Venturing to Victoria Falls

March 28-29, 2012

Wake up early so we can figure out which bus we need to take to Livingstone. Grab breakfast at the hotel and walk away from the hotel trying to find a cab. Now, this would be a time where wifey #1 gets frustrated with husband. Because before we left the hotel, I asked him to get the hotel to call us a cab. But, he decided walking would be easier. Well, we walked down the street about a block/block and a half to have some random guy pull over and offer to guy us a ride in his “taxi.” Yep. Sure. We will take it. Then, we drive back the way we walked, turn a few corners and land in bus station chaos.

Our “taxi” driver delivers us to the best bus leaving for Livingstone. I appreciate him doing that for us! It was leaving at 0900. We had about an hour to kill. We were told the bus would take 6 hours from Lusaka to Livingstone. Liam went to the counter to obtain our tickets. He somehow managed to get bus tickets without paying because he told them we wouldn’t pay if the bus took longer than 6 hours. And they agreed to let us pay when we got there.

Zambian buses are nice.

Decided to run to the restroom before we jumped on the bus. The bathroom was for a fee, so Emily and I had to go back and find Liam and get money. (He was the only one with any kwacha at this point). You know, I don’t mind paying to use a bathroom if it’s clean, working, and has soap and toilet paper. Keep in mind, working in my book includes a bucket with water that you dump down the toilet to flush it. That is a working toilet. If the flusher works, it’s like Christmas.

Jump on the bus. We sat three across. Poor Emily. She was squished into the window seat. Liam was half-a-cheek on and half-a-cheek off of his seat. I sat in the middle trying not to move because I didn’t want to take any of their seat space.  It was a cozy fit. The window was wide open because even though the bus had aircon, it wasn’t turned on. The fancier bus that we missed earlier this morning had the aircon. We are going to be a stinky threesome when we arrive in Livingstone. There was a little baby girl across the aisle who kept playing with us. She came and stood on my lap for a little while checking us out and watching everyone else. She was super cute.

Once we were on the road, the three of us konked out for about an hour to an hour and a half. There is something about public transportation that puts me to sleep. I think it’s the rocking. Regardless, it was a great little nap! Wake up feeling famished. We stop at a rest stop. (GASP. A rest stop. In Africa. Dude. Zambia is civilized). There is another fee bathroom that was immaculate. There was a “fast food” restaurant that was pretty legit and a store to buy drinks and other snack food items. Pretty impressive and a first since we moved to the continent.

Emily and I jump back on the bus and we eat our lunch. I ordered a flaky pastry with a warm chicken and veggie curry filling and three orders of French fries (chipsies). Besides being a little too salty, it was delicious.

The bus was stopping a lot more than we thought it was going to. Apparently, we are on the local bus that stops every three feet. At one of the stops, Emily looked outside and saw a guy selling popcorn. She bought a bag and it looked so good, I decided I wanted one too! I love the fact that I can stick my head out the window of the bus and buy snacks, music, DVDs, a phone charger, a broom, cold drink, and pretty much anything else I need. It’s fantastic!

Several hours later, we pull into Livingstone, Zambia. It’s about 3pm. Way beyond the 6 hours they told us it would take. So, our tickets were free. Kind of felt bad about not paying, but they agreed to the terms. Now, we need to find the bank that we passed a bit ago. Gather our bags and walk past all of the cabs to the strip mall. All of the backs are closed so we cannot exchange money. Liam pulls some money out of our account and away we go to Jolly boys.

Since we aren’t 100% sure where it was, we have a cab take us. We were literally around the corner but with all of our bags, it made it so much easier to take a cab. Get to Jolly Boys Backpackers and check-in. Since we were 24+ hours late for our first night, we lost our reservation but they had not sold our room yet. Thankfully. We added another day because we were still debating whether we were going to stay a few days longer since the train took forever to get here.

Walk into the 4 bunk dorm we rented. It was pretty nice. 2 sets of twin bunk beds. With mosquito netting, or own bathroom, and aircon. Total score.  Put our stuff down and try to figure out what we are going to do for the day. Took showers to get the bus funk off of us. Played around online to check school stuff, Facebook, emails. You know. The usual.

Figure out where we want to go eat dinner. Decide on Hippos. Well, we got to Hippos and it’s an Irish bar. I think they are in the process of changing the name. There were a few hippos out of wrought iron as the window screen. Probably should have taken a picture of it, but I was too hungry to think straight!

Enjoy a nice leisurely dinner with Liam and Emily. She took a minute to call her parents and let them know she was safe and we weren’t scary! Dinner was really tasty and it was nice to relax after days of rocking back and forth on public transportation.

Headed back to Jolly Boys and curled up into our respective bunks. What a wonderful night’s sleep!!!

Woke up on the morning of March 29th and decided today was the day we were going to head to Victoria Falls. We enjoy a nice breakfast at the Jolly Boys bar. There we also meet Jason and another guy Mitch. Mitch is heading back to Namibia today. Jason is American who is traveling the world with his wife, Erin. They have been in Southern Africa for a month or so and are camping out here and volunteering at a local school. He’s such a nice guy! I can’t wait to meet Erin later!  But, we need to head to the falls.

Hail a cab and off to the falls we go. We are going to view them from the Zambian side because we don’t want to worry about crossing into Zimbabwe because the customs agent sold Emily a single entry Visa for Zambia. Therefore, she would have to spend $50 every time she crossed the border to get back in. Not worth it to see the rest of the waterfalls.

We pull up into the parking lot. Pay our fees and begin walking towards the falls. There are several trails and a fair amount of people. We were warned that we were going to get wet so we came prepared. Sort of. All of my rain gear is back in the States in storage because I was pregnant and was not going to stretch out my outdoor gear. So, I’m going to get wet. Liam had his rain jacket and he had to wear the backpack with the good camera. Emily had her rain jacket and put everything on the inside. We stop at one viewpoint and take a few pictures in front of the falls. It’s pretty impressive. This is high water season so they were overflowing. The spray created a giant mist that would whirl up and spray you. And we were still pretty far away.

Everyone walking up from the falls is in their bathing suits and soaking wet. Why didn’t we think of that. Emily and I were shaking our heads because it never occurred to us to just throw on our suits and walk through the water.

Although we look superimposed, we are really standing at the top of the falls.

Rolling rapids

Continue down the trail and we come to the Zambezi River at the top of the falls. The river is moving pretty quickly and the clouds of mist loom omnipotently over the top of the falls. They are also quite loud. I’m not going to lie, it’s really impressive. Just the sheer magnitude of the falls is pretty mind-blowing. But, then again. I’m easily entertained by geology. I love rocks, water, and the way the Earth works. I wonder what is on the back side of the falls. I really want to come back when it’s low water season and look at the rock structures behind the falls. I have to see the small trickle of water that occurs during dry season. Another thing to put on my bucket list. At this rate I’m never going to die.

Back track a little on the trail and start walking down into the falls. Followed the curvy pathway to a footbridge. Emily and Liam were ahead of me and down at the edge of the falls getting soaked. I paused a moment to take their picture!

Wandering in the mist of Vic Falls

Here goes. Francis in the Mist. What a sensational feeling. The mist surged when the water poured over the edge of the falls. It was this powerful gust from below. It was enjoyable. I don’t know if that even explains it. There is a moment when you first feel the drops hit your skin and you catch your breath. Maybe it is from the power of the falls. Maybe it is from the coolness of the water. Or, maybe it is because you are standing so close to one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Regardless, I liked it. A LOT.

We crossed the footbridge and found ourselves completely soaked. For the record, what was I thinking wearing light khaki capris with purple undies. Clearly, not thinking about the wet bottom contest I was about to enter.

The footbridge over the falls.

Continued on the trail. I still can’t believe this is our life.  We get to spend as much time as we can stuck on this fantastic continent. I’m so excited to see what the next 10-15-20 years hold for us. It’s going to be such a ride.

Continue walking down the trail.  A few people follow us down the trail and ask us if we are going to bungee. Now, I’ll admit it. My sanity is questionable on most good days. But, I would still NEVER consider jumping off a perfectly good bridge into the gorge below the falls. Not my cup of tea. Especially after we have all watched the woman plunge into the river, because oops the line broke (check on youtube it’s everywhere). Yep. Not so much. Even though, two guys following us tried for a brief second to convince Emily and I it was safe. Still NOT happening.  Oh yes. This would also be one of the few times in my marriage that I have told Liam he was not allowed to do something. Because, the idea of him plunging into croc filled waters did not sit well. Luckily, he’s a good listener and decided he wasn’t that interested!

Self portrait at the top of the Falls.

Came to the end of the trail on the Zambia side of the falls, turned around, and began walking back. About a 1/3rd of the way back, the skies decided to pour more liquid on us, because obviously, we weren’t already wet enough. That’s when it started to become a little chilly. It was grey, cold, and rainy. Ick.

Make it back to the main gate and exit. Walk around the curio shops right outside the falls. It was a place to get out of the rain and see what type of wares were available in Zambia. We knew we needed a mask. But, it’s always fun to see what other Africrap stuff you can find. And Lord knows Liam and I love our Africrap. A little over half-way through, Liam found a long mask he really liked. It was about 3 feet long with a fish and a bird at the top. It’s mostly black (thanks to Kiwi shoe polish) with a little red and green. It was beautiful. We also found a wonderful hand carved chess set. Asked the price and it was 1.5 million kwacha (almost $300). Um. I don’t think so. I told him I would need to think about it! It’s probably worth the price he asked me to pay, but I live one country away and know these things don’t cost that.  Price out some Zimbabwean money. We need a bill and a coin for the Africa map. It’s not that expensive but since we want to look at the other shops in town, we will wait for the best deal. Oh how cheap we have become!

Headed back to Jolly boys to shower and clean up after becoming SOAKED. Relaxed for a while around the camp and decided what we wanted to do for dinner. Emily and I also decided we were going to go on a safari tomorrow at Choebe National Park in Botswana. Liam was going to have an adventure day and get some work done. My husband kicks arse. He lets me wander all over the globe so I can take pictures of all of the animals I love. Not only that, but he’s pretty cute too. That’s why I’ll let him have a second wife for this trip!  Hehehe.

Decided on the Mexican restaurant for dinner. There is a serious lack of decent Mexican food in Africa. It’s a reality that I have not quite accepted. But, at some point I’m going to have to. We had a nice dinner and headed back to Jolly Boys because it’s going to be such an early morning.

Categories: Africa, Trip 5 | Leave a comment

Chug-a-chug-a-choo choo!

March 23-27, 2012

We are finally taking the trip we have been looking forward to all year. Originally, we were going to go Indian Ocean to Atlantic Ocean via alternate transportation (trains, buses, taxis, etc). But, I had to be back in the States for so long, that we ended up cutting the trip short.  Basically, our year of wandering the continent is running out. We have way too much to do in no time.

We picked up another traveler. Emily is our friend. We met her through Jane and Kevin (yes the people from Here’s Your Sign – even though we do stupid stuff like that they still introduce us to new people!) She grew up in Birmingham, AL, went to Mississippi College, AND works in Alaska 5 months out of the year for Holland America. Oh and she has family in ATL and lived there for a while too!  Could we have more in common???? Needless to say. We like her.

Before the trip, Liam and a friend were chatting and decided that Liam should introduce us as his two wives for reaction only. Well, it was pretty funny. So, we went along with it. Insert Emily’s new nickname: Wife#2.

Back to the story at hand. We were scheduled to leave on the Friday train at 1350. I make a mad dash to Subway to buy a few sandwiches for the train ride while Liam finishes packing up. When I get back he is ready to go. We swing by Emily’s house and kidnap her. Then, off we go to the train station at 11am. Now did it occur to us to call and make sure the train was on time. Of course not. So, we show up and find out that the train isn’t leaving until March 24th at 2200. Well that would have been good to know. Basically, right at 34 hours late. Awesome.

Why didn't they just post this online? Then, we would have found it!

For those who can read Kiswahili.

Liam went to find the Station Master to find out the details and obtain some contact info so we could call tomorrow and make sure the train was leaving.  Turns out, the Station Master is a woman. And she prefers to be called Station Mistress. Insert your own inappropriate joke here. Liam sure did…but only after he giggled for a few minutes.

