I think I got back about 2am, but I had to get up at 6am to watch Geelong win the AFL Grand Final. I was then booked in for a bungy jump straight after. I learnt a valuable lesson don't drink and bungy. I didn't throw up during the bungy, just before and after.

A walk around Vic Falls helped. The fresh cool water sprays you as you wander around. I was happy to pay the $20USD into Mugabe pocket.

I'm now in Botswana. Where Ange is the only cool kid left of the Truck. We still have the whinger and his wife, weird Adelaide girl and the quiet one I forgot initially. We've picked up 5 extras. 4 of them are couples over 50 and there's another standard Kiwi chick. One of the couples are American.

We went on a game drive yesterday and it's now official. I'm bored with Elephants. I just want to see a leopard but I don't think it will happen. In fact I'm pretty bored with riding on the truck for 10 hours a day too. But oh well only 5 days to go on the tour and about 5 days in Cape Town then I can go home and rest.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cheers to Ramadan

I'm now in Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Zanzibar was run by the Omani people for many years. The Omani's introduced Islam and Slavery. The Zanzibarians said cheers for the religion and are still devout Muslims, which is not so great for a hungry tourist during Ramadan. But they weren't so keen on the slavery and gained their independence in 1964.

In the last African advocate I missed a member of the group. She's a very quiet 18 year old on a world tour.

The new members are;

  • A pair of Aussie sisters whose constant bickering is a source of great amusement.

  • Two more kiwi chicks, one is the organising type, the other is staunch, and both are always up for some Rugby World Cup watching.

  • A slightly weird woman from Adelaide (perhaps that's an tautology).

  • Ken a very funny Irish guy who is a bit of a drunk. (See above point about tautologies).

  • Another aussie woman named Ange.
  • Sweet innocent Rachel who just turned 21.
Scott, one of the guys who's left already, suggested that Bjoern, the Norwegian guy was sitting in his tent sharpening knives. So luckily for me I managed to share a tent with Ken instead. At one point I was having a shower and Bjoern was standing outside. When Ange arrived and asked if he was waiting for the shower he replied..., "no." For the second time this trip I became concerned for my anal virginity.

Bjoern also has the habit of keeping his video camera inside a large perspex box. It looks quite nerdy walking around with this big box, but I thought, well that's probably clever he's using his underwater camera case to keep the dust off. But in Zanzibar we learnt that he doesn't swim. Ken suggested that the box looks like something out of ghost busters, and that he can collect souls with that thing. I laughed a lot, but you probably had to be there.

Although our cruel high-school style jokes about Bjoern continue we do all make every effort to include him in activities. We are constantly looking out for him and making sure he makes it to dinner etc. Several people have tried to make conversations with him but his English is very poor and he struggles in a group. From what he was saying he booked the trip through a Norwegian company and was not expecting to be surrounding by a bunch of beer drinking idiots with strange accents.

Things have improved a lot on the social front. We all got put in the proper Kumuka truck, as was seen on the website. There's no longer a old crew, new crew divide. So much so that Ken, old crew, has hooked up with Claire, American from the new crew. Which makes we a third wheel and has meant I've had to share a room with Bjoern. So I have now been the butt of the jokes about sharpening knives.

On the tourist sights front we've done quite a bit I guess. We went to Ngorongoro crater and saw so many Zebra's I think I'm ready to eat one. I've now seen 4 of the "big 5" the leopard remains elusive, and the rhino I saw was so far away there's still conjecture as to whether it was a hippo. I guess I won't know until I get my 10 rolls of film developed.

I learnt the word in Swahilli for white person. It's Muzungu. Aparently it comes from the word kuzungu-zungu which means dizzy or hung over. So I've learnt to say "Mimi kuzungu-zungu muzungu" which is seems to please the locals.

We went to a Masai village and despite a bunch of Muzungu heading through there daily the children were still pleased to see us. It's difficult since we aren't supposed to give them anything, as it will turn them into beggars. But the army couple give balloons which give them a small amount of pleasure until the inevitable "pop" and cry.

We stayed a few nights in snake park. It's a camping ground and dangerous animal zoo. The combination of a bar and an open top crocodile enclosure seems like a severe breakdown in Operational Health and Safety standards. Claire proved her Americaness by lustfully hoping for the snakes to eat the small chicks during feeding time. Unfortunately for her, and probably her new partner Ken, this blood lust remains unresolved.

