Africa Journal

This trip ran from June 16, 2003, to September 25, 2003, and mostly took place in Southern Africa. There was a good chunk of the time that I wasn’t in the mood to do a whole lot of writing, so I decided to limit the typed up version to the end of the trip – that was the most interesting section anyways.

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Left Boston and traveled for a couple of months covering;

  • Scotland
  • London
  • South Africa
  • Swaziland
  • Mozambique
  • Malawi


Thursday, September 4, 2003

I have been on the road for some time now, and the end of this one is nearly all mapped out. That is the way these trips seem to go. In the beginning there is a plan, but it is nowhere near the outcome, and in the middle it is more about building and following a rhythm. So I guess you could say I’m at another turning point, or rather milestone.

Today is a down day; a journal day. I headed to S. Luangwa National Park, Zambia from Lilongwe, Malawi, last Saturday to fill the requisite game viewing portion of any good Africa trip. The park isn’t too crowded and offers all the big game, minus rhinos. The trip here involved a long, but for the most part, uneventful day. Departed Kiboko Camp, Lilongwe, at 8:30AM on foot to a matolo – a shared mini bus – which, almost, got me to the long distance taxi rank in Area 1. Walked most of the final 2km to the border where I ran into the four Scottish volunteers I had met the night before. Easy exit then 10km taxi to the Zambian entry gate. Shared an onward taxi with the girls to Chipata, where I was finally able to get money off Visa, then travel in a truck w/ 20 or so others, along with loads of supplies. The road was rough, mostly dirt, to Mfuwe, the entry point to the park.

Reached Flatdogs after dark and all they had were $30/night Chalets or camping, but I had mailed my tent home back in South Africa, so I headed off to Lukonde Camp. The manager, Zef, was traveling on the truck and he offered me a chalet for $50 for four nights, including food. The chalets are nice, but the place is like something that has been closed down for ten years. Actually, I think it officially has been.

There was a local guy named Eric staying in the camp. He was the director of agriculture for the area, and he invited me along on a tour of the park with his family. We drove for four hours or so and saw all the usual big game, with the exception of big cats. His wife put together good lunches for us. The next day I joined a safari out of Flatdogs. This time I had to pay the $20 entrance fee along with another $25 for the guide and Land Rover. We moved along much slower than Eric’s lion chasing mission and we spent much more time on birds and other smaller things. Also went on a night drive, another $20, where we saw many white tailed mongoose, jennets, etc. and we spotted a leopard at the very end…my first big cat sighting.

The next day I did a walking safari in Chinzoma – Wildlife area adjacent to S. Lilongwa – no fees for this place. Zef arranged it and it was all a bit disorganized, but the guide was filled with good info. We hiked for three hours behind a guard carrying a rifle for protection. Most of the time was spent following the tracks of the big animals. It was like stepping into a National Geographic article.

Wednesday was a lost day. I spent nearly the whole time trying to find an Internet connection so that I could get some plane ticket stuff taken care of. Zef thought there was access at the airport – he was wrong and it took us forever to get rides. I did learn that he has some good connections, his cousin runs this division of the international airline and his uncle is advisor to the chief, although none of this helped with the Internet dilemma. Learned one more time just how difficult getting stuff done around here can be.

Today is a down day, as I mentioned earlier. This came about because I finished up the park stuff I had in mind, but decided to stick around for the local tribes yearly cultural festival. Hopefully Zef will come through on this one, and it will be all he is saying it will be. Meanwhile I’m relaxing with a Mosi, the local brew, while I wait and see. Supposedly, the local chief got a permit to kill 45 big game, so at a minimum the food should be interesting.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Thursday night ended with a little bar hopping. After our usual campfire dinner of fresh fish from the river, Tiger Fish this time, Zef and Emma, the latest one Zef is trying to fix me up with, headed to her bar. Zef fell through on the transport again, but Emma hooked us up with a nice new Path Finder.

I should mention how important the ride thing is around here. The animals from the park freely roam into the area where I’m staying and at night, feeding time, you do not want to come across hippos or a big cat. The hippos are actually the biggest killer in all of Africa, after the mosquito of course. We spent most of the night at Flatdogs where we caught the end of a play being put on for the tourists…closed the bar.

Up early, like usual in this part of Africa, and kicked Friday off with a morning run. Up until now I had put off the jogging on account of the animals, but I am getting used to their routines, although I still had to cut it short on account of some elephants passing through. Next, I headed to the market to pick up some of the basics – fruit, breakfast cereal, and other snacks. Friday night there was more of the usual bar hopping. Flatdogs closed early, so we ended the night at one of the rougher spots in town. It was weird seeing all the local guides and hotel workers out of uniform and getting tanked.

Saturday we were off to the Malaila (remembering history) ceremony in a bus with Massachusetts plates driven by Holly, a Dorchester native doing research on Zambian literature…another one of those weird traveling coincidences. The festival was a bit of a disappointment.

Back at Lukonde around 4:30pm where the elephants gave me a bit of trouble when I was trying to get from my chalet to dinner. One started to charge me and I had to run and hide behind the bar area. Later, hippos grazed by bedroom window most of the night.