Once we returned home, we repacked our stuff a little better. I worked on schoolwork with a sense of urgency. I decided my textbooks were way too heavy and I didn’t want to lug them across Tanzania and Zambia I was able to dump two of them by finishing a bunch of homework!! Woo hoo. Went to bed. Spent most of Saturday lounging and resting. Around 2pm, we called the Station Mistress and she told us the train was scheduled to arrive around 6pm and would leave at 2200. At 8pm, went to pick up Emily. Smoker came over at 8:30pm and took us to the train station. We pulled in to the TAZARA train station to find out that the train wasn’t leaving until March 25th at 0300. Well, we aren’t going back home. Off to the first class lounge we go.

Needs a good scrub down...

If you want to call it a first class lounge. There were chairs, a few open windows for the breeze and a super loud TV that a few people had already turned down once. Then, there was the bathroom. First of all, I’m glad “first class” had it’s own bathroom based on what we walked into. Don’t close the door. It will touch your forehead or your cheek. Gross.  It also had an interesting odor. But, it worked to pee. There is NO WAY I would ever attempt #2 in there. This train thing is going to be interesting if this is the bathroom sans wheels.

Since we had nowhere to go for a few hours, we began to chat with fellow travelers. There were two Aussies, a couple from New Zealand a few other people. We spent the next 6 hours chatting it up with them. The Aussies, Prue & Liann, are traveling around Africa until they move to London in a few months! So, we are going to try to meet up with them in Europe! This is a perk of traveling around the world. You meet a ton of really cool people!

Emily took a nap on our bags. I’m still trying to figure out she slept with all those lights on, the amount of noise in the train station, and the heat. But, somehow she did and she woke up with an hour to spare before we got on the train. I warned her about the bathroom door before she meandered in there.

I still don't know how she slept.

About 0230, all of the Africans waiting in the first class lounge disappeared. Something was said over the loud speaker but we couldn’t understand it. Walked out into the main lobby and everyone was lining up.  Went back into the first class lounge and sat around for about 15 more minutes. Then, we saw people boarding the train and realized they just let first class people board. No one clued us in. Oh well. We walked into the main lobby into a world of chaos. Lines and people everywhere. We joined the back end of a line that was walking out to the train and the Station Mistress’s assistants held the other lines for the rest of the first class passengers.

And we are off. On another crazy African adventure. I mean really what sane people wake up and say “You know what today I’ll take a sketchy train through Africa.” And, we have been looking forward to this trip for months!!!!  So apparently, our sanity is questionable.

Find our car towards the back of the train. I would have thought first class was up front. Somehow manage to squeeze through the door with all of our bags. Between my gluteus maximus and the gigantic bag resting on it, it’s no surprise I got a tiny bit stuck trying to enter our cabin. So backed up (hear the Beep. Beep. Beep.), took the camera bag off of my front, took the bag off my back and tried again. One bag at a time. It worked. Emily and Liam followed suit and we were in. Our tiny little room for a few days. Now, hopefully we can get the window open and this thing starts moving quickly.

Imagine what 3rd class looks like....

The cabin consisted of 4 vinyl “beds/seats” each with it’s own prison sheet, pillow, and creepy shag blanket. Emily took one of the bottom bunks, I took the other, and Liam was above me. Every time he moved, I worried whether I was going to get squished from above. His bunk had a safety bar to keep him from falling to the floor. Emily’s and my bunk – not so much. There was a table in between Emily’s and my bed and a fan above the bed that didn’t work. There were also a couple of extra plugs. None of which worked. The fourth bunk was bag storage. Liam wanted to treat his “wives” extra special and bought the whole cabin!  Aren’t we special!!!

Opened the window. Sprayed for bugs. Off we went. The train was moving. The best part of this train is we get to go through two National Parks (Mikumi and Selous). Only problem is, it may still be the middle of the night when we pass through them. I really want to see a few animals.

Not my most flattering moment but my teeth were clean!!!

Went to sleep around 04:00. I woke up as soon as the sun decided to warm my face with her first few rays. I finally sat up and looked out of the window. We had to be in Mikumi or Selous. There should be animals everywhere. But, there wasn’t one in sight. Emily woke up about 30 minutes after I did and we brushed our teeth.

Shortly after, we began to see animals. Impala, wildebeest, cape buffalo, giraffes.  Emily decided she needed to run to the bathroom. Well, she walked away for a about two minutes and we passed two elephants. One of which decided he was mad at the train and began to charge it!!! I was hoping Emily heard it while she was in the bathroom but she said she did not! I was able to get a few shots for her. I wish she could have seen it!

Angry elephant...

Wildebeast...

Liam begins to stir and decides to join his wives down below! We each ate a ½ Subway sandwich for breakfast. Then, one the workers walked by and asked to take our breakfast order. Oh okay, we all ordered coffee or tea. I need to remember that African tea comes with lots of sugar and milk. It’s not bad, just not want I’m used to for tea.

Well, first meal is done. Our teeth or brushed. What are we going to do till lunch?  We all lay down and take a nap. I think Liam went exploring to see what all was on the train. He found the first class dining car. The showers and the “nice” toilet.  Apparently, we have everything we need.

Giraffe

Emily and I took about a 2-hour nap. Sleeping for a couple of hours was nice. The guy controlling the brakes on the train was not a gentle person. We went from full speed to 0 in a few seconds. Which meant you had to miraculously figure out a way to keep from flying across the cabin. Liam had a bar on his top-bunk. But, there was a good chance I was going to end up flying and landing on poor Emily.  Not only that, but every time the train stopped, you woke up. Sometimes you fell back asleep, and sometimes you did not.

Around 1:30pm, the waiter came back and took our order for lunch. We gave him the rest of the Subway sandwiches because they were starting to smell rank and figured that someone may want to eat them soon. (We were not willing to embrace a stomach bug off of a chicken tikka subway sandwich). Emily and I ordered kuku and rice, Liam kuku and chips. While the kuku’s had to be tiny while alive, they were absolutely delicious. Tanzanians can cook some kuku. It’s expensive. But, always delicious. (PS. Kuku is Kiswahili for chicken).

Our food! Yum.

After lunch, we walked around a little and read our books. We also took pictures periodically. I think there was another nap in there as well! Might as well sleep. Cause sleep is my friend and I didn’t really sleep last night!

Man, it was hot. Stinky boy hot. And, I’m talking about me here. I had sweat running into places I didn’t know could collect sweat. This was not the time of year to take the train. Not only was it muggy but it was just flat H. O. T. There is a reason I left Mississippi and it was heat like this. Now, I find myself in Africa wondering why I’m back in my own personal hell of heat AND humidity. The things you do for the one you love!  Plus, I wasn’t the only one suffering through the heat. We were all pretty miserable.

Liam decided he was going to take a shower on the train. I was thinking about staying stinky for the trip. Emily was sharing my idea and we both agreed to let Liam risk it first. He came back feeling all refreshed and happy. I can’t imagine that the train has a nice shower based on the condition of the bathroom. But, maybe I’ll take a chance tomorrow too. I think it’s going to depend on how nasty I’ll feel in the morning.  Prue & Liann stopped by and again we were all in stitches. They are hysterical!  I wish we could travel some more with them! It would be a lot of fun!

Ordered more kuku and rice for dinner. I guess I should explain. The other two options were a beef stew and ugali. I’m sure the stew was amazing but my tummy doesn’t always love beef so I had to pass. Ugali is a local dish that is made of maize. Kuku won out cause kuku is delicious.

Brush our teeth out the train window while one person served as spotter so we didn’t lose an arm or our head.  Snuggled into bed with a good book and back to “sleep” we went.

The train would randomly stop in the middle of the night for hours. I’m not really sure why. But, I would sleep really well for a bit, then wake up hot because we had stopped. Then, the train would jerk forward again and once it was going, we all slept well!

Woke up the next morning with the sun again. We had not gone nearly as far as I thought we would have by now. I’m sensing this is going to take a lot longer than we were expecting. Ate some breakfast out of our food bag, brushed the teeth and thought about a shower again. I’ve been in the same clothes for 30 something hours and I have a feeling they could probably stand up on their own. I think the train shower is going to win.

We ask about when we are expected to land in Kapiri Mposhi, the final stop. Yep, the train from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka Zambia actually ends 2 hours north of Lusaka (what happens when Mr. Chinaman builds it for you).  Found out it was supposed to be the following afternoon (Tuesday) around 1pm. Well, I guess that’s good news. We also caught on that the best time to go to the potty was while the train was stopped!  Duh. Sometimes, I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, when I should be.

How to obtain super strength thighs...

We had an uneventful afternoon. Stopped in Mbeya for a few hours. We walked around outside in turns. Someone had to stay in the cabin at all times to keep an eye on our stuff. Mbeya appeared to be pretty nice. It’s a beautiful part of the country. It will be fun to drive back through here in a few weeks.   I really like Western Tanzania.

Finally the train decides to leave and we eat a late lunch. Play a few games of go fish and black jack, read, and take another nap. As the dinner hour approached, I decided there was no way I could smell myself anymore and I had to shower before I ate.

Liam said it was actually nice and refreshing. Assuming there was no hot water heater, I asked how cold it was. He said it wasn’t bad and I should be okay. This is one of the few things I abhor. Cold water. It’s not comfortable in any fashion. Every time, I find myself in cold water I can’t catch my breath.

I head to the shower hoping for slightly chilly but tolerable. Walk into the bathroom and figure out how to place everything so it doesn’t get wet and I don’t touch any of the walls. The faucet for the shower was a tough one. Once I get it on, I do a test run of the water temperature. Uh. Oh. It’s FREEZING. Okay. Here goes cause I’m already in my birthday suit and sick of being stinky.  A splash here. A gasp there. A few minutes later and I am all clean.

The spicket is the shower.

Now, it’s Emily’s turn. I stood outside the door while she showered because someone tried to open it while I was dancing in the freezing water! But, she walked out in one piece and we were clean.

Dinner was delicious and then Liam disappeared to the land of the ice cold shower. He returned and bedtime began. We all read for a while. I had a hard time falling asleep and ended up reading until about midnight. About 2am, some ***BLEEP*** banged on our cabin door and frantically tried to open it. He was 100% toasted. Well, since I had just fallen asleep and was quite tired, little Mister drunkey-drunk poked the bear. Ask anyone in my family how it works out for someone who pokes the bear. It’s not pretty. Problem was, Liam wouldn’t let me out of the cabin to go put this ***BLEEP*** into his place. I was HOT. And then took it out on poor Liam because he wouldn’t let me go yell at this guy and he was not going to yell at the guy!!!! Probably a good thing in hindsight. When awoken suddenly, I’m not passive aggressive at all. Hehehehe.

Finally, fall back to sleep after my heart slows back to a normal rhythm (without counting it was probably up to 140 bpm). Wake up as the sun peeps out in between big white puffy clouds. I lay there and read and eventually when the train stops, I run to the bathroom and hope I finish before the train starts rolling again!

Our train

Relax for a while again. Find out the train should be in Kapiri Mposhi around 2pm. YAY!! I’m so sick of the train. In fact, I pretty much think I’m going to break up with the train. But, probably not forever. Around noon stop at a train station for a while. We are only two stops away from the final stop. And we sit. But, the scenery was amazing. It looked a little fake. But, Zambia’s like that. It’s all blue skies, big puffy clouds, and green rolling hills. Yep. Postcard fake!

Zambia. In every direction.

Finally, make it Kapiri Mposhi around 4pm. I think Emily and I were about to get out and push the train a little faster. Not that it would have done much good, but we would have done it willingly to arrive faster.

Liam jumps off the train and we push our bags through the window because it’s easier than trying to avoid being stuck in the skinny walkway again. Emily and I run out to meet Liam and then we gather all our bags and go hunting for either a taxi or a bus to take us to Lusaka. We walk out of the train station into a chaotic onslaught of people arguing over who would give us the best deal. In this process, I almost was backed over by a car (which I smacked the trunk of the car really hard and hope I left a dent. He stopped and didn’t back over me).  Then, some guy pushed a luggage cart into my left arm and left me with a nasty little bruise. Somehow the other two made it out without a scratch. See. I’m a klutz.

Liam decides the bus is the best deal and it is 40,000 kwacha per person (about $7). We were told the bus would take 2 hours. We get on the bus, with our bags in our laps. (I really need to learn to pack lighter). We sat on the bus for about 20 minutes. Once the bus was mostly full, we were finally off.  Here’s a short video of the ride: http://youtu.be/aXq8P3xeNOQ.