A few days ago it was Rachel's 21st. I saw it as a perfect excuse to get drunk. I bought myself a bottle of vodka. Apparently I had a great time. We were all dancing on the bar. Not long after that I was sleeping beside the bar. When did they make vodka so strong, 40% is ridiculous. The next day people were drawing straws to see who should sit next to me on the truck. Luckily I survived the trip without the need for a receptacle of any kind.

We're now on Zanzibar as I said at the top. Yesterday we went on the spice tour. We learnt all about spices and stuff. It was quite interesting. We then learnt what you can do with palm tree leaves. As you can see from this photo the answer is not much.

Tomorrow we take the ferry back to Dar Es Salam. Then we relax on the beach there for a day before heading to my 57th country Malawi. Am I winning yet Lisa and Jon?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It Began in Africa ca ca ca

Well I arrived into Nairobi and managed to get to the hotel without being mugged. So it was a good start.

The Kumuka leader was late for our pre-tour debriefing so we headed to the pub for a couple of drinks. I believe this has set the pattern for the remainder of the trip, if in doubt have a beer.

Our tour leader, Temba, eventually arrived. He's a Zimbabwean from Harare who thinks Mugabe is alright. He is also a farmer who managed to keep his farm.

The tour group at this initial meeting point consisted of 15 people;
  • An aussie couple who are both ex-army. I'm getting on well with them, we went up the street to buy a hamburger.
  • A kiwi chick. She's the chatty mousey type not the staunch type or the organising type.
  • A creepy guy who we has hardly said a word. We discovered he was Norwegian which we thought explained it, but now we think he's weird as well.
  • A mother and daughter team from Australia.
  • An english couple who I've also bonded with. They are a bit posh and live in Edinburgh.
  • An Australian woman doing the standard working in London trick.
  • An ex-Zimbabwean farmers daughter who is not sure if she should talk politics with Temba.
  • An American lady who is familiar with world views on the US and compensates by agreeing that Americans are crap.
  • An older english couple. The husband annoyed me in the first 10 mins by complaining about a visa we may have to pay to corrupt officials. I immediately earmarked him as the whinger.
  • Myself and someone else I must have forgotten.

In the morning a truck arrived spewing diesel fumes and looking nothing like the truck on the Kumuka website. But it's OK the fumes help you sleep on the long trips, so time really flies.

We arrived at Naivasha and met a group who had seen Gorillas. I'm sick of hearing about how great their experience was. (Yes I'm aware of the hypocracy in that statement.)

The new crew was mostly young drinkers from Australia. They had some leaving their group so they were very drunk when we arrived, making it a challenge to bond with them. But over the next few days I gave it a shot.

The tent system is generally, you share a tent. As the only 2 single guys, creepy Norwegian and I are the obvious ones to share. But so far we've had enough tents to have one each. Fingers crossed this system remains in place.

There is a roster system with Kumuka where you cook in a group every 4 or 5 days. I was on when we had a bunch of chickens to cook and not much to go with it. We'd also started late. But we did the best we could and everyone agreed it was the worst meal so far. The rice wasn't done but I think the chicken stew with random ingredients was OK. The undercooked chicken drumsticks were less popular. Of course the old english guy, who I'd earmarked as the whinger, did the most whinging. After cooking for 3 hours I was close to showing him where he could shove his stew.

Aside from all that I've seen 1,563 gazelles and/or impalas, 789 zebras, 341 wildebeasts, 120 Topies, 15 giraffes, 12 elephants, 8 hippos, 8 hyenas, 2 osriches, half a buffalo, 1 crocodile, 3 lionesses and 3 lion cubs.

I'm back in Nairobi after spendng time in the Masai Mara. I had a huge feed of meat at carnivores last night. Tomorrow we'd heading to Tanzania.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Travis of Arabia

Last you heard I was heading off to the desert in Jordan. Well I made it back out... just.