Tuesday, September 10:

Sunday afternoon I made it out of Mfuwe traveling in Holly’s bus. Zef decided to tag along – arrived Holly’s house around 10pm. I had forgotten just how rough that road was. The bus was a nice relief from the back of the supply truck that I took in there. Holly set me up with my own room at her place on their mango & papaya farm.

Headed off at 4:30 to try to make it into town for the 6am bus. None of the shuttles were running so I walked the 8km. Zef must have slept in, because I never saw him – he was supposed to head into town with me so that I could give him the rest of the money for my stay – 250,000 kwacha. Arrived at the capital, Lusaka, 15:00. No time for errands so checked into a backpacker.

Up early again to try and knock off my errands…like everything, they took forever, especially finding the Peace Corps office – this was the backup plan for getting Zef’s money delivered to him in Mfuwe. Missed the luxury bus so took a smaller one. They gave me a good seat up front…not a bad ride at all.

Started walking to Jolly Boy’s, around 8pm. This is one of those backpackers that I had been hearing about the whole trip. It should only have been a 10 minute walk, but a few minutes after I got off the bus these girls called me over and told me that there were some people around the corner waiting to mug me. I took them up on their offer for a lift.

Jolly Boy’s is a real relief after the last few days of travel and it is well deserving of it’s good rep. Had the first hot shower in a long time – last one I can remember was back in Blantyre, and they didn’t even work right. The town of Livingston is very touristy, but not a bad place at all. This and Vic Falls Zimbabwe, only a few kilometers away, are probably the busiest hub for travelers in Southern Africa. All the overlanders seem to pass through here. The town is little like Queen’s Town, NZ, in the way that it is over packed with extreme sports – bungee jumping, rafting, jet boating, rappelling, …

Had a good day today touring the falls. The water is at its lowest point now that it is nearing the end of the dry season…still amazing. Spent a good bit of time scoping out prices for my end of trip souvenir shopping. I had put most of the shopping off simply because I didn’t want to lug too much stuff around with me. Had a good lunch of nsima, pumpkin leaves, squash and eggplant. A man in the restaurant complimented me on how I was eating the nsima like a native – most of the white people grab a spoon and dig in as if it was mash potatoes. Tonight is the full moon…just might be able to get in to check out the falls.

Friday, September 12

Tuesday night headed to the falls with a dozen others and a cooler of beer. It turns out that Jolly Boy’s really was the only place with permission to enter the park at night. For once, I really timed things perfectly. The lunar rainbows were amazing. There was one full rainbow and a couple of other partial ones. This is the single best thing I have seen on the trip!

Started Thursday with an early morning jog and swim in the pool. After that tried out the Internet…extremely slow and frustrating – got one message off, but the other didn’t make it. Spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool. There are a couple of girls that I had met back in Swaziland staying here and met up with Matt from Buccaneers in South Africa tonight for a booze cruise on the Zambezi in the evening. The cruise was a good time with the exception of when I woke up to the smell of throw up…roommate Lee went a little overboard with the all you can drink booze. I drank my share, but didn’t go too crazy.

Sunday, September 14

Woke up not feeling well; chills, constant headache, tired all the time…decided to check in with a doctor before making the trip into Zimbabwe. With all the problems that they were having over there I didn’t need any surprises while I was passing through. I really haven’t felt well for weeks.

The doctor told me I had malaria…gave me four days of Doxcyclene and Artesunate. The hospital was simple, but clean and professional. Paid the equivalent of $25 U.S. for the doctor visit, blood tests and medication. Found out about a typhoid outbreak going on in the town…glad I was up on all my vaccines.

Looking back over the past few days I can now see why I was a bit lazy. After Thursday’s booze cruise, Friday’s main event was a trip to the Livingston museum with Carmel, Canadian…best museum I’ve come across on the Africa part of this trip. Coolest exhibit was the wire models made by children. Spent most of my time hanging out at Jolly Boy’s – Friday night was brie night…sat around exchanging travel stories with Carmel and a couple of Irish guys. Saturday I worked on trying to get a hold of some of the overlanders to hook me up with a ride back to Cape Town. Spent Sat night playing pool with Matt…beers weren’t going down to well though…constant headache. Now I know why. It was Matt’s last night before flying on to Greece and then Asia to finish off his round-the-world.


Tuesday, September 16

Late Sunday night I woke drenched in sweat and that was the last of any of the malaria symptoms apart from a little dizziness. In fact, Monday I walked to the Waterfront, about 1hr.

Jolly Boy’s was going off Mon night. Too bad I couldn’t be a part of it. The others partied til sun up. I’ve mostly been hang’n out exchanging travel stories. I am still undecided on how to end this trip. Everyone has been trying to sell me on Bovu Island – the backpacker replacement for Jungle Junction, which was in the process of going upscale. After seven days with all the other backpackers, and not being able to drink, I am craving the road. So when I woke it was Zimbabwe that I chose. I did some souvenir shopping, said goodbye to Carmel, and then headed off to Zim.