We stopped at two gas stations so people could buy snacks. Why we stopped at two, I’m still confused. Everyone was selling the same stuff. In fact, I think a few people followed us to the second bus station.

5 hours later. We arrive in Lusaka. Not thrilled with the typical African way of telling us what we wanted to hear rather than the truth. Grrr. Get off the bus and find a taxi. Head to the hotel, check in, grab some dinner, shower the train grime off of us, and fall fast asleep.

It's Uncle Fester...

Hi!

Emily's was the best!

Categories: Trip 5 | 2 Comments

Back to America

January 11 – March 17, 2012

Finally had all of my shoulder surgery stuff approved and headed back to Mississippi. It hasn’t changed a whole lot. Well, my parents’ house did lose a lot of trees. Partially from tornadoes and partially from their tree-cuttin’ guy.

Spent a couple of months at my parents’ house with 6 dogs. It was so good to have Loki back. I miss my little booger. Plus, there was my parents’ 4th kid La Neige and she had 4 puppies on Thanksgiving. So, I bonded with the 4 little monsters. I’ll admit it. They were pretty cute. I’m partially to the ones that went to Morris & Kim and Son & Leah. Especially Moya. We bonded!  But, then again, the runt of the liter has always been my favorite!

Had surgery. Recouped perfectly and enjoyed seeing some family and friends. While I was at home, I had to finish up clinical hours because the paperwork was never going to be processed through the embassy in time. That was a headache but thankfully my father’s partners were kind enough to let me hang out with them! I really appreciated them taking the extra time to help me out!

As I was heading back to Africa, I drove our car to Baltimore to ship it to Italy. So, in theory, our car is swimming to Italy right now. Hopefully, it makes it there before we do.

Two months in the 1st world wore me out. I really like the pace of life in the 3rd world. It’s good to be home.

Liam was up to his own antics. But, he’s working on writing his story!  More to come!

Categories: Travel | 1 Comment

Here’s Your Sign…

January 8, 2012

I’m 100% borrowing that line from Bill Engvall. And you are about to learn why.

In our house, we have a safe haven. It’s a metal gate you lock each night for added safety. At first the idea of locking myself in our house bothered me, but now it’s just another part of our day in Tanzania. Here’s a picture.

Locked in

We had been home for a few days from West Africa and we were very much out of our routine. It was a late night (about 2am) and Liam and I went upstairs to bed. As he locked the safe haven, he looked at me and said, “Where’s the key?” At which point, we realized we were locked in our own house. Awesome.  So, we went to sleep. Because what were we going to do about it at 2am?

Lock without a key

Oh yes. I forgot to mention. All we had with us was my computer. We left everything else downstairs, the embassy radio, our cell phones, and Liam’s computer.

We wake up the next morning around noon and are debating how we are going to break out of our house. We do have access to a balcony outside of our bedroom. And then there are the windows. There is also a spare set of keys in the car. But, of course the car is locked and the doors to the house are deadbolted from the inside and you cannot use a key to unlock them.

Latches.

So here we sit. Locked in our house with no way out. So, what do we do? Well, Liam grabs his climbing gear and belays down the side of the house. This way he can try to get the keys out of the car.

See climbing ropes

See Liam trying to figure out how to break into our car

I spend some time trying to convince Liam to just ask the guards to call someone to help us. Give up on Liam listening and walk inside, grab my computer, and email our friend Jane. Also, try to use a free online service to text another friend. But, I seriously doubt it is going to go through. Here’s the email.

­­­­­­***********************************************************************************

From: Francis   Sun, Jan 8, 2012 at 1:37 PM

To: Jane

HELP. Please.

So, Liam managed to lock us into our safe haven last night without the key for the lock. We also don’t have our cell phones. So basically everything is downstairs and we are locked in upstairs. Except Liam belayed down the house to try to open the car b/c there is a spare set of house keys in the car cause I forgot to grab them last night. But, the front door has the security latch. Can you help???

Thanks!!!

­­­­­­***********************************************************************************

At this point. I’m starving. And beginning to get really pissed at Liam for not talking to the guards (Apparently, I’m a grouch when I’m hungry). It’s a mute point for me to try to explain it from the balcony because they do not speak English very well. And let’s face it, our Swahili is minimal on a good day.

Finally, Liam goes and talks to the guards and someone appears with a ladder and a set of bolt cutters. I tried to cut the lock on my own, but since my shoulder was busted, I barely put a dent in the lock. Tell Liam I do not have enough strength to cut it. He climbs up the rickety ladder and cuts the lock off of the safe haven and we are free!  We walk downstairs and open the door and Kevin (Jane’s hubby) and another friend walk up! So, happy to see them!  Even though we were free, Kevin was a knight in flip-flops and beach shorts (he was putting a kayak into the water at the Yacht Club when Jane told him what was going on!)  (It’s now about 3pm).

And we are free!!!

Well we finally found the extra key…

Came back inside, showered, ate lunch, and checked email. Received Jane’s response of “On the way.” I knew she had to be laughing. One can’t help it. It’s funny.  Called her and we laughed together. The things that happen at our house!  Seriously. 2012 has already worn me out and we are only 8 days in.

Another thing to add to the list to move with: Bolt cutters.

Like I said….Here’s your sign….

Categories: Africa | 1 Comment

WANTED. International Fugitive: Liam Connor.

International Man of Mystery.

1 January 2011 – 5 January 2011

So, here we are back at the crime scene. Liam comes back to the car and says, “I’m being called a KILLER. The cops are calling me a killer. All because the woman went to the hospital.” However, we don’t speak French well enough and they aren’t absorbing the fact that the damn bike hit us. Oh and the people on bikes NEVER wear protective equipment or helmets. Now, really, I’m pissed and scared. Liam is going to jail in Senegal. WTF am I going to do? Our phones were only working sporadically and we couldn’t call out. But, we could text. It’s dark. We can’t see anything and lots of people are surrounding the car. It’s the worst-case scenario.

Or so I thought. Then, they decide they are taking Liam to the police station for fleeing the scene. Okay. NOW, it’s worst-case scenario. He is really going to jail. Another cop tries to get in the truck but they still don’t believe us that there isn’t a back seat and we aren’t putting another person up front without a seat belt. So, the police officer gets a cab. And away we go. For Liam to end up in an international prison.

We arrive at the police station and Liam locks me in the car while he goes into the station. I’m frantically trying to call one of the two guys at the embassy that we know pretty well. Stupid phone isn’t working. Not the best time for it to crap out on us. Finally, get a text out to Keegan. He’s in IRT in Senegal. He is able to call us. Thank goodness. I tell him what happened. But, the connection is spotty at best. There is a lot of repeating and I’m not sure what he actually got. Except we were hit by a bike and Liam is in jail. Also asked him to call Al at the Radisson since his cell phone isn’t working. Since it’s an embassy vehicle from Mauritania, Al is actually responsible for the vehicle and we wanted him to be in the know.

About this time, Liam comes out to the car and has me hunting for the new Senegal insurance. Apparently, the old one is expired. Come to find out there was never a new one purchased. So, Liam is being detained until they work out the insurance situation. I update Keegan after Liam fills me in. Keegan and I hang up and he calls the RSO and the SDO within the embassy. These are all the people who need to know. Then, no one calls us back for 45 minutes. Finally, Keegan is able to get through again and asks us if we have spoken to the RSO. I tell him no. I know he is trying to call us but the damn phones aren’t working. GRRRRRR. So, frustrating.

Meanwhile, Liam is inside the police station. Here’s what was happening to him. Liam was informally “formally” accused of fleeing the scene of an accident, driving without insurance, and running over a motorcycle. At which point, Liam is trying to give them all of the proper documentation they are requesting. He is also trying to explain that he is a diplomat. No one understands English well. Liam has eight police officers surrounding him. He is trying to explain in Frenglish that the motorbike hit us. But, it doesn’t seem that anyone is grasping this fact. Still. Finally, one of the police officers seemed to understand. However, the only person who finally admits to speaking English is sitting in the drunk tank. That’s right. Now a fugitive in the drunk tank is going to help out my fugitive husband by translating. Awesome. It’s only going to get better. I promise.

So, from the car. I see Liam laughing with a guy in the jail cell. Shit. He’s making friends with the person he is going to share a cell with tonight. Not a good sign.

Liam then asks Mohammed (drunk tank guy or as Liam likes to call him – My Man on the Inside) what the process is. He says that they are just going to hassle him for a bit but they will let him go.

I’m still in the car. It’s been about an hour. Liam keeps coming in and out without a whole lot of information.

Meanwhile, more and more police officers of increasing rank arrive to the police station. Liam finally gets them to understand that he is a diplomat and a Major in the United States Army. Suddenly. The situation changes. Of course the motorbike would run into him. He’s too responsible to run into a motorbike.  Suddenly, they are offering hotel recommendations and things to do tomorrow. Because Saint Louis is a wonderful place and we need to enjoy it. HUH??!?!?!?!?!?!

I’m still in the car. Dying to go pee and freaking out. Finally, Liam comes out again with 2 police officers and they are being very friendly. Shortly thereafter the police chief shows up. Then, the “Big Man” and Liam go to the “Big Man” office and discuss the situation. Through the use of Frenglish, they come to an agreement of what occurred. It looks like Liam is actually going to be a free man. At least for the night.

I decide everything is okay and I’m going to brave a police station bathroom because otherwise the front seat of the car is in for it. Walk inside and walk up to the counter that hits at about chin level on me. Yes. Intimidating. I ask where the toilet is.

While I’m in the bathroom, the police officers are sorting through paperwork to keep Liam’s passport and driver’s license. (My husband is a brilliant man and gave them his regular tourist passport and his Tanzanian driver’s license rather than his Diplomatic passport and Alaska driving license). I walk out from the bathroom to learn that everything is okay and we are free for the night. Liam has picked our hotel and the police officers point us in the right direction.

About this point, the RSO was finally able to get through and give Liam all the information he needed and who needed to be involved from the embassy’s point of view. What a cluster. Seriously. Motorcycle riders need to learn that if they run into something extremely bigger than them – it doesn’t go well for them.

The only catch. We have to come back in the morning to make his official statement. So, really. My next question is – ARE WE GOING TO BE ABLE TO LEAVE WEST AFRICA AND GO HOME???????? I’m over this place.

Crossed over one bridge. Drove around town. Crossed over another bridge and turned left. Drove through another section of town and then through what had to have been the fish market based on the smell. Continued heading south. Hoping we weren’t going to end up in the Atlantic Ocean. Finally found the hotel. Reception is open and they have availability. Head to our room and decide to head out into town to find something to eat. Pick a restaurant literally around the corner. We were too tired to drive all the way back into town.

Dinner was delicious. I finally decided to try Capitanie. I have heard great things about this little white fish and my whole grilled fish lived up to everything everyone said. It was yummy. My favorite part. A cat followed my plate to the table. Sat at my feet and meowed until I shared. As soon as the waiter took my plate away, the cat was gone. I know where his loyalties lie.

Head back to our room to settle down after a rather ridiculous night. The room was fantastic. It was huge, but we enjoyed having the space to spread out and relax. We had earned it at this point. What a day. Now off to sleep. We have to be up early to return to the police station.

On the second day of the New Year, we head to prison. Again.  Seriously. This year is already looking like it’s going to be drama filled. I was hoping to have a slow, calm year. But, then again. It’s my life and I have yet to have a full year sans chaos.

Police Station

Arrived at the police station and everyone was all smiles and how are you this morning? We were shuffled upstairs to give a statement. Then, over to the big man’s office. Then, back down to the lobby. Then, the BIGGEST man came in and went over our statement. When we started wiping his hands against the air after hearing what happened, we realized we were good. Liam wasn’t going to jail after all. And we would be able to get out of West Africa. I’m ready to go home.

Decide to spend the afternoon of our freedom wandering around St. Louis. It’s actually a great place! It’s the first French colony in West Africa and looks very New Orleans-esque. We found a great Asian restaurant at the end of the island and had breakfast/lunch. Fried plantains, spring rolls, hot tea, and pork. It was the perfect breakfast. Got back in the car and continued to wander. We decided to head back to the hotel to grab the camera to take a few pictures of the boats coming in from fishing the Atlantic.

