Visiting Small Towns in Botswana

Friday, December 30, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Our first stop in Botswana was a small town called Gumare in the north.  We spent one day walking out into the Okavango Delta, proceeding to get scorchingly sunburnt in the bright sunlight, compounded with the reflection off of the ubiquitous white sand

We ended up walking to a small village without electricity, but they did have an internet cafe powered by solar power!

We were struck by the differences between Botswana and many of the previous countries we had been to, mainly due to the stable government which provided schooling, government subsidies for farmers, and would even provide food for those who did not have any.  All in all, this was a lovely introduction to Botswana!
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Attacked by a Baboon at Victoria Falls

Wednesday, December 28, 2011  at 6:58 AM
baboon victoria falls Zambia Africa
 A curious baboon watching us from the forest undergrowth.

Most wild animals in Africa are, well, wild.  They are naturally wary of humans and avoid contact, if possible.  The baboons around Victoria Falls in Zambia, however, have had one too many snacks from tourists (whether willing or unwilling) and no longer hold any fear of humans.  As Chris and I entered the National Park to see Victoria Falls, we did not realize this fact.  This led to a large baboon slowly meandering towards me as we confidently strode down the trail.

 baboon victoria falls Zambia Africa
He looks so innocuous, sitting quietly on the side of the trail!  
My uncertainty about the situation quickly rose, then panic struck as the baboon lunged towards me, grabbing at my purse, where he (rightly) assumed the treats were kept.  Off-balance, I toppled over and ducked out of my cross-body purse.  The baboon took off into the brush with Chris hot on his heels--besides our food, the purse also contained our passports, Kindle, art supplies and journals!  Chris was able to wrestle the purse away from the surprised baboon (apparently most tourists do not barrel after them into the underbrush) and rescue all of our possessions except the food, which the baboon successfully made off with.  A loaf of bread in exchange for our valuables?  I'll take it.

victoria falls Zambia Africa
I love the rainbow that the water spray formed where the water hit the rocks!

The rest of our visit to Victoria Falls was much more peaceful and we enjoyed several hours of watching the falls.  We visited during the dry season, so the water flow was at a low, but it was still very impressive to see!

victoria falls Zambia Africa
The falls lie right on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe--we didn't cross to the Zimbabwe side because we didn't want to deal with another visa (plus we had only bought a single-entry visa to Zambia) but you can see Zimbabwe land behind us, across the ravine!

victoria falls Zambia Africa
After looking at the falls from the viewing locations, we found our way to the top of the falls.  Walking across the falls and playing in the river before the waterfall seemed to be popular with the locals but not with the tourists 

victoria falls Zambia Africa
Chris was braver than me and got right up to the edge of the falls!
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Ridiculous Sights in Lusaka, Zambia

Monday, December 26, 2011  at 6:58 AM
twenty billion zimbabwean dollars

 1. Vendors everywhere were selling Zimbabwean currency.  This is a TWENTY BILLION dollar note, worth approximately $0.10 (my wild guess).  These notes are no longer used as the country switched to using the United States Dollar as the official currency, due to the uncontrolled inflation (seen in the billion and trillion dollar bills).  Since the Zimbabwean dollar is no longer used, its value has actually increased as hawkers are now selling it as a souvenir!

lusaka zambia

2.   The disparity in the different parts of town was incredible--and, ironically enough, directly proportionate to the amount of empty Shake Shake containers (a super cheap type of liqueur/beer made from sorghum or maize).  Here, on the right side of the train tracks is the nice, clean downtown area, while on the left side of the tracks is the more run-down, dirty area (featuring plenty of Shake Shake containers).

vendor selling puppies lusaka zambia

3. The street vendors were much more creative in their street selling attempts in Lusaka--this man was juggling several different puppies that he was trying to sell to cars at a stoplight.  We also saw people selling board games, bags of tomatoes, and children's toys!
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Hitchhiking in Zambia