The Bedouin Tribes of Jordan, as seen in Lawrence of Arabia and other such places, provide a great day trek out into the desert. You journey around using their traditional mode of transport, a Toyota Landcruiser. They have learned to tame these savage beasts. At one point one refused to go any further. It had reared up and was heading backwards. But with some gentle coaxing from it's handler, and a timely tap with a spanner, we were back on our way. Just around the corner however we got bogged in the sand. But again these Bedouin were masters of these beasts of burden and we were off again.

There were 5 in our group, 2 Italians, a French-Moroccan and a French-Canadian. It was very handy having this mix. The driver could only speak Arabic, which the French Moroccan could translate into French which in turn the French Canadian translated to the rest of us. I think some details may have been lost however. What started as a 5 minute conversation when it got back to me was simply "we're stopping here."

We spent the night out under the stars in the desert, it was great. I then headed back to Petra to see Petra by night. It was a lot like Petra by Day except you couldn't see much.

I'm now in London. I did a comedy gig for old time's sake at the 'King Gong. A few old friends joined me. It must have been great for them. After waiting all night to see my act I got one joke out resulting in a boo, then a second that resulted in a gong. Good to see I haven't lost it!

I'm heading off to Africa tomorrow night.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Amman..... Jordan

So far my Jordanian experience has been very mixed.

It started off well with a cheap bus ride to the city, albeit an hour wait, and a friendly chat to a Jordanian who gave me some helpful advice. "If you want to go somewhere ask a policeman, everyone else will try and scam you."

I arrived at the bus station to try and organise a bus to Petra. But they don't go from there. But I'm told about another bus station across town.

So I start looking for a cab to the hotel. There's a guy aggressively trying to secure my fare. He introduces himself as Mahmood. I get in and I say, "Beirut International Hotel please." "Oh you don't want to go there", he says. "It's too expensive." Here we go again I thought. "I've already booked and paid, please take me straight there," I retorted angrily. He did as he was told and I paid him $1.1 Jordanian Dinar (JD) (around $1.50 USD) no tip.

I had been scrutinised entering Delhi airport, my bags had been scanned twice and once again in Jordan. Now entering the Beirut International Hotel a security guy asks to see in my bag. I look at him incredulously. He said something in Arabic.

I said, "What?"
He said, "Do you speak Arabic?"
"No", I replied. "I'm Australian."
"Oh go ahead", he said. As he let me through.

I think he was a bit racist. For all he knew I could have been carrying a flight manual and a Quran. Sure signs of terrorism in anyone's book.

So I get into my room and it's then I realise I've lost my mobile phone.

"Fuck", I think to myself.
"Fuck", I utter out loud.

I realise it's fallen out of my travel pants in the cab. Now already considering Mahmood was a bit shifty I immediately gave up on the phone and started thinking about how I can cancel the account.

So in a strange country tired, hot, hungry and still a bit pooey from the Chili Chicken I reach out to the locals for help. I asked at reception if they knew where I could use the internet.

"I don't know, down the street on the right", he suggests.

I go down the street on the right and there's nothing. A shop keeper informs me there's none in this area. So I decided to book a trip to Petra since the booking office was nearby.

I get very short service but I decide to ask if they know where I can use the internet. The young lady behind the counter looks at me as if to say, "You're not in Werrimull now, this is Amman Jordan, of course not". But with her mouth she says, "I don't know. Down town?"

Then a guy chimes in and says "No. There's one around the corner on the left, very close." The young lady laughs. Sure enough around the corner on the left there's nothing.

So I'm starting to feel a bit intimidated by Amman, Jordan. But eventually I found an overpriced internet at a fancy hotel, and I found the trendy part of town. It had Mc Donalds AND Pizza Hut.

To top off my turn of fortunes I asked at reception about my phone. Mahmood had been 3 times to try and find me. He came back with the phone. I was so happy I almost kissed him. Instead I gave him $20 JD (about $28 USD)

Now I'm in Petra. It's an amazing and worthy of Wonder of the World status. My Delhi Belly is persisting. But I managed to hold out the 6 hours of trekking through Petra. I had a close call when at a point I decided I couldn't hold out. I hid in a cave and dropped my pants. I was just about to drop something else when I heard some voices. I quickly zipped up. I gave them a nonchalant nod as they walked past. The feeling passed and I got home OK.

Today I'm heading to Wadi Rum to camp out in the desert.