Grabbed a few shots and migrated more into town. This place is really dirty. In fact, all of West Africa is really dirty. Park on the side of the road near the bridge and wander down to the boats. Start to take pictures of the town, boats, trash, etc when a few children started screaming at me that I couldn’t take their picture or a picture of the boats. Of course, I had already taken most of the boat shots I wanted. So, I ignored the kids and kept looking around to see if there was anything else I wanted to take a picture of. The children then started asking me for money and I could take their pictures. Nope. Sorry. Not interested.

St. Louis

Boats on the beach

Trash. Everywhere.

More boats

Turn around and see a HUGE pelican about 3-4 meters away from me. Decide I’m going to walk closer slowly but surely to get a great close-up shot. I move closer and closer and closer. Yet, the bird does nothing. That’s when I noticed that the poor pelican’s ankle was tied to a stake in the ground. HUH???!??!?!??!?!! I really am confused by these people. The poor bird needs to be able to fly and swim. How can they tie it up and leave it alone?  Makes me sick.  I thought about untying the poor bird but there were WAY too many people watching the mzungu.

Poor pelican

Captured a great shot of a goat bleating through a doorway. He was really unhappy about something….probably the pelican tied up outside his doorway and taking all of his attention.

Goat was not happy.

Began walking across the footbridge. Took a few more pictures from St. Louis Island. Walked back over the bridge and came across a gentleman who wanted to be our tour guide. He showed us how the boats were made and then took us to see his pet pelican. Pet pelican? I can only shake my head in annoyance.

St. Louis

Foot bridge

Boats before they leave for the night to fish.

After our tour, the gentlemen asks Liam to buy him some milk and sugar rather than paying him. I really am annoyed by Senegal. Everything is a scam here. People aren’t friendly just because. They are always looking out for number 1.

Liam is nicer than I am today and decides that he would rather buy this guy some groceries then pay him money. Of course, the guy wanted us to spend a small fortune on him. Liam said this is all the CFA I have (about $10). Well, then the guy wanted to see his money to help him count it out. Liam told him he was perfectly able to count money and that is all he had available to spend. Whatever. Wifey stayed quiet and out of the way. Otherwise, I was going to start screaming at the Africans. Some days, I do stop and think. This is proof. It does occasionally happen.

Liam and our guide

Finally, get rid of the “guide” we didn’t want. And return to the hotel after driving around a little more. We decided to go ahead and get gas so we would be ready for the drive back to Mauritania tomorrow. We have a flight to catch and if we don’t leave early enough, we won’t make it back to Dakar in time to catch the next leg of our flight. Which means, we would be stuck in West Africa for another 2-3 days. And that isn’t going to happen. Sorry.

Enjoy a nice leisurely stroll on the beach, grab some lunch, and begin cleaning out the car and repacking all of our stuff. That way once we grab our other suitcase from Al’s we will have a few minutes to repack and get out of there and make our flight back to Dakar.  Al’s car was at the hotel, so he figured out where we were thanks to Keegan. I really wish our cell phones were working. This is extremely annoying.

St. Louis at sunset

Gone Fishin'

Head back out to explore town and drive around taking more pictures of town. We were basically killing time until the boats left for their night of fishing. Finally, sunset began and we took a ton of pictures. Unfortunately, it was a rather hazy day and the pictures aren’t great. Took a few of the boats leaving for the evening. After we were done with the pictures, Liam saw a road heading uphill towards the beach and decided to take it. I told him I thought it was a bad idea because the “road” was basically sand. Well, guess what. We got stuck. And once again, we were unable to get the four-wheel drive to engage. The shifter was stuck and we couldn’t get it loose. What is it with our inability to engage four wheel drive???

Luckily for us, two very friendly Senegalese men walked by and came to help us dig out the car. It took about 30-45 minutes. The sand was so soft, it kept digging in further and further. On a hunch, I decided to take out all of my frustration on the four-wheel drive shifter and pulled on it and it finally budged. Liam was able to get it unstuck the rest of the way. We dug the car out a little more and we were finally able to back up. Sheesh. Liam finally agrees with me that driving through sand without prior testing of 4-wheel-drive is a bad idea. Bout time.

Offer both the guys who helped us a ride home. However, one had his bike and was off. The other guy took us up on it. He was really nice! We dropped his wares off at a friend’s house and migrated to his house.  He jumped out of the front seat and thanked us, then we headed back to the hotel for dinner. As we pulled up to the hotel and I was about to jump out, I couldn’t find my shoe. I threw them on the floorboard while we were trying to dig the car out and one was suddenly missing. Therefore, we went on a shoe hunt in the dark. It was not where the car got stuck. It was not where the guy dropped off his wares. Nope it was on the corner where we dropped the guy off about 20 minutes away from our hotel.  YAY! My shoe. I’m so happy we found you!!!

Needless to say. By the time we made it back to the hotel, we were both famished. Ran into our room, cleaned up a little and headed to the dining hall. Liam went over to talk to Al about leaving in the morning since we had to be on the road no later than 7am. We enjoyed a pleasant dinner together and headed back to the room to sleep.

Woke up and packed all of our stuff, went to check out and discovered that we would be unable to check out until 7:30am. CRAP!!! That’s not good. Well, hopefully the borders will not take forever and we can still make our flight. Sweet. Another stressful day to look forward to. But, Liam did not want to stay another night in Mauritania, so this was the compromise.

Loaded the cars, ate breakfast and impatiently awaited checkout. Then, we were off. On a mad dash. Crossed the Senegalese boarder. Crossed the Mauritanian border. Drove through a huge wetlands national park with tons of birds and warthogs. Now time to stop and take pictures. I’m ready to get home. Then, it was a race through the Sahel. On a sort-of road. Here’s video of what it’s like driving through the Sahel. More or less we bounced through the Sahel.  Here’s video proof.

http://youtu.be/k1cEoHCVH0M

Camels and the Sahara. One day I'll get better pics of the Sahara.

Arrived in Noukchattet and it was traffic in every direction. Drove a back way to Al’s house. Raced inside grabbed the suitcase and ran to the airport. Repacked the suitcases in the car. We left the keys in the car and Al was going to pick it up later. Arrived at the airport with just enough time to make our flight. We were hassled by security because we did not have an expediter from the embassy. So, we kept our cool, stood our ground and fought our way out of the airport. When they called for boarding, I was elated. I was almost free from West Africa.

Walked onto the plane and I wanted to hug the Senegalese flight attendants. They were taking me far away from Mauritania. Well, not that far but at least it was the start of going home. The flight took about an hour to get back to Dakar. Our flight to Nairobi and then Dar wasn’t leaving until the next day, so we thought we would take a cab to another hotel nearby.

Landed, grabbed our bags and headed out of the terminal. Walked over to the taxi line and began negotiating a rate. Well, in true Senegalese fashion everyone was yelling and screaming over each other and we finally convinced someone to accept our rate of 5,000 CFA. Jumped in the cab and away we went.

As we approached the hotel, there was a mob of people around one of the circles. The driver slowed and people started attacking our car. They were trying to open doors and were beating on the windows and the car. We were able to get all the doors locked before anyone opened them. Then, the cab driver got out of the car. Okay. Now momma is FURIOUS! I don’t really care who you run over but you better get us to safety. Liam tried to grab the keys but the driver realized what he was doing and grabbed the keys before Liam could. Then, I told him to call the embassy while I pulled out my dip passport and told the rioters it was probably not a good idea to mess with us. I don’t know what worked, but all of a sudden after a few more punches to the car, they decided to go pick on another car. The driver got back in, started driving away, and Liam and I fumed. I was HOT.

Couldn’t find the cheaper hotel and decided to go to the Radisson because it was nicer. Until the cabbie wanted to charge us almost $60. This dude is treading on such thin ice right now. I don’t even want to pay him at all. We decide to go back to Le Meridian. We know where it is and I’m not paying a cent over 5,000 CFA. Get to the hotel, pull three of our bags out of the trunk. Give him the money as I reach for the fourth bag and he slams the trunk and starts arguing with me about how I have not paid him enough. Well, I proceed to absolutely chew this guy up down, left, right, and all over the place. He received the brunt of my anger from the past two weeks and I didn’t care. I made a scene. Yes, I was a little embarrassed after the fact. But, this jackass let us get attacked, got out of the car, wanted to overcharge us and then steal my bag. Yep. I hate him.

Finally the bell hop came to my aid and got him to release our bag informing him that if he didn’t we were going to call the police and press charges and have him arrested. He gave in, handed me my bag, and left.

Liam came out from checking in and decided that wifey was done and he needed to take over. Thankfully. Went upstairs to our room and relaxed for a little bit. Walked back downstairs to grab some lunch and thanked the bellhop and apologized for making a scene. He laughed and said it was okay! Probably because he made a little money out of the deal!!!

Enjoyed a nice afternoon poolside and then decided to walk to the Moroccan restaurant down the street for dinner. I was NOT taking another taxi in this town. As we walked, a man joined us and was very chatty. At some point, he started talking about his new baby and how he was throwing a huge party! Then, he started giving Liam and I gifts. Guess what happened next? He asked for money. When Liam gave him 5000 CFA, he became irate and demanded that Liam give him more.  We told him no and hustled to the restaurant. Sheesh. I’m beyond worn out.

Enjoyed a delicious tagine dinner! Liam had never had Moroccan food. Pretty sure he is a fan now. The server was one of the nicest people we met in Dakar. It was refreshing. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, watching over our shoulder making sure that crazy dude with the new baby wasn’t following us again. Finally made it to the hotel and dashed upstairs to relax and collapse in bed.

Woke up on the morning of the fourth and signed up for the airport shuttle. Spent the morning lounging and repacking our bags to disperse the weight as much as possible. Headed to the airport a few hours early. Sat in the check-in area for a few hours. Finally, they opened check-in and we were able to get rid of our suitcases and go through security. This was the first time anyone in Africa had checked my yellow fever card. Interesting. Made it through security and wandered around the duty free stores. Had a pizza and a few drinks trying to burn through the last of our CFA and to kill time before our plane left. Finally, the Kenya Airways flight landed. We were less than an hour away from really being en route out of West Africa.

Landed in Nairobi on the morning of the 5th. Liam went exploring in the airport looking for the first class lounge/elite status lounge. Well, he couldn’t find it. But, he did walk past the flight to Mogadishu. He came back with huge white eyeballs and told me “If you want to be terrified, walk down to gate 1. That was creepy.” Apparently, as his little white, Irish self walked past all of the Somalis, they stared him down and gave him a look of hatred. I decided I didn’t really need to experience that first hand. His retelling was good enough for me!

Enjoyed a nice breakfast at a café in the terminal and then headed to our gate. Our flight left for Dar right on time and we were headed home. I hugged Smoker as soon as I saw him! Finally, my rafikis!  I really love Tanzania and it felt so great to be home!

Categories: Trip4 | 2 Comments

Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe National Park, Botswana

March 30, 2012

Wake up bright and early for a fun day in Botswana. Chobe National Park is about an hour away from Jolly Boys.  I don’t know who is more excited, Emily or I. Liam has a plan for the day that does not include “the wives.”  He says he needs to work, but, I think that is code for cold beer, relaxing by a pool, and playing online!

Leaving the husband to fend for himself, Emily and I jump in the van that will take us to Chobe. I’m so excited. Especially, when the driver tells us to watch for rhino as we drive. We passed through another park right on the Zambezi River in Zambia. Well, for the entire time we were in the car, my face was plastered to the window looking for a white rhino. I have animal issues. I could spend the rest of my life stalking them. I 100% understand animal photographers. It’s a game. To get the coolest shot of an animal in their natural habitat. And with each shot, you think of something new and exciting that you “have to have.” Don’t compare shots with people. This will result in jealousy and the need to capture another image on another safari. I guess it’s becoming my addiction. Unfortunately, safaris do not come with a cheap price tag. Can I just live in the bush for a few months and chase animals????

After about 45 minutes, we turn off the main road.  This road leads to the Zambezi river. Um. I’m confused. I didn’t know we were going to have to cross a river. But, I should have known this since the falls have to come from somewhere. My own stupidity often amuses me. It takes a lot of practice and hard work to be so ditzy!

We go through customs and have our passports stamped. Jump in a little boat and zip across the river. Someone was talking about crocodile infestation and the need to be careful because hungry crocs may attack boats. I didn’t know whether to believe them or just hope for a new purse and pair of boots with a side of croc taters.