Friday, December 23, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Ok, let's talk about Hitchhiking.  It's a crazy ordeal, only for hippies, fraught with danger, right?  Hitching in Africa is tantamount to asking to be mugged and/or killed, right?  WRONG.  Hitchhiking in much of Africa is a very common means of transport, used by travelers and locals alike, and is generally regarded as faster, safer, cheaper and more comfortable than the buses.  When Chris and I traveled from Chipata to Lusaka, we caught a hitch in the back of an open-bed truck and were amazed at how much more interesting the ride was!  (Also, how dusty it was!)

hitchhiking Zambia africa
Relaxing in the bed of the truck, settling in for the 10.5 hour ride 

hitchhiking zambia africa
Soon we were joined by all sorts of other hitchers, including a group of women transporting over 20 crates of mangoes and this guy who was moving several large bags of potatoes  

river zambia africa
Passing over a river which was very low due to the current dry season

mangoes road vendor Zambia Africa
Every time the truck stopped we would get swarmed by food vendors.  These mango vendors were selling about 30 mangoes for $1 USD!
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When Hotels Fail You in Zambia

Wednesday, December 21, 2011  at 6:58 AM
entering zambia countryside
The countryside, entering Zambia.  

From Lilongwe, Malawi, our next planned destination was Lusaka, Zambia.  However, these cities were just far enough away from each other that traveling from one to the other in one day would be practically impossible.  Therefore we decided to break up our trip with a stop in Chipata, just over the border in Zambia.

Our game plan, as it had been for several other unknown African cities, was to arrive and find a cheap hotel for the night before continuing our journey in the morning.  Unfortunately, much to our dismay, the cheapest hotel was out of our projected price range ($20 for the absolute cheapest room, compared to the $6 a night that we had been used to paying).

We were unwilling to shell out the $20 for the night (cheapskates that we are), so we found ourselves wandering a neighborhood, brainstorming our options.  Much to our delight, we ran into a nice Scottish ex-pat family who offered to let us sleep on their floor (better than our alternative option of finding a place to camp and then possibly getting eaten alive by mosquitoes). 

Bright and early the next morning we packed up our bags and left towards Lusaka.  Onwards!

sunrise zambia
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Wild Animals in Lilongwe, Malawi

Monday, December 19, 2011  at 6:58 AM
monkey malawi
An active group of monkeys we came across while hiking in a forest in Lilongwe, Malawi  

One of our CS hosts in Lilongwe volunteered at an animal rehabilitation center and recommended that we stop by and check out the animals.  Chris and I were very excited and immediately planned to go on a walk through a nature reserve at the center.  While hiking through the forest, we came across a variety of wild animals--exciting!

malawi river
Chris wanted to go check out the river, since we had heard that there were alligators there  

Little did he know that the alligator was on the land, only about 10 feet to his right!

malawi hiking
After seeing the alligator we decided to hike away from the river towards the forest...  

monkey baby malawi
My favorite animals were the baby monkeys--they clung to the mother monkeys even as the mothers raced through the treetops
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Trading Tanzania for Malawi

Friday, December 16, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Our final few days in Tanzania were spent recovering from our epic ordeal of a bus ride.  We enjoyed roasted cassava and maize from road-side stands, walked around the small town of Mbeya, listened to vans blaring loud Nigerian music to the streets and generally gave our backsides a rest.  Before we knew it, however, it was time to enter a new country--Malawi!

Mzuzu Malawi Road Africa by Danalynn C
An early morning bus ride into Malawi 

Our general plan-of-attack with entering a new country is to catch local transport to the border, walk across, then catch more local transport to our final destination.  By walking across the border ourselves, we generally save money on 'international' bus rides as well as gain security in knowing that our bus isn't going to leave without us as we are caught up in immigration.  Lucky for us, entering Malawi was easy and within hours we were enjoying hot shish-kebabs delivered to us through the window of our Malawian bus.

Mzuzu Malawi Road Africa by Danalynn C
The main road in Malawi

There is really only one highway--really only one main road--in Malawi, which runs North to South.  This made finding local transportation very easy.

Mzuzu Malawi Road Africa by Danalynn C
Mzuzu, our first town in Malawi--Malawi was even more rural than much of Tanzania!