The walk may very well be the most picturesque border crossing in the world. It consists of a bridge with the Zambezi 128 m below and Victoria Falls a ½ km up stream (for you trivia buffs, it was designed by the same engineer who designed Sydney harbor bridge). You can feel the spray from the falls as you cross. Looking to the South, you see the long deep gorge winding off to the horizon.

The Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls is a welcome back to civilization in terms of quality of building construction and services. Of course, the damage from Mugabe’s economic reforms are ever present. Money is a major hassle. After two cheating attempts, one bordering on physical assault, I gave up on changing my Zambian Kwacha in town. I’ll try the other travelers back at Shoestring’s, where I have a dorm bed for $7/night. It is strange seeing so many things priced in U.S. dollars. Their money is so inflated they ran out of paper trying to keep up with printing the bills. I did manage to arrange my Intercape Bus to Windhoek, Namibia. It departs at 10:30 tomorrow. Also, spent a good bit of time viewing the Shona rock carvings…wish I could have gotten cash to buy some of the original works.

Tuesday, 19:00

Just finished the best dinner I’ve had in a long time, pasta carbonara. The bill came to 8,700 ZIM$. At today’s rate that is about $3 U.S. Paying is real comedy. Not because it is so inexpensive, but because of the mountain of cash you have to hand over to cover it. The biggest note is a 500, and there aren’t many of those. The stack of bills was nearly as tall as my glass (really wanted some wine, but the doc said no). Another funny thing I heard about the money was how they wanted to print a larger note, but they first had to collect the smaller notes and print over them because there wasn’t enough paper. That one cracked me up.


Monday, September 22, 15:00

My last night in Africa! The last week has been packed with traveling. I haven’t had a chance to write a thing. It wasn’t my procrastination this time. Finished off Zim, toured Namibia and now I’m in Cape Town…never enough time to write…got to run.

South Africa

Tuesday, September 23, 19:00

Should be able to get this up to date now; I’m on my overnight flight to London. In the last week I’ve ran into loads of travelers from earlier on in the trip. There was Matt, the bartender from Buc’s (Cintsa, SA), who turned up in Livingston; Shy, cute, Brit I first met in Swazi; and Steve and Emily, worked at The Kraal (Transkei, SA).

On Wednesday, the 17th, I caught my 20hr bus to Windhoek. It was uneventful, apart from the 2 hr delay at the Namibian border while they went through everyone’s bag but mine for some reason. There was a big herd of elephants crossing the road in Botswana, but besides that it was long flat desert, that I slept most of the way through.

I arrived in Windhoek around 5am. It was a nice modern city with a population of only 150 thousand. There aren’t many people in the whole country, only 1.7 mil. I started off by checking into the Cardboard Box Backpackers. After a quick walk around the city I started planning my Namibian tour. I met Peter, a Brit who had a rental car and was on his way to Sesriam (home of the tallest dunes in the world). After only 2 hours at the hostel I grabbed my bag and headed off with him.

The trip was almost all dirt roads through the desert. We checked into the Desert Homestead, by far the most upscale place on my trip. We hired a guide with a Land Rover, drove off for forty minutes through the dessert and then hiked up a nearby peak for sundowners (a sunset beer). Next, it was Kudu (big Antelope) for dinner back at the homestead.

An hour before sunrise, we headed to Sesriam to see Namibia’s #1 tourist site, the giant dunes. Unlike most hyped tourist sites, this one turned out to be even better than I anticipated. We headed right to Big Daddy, the biggest of them all (370 meters), and started hiking. All the hiking the last four months paid off, and I was able to get up it in under and hour. I took my time on the way out and clicked off loads of pictures. This place is a photographers dream…golden dunes, deep shadows, crisp blue skies, and bleached white dry lakebeds…amazing! I roamed around Deadvlei until around 11am, when the heat became intolerable. I felt like my body was cooking. Not just getting sun burnt, but cooking.

There was another great dinner at the Homestead along with a late night at the bar and in the morning we were off to Swakomund. On the way we hiked the Water Kloof trail in the Naukluft Mountains game reserve. The roads North seemed endless, winding dirt tracks through the desert that went on for many hours…after dark checked into The Alternative Space (another very cool backpacker). At this point I am really craving sitting back and hanging out for a few days, but I’ve got a plane to catch in Cape Town (1,500 km away) in two days. I spent a couple of hours roaming around the nearby dunes, then I was off on a bus back to Windhoek to catch my overnight bus to Cape Town.

CT was as beautiful as I remembered – wish I had more time. It is funny how so many people back home can’t even imagine taking a four month trip and yet, as this one comes towards it’s end, I feel like it could have used at least another month or two. It is always cool returning to a place that only four months ago seemed so foreign and now I didn’t even need to dig out my map for the 30 minute walk from the bus station to CT Backpackers, where I had spent those late nights playing pool with the Scottish and Irish travelers. My last dinner was a traditional one at Mama Africa’s, ostrich this time.

In the morning, I finished my souvenir shopping at the Green Market then caught my 19:30 flight to London.

More on the way…Almost done typing from the moleskin….




Boston – The End

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