On the other side, we go through immigration in Botswana. Now, at the border of Botswana, there is a shoe washing station. It’s full of black nasty water and who knows what else. But, in order to be polite, I wash my shoes and hop in the jeep. We are off on safari. WOO HOO!

How is this going to clean our shoes????

How is this going to clean our shoes????

We arrive at the office of the safari company. Try to pay, but of course their credit card machine is down. I was pretty excited to actually use a credit card machine. We have been living on a cash only system for MONTHS. Credit cards are almost a novelty now. Eat breakfast and find out that we are riding through the land portion of the park first and then the river safari after lunch.  The office manager tells me it will be okay to pay the fee over lunch as that should give them enough time to fix the problem with the machine. Fingers crossed.

Our car service for the morning...

Our car service for the morning…

On the way to the park, I hunt the town looking for an ATM. Just in case. Always good to have a back up plan. This is Africa.

I’m impressed with Botswana so far. It’s one of the more developed countries in Africa. The country is relatively safe and the exchange rate is stable.  The town we drove through was clean, the roads were tolerable. Botswana has potential.

We arrive at the gate and take an opportunity to run to the restroom. The roads on safari tend to be rather bumpy. Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but I always have this fear that I’m going to squat in the bush and a mamba is going to bite me. I’m sure it’s a silly fear and I’m probably way more likely to be bitten by a killer spider or a stung by a scorpion. But, who said fears were meant to be rational. Not I!

Get back in the car and away we go.

Now, the first animals we spy are warthogs. Now, most people who know me, would swear I would never utter the words below. I don’t know what has come over me. But, I desperately want a warthog hanging on the wall. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to kill it. That’s Liam’s job. And, I will eat the bacon and share with friends and staff. But, I think they are so ugly, they are cute. I will not be able to go back to Alaska without a pig on the wall. It may be the only dead animal allowed in the house because they are so creepy. But, the pig for some reason is okay. Shrug.

It's a warthog!

It’s a warthog!

After the warthogs, we passed a herd of impalas and then found some storks nesting in the trees. Maribou storks were nesting everywhere. They are rather large birds. I have not gotten close enough yet to confirm this, but, I am pretty sure that their wingspan is longer than I am tall. I’m also questioning the fact that the bird may be taller then me.  Yes, I’m that short and shrinking.

Maribou storks in a tree

Maribou storks in a tree

Maribou stork trying to catch a few fish.

Maribou stork trying to catch a few fish.

We continue a little farther down the road and arrive at the river’s edge. Okay. I’m impressed. The Chobe River is beautiful. We can see Namibia across the river.  There are elephants splishing and splashing. Hippos floating and talking. This is really, really cool. Again, I don’t know who is more excited. Emily or I.

Not far from us, there was a gigantic bull bathing himself. A small boat motors a little too closely and the elephant becomes annoyed and walks out of the river. As he continues to walk towards us, I’m impressed by his size. One of the biggest elephants I have seen to date. He is gorgeous! And, heading straight for us. When large bull elephants are approaching, the driver’s always enters a heightened sense of awareness. Bull elephants can be quite ferocious and will attack if they feel the need. But, our little friend was just looking to have a nice stroll without any invading his personal space. He walked right behind the jeep and then along side it. He was walking rather briskly so a lot of the pictures I took are blurry. But, I was able to get a few great shots of the lil’ guy!

Large bull leaving the river

Large bull leaving the river

That's a big boy!

That’s a big boy!

We continued along the river’s edge for a while. The truck in front of us was full of the China man. They started making all kinds of noise and ran a massive male kudu away. I was pissed. Why couldn’t they keep their little lips from flapping for five minutes so we too could enjoy the beauty of the giant male kudu. I managed to snap a few pictures as he ran away! But, GRRRRRRR, stupid China man.

Run, Kudu! Run!

Run, Kudu! Run!

Our driver went around them and we were in the lead. Good. Stupid China man. Well, we came across a beautiful water buffalo. I offered to take Emily’s picture with it. However, we had to change seats. I don’t know why I didn’t think to tell her to move slowly and crouch, but she stood up and took a step. Well, the buffalo freaked and ran away, the hippos soaking behind him freaked and all jumped. Our driver freaked and wanted to know what we were doing and we couldn’t stop laughing. Oops. I did feel a little guilty for the heart attacks we handed the water buffalo and hippos. Poor little guys all freaked out. Next time, I guess we should ask them before we try to covertly take their picture.

Hi. I'm a water buffalo.

Hi. I’m a water buffalo.

Continue along the river’s edge and see a female waterbuck, striped mongooses, and a herd of elephants. The river is beautiful. I’m really enjoying the safari along the river’s edge and looking forward to the boat portion of our trip. I just wanted to be chased by a hippo. A slight death wish, maybe. But, it would be GREAT for the story!

Head away from the river and take a pit stop. This would be one of those points that I realize my fear of snakes needs to be overcome. Emily and I STOMP our way through the brush to the lil’ girls room (a large tree had fallen over and we were using the root base as a barrier to the other people near us). We figure any critters that were here are now afraid of our size and power. It worked. We didn’t see anything.

Had a nice cold coke and a snack and away we went. Meandered through the bush and found a giraffe munching on some trees. Then, a rather large group of impalas. Then, all of a sudden, our car is barreling past a female lion laying on the side of the road. Emily and I are trying to talk without screaming because we are in the open seats and have a fairly good chance of being first one attacked. Now, this was not an easy feat. There were lots of hand gestures and STOP! STOP! STOP! as one slurred word interjections. About 50 m after the lioness, the driver realized what we were saying and stopped and backed up. I’m impressed she stayed put. Granted it was really hot. And she was hiding in the canopy of a tree, panting. About 10 feet away, there was a group of cubs playing in the bushes. What a score. Baby lions. They were pretty cute. I just wish we would have had a little better visibility for improved shots. The grass was really tall and they were hiding as they played. I’m thinking Simba & Nala type pouncing practice. Hakuna matata.

Munching on a few tree tops...

Munching on a few tree tops…

Surviving the heat...

Surviving the heat…

Little lion cub

Little lion cub

After the lions, we pretty much headed out of the park and back to the office. It was time for lunch. I do not know why but safaris make you hungry. It could be the constant core workout as you bump along the “roads.”  Lunch was quite a spread and rather delicious. Southern Africa is quickly winning me over. The credit card machine was working and I was able to pay my bill! Thankfully.

After lunch, we waited a little bit to sort through which group of people was going on the boat with us. Walk down the boardwalk to the boat and was disappointed. I wanted to be in a floating death trap. Nope. We were in a gigantic party boat. Note to self, make sure the boat is a floating death trap in the future. Es muy importante.

Our river barge.

Our river barge.

I told Emily as we got on the boat that I would cry if one of two things did not happen. Either I wanted a hippo to chase us OR I wanted the open mouth hippo shot. Well, I got the shot. The hippos were rather cooperative and according to the captain quite grumpy. We were far enough away to enjoy the show. I felt like we were watching a slow motion version of the game hungry, hungry hippos.

Look at those tusks...

Look at those tusks…

Coming to you live...Hungry Hungry Hippo.

Coming to you live…Hungry Hungry Hippo.

We putzed along the river. Passed a few crocodiles, hippos, and came upon a rather large herd of elephants. There were a few baby elephants in the mix. They were so much fun to watch. They stayed right by their moms and if there was any fear, they hid under their mom’s legs. There was on little guy who was leaving the river and was trying to climb over a log. He was so small, he was sort of stuck halfway over it. I had to giggle as he wiggled off the log. It’s such a pain to be little and have to crawl/wiggle over big obstacles. I get it little guy. And I had been allowed, I totally would have helped you out!

You can do it!

You can do it!

A gigantic male appeared on the bank and was strolling down to the river. He was an interesting fellow to watch. When he arrived at the bank, all of the other elephants walked over to him. He must be the guy in charge. Or his harem was excited to see him. I know the puppies and I run to greet Liam when he comes home. So, I’ll go with the harem and excitement.

Little one playing in the water...

Little one playing in the water…

Herd at the river's edge

Herd at the river’s edge

The BOSS!

The BOSS!

Continue on and enjoy the nice calm ride along the river. It was a beautiful day and the weather cooperated considering it was raining everywhere around us!

What a great safari day! I’m glad I was able to go with Emily! It was a neat park and I would love to go back one day!

Categories: Africa, Trip 5 | 1 Comment

Driving Back through West Africa

28 December 2011 – 1 January 2012

6 whole days of driving. That’s all this trip could have taken. But, a month later. It’s really time to go home. So, here’s the basic run down on the drive back.

Woke up on the 28th, load the car and away we went. Made it to Tamale, Ghana. Thankfully. We were hoping to gain a day by making this leg of the trip in one day! Pulled up to the Giriba Lodge and booked the last two rooms. Went to the restaurant at the hotel for dinner. They were swamped because everyone decided to show up at the same time for dinner. When this happens in Africa, the staff freak out and quit functioning. It’s just part of life here.  While we were enjoying our dinner, two French boys (about the age of 8-9) walked up to our table and snatched the bottle caps off of our beer and coke bottles. WTH?? Seriously. It was so rude. Their parents did nothing. Now, had they asked politely, we would have given the caps to them. Instead, Liam yelled at them and then started taunting the kids and hoarding all of the caps so they would leave our table alone. (I promise – he’s really great with kids…but not rude French kids).

On the 29th, when we stopped for gas, I happened to notice that the tire that was canted was almost completely bald and was bound to pop. We also noticed there was a nail inside the back right tire. We have two spares and it looks like we are going to use them. Better start looking for a shop to repair the one with a nail in it. Instead of changing the bald tire at the gas station, we drove down the road a little closer to the border and then had the tire changed. Still confused why we didn’t just change it while we were already at a gas station. But, what do I know. I sat with my fingers crossed hoping we wouldn’t lose another tire. Things like that happen in Africa ALL THE TIME!

Our drive on the 29th took us all the way to Bobo-Dissolou, Burkina Faso. Perfect. We are ahead of schedule and have enough time to drive back to Banfora in the morning to buy rum and enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Sucre de Canne! We were going to stay at a nicer hotel but they only had one room, so we went back to Villa Rose. Had dinner at St. Germaine again because it was so good last time!

On the 30th, we drove down to Banfora early. Had breakfast, tasted some rum, and headed to Bamako, Mali. On the way from Banfora to Bobo-Dissolou, the tire with the nail in it went flat. Stopped at a tire-changing hut on the way out of Bobo to have someone change the tire. While the boys worked on the car, I was reading my book (Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden) and noticed a chicken stuck in a drainage ditch. Therefore, I went on a hunt to find something to pick up the chicken and put him back on normal ground. Thankfully, I had some gloves to protect me from funky chicken diseases. Picked up the chicken on a cardboard box. He was so freaked out that he sat right near the front tire of the car for a while. Finally, he calmed down enough and started walking around. Realizing he was free!! I’m sure he will be dinner at some point in the future, but it made me feel good knowing that he wouldn’t drown in the drainage ditch. Poor lil’ chicken.

Second tire changed, but not repaired. So, now we have no spare tires. Seriously, stressing. It’s just not a good idea to have ZERO spares. Especially since we had already driven the roads and knew they weren’t great. However, Al did not agree with us and didn’t want to take the time to stop. Now, I’m really going to stress about making it all the way to Mauritania. Cause we have no spare and potentially a broken back axle. AWESOME.

Made it to Bamako at dark. Checked into the Badala Hotel and ate dinner. Liam came upstairs after dinner and informed me that Al said he did not want to take the time to fix the tire. Seriously. It’s really frustrating. Liam tried to talk him into getting fixed, but it was becoming a don’t-bring-it-up-I’m-going-to-do-what-I-want-because-you-are-bossing-me-around issue. Um. It’s not. It’s a safety issue. Because now, we are traveling through Africa and seriously compromising our safety.  Oh, and apparently me saying, “I’m not comfortable traveling any further without a spare” does not matter to him. So, I know where I stand on the totem pole. I just wonder if he would put his own family in that kind of a position. (And in hindsight, I’m really pissed at myself for calming Liam down and convincing him to not make a scene. That was irresponsible of myself. I will never let it happen again. Safety first. Not feeling the need to live dangerously).