Mzuzu Malawi Flower Tree Africa by Danalynn C
We loved walking around and seeing this brilliant red-flowering trees!
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Nomadic Cost of Living: November

Thursday, December 15, 2011  at 11:47 PM
During November, Chris and I explored many new countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.  Let's see how much we spent this past month!

Transportation Total: $191.50

Housing Total: $21.50

Food Total: $89.00

Other Items Total: $130
-mainly Visas

Total nomadic cost of living for October: $432.00

This month, we left Kenya and explored the busy streets of Kampala, Uganda.

We then switched it up with some time in the countryside of Uganda.

We also reflected back on our time in Africa with our two months in Africa anniversary.

Rwanda Africa Hike by Danalynn C 
Hiking in Rwanda
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A Series of Unfortunate Events in Tanzania

Wednesday, December 14, 2011  at 6:58 AM
We arrived at the bus depot in Shinyanga, Tanzania, promptly at the recommended arrival time of 7:00AM.  We had left our Couchsurf host’s house at 5:30AM that morning to give ourselves ample time to walk the eight kilometers into town, but we still barely made it in time (weighted down with our bags, we were slower walkers than anticipated).  The bus hadn’t arrived yet, so we grabbed a bag of sweet crackers and got ready for the 7:30AM departure time.

First Clue Something Was NOT Right: The bus did not arrive until 9:30AM, two hours later than its expected arrival time.  We were just happy that it had arrived, so we rushed on and secured our seats near the back of the bus.

Tanzanian Bus Africa by Danalynn C
Our view of the bus from our seats near the back

Second Clue Something Was NOT Right: Barely after clearing the city limits, the bus coasted to a stop at the side of the road.  We thought it was a quick bathroom break for the children, until many people disembarked from the bus and stood at the shoulder, contemplating the bus itself.  Apparently the bus had broken down, apparently for the second time of the morning (hence the late arrival) and it was another hour before it was fixed and we were moving again.

Third Clue Something Was NOT Right: After we continued down the road for another half hour, we turned off the paved road and on to a small, bumpy dirt road.  We were happily oblivious, thinking that perhaps this was a shortcut due to our late start, but our joy began to fade as we continued on the dirt road with no end in sight.  This pothole-ridden, skinny, windey, bumpy dirt road was, in fact, the main freeway in western Tanzania and was to be our road for the rest of the journey.

Tanzanian Forest Africa by Danalynn C
The scenery was pretty though!

Fourth Clue Something Was NOT Right: According to Google Maps, the journey was estimated to take 9 hours, and according to the ticket salesman, the journey was meant to take 10 hours, so we thought it would be perhaps 12 hours or so.  However, by the time dusk was falling (roughly 10 hours), no big towns were yet in sight.  Furthermore, people told us that Mzuzu (our stop, the biggest town in south-western Tanzania) was still a ways away.  Worrisome?  Yes.

Fifth Clue Something Was NOT Right: After a particularly violent set of potholes, my seat broke.  After that, I was balancing precariously on a metal bar for most of the trip (very unpleasant when traveling over potholes).

Sixth Clue Something Was NOT Right: Despite the pitch-black night, the bumpy road, the weak bus headlights and the rapidly-deteriorating bus, the driver did not decrease speed at all—in fact, he seemed to think that speed needed to be increased to make up for lost time.

Yay, We Caught A Break!:  At midnight our bus broke down, forcing our driver to take a break until morning.  Yes, at this point we counted it as lucky that the bus broke down.  We spent the night sleeping in our seats.

Tanzanian Broken Bus Africa by Danalynn C
Our bus, broken down on the side of the road in the morning

Seventh Clue Something Was NOT Right: The next morning found the driver, assistants and a gaggle of interested onlookers trying to repair the bus.  Apparently, some crucial part had fallen off of the engine and the bus wouldn’t go without it.  This problem was resolved with plenty of superglue and all the passengers pushing the bus to start it.

Eight Clue Something Was NOT Right:  Chris’s seat back broke, so he couldn’t lean back in his seat for the rest of the trip.

Tanzanian Flower Africa by Danalynn 
Hey, but there were pretty flowers out of the window!