Leaving Bamako on the 31st, the guys got into a bit of a yelling contest. Being in the car for 30 days with the same people brings out all kinds of fun tension. Al and Liam ended up in a screaming match over lots of little things. Then, we spent the next 12 hours in silence. Except for when someone asked to pee. Liam and I were stuck in the front seat and back seat respectively, because Al wanted to drive. Fine. But, for the record, we both offered.

Beautiful Baobab in Western Mali.

The border between Senegal and Mali was a fiasco because the customs agent in Senegal was being a complete and utter prick. But, he realized he wasn’t going to get any money out of us and he better let us go. Came upon a giant animal. At first glance it looked like a West African baby rhino. But, since they have been extinct since 2006 and I’m not sure they were even in this area, we decided it was a giant wart hog. Make it to Tambacounda, Senegal. Stay in the same hotel we did last time. Actually, in the same room. And it was 104. Not 109. They fixed the toilet! We had to laugh. Spent some time talking Liam out of flying out of Dakar the next day instead of driving the other embassy vehicle to Mauritania. He was really pissed and ready to be done with this trip. Went to dinner and enjoyed a nice quiet meal on New Year’s Eve. After dinner looked up information and decided we would be able to leave on the 3rd. Awesome. I don’t really feel like being in West Africa for another 5 days if I can go ahead and get out of here! Especially with all the extra tension.

Also, spent some time double-checking if the pig was really a rhino. My brain was literally seeing things. The pig was HUGE. It’s back was almost to the top of the front of the car. I’m guessing about 3.5 feet tall. Therefore, I had myself convinced I needed to report a rhino siting to the World Wildlife Foundation. See. Africa makes you crazy!

Here piggy piggy!

Wake up on New Year’s Day. Try to be polite, but it’s going to be another long day.

Silence most of the way to Dakar. Made it into Dakar and arrived at the embassy. Al went to grab the other car from the embassy compound since Liam didn’t have his id and I had absolutely no idea where it was parked. While Al was grabbing the car, we pulled all of our stuff out of the car we had been driving. Al pulls up the car and we tell him to go ahead and start driving to St. Louis, Senegal since we have to stop by the airport. That way, at least one of us would get there before dark. Again, more yelling and screaming. Seriously. This trip needs to end.

Al drives through the embassy gate. Liam runs up to him and asks him if his phone is working. Of course not. We have had phone issues the whole trip. We get in the other truck after loading all of our stuff. We drive over to the Casino market to get some food for the drive since we are both starving. As we were pulling in to the grocery store, we saw Al pull into the Radisson Blu next door. So, I guess he isn’t going to St. Louis tonight. I wonder if he is actually staying there. Hopefully, he will email us later and clue us in. The grocery store was closed for the holiday, so we headed to the airport. Changed our Senegal Airline flight from the 8th to the 3rd and were on our way to St. Louis. We wanted to enjoy a few days doing our own thing. Especially after how crappy the past few days were.

Bought some more oranges on the road and gobbled them down. OMG. They are so delicious. I would drive down that crazy road just to buy them!!!

Make it to Saint Louis right at dark. We begin the hunt for our hotel. There is a parked car in front of us and Liam puts on his blinker to go around the car. As he pulls out, BAM!!! A motorbike rams into the car and bounces off. Crap. We pull forward a little and the crowd starts to form, so we pull away looking for the police and trying to call our embassy. Well, someone follows us and stops us at a police blockade and accuses us of fleeing the scene. Well, we were following embassy policy. That’s what we are told to do. Remove yourself from the dangerous situation. So, we did.

The policeman tries to get into the car with us and take us back to the scene of the crime. Well, here’s the problem. This car only has two seats. So, I pushed him away and closed the door. Probably didn’t help the situation. The policeman jumps in the car of the people who chased us down since policemen don’t have cars in Africa. (I mean really, why would a policeman need a car. Seems silly doesn’t it?) So, back to the scene of the crime we went.

Categories: Trip4 | Leave a comment

Ghana…

22 December 2011 – 27 December 2011

Wake up to Liam’s bright and shining face on our 1st anniversary in Africa!  We have been married for 3 years. And it’s been a busy three years. But, I’m hoping the 4th year of our marriage is MUCH better than the past one. While we have grown together, it has been a REALLY tough year and we are due a break.

Load the car. We are stopping by the embassy and then we are heading out of town. Ouagadougou has been fun, but I’m ready to see some friends!! We are heading to Ghana to meet up with some friends of ours from DC who moved to Ghana in March!

But, first things first. Head to the embassy one last time to take care of some paperwork, hand in the keys for the TDY house, and check email one more time. I’m waiting on official yes from the travel office to book my ticket to Memphis for surgery. But, seeing as how I have yet to receive an answer, it will be last minute before I have a response. Sigh. Gotta love the government and their inability to do their job in a timely manner.

Head south around 10am. We have a border to cross and are staying in Tamale, Ghana a town a couple hours south of the border. It’s a short trek to the border and the road was brand new. There were a few spots where they were finishing construction of the road but all in all, I think it only took us about 4.5 hours. Arrive in Tamale and look for a bank that will take MasterCard for cash. This is a serious problem in West Africa. It’s almost impossible to find banks that work with MasterCard debit cards. Finally did. Thank you Stanbic. You will have lots of USAA customers for life with that option.

After looking at all of the hotel options and one of the guesthouses being full, we decide on the Catholic Archdiocese Guesthouse. For $22.50, Liam treated me to a very special third anniversary. Compete with prostitutes hovering outside Al’s room. Oh wait. Did I say prostitutes? I meant to say they “just wanted to be his friend.” One of the girls watching him check in slipped him a note under his door. Yea. He wasn’t very appreciative of that fact. Al didn’t really feel the need to make any new friends. And thankfully, they left our rooms alone all night!

I thought the C-wire added a nice touch. Safety first.

The room was actually pretty clean, but the bed was not comfortable and lacked a top sheet. So, we had to sleep under a blanket, which was probably clean, but still sketched me out a tiny bit. But, we survived. Another African guesthouse. Is it wrong that I’m starting to prefer the slightly sketchy guesthouses to the lush bungalows on the beach? It’s really a cost thing. I’ve become very cheap when choosing a place to snuggle. Why pay $200 a night when you can spend $20 for essentially the same thing. Well, hot water, top sheets, and towels may be a negotiable item. But, that’s part of the appeal. You never know what you are going to get.

After checking in and situating our self in our room, we walked down the street to Swad Fast Food for dinner. Now, the title might lead you to assume that this was a McDonald’s type fast food restaurant. However, fast food is a term African’s have added to titles because it is American and cool to say “fast food.” However, by no means does it actually mean you will receive your food in a timely manner. In fact, it could be a two-hour meal. Because time is irrelevant in Africa.  Which I’m adapting too and beginning to like. It’s a slower pace of life. It’s actually nice.

Fancy fast food.

As expected dinner took a while, but it was overall pretty tasty. I probably ordered the wrong thing for my belly, but Liam’s curry was fantastic and I was kicking myself for not ordering a vegetable curry instead of the chicken cordon bleu. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and had a few beers in the courtyard of the guesthouse. It was enjoyable. There were a few cats running around and all of a sudden two were in a nasty cat fight and ran past us. I’m not sure what was going on there. Maybe one kitty crossed the other kitty’s line?

The party going on in the conference room ended right as we were finishing our beers in the courtyard. Thankfully. Cause had it continued into the wee hours of the morning, sleeping would have been impossible. The conference center was literally behind our two rooms and the music was LOUD. Speaker blowing loud. This is the norm in Africa though. I’m guessing it’s about feeling the music. Literally.

Head to bed after a rather unusual anniversary.

Wake up on the morning of the 23rd and we grab breakfast from the guesthouse restaurant. The breakfast options were pretty limited. But, I can fill up on toast, fruit, and tea if necessary. However, fruit was the wrong thing to order, because everyone else ordered omelets and the guys were done eating their eggs before my fruit was even cut. It was worth the wait though. The pineapple was delicious.

Finish up breakfast, pay, check out. In the process of all of this, Liam pointed out that the back left wheel of the car was canted. I didn’t see it. But, I guess that could be a problem long term. We will just keep an eye on it and hope it gets us all the way back to Noukachott.

Pile in the car and we are off to Kumasi, Ghana. Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti kingdom. The Ashanti people have been in this region for several centuries. There is a legend of the golden stool. A golden stool (literally made of gold) came down from the heavens. Over the years, several different groups of people have tried to steal the stool. However, after one of the last attempts, the real stool has been placed in a secure location and an imitation one is on display. Additionally, there is a sword in the ground at one of the hospital. If the sword is removed, the Ashanti kingdom will collapse. Also, they still have a king. Pretty cool.

Somehow we managed to make a wrong turn and were quite a ways out of Tamale before we realized it. But, stopped asked for directions and away we went on the correct road. The road was full of potholes, goats, mutton, cows, and people. Some of which understood basic physics. One lil’ baby goat went splat. It was not nice. But, that’s why slowing down and having plenty of reaction time is so essential here.

Arrived in Kumasi to a cluster of chaos. Seriously. The map we had was okay until we hit a detour in the road. Then, we made a right when we should have gone left and 20 km outside of the city we turned around. However, it was not a total loss. We bought some fresh sugar cane to chew on and a bunch of bananas. Delicious, as usual.

Back track and make the right turn. Check out the two hotels we are looking at staying in. Decide to stay at the Royal Park Hotel because they said they took American Express and we were low on cash. Check in and check out our room. It’s pretty nice and an actual king size bed. That’s the first I have seen on this trip. We are both going to get a good night sleep tonight!

We are staying in Kumasi for two nights. Mostly to break up the drive and actually enjoy the sites of a country. So, we head out on the hunt to find a place to eat dinner. Look for two restaurants down the street from our hotel but it’s approaching dark and we can’t find them. The Lonely Planet we are using is a few years old, and lists them off the map. We give up and have park at the restaurant next to our hotel. We head in, the servers fight over who is going to help us. Then, we sit down to eat. However, they turn on the music and it’s BLARING. In our ears. The speakers are 10 feet away and so loud. We decide there is no way we can suffer through that and pack up our stuff to leave. However, the owner comes over and talks to us. They turn down the music and we head over to another side of the restaurant. Which made me feel bad. Why should all the other patrons not have the music at the volume they want it? But, the owner assured us it was okay.

We ordered drinks and food. The owner came back over and talked with us for a while. Turns out his is a doctor in town and has opened his own hospital. We talked a little more and I gave him my contact info. I would not mind going back one day and volunteering at his hospital. He did mention that he wanted a new dialysis machine. I kind of felt like he was fishing for someone to donate one. But, the man owns a hospital. Owns a VERY successful restaurant. AND. Who knows what else. But, he needs a free dialysis machine. He probably makes more money than most of the physicians I know. Sigh. TIA.

Dinner was delicious. Liam ordered pizza. I ordered soup and vegetable fried rice. There must be a gigantic Asian population in this town because there is only Asian food on the menu. We started connecting the dots on that one. If there is a large range of a certain ethnic type of food – the population reflects it. But, whatever. Bring on some Chinese food. It’s delicious!  Liam’s pizza was also pretty tasty and the live band was nice. By the time we left, we were all a fan of this place. To think we almost missed out on a nice evening because the music was loud.

Leave the restaurant and walk to the car. We are blocked in. There are other people who have been blocked in for over an hour. Even though, they have announced the license plate over and over again. They were understandably upset. Well, that’s not okay to me. People should not be so impolite. So, I go find the owner and ask him to help. Then, we take off the license plate on the car and give it to a security guard (the plate was tied to the car with a string). Then, a group of about 5 guys picked up the back end of the Kia and moved it over a few feet. At last. Everyone is free! Helped the people who had been stuck to back out and away we went. Well at least the 200 feet we went. I’m just glad we were able to help!

Head back to the hotel and decide I can’t resist the monkey in the cage. He looked so miserable and lonely. I snuck a banana out to him. He was pretty excited and I think I made a friend. It was entertaining to watch him eat the banana. He did the exact same thing I do. Every time I come across a stringy thing on the banana, he pulled it off, made a face, and threw it to the ground! Yep. I definitely share a lot of genes with this guy!!!!!

My lil' friend.

Off to bed. I’m so exhausted. Traveling really wears you out.

Wake up on the morning of the 24th. It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. Probably because it’s so hot. We take our sweet time and enjoy a late breakfast. After breakfast, walked back to the room and the housekeepers asked me to leave them a Christmas present. WTH? Really. That’s rude. I don’t even know you.

We showered and headed out to explore town. First stop, the military museum. I had no idea that the Ghanaians fought with the Germans in World War I in East Africa and then with the British in Burma in World War II. Talk about a change in alliance. They had managed to secure a pretty cool collection of military equipment. Guns, machetes, tanks, planes, etc. They had a section that was dedicated to each branch of the military. It was in the old fort that was used to protect the Ashanti kingdom in the early 1900s.

After the tour of the museum, head into town to go exploring. You never know what you will come across. Walk down, meet a few people. Ghanaians are a very friendly and welcoming people. We shop a little. But, it’s lunch time. Based on a recommendation one of the guys gave us, we walked across the street and had lunch in an awesome café. I ordered alu matter. I was craving some Indian goodness after Liam’s delicious curry the other night. Indian food is always good. And filling. I actually think it’s a comfort food for me. I grew up on it!!! All because we have so many fantastic Indian friends!!

After lunch, we decide to check out a few of the shops. Liam ends up bargaining for two Ashanti masks. One is the king. One is the queen. And he scored a GREAT deal. It’s become a game for him. How cheap can I get something?

Queen on left, King on the right.

Walked down the hill and went for a stroll through the market. I really enjoy markets. You literally can find anything you need. We found a receipt book for Al. There was a ton of CCC – cheap china crap. Okay. So, I think I need to explain something here. I have made a lot of comments about China lately. China has done a lot of great things for African countries as far as infrastructure. The new roads are quite nice. However, within 2 years they fall apart and are crap. It’s kind of like the cheaply made plastic stuff we buy in the states. You know it’s going to break at some point. Well, they have a whole different version of cheap plastic for Africa. And the quality is even worse than what is available in the States. To the point, some African countries (like Tanzania) are restricting and outlawing importation of CCC. Because, families save their hard earned money to buy a $5 chair. Then, the chair breaks a week later and the family has just wasted $5 that took them a year to save up. So, coming to Africa with an indifferent opinion, I now have a strong opinion that the entire world, specifically China, is only ‘helping’ Africa for their own gain. It’s sad. How about we all help this continent grow and become a strong economic factor in the world without trying to clean the continent of it’s natural resources. Might help us all out!!!!!

Leave the market and head back to the hotel to rest for a bit!  When Al & I get out of the car, Liam runs back to the bank to get cash. I walk towards our room and the security guard asks for his Christmas present. WTH, again. What is up with these people? It’s just rude. I spend a little bit of time talking to my new friend, Mr. Monkey. He even let me hold us hand for a bit and talked to me. The key was in the padlock and I wanted to let the poor guy go. But, I didn’t want to upset the hotel. I’m surprised the monkey hasn’t unlocked himself though. Monkeys are known for figuring out locks and opening things!!!

After looking for the other restaurants again, we decide to return to the restaurant next door for dinner. Leave the car parked at the hotel after last night’s fiasco and walk to the restaurant. Order dinner and some popcorn. Again the food was great! There was a couple near us that had to be holding their new grandbaby! They would not put the baby down! It made me smile! Another happy, loved baby!

Head back to the hotel and another night of great sleep.

Wake up on Christmas day! Merry Christmas world. We are heading to the beach. We eat breakfast and load up the car. At some point, the housekeepers asked me why I did not leave them their Christmas present. Really? Okay. Now, I’m annoyed. Liam goes to check out and gets really upset when he finds out they didn’t take American Express. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, he got enough cash out to cover it. Otherwise, we would have been screwed. The owner was standing there and saw how upset Liam was. Regardless, it didn’t matter. So, we paid and left. With no plans to ever return to this hotel. TIA.

Get on the road to head to Cape Coast. Or what we thought was the road to Cape Coast. Another wrong turn in Africa. Just another day in our life. Find the right road after a rather knowledgeable Ghanaian pointed us in the right direction. It happens so infrequently, we are all so shocked when it does!

This was probably one of the coolest drives of our trip. We went from Sahel to Jungle. In about 2 hours. Dryness to sweating, sticking, torture-ess heat.

Made it to Cape Coast and went to check out two hotels. The first was nice, but the 2nd was much preferred. Checked in, and jumped in the car to go find a cash machine. Our constant problem in life these days. Finding a cash machine that works. While on the hunt for money, we came across Cape Coast Castle. Another horrible facility used to steal Africans of there home and ship them all over the world. However, at sunset and with all of the people around us celebrating Christmas, it was a fun place to be! I loved watching everyone swim in the ocean and celebrate life next to a building that relocated so many lives. Funny how life works isn’t it?

Canons.

Wandering around the Castle.

Merry Christmas!

May not want to order octopus with flip flop. Thinking foot sweat would not be a good flavor.

Leave the Castle and head to a restaurant on the beach for dinner. Christmas on the beach? I know it’s some people’s dream, but for me. I want 4 feet of snow and temperatures below zero. I was out of my element. But, at least Liam and I were able to spend the holidays together.

Head back to the hotel, get online for the first time in a couple of days and tackle the emails, skypes, and Christmas phone calls. What a zoo! Mostly because of lag and interference.

Head to bed. It’s been a long day and we are heading to Accra tomorrow.

Wake up, grab breakfast and away we go! December 26th is all about spending time with friends. Susan and Dan were our neighbors in DC and they moved to Ghana this past March. They have two precious children that we love to spend time with! We can’t wait to see them!

Driving to Accra can be pretty death defying from what I heard the boys mumble while I was napping. Something about 10 died on this curve, 12 died here, etc. Scary. But, I blame unbelievably poor driving. Oh and the 5 people hanging on the back of the bus rather than sitting in it. It’s a public health/safety teaching extravaganza in the making!!! But, will the people absorb and practice the lessons? Always a question…

Arrive safely into Accra, check into the Holiday Inn Airport (nicest hotel on our trip) and headed over to Susan and Dan’s. Lots of hugs and hanging out with friends. They had friends in town from Shanghai. I love meeting friends of friends. You know you surround yourself with good people when their friends are wonderful as well! It was such a wonderful day! Including baking with the bigger munchkins!

After a fantastic dinner, we headed back to the hotel and crashed.

Woke up on the 27th. At what I thought was 8:30. Well, guess what. Clocks are playing tricks on me too. Cause it was really 7:30. So, I was exhausted already and woke up an hour early. Sigh. But, I’m going mask hunting. I’m on the hunt for two masks. Both are specific for Ghana.

Another Ghanaian mask.

Head over to Susan and Dan’s and Karen, Susan, and I jump in the car to enjoy a morning of shopping and woman time. First, we drive by a few craft markets that are closed because it is a holiday in Ghana. Head to the open-air market. Since their car was broken into, Susan stayed in the car and practiced for her language class. Karen and I went hunting. I love the way she bargains. She is so nice! She gives her price and then says something along the lines of, “It’s okay if you don’t want to take that price, but that’s all I’m willing to pay for it.” She was on the hunt for presents for her two munchkins and a nativity scene. I found one of the masks I wanted. I guess the other will have to wait. Head back to the car and go grab some lunch at a great French café.

After lunch, we headed to Global Mamas (http://www.globalmamas.org). It’s a fair trade NGO. They had a bunch of great stuff. I bought a counting kids book. I’m a sucker for kids book. We have a pretty great collection now!!! But, I’m hoping it only grows! It’s so important for children to have books and develop a love for reading at a young age!

Head back over to there house around 1400. Spend the rest of the afternoon having great conversation and spending time playing with the munchkins! Head back to the hotel as they were sitting down for dinner. Liam and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on life/work/school.

I’m sad we are leaving tomorrow to begin the drive back to Nouakchott. But, I’ve also hit the I’m-done-with-traveling-point. Ready to go back home.

Categories: Trip4 | Leave a comment

Off to Burkina Faso? Huh? That’s a country?

16 December 2011 – 21 December 2011

I woke up around 5:30am. I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to take pictures of sunrise and fisherman at the beginning of the day. But, it was still too dark so I rolled back over for a little bit. About 6:30am, I crawled out of bed to check out the light. Decided it was perfect timing and headed downstairs and tried to find a way to the river. There was a gate that looked like it led to the river, but it was locked. Exit at the front of the hotel and walk down the street. Say hello to the locals. Malian people are so friendly. See a farm field with an unfinished house on the river behind it. Walk through the fields hoping not to cross paths with a West African snake. Make it to the river bank and take in the noise of the river. Snap a few shots of the ripples in the water. The sun begins to peak over the hills in the distance. A fisherman passes me as he looks in his net along the bank for bait fish. I really like Bamako. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to move here one day!

I even beat the sun this AM. That doesn't happen very often.

Fishing on the Niger River.

Head back to the hotel and crawl back into bed. Liam was half awake and wondering where I had gone. He’s so cute in the morning! Try to sleep for a little bit longer but it’s not happening. Get out of bed and prepare to get out on the road again. Liam happened to check our checking account and figure out the bill he paid the other day cleaned out our checking account. So, call American Express to have them refund the payment. What a pain the butt. Liam moved some money from savings so we could have cash on hand once we found an ATM. Just another problem with intermittent Internet. Little things you learn along the way. Thankfully, AMEX was actually helpful and the money should be back in our account within a few days. Since we aren’t using it except to pull cash out on occasion, it should not be a big deal. Life is easier in a lot of ways with cash only.

Shower and head to breakfast. Pay the bill and away we go. We are planning on stopping in Sikasso, Mali for the night. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive. Stop along the way to take a picture of a village name.

Say that 10 times real fast....

Arrive in Sikasso and look for the hotel that someone in the Bamako embassy recommended. For some reason, they said there were no rooms available. I would have believed them, except it seemed shady. We will probably never know why we got the shady vibe. Regardless, if they don’t want us at the hotel tonight, there is probably a reason. So, we will continue onto Bobo-Dissolou, Burkina Faso.  It’s not that far away from Sikasso and is a bigger town.

The border crossing was fairly easy. However, one of the national police walked up to me and told me I was a nice big woman perfect for him. Um. No. I’m already married and he’s standing two feet away from me AND you just called me fat. Go, visually assault someone else please. I’m not digging the Muslim men who are trying to score an American 2nd or 3rd wife. I’ve already got a husband. Liam didn’t catch what he said, but when I told him later, he laughed.

Continue driving and arrive in Bobo as the sun is setting. Manage to find the hotel (Villa Rose) without a lot of difficulty. The owner recommends a restaurant for us down the street. We decided to walk over to the restaurant because it was maybe a quarter of a mile away. While walking, we passed a poultry and pigeon brochette seller. Thought about it for a minute and opted for a fine dining experience. You have to indulge every once in a while!! Besides, the meat on a stick in Africa can be quiet delicious going down. Just don’t blame me if it comes back up!

Enjoy a nice dinner and talk about what we are going to do tomorrow. Decide to head south to Banfora and look for the Karfiguela waterfalls. After we finish dinner, we head back to the hotel to change our clothes and head to a local bar to listen to live music. After getting a taste in Kayes, I just want to hear more. When we arrive we meet, Franca, Moctar’s wife. She is from Amsterdam, Netherlands. They spend part of their time in Bobo and the other part in Amsterdam. Very friendly! Since they are going to be full tomorrow night, they have made reservations for us at another hotel in town and offered to show us how to get there tomorrow. It’s so nice to see businesses that still want to take care of their customers. I would stay there again in the future!

Moctar offers to take us over to the bar since our car is full of stuff. We pull the truck onto the hotel compound and away we go. The bar is hosting a musical festival! Woo hoo. What a great way to spend a birthday eve! The music was okay to pretty impressive! I’m so impressed by the fact that they can turn a few gourds, some wood, a couple of reeds, some fishing line, and a cow butt into a full band. Moctar & Franca join us after they ate dinner around 10pm. We listen to the music festival until around 1am and then everything dies down and it is time to return to the hotel. Head over to the annex and get ready for bed. I convince Liam that he has to sleep with me in a twin bed because it’s my birthday and I don’t want him to sleep in the other twin bed on the other side of the room. For some reason, he agreed and crawled in bed.