Nineth Clue Something Was NOT Right: The entire window in the row in front of us fell out—frame and all.

The End In Sight: We were careening down a mountain, praying that the bus would not skip off the edge down the sheer drop.  During this treacherous descent, we kept our eyes on the horizon—Mzuzu was in sight.  

We finally arrived at 5:30 PM, 33 hours after we initially boarded the bus and a full 24 hours after we had expected to arrive.  One lost day traded for a safe arrival?    We’ll take it.
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Backpacking into Tanzania

Tuesday, December 13, 2011  at 4:58 AM
Tanzanian Border Africa by Danalynn C
At the Rwandan/Tanzanian border in No-Mans-Land (we've officially left Rwanda but have not yet passed immigration to enter Tanzania)

Tanzanian Waterfall Africa by Danalynn C
This waterfall existed smack-dab in the middle of No-Mans-Land--a fun surprise and a change from the usual hum-drum combination of roads, semi-trucks and money-converters. 

Tanzanian Market Africa by Danalynn C
First impressions of Tanzania?  MUCH more hectic than Rwanda!  While Rwanda was a clean, orderly country, Tanzania was a riot of colors, smells and small towns. 

Tanzanian Shops Africa by Danalynn C
Our first town was Shinyanga, in northern Tanzania, which boasted a friendly small-town atmosphere

Tanzanian Lizard Africa by Danalynn C
I particularly enjoyed the plethora of large lizards who congregated on the warm cement

Surrounding Shinyanga were many rice fields--despite this, local businesses still only served ugali or french fries, not rice, much to our disappointment

Overall verdict for Tanzania?  We like it!
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Dengue Fever in Rwanda

Wednesday, December 7, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Chris and I ended up having drastically different experiences in Rwanda.  While I frolicked around town, going hiking, perusing open air markets and haggling for endless quantities of passion fruit and papaya, Chris ended up coming down with Dengue Fever.  After a mostly useless visit to the main hospital in Kigali, followed by a much more useful session of internet research, we found out that the only treatment for Dengue Fever is staying hydrated and resting for one to two weeks.  Luckily, we were Couchsurfing with a fantastic host in Kigali, so Chris hunkered down and became well acquainted with our host's supply of movies while I explored the town. 

Rwanda Africa Window by Danalynn C
Chris' primary view of Rwanda--via the window of our Couchsurf.

One of the local clinics which offers Malaria testing, which we were initially afraid Chris had contracted despite taking anti-Malarial medication.  Luckily (or not so much) it was Dengue Fever, not Malaria, that Chris had caught.

Rwanda Africa Hike by Danalynn C
While Chris was bed-ridden, I went on a lovely hike with our host and one of his friends.  Here, we stopped to take a break and enjoy the lovely view of Kigali in the distance. 

Rwanda Africa Hike by Danalynn C
Lovely view down the mountain we climbed!  

I love seeing the different vegetation wherever we travel.  This was a huge plant that towered over me with fern-like fronds, which I found as I explored a residential neighborhood near downtown Kigali.
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Clean Streets in Kigali, Rwanda

Monday, December 5, 2011  at 6:58 AM
street cleaner kigali rwanda by Danalynn C
One of the many street cleaners, whose job it is to keep the public areas spic and span!

Before coming to Rwanda, we asked several of our Couchsurfing hosts in Uganda if they had been and what they thought of it.  To our surprise, the overwhelming responses were "very very clean" and "very very expensive."

trees streets kigali rwanda by Danalynn C
The beautifully-tailored grass and trees in the median between the lanes in downtown Kigali

Upon arriving, we found that yes, Kigali was by far the cleanest big city we've been in since leaving Europe and yes, prices here varied wildly from being more expensive than western Europe prices (for cereal, chicken, crackers and some souvenir-type items) to being much cheaper (for fruits, veggies and sodas).  Both are due, in part, to the outpouring of international aid after the genocide in the 90s.  While we were there we readjusted our eating habits to fit in with the cheaper options and set in to enjoy the clean city!

gate kigali rwanda by Danalynn C
There are beautiful touches throughout the city, like the intricate ironwork on this gate
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Arriving in Rwanda

  at 6:52 AM
Written By: Chris Coulon.

Our last day in Kabale/Uganda ended up rather subdued.  It being Tuesday, Danalynn had two and a half hours to put in for e-tutoring, which should have been business as usual.  Unfortunately this was also the day the entire town lost power for the whole day.  Much of our day was spent hanging out in front of our host’s internet cafĂ©, hoping the power would return and people watching while I nursed a killer headache and we tried several new and unfamiliar fruits from passing vendors.  By 19:00 we threw in the towel and wandered up to the top of a hill overlooking the town to watch the giant bats, which inhabit the summit trees, take flight for their nocturnal forays.  When we finally wandered back down, well after dark, the power saw fit to grace us with its presence.  We finished our work on the internet ASAP and I called it an early night, hoping to get some rest and rid myself of my headache.

kabale uganda tree of bats
Our host and I at the base of a gigantic tree, staring up at hundreds of bats

The following morning, taking some advice from our host, we made the decision to walk from Kabale to the Rwandan border.  We were assured that it was no more than a two hour walk, so naturally we came to the conclusion that it is probably more like three hours.  That morning I was feeling much better and even my headache had subdued to a minor inconvenience so we decided to make the trek.  After all, it would be a great opportunity to really appreciate the green hills and banana tree groves before departing for the savannahs of Tanzania.

hiking in uganda to rwanda nomad
Danalynn walking along a road in Southwest Uganda

A little over five hours later, I stumbled feverish and utterly exhausted over the Rwandan border.  Our “walk” had started out pleasant enough but about three hours in (right about when we expected to approach the border) my headache came back with a vengeance along with its friend fatigue and perhaps even a bit of delirium (checking later we discovered the distance from Kabale to the border was actually 23km).  At the border I collapsed on a small wooden bench as Danalynn began the long process of jumping through hoops that is entering a foreign country.  Eventually passports were stamped, currency exchanged and we found a decently priced bus to take us the rest of the way to Kigali (roughly another 2.5 hours away by car). 

hiking from uganda to rwanda nomad
Our roadside view

The way that most public transport in Africa works is that a bus or van will sit and wait until full before departing for its destination (this usually entails all open space within the vehicle to be occupied including sometimes hanging halfway out windows or crammed under dash boards; the system does not lack for economic efficiency).  Unfortunately, the bus that we had found was a 40-50 seater and only about 10% full as we climbed aboard.  The attendant assured us that it usually only takes about an hour to fill and we would definitely be on our way in a little over an hour.  At that point, I cared little and less; I found a seat and passed out. 

An hour and a half later I woke up, groggy but feeling a little better; only to realize that the bus had taken on only one additional passenger.  At that rate we could expect to leave the border by 22:00.  Rather than wait, we jumped ship, found a small car headed south, negotiated a price with the driver (roughly $4) and took off, bound for Kigali.  The drive was pleasant and beautiful.  Rwanda is aptly named the land of a thousand hills and for good reason.  As we meandered our way through the many ups and downs of Rwanda, we passed many small villages and more plantations; every now and then the tarmac road gave out for several hundred meters of gravel and potholes, but for the most part the ride was smooth. 

After two hours of driving we got our first glimpse of Kigali.  On top of one of the many green hills looming in the distance were the silhouettes of tall buildings and their surrounding urban sprawl.  The image seemed oddly out of place from the rest of the rural countryside surrounding it.  None the less, I was happy to be nearing the end of our day’s journey and nearly jubilant when our driver agreed to drop us off exactly where we planned to meet up with our host in the center of town.

kigali rwanda nomad
Kigali seen on the approach

Our new host turned out to be a volunteer from South Korea working with an organization akin to that of the American Peace Corps.  He had a great flat just outside of downtown Kigali.  Upon arriving at his home I took several minutes to fully appreciate being in a place with not only electricity and running water, but warm water and even wi-fi, before promptly passing out for the remainder of the day, happy to be finally done with the journey.

kigali rwanda nomad
Our view looking out from Downtown Kigali at a neighboring hill
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