Woke up on my birthday to a stupid rooster crowing, a train passing by, and people talking. Oh yeah. There was a goat making goat noises too. REALLY?!?!?!?! So, much for sleeping in on my birthday. Crawl out of bed around 8am and Liam runs over to get hot water for a bucket shower and coffee for himself. The water was nice and boiling. I had to fill it almost completely with cold water to keep it from burning my skin! Then, I enjoyed a nice warm bucket shower in a communal bathroom.

Head back to the room and get dressed. Then, we head to breakfast. Liam wants to take a shower after he eats and has his morning coffee. After he is showered, we check out of the hotel and are on our way to Banfora. On the way to Banfora, Liam finds out about a lake that has hippos in it. It’s about 7 kms south of Banfora. So, we decided to head their first and back track to the falls. Find the lake, pay the 2000 CFA fee per person and drive to the end of the road. Somehow we missed that the boat ride to the hippos was included in the entrance fee. When we were told the boat ride was 10000 CFA per person, we opted not to take a ride in the rickety boat. Had I known it was included, I probably would have gone for a ride! But, instead, Liam walked around the lake with me to see if we could get close enough to them to take a picture. We walked a portion of the lake and didn’t see anything. So, we returned to the car and decided the hippo lake was a tourist trap.

Pull out the West Africa Lonely Planet book and find a restaurant for lunch. Head to the Hotel Canne a Sucre. Order a beef brochette, sautéed potatoes, and a salad. Ate everything but the beef. I’ve decided I don’t like the beef here. It’s too wild meat tasting for me. I felt bad wasting it all, but if you don’t like it. Why eat it?

Since we are traveling, I did not have a birthday cake for the first time in my life. Liam really didn’t believe me at first, but birthday cake is one of my all time favorite things. So, when I get back to Dar, I’m going to make myself a nice yummy cake! Which was my plan from the get-go – it was just odd being in the day and not having a slice of yummy cake for my birthday! The other thing that was a little odd – I’m a December baby. It’s supposed to be cold on my birthday, preferably with 2-4 feet of snow on the ground. But, we were in 95 degree weather. That’s something I’m going to have a hard time adjusting too. Having birthdays in hot weather. I might have to disappear for a few days around December 17th to the northern hemisphere in the future.

After lunch, Liam and I each had a nice bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream. It was awesome. Creamy. Perfect texture. Perfect flavor. That’s another thing we need to start working on – Ice cream making. We are going to become a 100% from scratch kitchen before too long. (If you have any tips on ice cream making – shoot us an email – we will share across the globe with other military and State Department people).

Get back in the car and begin the hunt for the water falls. In theory, we probably should have hired a guide – but that takes all the fun out of wandering. Head back out of town. At approximately 10kms, we take a left hand turn onto a dirt road. Stop and ask someone how to get to the falls and he says keep going on this road. Well we do, until we see something that we think could be the falls. Turns out, it’s the Dome. Well, we leave the dome b/c it’s a giant rock formation and we have all seen rocks and keep on searching for the falls. Drive through a few more farm fields and finally see a sign that says Cascades. YAY! The falls. Turn down a bumpy dirt road. See a booth to pay the entrance fee. It was 1000 CFA per person.  Pull up a little past the booth and park for 300 CFA. There are vendors selling wares on the left hand side of the parking lot. Man. This town is full of tourist trap places.

About 10 children swarm us and want to take us up to the falls – aka – be our guide. We tell them that we are okay and want to hike and enjoy the walk on our own. I know what you are thinking – we didn’t help the poor, starving African children. But, in reality. We did. We paid to visit the falls and paid for parking. If we gave money to every person who wanted some from us, we would end up filing bankruptcy by the end of the month. The amount of money we have is relative to what we are responsible for paying in the States (mortgage, student loans, etc.). But, Africans do not see this. They see an expat and think we are all billionaires. And in some ways we are. But, like I said. If I gave money to everyone who wanted some from me, we would end up bankrupt.

Head up the trail to the top of the waterfalls. Was able to finally work out a few of the timed shutter speed settings on our new camera and got a few great shots of the falls! They were actually really pretty! And I bet they are even better in rainy season when there is a ton more water. Since sunset was approaching, we hiked back down from the top of the falls and took another path to the base. Yep, rainy season would be a better time to see the falls – but it’s not to shabby today!

Not quite. But, I liked the picture.

Finally figured it out. Now to get the water splashes out. Grrr.

Walk to the car and briefly look at a few of the items for sale. Decide we didn’t really like anything and began our journey back to Bobo-Dissolou. We arrived in town right after sunset. Went to the old hotel to pick up Al’s phone – but it ended up being at the restaurant from the night before. Run over to the restaurant. Pick up his phone. The owner called to the other restaurant she owns in town to make reservations for dinner for us. People are so wonderful here! Then, begin the hunt for our new hotel. Find it after realizing we were on the wrong main road. Check in, put our bags up. For $15/night, we got a suite with no hot water, no blanket, and almost no toilet paper! Liam’s post on Facebook made me laugh – “Happy Birthday my lovely wifey. You’re the best travel partner in the world. And for that you get a truly African B-Day present. A wonderful night in a $15 room with no hot water and no blanket. Come here and snuggle.”

Change our clothes and head to Le Saint Germaine for dinner. Park the car. Walk into a beautiful courtyard with lots of African furniture and art for sale. Africans have some of the best wood working skills I have ever seen! The carvings are fantastic. Pick a table in the garden near the projection screen/stage where they are playing music DVDs. Some nights they have various live music, but we enjoyed the DVDs none the less. Dinner was amazing. And the service was some of the best we have had in Africa. We weren’t sure if it was because the owner made our reservation or if service was really great here!

After dinner, we decided to fore go another night of the music fest and head to bed. It took a lot of effort to not crash in the car on the way back to the hotel. Crawl into bed and fell asleep. What a nice way to end my 1st African birthday. You know you are getting old when you would rather sleep on your birthday than go out and party all night!!!

Wake up on the morning of the 18th and ponder a shower. I’m such a weenie when it comes to cold water. I absolutely detest it and will avoid it at all cost. But, Liam said it wasn’t that cold and I should give it a try. So, I did. And while it was cold, it wasn’t unbearable. Showered really quickly and finished packing up all of our stuff. We walked outside into the hotel courtyard and found Al. He had already loaded his stuff in the car. We loaded our stuff and then joined him. There were a few vendors in the courtyard of the hotel selling their wares.  The hotel also has a ton of masks on display and for sale. But, we opt to head to the market in downtown Bobo-Dissolou because the selection and prices are supposed to be a little bit better.

Check out of the hotel and fill up the car. Then, we migrate to the market area of town. We get out of the car and barely make it across the street before we are bombarded with requests to buy merchandise. We visit a mask shop and see a few HUGE Bobo goat masks. We ask the price. 150 euros. Um. I choke. Excuse me. Really? That’s ridiculous. Liam asks the price in CFA and we were told 100,000 CFA. Again. That’s insane. Liam offers 20,000 CFA and they say that is way to low. So, we continue on down the street. As we are walking away, the seller at the store says that he is going to call his friend and we agree to stop back by the store before we leave. As we walk a few guys begin to walk with us and take us into the maze of the market. It’s unbelievable. They literally sell EVERYTHING in there. Fabrics, hair extensions, food, electronics, chachkas, etc.  We visit a few vendors in the market and decide we don’t really like any of the masks. So, we walk back to another store that Al had agreed to visit to check it out.

Liam and I decided we would go back to the first mask shop and see if they would come down anymore. They asked us what the final price was and Liam said 25,000 CFA. Well, they finally agreed. Now, we just have to figure out how to get our giant Bobo goat back to Dar! I might be shipping some clothes so the goat fits in our suitcase.

Bobo Goat mask (Tiles are typical 12" x 12")

Also, keep in mind. If you ever visit our house, you may be the recipient of a very special alarm clock. One involving Liam, the goat mask, and goat noises. (He has yet to let me video it. But, given the chance in the near future – I promise to record it).

After securing the goat mask in the car, we began the journey to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  This is the capital city and where the embassy is. We are staying in a TDY house for free! WOO HOO! Save the travel budget where we can!  Follow the map we have in Lonely Planet to the embassy. Well, it turns out, the embassy on the map is now the ambassador’s house. Liam calls our contact and finds out that we are actually right by the house that we will be staying at and tells us the American Club is down the street. We decide to wander to the American Club and grab lunch. A couple of the guys stop by the American Club to meet us and coordinate the Monday’s events. Then, they show us the house we are crashing in. Housing is pretty nice in Burkina Faso. Every house has a pool. This one has a fantastic screened porch and a beautiful garden. Find our way around the house. Since there isn’t an Internet connection, we decide to walk back over to the American Club for Sunday football and Internet.  We needed to figure out where the embassy was since it was not on the map we had.

Head back to the house around 10:30pm. Move my bag into the bedroom and head to bed. I’m exhausted. Traveling around is wearing me out.

Wake up on the morning of the 19th and get dressed to head to the embassy. The guys have a meeting at 11am with the OSC chief. However, when we researched the location of the embassy, Google maps led us in the opposite direction. Call the embassy and find out we were completely on the opposite side of town and passed on the info that we would be a little late.

The embassy is brand new. Went upstairs to meet with travel about our passports. Ate lunch with the DATT. Then, the guys went for a few meetings and I went to the CLO office to work on some of my stuff. At some point, I wander into the bathroom and giggled. The following sign was on display. And I’m glad it was because when you introduce a Western toilet into Africa, it can result in a few disasters.  Better be safe than sorry.


Awesome. AND. Necessary. Apparently.

Around 3pm we headed back to the house. On the way home, we passed a few women riding scooters with babies tied to their backs. Oh and without helmets. I’m thinking this could be a major problem with shorter life-span. It also caused me to say, “You know, Liam, if we end up living in Burkina Faso with small children, we are going to have to make it VERY clear that our children will not be strapped to the back of our nanny on her scooter.” But, this is why I’m glad I’m traveling with Liam. Cause now I know that’s something to talk to our future nannies about.


 

There are so many things wrong with this picture.

By the time we got home it was around 5pm. We decided to head to the American Club for dinner because it’s so close to the house where we are staying. We walk over to the America Club, but find out the restaurant is closed on Monday nights. I hope Ouagadougou isn’t like Dar because most of the restaurants are closed on Monday nights in Dar. We check email quickly and head back to the house to get our travel book and find a place for dinner. We ended up going to Le Verdoyant.

Dinner was pleasant until a man at another table started screaming at the waiter for no reason other than to be extremely rude. The restaurant went SILENT. And in a place where politeness and greetings are one of the most important things you will do, China just lost a little more respect from everyone in the restaurant.

Enjoyed the rest of dinner and headed back home and off to bed.

The 20th was a day of organizing and planning. Being on the road, makes it very difficult to plan and deal with paperwork from past trips and my travel for surgery. So, we decided to spend part of the day at the embassy sending emails and scanning documents. After a few hours at the embassy, we headed to the grocery store. They weren’t open until 4:30pm so we spent about 30 minutes waiting for them to open. This grocery store is in a brand new shopping center. There are not a lot of stores open. But, what struck me was the absolute lack of people in the mall.

Pick up our groceries and decide to head to the other grocery store since the first Marina Market didn’t have everything we needed for dinner. The other location is across from the Grand Mosque in downtown Ouagadougou. Around the grand mosque is a pretty large market. It’s like the Target of Burkina Faso. You can find anything and everything you want. I’m a big fan of the African markets!!  It’s also fun to people watch! Thoroughly, worth a day or two of your time!

After we find everything, leave the market and head to the house. Prep everything for dinner. That way, once we are ready to eat, it will only take about 20 minutes. Eat dinner and head to bed. It’s an early night, but I’m exhausted.

Turns out the 21st ended up being another day of paperwork. We tried to knock some of it out at the American Club but the Internet connection there is awful. So, after we ate lunch, we headed to the Embassy. Spent a few hours filing paperwork and researching the rest of the trip. Once we found out the money was back in our account from when American Express cleaned it out, we pulled out money from the ATM that accepts our debit cards.

Somehow on the way home we end up missing our turn for the short way home. No big deal. We took the long way home. Ate leftovers for dinner, gathered our stuff, and talked about the journey some more.

Time to head to bed because we have a few long days of driving ahead.

Categories: Trip4 | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, & A Giant Happy Holidays to all!!!

We are still traveling in West Africa and we wanted to wish everyone a warm and wonderful holiday season!

With Love,
Francis & Liam Connor

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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